You need a thick skin to be an internet dater. Your popularity can wax and wane like a winner of a TV talent show, and while there may be weeks where suitors are banging down your inbox, there are others when the only emails you'll get are from the dating site to remind you that you've been a customer for six months (already!) and must renew your subscription. Six months, and Mr Right still eludes you.
After a summer of disappointments, I'm bracing myself for an autumn of discontent, until a flurry of newcomers signing up to the site means my star rises once again and the messages come thick and fast. Just call me the comeback kid. Amid faces that could curdle cream and personalities in desperate search of a willing donor, comes this guy, a high school teacher.
He sends a bright, forthright message and his profile describes a thoughtful, funny guy who should have been snapped up long ago. Not to mention he gives very good profile photo. From his tone, he seems pretty keen and, I have to admit, that the more messages we exchange, I'm not too far behind him. His wit seems well-matched with mine (such as it is) and I have yet to spot a single spelling mistake in any of his communiqués. After a good couple of weeks of email badinage, we finally agree that we should probably exchange our next round of zingers face-to-face.
I suggest a date, and leave the choice of venue up to him. He ventures a dim sum restaurant in central London. I freeze. I've made it a rule that I never go out for dinner on the first date. And dim sum at that. There'll be chopsticks and countless opportunities to drop slippery dumplings or put a too-hot prawn in my mouth. Food and I look ridiculous together, like an ageing actor and his latest starlet squeeze cringing on the red carpet. Nevertheless, I have a feeling that if I get too picky and make demands about alternative venues, my attractiveness is going to melt away. And so I say yes.
By the time the date comes round, the weather has taken a turn for the worse, with icy blasts of wind and rain the order of the day. By the time I arrive, a full five minutes early, I look and feel like shit. I sigh heavily as I remember we'd agreed to meet outside the restaurant; I'm now to endure even more time in the dreary conditions. Or am I? Standing ahead of me, shivering against the cold, is a tall, slender, attractive man whose eyes scrunch up into a squint as they watch me approach. He says my name. We shake hands and smile.
"I didn't recognise you," he says. "You have your glasses on in your main picture."
I roll out the well-worn jokes straight away, Why not? "Well, I figured that if I didn't wear my specs, I wouldn't need any beer goggles later."
He is silent for a millisecond and I think I've blown it, but he then bursts into uproarious laughter which, thankfully, seems genuine. "Oh, you cow!" he chides. "I'm tempted to leave you out here to freeze your balls off."
We go into the restaurant and I get a better look at my date for the evening. He is taller than me and is very slim, yet not emaciated. He has sharp features, and is handsome in a very wholesome way. He is dressed fairly plainly - almost boringly, in fact - but he's a teacher, after all; I'm not overly concerned. A well-dressed man is great, yes, but if he's a dickhead underneath all that finery, it's rather pointless to be so sartorially picky. His eyes are fresh, bright and blue. This is a man who hasn't spent many nights burning the candle at both ends. His skin is clearer than a summer sky and he has a general air of good health about him. He looks after himself. I am excited, I have to admit.
He's been here before, and I haven't, so he reels off recommendations on the menu and selects a cocktail for me to try. It is unusual for me to let someone else take the lead so speedily, and whether it's down to those bright blue eyes or the fact I am still thawing out from the wintry hell of outside, I don't know, but it makes a nice change and he seems to know what he's talking about.
Then I remember he's a teacher so he is quite possibly using some classroom control mind tricks on me. No matter, I'm a willing participant. Our conversation has an edge to it that I don't think I've ever experienced on a date before - he is witty and cutting and has a match for my ripostes on more than a number of occasions.
While on other dates I have slicked on the charm in an effort to make me seem more attractive, with this date it's all about the raillery, exchanging good-natured barbs and funny stories. A couple of times, he misjudges me and makes me uncomfortable, but I shrug it off as I am having such a good time. He has some brilliant anecdotes about how he handles the teenage children he teaches and we talk about the challenges faced by a gay teacher in a school full of inquiring minds. He exudes such an effortless calm and confidence that I can't imagine any schoolboy's smutty banter fazing him at all. We sit closely side-by-side and our knees touch a few times and it is remarked on, but we never cross the line into innuendo. The glint in his eye seems set to permanently on. After just one more cocktail, I realise I am kinda hooked. I don't know what he's done or how he's done it, but I want to do it again.
It's now getting late and we have just about talked ourselves into exhaustion. I am feeling deflated as the plates are cleared away and as it is a school night, my date can't go on for a further drink. We settle the bill, and once more brave the Arctic night. When it is time to part, we shake hands again, promise to be in touch and engage in a polite, grandmotherly peck on the cheek. I walk to the bus stop on a cushion of contentment, and my punch-drunk smile lasts all the way home and into the next morning.
The next day, I am excitedly telling a friend about him and, being the curious type, she asks to see his profile to assess his suitability. I search for him on the dating site and prepare to proudly show off my latest contestant. He's proving hard to find, though, and a quick search through my messages show that he has deleted his profile. What could this mean? My friend is quietly optimistic: "Wow, maybe he really liked you and decided the search was over!"
I doubt it. I venture that perhaps one of his pupils has found his profile and so he's had to remove it. I don't want to text him and ask him what's happened as then he will know I have been looking him up, so I just shrug and wait to hear from him, given that all the signs were good.
After a week or so of silence, I decide to bite the bullet and send a follow-up text. I've little fear of rejection - let's face it, it hasn't exactly been a stranger to me over the last few months. I keep it simple, and just ask if he'd like to do it again, with an in-joke or two from our date to remind him what a good time it was. He takes five days to reply. Oh dear. And when he does, it's bad news for me. He has started dating a fellow teacher and it's going great so far. It appears I was back-up, a runner in a race I couldn't win. I'm disappointed, I guess, but send back a cheery message.
"Glad you've got someone to share the last dance at the disco with, even if you didn't save it for me. Best of luck to you. Take care and keep in touch."
And I put it to bed and resolve to forget about it, the disappointment still stinging. The best ointment, I decide, is to pick myself up and start again, so I embark on a slew of dates, all with varying successes.
Four months later, just as the vicious winter is giving way to a kinder spring, my phone makes that familiar noise and I wearily check it, my enthusiasm dented by a few weeks of a fruitless fling that I really should have avoided. I am taken aback to see that the message is from my date. There's no 'hello', no 'how are you?' - just this:
"It seems the DJ has agreed to play one more song. How about that last dance?"
To be continued.
Stats: 31, 6'1", dark brown/blue, Midlands
Location: London, W1
Pre-date rating: 8/10
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