My stomach has done so much lurching and churning during my dating travails that I'm lucky to keep any food down. It leaps in excitement, sinks in disappointment, grumbles in despair and growls in pure lust. Always active, my tummy likes to be kept happy on a date. One way I can never keep it happy, however, is by feeding it. I have a rule: no food on a first date. It can only end in disaster, really. Sauces slop down your front a whole lot more eagerly if you're dining opposite somebody you're desperate to impress and vegetable-induced farts are all the more enthusiastic if they know you're sharing crudités with a stranger.
Unusual, then, that I am meeting Mr Tonight in a restaurant. It was his suggestion, but he tells me he'll be waiting in the bar area and that he's just up for a few drinks - we don't have to eat if we don't want to. And I really don't want to; I can't be trusted around food. I was taught as a youngster always to clear a plate, which is fine enough, except that I have always assumed this applies to all plates in my vicinity, not just my own. A healthy appetite is only exciting to your dining partner if it's your mum or grandma. Nobody ever got a hard-on watching someone work their way through your steak-frites after polishing off their own. Well, almost nobody. Plus, my date tonight is an actor - AN ACTOR! - so it's very likely his idea of pigging out differs from mine. If the opportunity arrives, perhaps I'll graze on some bar snacks, but that's as far as I'm going. Ten mouthfuls at most. No more.
I walk into the bar/restaurant/eatery/what-fucking-ever and there he is before me. He's draped across the bar, looking angelically handsome and dressed in a denim shirt and jeans which I suppose would pass for edgy and are the colour of hangover piss. His face is framed by black curls but should be hanging in the National Gallery. His eyes are a steely grey and seem to be crinkle in warmth and general appreciation. A closer gander from top to toe reveals his head isn't the only part of him having all the fun. But sugar looks like salt right up until it's on the end of your tongue, so I don't get ahead of myself just yet. The proof of the pudding is in the - oh no, not back to eating again.
He's slugging back gin and tonics like they're going out of fashion and talking about himself like his entire childhood will be rendered void if he doesn't tell it to someone. But he's quite funny and ever so pretty; it won't do me any harm to play the strong, silent type for one night only. About two drinks in, while he's pretending to listen to me talk about the last holiday I was on (look, he asked, okay?), he suddenly blurts out that he's hungry. I'm not exactly surprised he needs sustenance to soak up the gin, but I'm not keen to break my no-grub rule.
But when that angel face says once more, "Shall we get something to eat?" I'm suitably oiled by the booze and light-headed from his looks that I say yes.
We've been propping up the bar up to now, and so make our way over to a table. He slinks across the room like he owns it, the sexy bastard. And he knows it too. Confidence pours from him, leaving stunned onlookers in its wake. When he gets to the table he's a little unsteady. I wonder how many gins have been slipping down that delicious throat before I got there. I'm not complaining too much. While he hasn't exactly been all over me like a rash, he seems friendly enough, my gaze unbroken for much of the date. Uncertainty hangs around us like a cheap pashmina - I really have no idea where this is going to end up. But back to more pressing matters: the food.
I cast my eye over the menu, dread building in my stomach as I take it in, each option wildly different from the last. What does one choose to eat in front of someone you've never met before? Noodles are definitely out: I struggle with chopsticks and slurping soy sauce isn't sexy. Pick a salad, and I'll look like one of those body-conscious gays who obsess over calorie content. Comfort food like pies and curries are also verboten, as they're full of onions and I want to make sure my breath is in tip-top condition for later - you never know.
After much deliberation, I go for a salad and my date plumps for a burger. With onions. I wince a little. Our chat continues as before and just as I'm leaning forward appreciatively to hear him tell me I have nice eyes, a surly waiter gracelessly flings two plates in front of us and stalks off without so much as a 'bon appétit'.
I load up a forkful of salad, looking up just in time to see Alex take a huge bite of his burger, its browny-red juices splashing on his previously exquisite and dimpled chin and pouring out of the patty and onto his plate - a Niagara of gravy. My stomach lurches. He starts to tell me about a funny thing that happened to him at work, but my eyes are mesmerised by his open mouth and the burger within, swilling round like meaty socks in a fleshy tumble dryer. He laughs. A speck of cow flies out from his mouth and lands on my check. I close my eyes in silent mortification.
The meal continues, 20 minutes of utter torture for me as I watch him swill and slurp and slobber his burger down him. His beauty has become almost grotesque, ridiculous. It's like someone has drawn a great big spunking cock on the Mona Lisa.
"Excusez-moi!" he exclaims as he gives a deafening belch in celebration of his final bite. I push my salad aside, fold my arms in resignation and pray he doesn't have any room left for pudding.
The meal over and the bill paid, we leave in search of 'one for the road'. I'm still not sure who'll be taking what road and whether we'll be alone or a duo. While his table manners were of the farmyard variety, he was certainly enthusiastic about his food. I imagine him going in for a kiss and slurping his tongue all round my face, like an amorous cow. As we find a cosy corner in a nearby bar, it seems I shan't have to imagine much longer. His face has changed from a picture of celestial innocence to one of devilish mischief; he's looking at me the same way he looked at that burger.
I pull him close to me and we kiss. It is passionate and satisfying yet not as over-the-top as I may have feared. We go in again and again and again. After a couple of minutes, my date gets up to go to the loo and I sit back in smug satisfaction and survey the rest of the bar. I absentmindedly run my tongue over my teeth and find something there. And then I taste it. I appear to have inherited an onion. I reach into my pocket and fish out a packet of chewing gum. Time for me to pass on an inheritance of my own.
Stats: 30, 6', black/grey, London
Where: Shoreditch, London, E1
Pre-date rating: 7/10
Post-date rating: 8.5/10
Date in one sentence: From rumbling tummies to tangling tongues via a full-on money shot of mastication in just three hours.
A truncated version of this post first appeared in GT magazine, where I write a monthly column about my dating experiences. Find out when the next issue is due on the GT website.
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