A new dating avenue opened up to me the other week when a friend wanted to set me up with his girlfriend's friend - "the introduction" - a classic high-risk/high-gain manoeuvre. I was very excited. Should things go well, I thought, we could all form a summer gang and link up for festivals and beer garden larks. A sunny montage unfolded in my mind, a reverie not unlike a cider commercial - a season in fast-forward. I imagined an Antipodean-looking version of me in a straw hat, laughing in slow-motion with a beautiful woman on my arm. It could be amazing. Conversely, should things go south, I would have to abandon the circle forever and start anew elsewhere. I chose not to dwell on that possibility.
"So you want to meet her then?" Mike said.
"Definitely, I think I love her already. What's her name again, Tinka, right? Where's that from?"
"Ok, I will google a few facts for the date, hit her up with a bit of Slovakian trivia."
"Yeah, that. It'll be great, what's she into? Wait, don't tell me, 'long walks, the countryside, and spending time with friends and family', I've got it."
"She's into environmentalism, or something."
"What does that mean? She 'likes' Greenpeace's Facebook page? Anyway, doesn't matter, I'll do a bit of research."
"Mate, you're scary."
I had to admit, there was something urgent about my approach. Perhaps, it was the tangibility of the date, we had both been vetted and approved by friends, it was likely we had Lego-like compatibility. It should be noted, however, that when the idea was first postulated, Mike's girlfriend described Tinka as a 'really nice girl'. Naturally, I insisted on viewing several photographs before committing.
Later that week we met in Shoreditch. It was a rainy night and I had forgotten my umbrella. I turned up in my sodden suit, holding a mushy copy of the Standard over my head.
"Tinka, I presume," I said, then winced.
She smiled and we kissed, I got caught in the single-or-double kiss quandary, adding a certain awkwardness to the greeting. We found a quiet bar where I bought a bottle of wine, lower to mid-range, two increments up from the house stuff.
After a couple of glasses, we started discussing life in London, default first date talk. I usually commence by making a caustic remark about anything north of the river. As a born South Londoner, I inevitably perpetuate the cliches, conveying an unwarranted sense of ownership. An unfunny line that is variously ludicrous, or boorish - depending on how much I've had to drink.
Tinka said, "but you know we are all one people, why this division?"
"What division?" I said, "Everyone knows they're all snobs in North London - they don't like us South Londoners either."
I blame the second part on the wine, regardless; it was too sneery a comment for such an early hour.
"What about on a global level?" She said, "Don't you care about the world?"
I nodded - the only possible response to such a loaded question.
Tinka said, "I used to work for an organisation that promoted ethical considerations in the investment community. They really did some great work. They wanted asset managers to consider what we call ESG issues - environmental, social and governance."
"Yes," I said, "That's great. I would agree."
"Agree? Agree with what?"
I gestured at the busy surrounds.
"That we are all one people."
Tinka looked away.
"Well, anyway," she said, "'They' didn't believe in the north south divide - unless, you're talking about hemispheres."
"Ha, good one."
She put her glass down.
Our encounter was descending into a monosyllabic farce. I was out of my depth, and all I could do was offer flaccid platitudes. I was drowning in the beige waters of ignorance, completely unable to contribute. And here is the thing; people like Tinka have a theme - a grandiose interest that defines them, a worthy hobby-horse that overshadows every other aspect of their being. Laudable as this is, I couldn't help but think there was something rigid about her attitude, conservative almost. In any case, I was not interesting enough for Tinka. My personal beliefs are contradictory and inconsistent. I frequently shift my mindset, twisting with the zeitgeist according to the meme of the week. To get a woman like Tinka, I too had to have a theme. And this was my problem, I just didn't have anything to tie it all together, my hair was too neat, my labels too mainstream - I was crushingly conventional.
We kissed on parting. I gripped Tinka's shoulder.
"We should do this again," I said.
She shook her head.
"No, I do not think so."
She didn't even preface it with 'you're a nice guy, but'. Still, I didn't mind, I actually liked her style, so honest, so lacking in pretension. Interestingly, it made me want her even more. Encouragingly, we are locked together through mutual friends. Given enough time, I'm sure I can wear her down.