The true currency of dating, the one you never really think about, is time. Whether you're buttering up a honey in a noisy bar, doing extra lengths at the swimming pool to impress a buff lifeguard or stumbling through endless online profiles, the amount of time you spend on this initial process can be disheartening if the end result is less than satisfactory.
Checking out pictures, flicking through your favourites and, of course, fielding all those interested parties (if you're lucky enough to have more than one contestant take a shine to you) all takes up precious time, not to mention - once you've locked on to the one you want - the synchronisation of diaries, agonising over what to wear and where to go, followed by the biggest time-consumer of all: the actual date.
It's refreshing, then, to encounter somebody who cuts straight to the chase. Dawdling, flirting and textual one-upmanship cast aside by somebody who knows what they want - you. Sure, build-up is important and can set the tone for your date, but we live in modern times. We eat fast food, rely on our phones to remember pretty much anything and can, if we so wish, arrange a late-night sexual assignation at the click of a mouse and without any money changing hands. Now, now, now! More! Now! With this in mind, enter our new Guy, who contacts me, exchanges monosyllabic pleasantries and asks if we can arrange a date within about 30 minutes of me first laying eyes on him.
On first inspection, pretty much everything about This Guy in turns repels and attracts me. His two pictures are nothing special. In one he is wearing his graduation attire (sexy!), and in the other he is among a gaggle of friends who look like a school chess club after a particularly unkind makeover by some ill-meaning school bullies who covered them in superglue, found a box marked 'things in neon' and threw it at them. But he is good-looking and straight to the point. Also, I should remark in the interests of full disclosure that another plus in his favour was his ridiculous flattery, spouting meaningless TV panel show-style plaudits such as "You don't look your age", "You're really cute", and the ultimate line to loosen my belt buckle: "Your spelling and grammar is pretty impressive". Well, that's all I need to know. He's handsome, knows his way around a semicolon and thinks I'm hot too. I collect a few more details from him to place on my virtual clipboard - he's 24, just finished uni and is taking a year out before starting a graduate scheme in marketing. And he's hot, did I mention that? Our date is fixed for a couple of days later, on a Sunday afternoon, in a local pub.
To Sunday, and on the morning of the date I awake pretty fresh, having stayed in the night before to catch up on some work. I have plenty of time to kill, but knowing you have something to look forward to later in the day makes the acres of nothingness before you not quite seem so bad. As a child, I would've been impatient, restless. Now, I potter around my kitchen, awaiting 3 o'clock with controlled anticipation. At 2, I receive a text message.
"Hey [my name]. Can we make it 5 instead? Am behind schedule."
And it is here where childish impatience kicks in. When you know what time you'll be entertained, you can look forward to it, aim for it, the boredom in between less important. But now the goalposts have been moved. The light at the end of the tunnel fades to a pinprick. I vigorously bleach the bathroom before replying that it is fine; I shall see him at 5. His reply is simply "OK".
When someone tells you they need to move the meeting time back, they're usually being optimistic about their arrival time; they're probably going to be even later. With that in mind, I turn up a full 10 minutes late for the date, only to be proven utterly wrong. He is sitting before me, looking at the door fairly vacantly. I walk toward him and extend my hand. Strangely, he doesn't see me coming and jumps as my hand approaches. He apologises, saying he was miles away. I wonder how many miles exactly. I get us some drinks and when I finally sit down he smiles broadly, but seems agitated and distracted. He lifts his pint and his hand trembles. I sense a hangover. He is still very pretty, but looks kind of, well, rough today.
I ask him if he was out last night, by any chance. He giggles.
"Out last night? Yeah. Still am, really."
I ask him what he means.
"Well, thing is..." he leans forward, conspiratorially, as if about to impart some big secret, "I haven't been to bed yet. That's really bad isn't it? To turn up to a date on no sleep."
"Well, I don't know," I reply. "If you had insomnia, I guess it's not that bad at all. If you were out all night and came straight from a party, well perhaps."
He puts his hand to his mouth and giggles again. "I know this isn't funny. I'm sorry."
I sigh. "It's OK. At least you turned up."
"Yes!" he exclaims, proudly. "I did, didn't I? Although to tell you the truth, I'm still fucked."
He takes a glug of his pint as if it were water - which it really should be given his current state - and apologises again, before going on to tell me about his night out and how it couldn't be missed. Since graduating, he's been letting his hair down quite a lot, he says, and last night was one of many 'big ones' with all his friends. As he talks me through it, I feel like a schoolteacher listening to a pupil read out an essay on "What I did on my holidays". It feels as far removed from my night last night as it's possible to get without being dead.
As he talks, I take a closer look at him. His face has the freshness of youth still, and even his months of debauchery haven't eroded his good looks. But his skin is grey and his eyes bloodshot: the pupils large and leaving little room for the bright green iris to show itself. His frame seems more slender than on his photos. Clearly his nights out have not been starting off in restaurants. He has soon slurped his way through his drink and offers to go to the bar to get more. He begins to stand, but is unsteady on his feet and instead I say I'll go. The last thing I need to add to my increasing disappointment is for my date to be refused service and thrown out of the place. When I return, he is fiddling with something on his ear. When he moves his hand away, I see there is a hole in it. A hole I can see through.
"What's that?" I ask, peering closer at his ear.
"Oh this?" he waggles his lobe like Groucho Marx would his cigar, "it's a tunnel."
"A tunnel," he repeats. "It's like a piercing, and you make it get bigger and bigger by putting different tunnels - like tubes of metal - in it, to widen it, you know?"
I look at it again, then put my hands to my own ear lobes, as if measuring them to see if such a thing would be possible. He notices me do this.
"I think your lobes would be too small to get a decent sized one going, really."
I laugh. "Why would you want to do that to your ear?"
As soon as it's out of my mouth I regret it. I sound antiquated, a crotchety parent misunderstanding the ways of the young. What exactly is he supposed to say in response to that?
He shrugs. "Oh, fuck it, y'know? I just like it. I'm guessing you don't."
I have to confess that it's not something I'd usually find attractive.
He shrugs again. "Don't worry about it. We can't all like the same things." He stops to take another swig before looking me straight in the eye and saying: "God, I really am fucked. This isn't very romantic, is it?"
I laugh again, inexplicably charmed by his honesty. He's far too young, I'm not interested in him at all and this date has all the potential of a romantic night in with a relative, but I'm here now, he is being mildly amusing, so I may as well have a good time. I find him strangely endearing, and while I am not getting what I came for, he hasn't been boring. I raise my glass to clink it with his.
"You have a lot to learn about romance," I tell him amiably, "and I am so glad I won't be the one to have to teach you."
He chuckles and nods. Our glasses clash noisily.
Stats: 5' 11", 24, black/green, Oxfordshire
Where: The local
When: November 2011
Pre-date rating: 9/10
Post-date rating: 7/10
Date in one sentence: A cute flatterer shows early promise, and while this affable guy may have a bright future, it doesn't include me.