Winter. Brrrr. Mulled wine and Christmas shopping, festive drinks, tinsel and coupledom. I'm not really thinking about what the festive period is going to be like without a significant other - it's best not to - but I am wary of starting something at this time of year. Being alone in winter can be quite scary, but I don't want to over-compensate, or see romance where there is none, just so I won't be flying solo during party season. Draping tinsel over a 'maybe' shouldn't make it a 'yes'. Shit-shining is not for me.
Nevertheless, here I am on the dating site allowing myself to be very cautiously wooed by our latest contestant. He's neither brash nor particularly confident but he can't seem to say a thing wrong. He's sweet, intelligent, funny and, from his limited number of public pictures, handsome. He's a current affairs journalist and we talk about pretty much anything, settling into a jocular tone very early on. I don't ask him out for a drink because I sometimes worry that something so perfect electronically can turn out to be only a disappointment when flesh comes into play. If he asks me, however, I won't say no. The games you play with yourself and others. How beautifully time-consuming and utterly pointless it all is. He does ask, and my hand is forced. The date is a long time in the making: conflicting diaries and last-minute work commitments mean that the first meeting is delayed twice. By the time we do meet, we're breaking into December. I am to meet him on a Tuesday night in a pub in Marylebone that's brimming over with Christmas cheer and ambience.
I arrive first. He's not here. The one available table is right in front of the door, so I can't possibly miss his arrival. I gaze at the huge Christmas tree in the corner and then out of the window at the wintry night. There are snowflakes. Every time the door opens I look down or away to avoid looking too eager. It's a terrible affectation, but I'm not going to change any time soon. Finally, the door opens and he walks through it. On first glance, I'm a little disappointed, I must admit. He has less hair than his pictures had me believe and he's not the height he claims to be. I have no interest in starting a relationship with a giant, but it would be nice if my potential dates could be honest about their vital statistics. What else are they fibbing about, I wonder. Everything, I suppose. So why don't I? Anyway.
My grumpiness melts away when it becomes clear that he's very taken with me. Being fancied is quite an aphrodisiac, and confidence booster, and as he eagerly drinks in what I'm saying and looks at me appreciatively, I start to feel sexier, attractive. No, really. I can tell that he is shy, as well as geeky and very dedicated to his job. He's much more of a serious soul than I am, but it's of little import; I'm going through a phase where I'm finding earnest men very hot. I'm on my best behaviour, but being as mischievous as I dare, so it's going well. The silences are scarce. After a couple of hours, I've warmed to him massively, but it is a weeknight and I have a considerable tube journey home ahead of me, so I call things to a halt. As we part outside the pub, we shake hands and he says he'd like to do it again. I reply that I would too. He looks only at my mouth as I speak. On the way home, I am approached by a beautiful drunk girl brandishing some mistletoe and asking for a snog. I succumb to a kiss on the cheek, feeling optimistic and festive. If I breathed out hard enough now, I'd exhale streamers.
I don't hear anything for a day or two. I don't know why I feel the need to break my personal rules and text - I'm not really sure where that next move will take me, after all, and we're so hugely different - but he fancies me and sometimes that's enough. He's pleased to hear from me and wants to meet. Again, schedules get in the way, but we do finally settle on a Saturday night, my first weekend date for a while, in a pub I've taken a lot of suitors to before. It's not a gay venue, but it's near places that are. If things look promising, we can progress. It's good to think ahead.
He gets there before me. I spot him as I walk in. He stands against the wall and studies me as I come toward him, smiling, his eyes twinkling with, well, I don't know. Lust? Desire? Yes, I think so. He is not as coy this time. He attempts to ply me with drinks, although there is no need, and repeatedly touches my arm, staring into my eyes and making me feel self-conscious, but not uncomfortable. I suggest we move on. We walk down the street close to one another, not quite touching but near enough for anyone passing us to know that while we're mere acquaintances at the moment, the chances are we're likely to be more than that before the night is out.
When we arrive at the next bar, we get drinks but don't seem that interested in supping them. Instead we play a game of dare where we stand as closely to each other as we can get away with without touching. I'm aware this is not usually his style; I'm corrupting the teacher's pet. He may have increased his confidence levels since the first date, but I know the first move is not his to make, so as he reaches out his hand to lift up his drink, I put myself in its way. He doesn't touch the drink again.
When we have finished kissing, he looks at me in wonderment.
"Who are you?" he asks, laughing. "Who just does that? You've got, well, gumption."
"No. It's what anyone would've done," I reply. I don't really know who I am any more, at this moment. I ask him to come home with me. He's ambivalent.
"I just wanted to get to know you first," he says.
"That's fine. I understand." I don't suggest it again.
But he doesn't let go of my hand until we're out of the taxi and I need him to release it so I can unlock my front door.
We are in touch almost daily after our second date. He's clever, sharp and sexily serious and I feel a rush of, well, something when I get texts from him, although there are misgivings in there too. Will I ever get to be the real version of myself? Do I want to be? He asks if I will go out with him for dinner and I accept. I have been keeping my options open, and have been on two extremely chaste dates with another man. I don't feel the need to share this information with my current date. I'm not sure which way it's going to go.
We arrive at the restaurant at the same time. He is, as ever, conservatively dressed. He looks ordinary and geeky and cute as he very gallantly waits for me to sit down before taking his own seat. Over dinner we talk about his work (I don't really ever want to talk about mine) and his impending work travels and, of course, his plans for Christmas. It's not feeling as natural as before but my default setting is 'overthink', so I resolve not to worry about it. We discuss the dates we're departing London for our festive breaks and he's throwing up possible days to fit in a pre-Christmas drink, flicking through his diary as we wait for the bill. He's organising, but I don't mind so much. That's who he is. He'd never be domineering or controlling in a million years, I realise - he's too sweet. And then I get a strange feeling I can't explain. A sense of doom. I dismiss it, but "too sweet" stays in my head. This paradise is all mine to ruin. I wonder how long it will take me. We pay the bill and walk out into the cold night.
"What are you doing now?" he asks.
"Well, nothing, Going home, I guess."
"I was wondering if you'd like to come back with me," he says, his eyes hopeful and kind. He's romantic, charming and perfect. Eager. Adorable.
I say yes.
The journey takes a good half-hour. Inside the flat, he pours me the glass of water I ask for and a bigger glass of wine I don't. His flatmate is out. His pad is neat and tidy, tastefully decorated. Everything is in order, no chaos, nothing is random. Even the bills, photos and shopping lists stuck to the fridge are perfectly lined up and evenly spaced. I sip my drink carefully as he regards me from the chair opposite. He tells me how much he likes me. It feels nice. He says I'm cheeky, and not the kind of guy he would normally go for, but he didn't have to. I already know.
Minutes later, as he is nuzzling into my neck and stroking my knee, I get a flash into the future. It involves me introducing disorder and confusion into his life, as he gets to know me and grasps that I have been on my very best behaviour so far, which still isn't saying a lot. As he whispers into my ear about staying the night, I fast forward a month, maybe a year, and see me breaking his heart, letting him down and bringing him a randomness he's not ready for. He's everything I think I want, but know, in my heart, that I don't. While we move to the bedroom and draw the curtains, I know that this will be the last time I see him. I am almost proved right.
Almost a year later, I am in central London on my way home after my first spate of Christmas shopping. As I descend the stairs into Piccadilly Circus station, two geekily handsome bespectacled men are on their way up. Their arms interlocked. Lovers. They share a joke and laugh. The same laugh. One of them is last year's Christmas fling. He has found his other half after all. He catches my eye for a second, but does not display any sign of recognition. I silently wish him a merry Christmas and feel glad I stepped out of his life when I did. There really is somebody out there for everyone, I guess.
Where: Marylebone, London
When: Winter 2010
Stats: 33, 5'9", brown/green, London
Pre-date rating: 7/10*
Post-date rating: 8/10*
Date in one sentence: Nice guys have all the luck, until they meet a cynic like me.
*Ratings are based on the first date only