To Live and Date in London

I can’t describe how much I hate the dating scene. Fuck, that’s a lie. I’m absolutely going to describe it. Otherwise, what’s the point of starting a post on such a polarising note?

The stage is set.

A semi-classy cocktail bar in London’s lush hive of nightlife known as Soho. Hints of nearby jazz drift in through a tentatively opened door, lazily lapping at the heels of an anxious-looking young man. Excited at its surprising change of environs, and curious as to the fresh mix of patrons laid before it, the strings of jazz drift on the cusp of the threshold. The newfound vista, however, will offer only a brief glimpse into a world beyond brass and thrummed bass origins.

As the eddies formed from the onrush of the opening door collapse upon themselves, a tidal wave of indie pop surges forward. The jazz, unable to assuage the onslaught, sloughs its resolve. With no recourse, it fades back into a comfortable obscurity. A cascade of hipster backwash, eager to be flung out into the world, manages to escape its posh confines for mere moments before the door swings closed with a gentle tap.

Around a corner not far away, a smile creeps across the face of a be-speckled chap – his jeans rolled a tad to high and collar drifting a tad too low. He doesn’t know you, he never will, but his grin tells us that he knows far more than we ever will about the whiff of obscurity on the air.

However entertaining he may be, the smug hipster is but an aside in this tale. Our story continues inside and follows the anxious young man whose actions led to this brief diversion.

On closer inspection…

… the man isn’t quite as young as he originally appeared. Having adjusted to the light inside the bar, he appears to be in his early to mid-thirties. A hat obscures his features, but he wears it well, so it’s acceptable. While he manages to carry himself confidently, he can’t quite cover an undercurrent of anxiety. It’s revealed in his body language and plain on his face. He scans the room, clearly looking for someone, but not quite sure what he’ll find. It’s obvious that he’s covering a lot of ground at the moment.

Am I the first one here? Is that her? It could be her. Fuck, I think I might be face-blind. This is ridiculous, I can’t believe I’m doing this from scratch again. Hopefully it’s better than the last ….,” his thoughts trail off as he considers the mathematical implications of the previous few months of his life…, “goddammit, please let it be better than the last 6, at least!”

Having confirmed that the girl he’s supposed to meet is probably not here – disregarding face-blindness for now – the man sets himself to finding a nice place to sit. And wait. Anxiously.

This is always the worst part. He loves meeting people, getting to know them. However, his favourite time comes several meetings down the road when he can lay claim to at least a portion of shared history with a new person. Conversation comes easier. References can be made. He generally has a grasp of a person’s personality and can gauge how they’ll react to his flippant remarks and charming awkwardness. He shouldn’t worry about all of these things. These attributes make him who he is and, if a potential partner doesn’t mesh with them… Well, it’s for the best to find out early. The last thing he ever wants is to settle.

But, like the dreamer he is, he’s allowing his thoughts to get too far ahead of him. Let’s reel things in for him a bit, shall we?

The first meeting is always the worst. Conversation is tricky. Silences can be awkward. What if, in several minutes, he knows that he and his date simply aren’t compatible? There are few experiences worse than being trapped in a date going nowhere, and being unable to extricate oneself. Due to decorum, of course. One must not mess with decorum.

He’s also realised that dating in this part of the world is much different than his past experiences. Girls here are much less direct. A lot of guesswork is involved. There are certain expectations, although thankfully being responsible for 100% of the tab isn’t one of them. However, the man is expected to initiate a much larger share of the date’s proceedings. Having never been great at reading people … actually, scratch that … the man is actually very adept at reading people. His instincts are often spot-on. His issue is acting on those instincts.

Men in the UK seem to have a certain suave timing.

Not always. Many of them are pushy and creepy. But the ones that our patron pays attention to, they seem to know when it’s acceptable to make contact. Brush a hand here, a light touch on the back there, perhaps intertwining fingers while walking down the street …

Instead, our subject talks with his hands.

They switch between under the table … “no, that looks weird, put your hands on top of the table. Now steeple your fingers. Wait, why did you do that? You’re not preparing to disintegrate a superspy, put those down! Hey, stretch your arm over the back of the chair, it’ll allow you to relax. Ah jeez, the backs of these chairs are really tall. Alright, fuckit, hold your glass and try not to fidget. And for the love of Pete, don’t spill it this time.”

Luckily he’s found a table facing the door. Anxiety isn’t so bad if you can see your date coming and, with any luck, compose yourself before having go through introductions. Again. And again. *Sigh

Despite it all, the process is a little exciting.

It’s been a long time since he’s felt like he’s been the centre of someone’s world. That’s kind of the magic of dating. For one night. Maybe two. Rarely three. With any luck four, five, eight… For that night you are that person’s world. They’re trying to get to know you, and you them. Almost everything you each do is directed at the other. You put your best foot forward, show them the you that you want to be. All while subtly revealing little truths and flaws about yourself and gauging their reaction. Will they be appalled by your sense of humour? Do they have terrible grammar, which you can’t tolerate? Are they terrified of body hair because, you know, that’s going to be an issue.

For the most part one meets a lot of nice people and has – perhaps not memorable experiences – but a decent night out with someone new.

The man hasn’t had any disasters, but he’s had a few duds.

No judgement towards the girls he’s met. They’ve all been lovely, interesting, and really nice people. He actually feels like he’s been fishing in a pond slightly outside of his league. Security hasn’t carted him off, however, so luck will be pressed. He has met more than a few that weren’t going to happen from the get-go.

There was one fascinating date who had a delightfully raunchy sense of humour, but arrived in a cloud of cigarette smoke, body odour, and … a very particular kind of body odour. *Ahem.

Another could regale with a bevy of geeky tales and great life experiences, but couldn’t lighten up to save her life. Perhaps it was nerves, but being able to illicit one smile after an entire evening doesn’t exactly bestow one with confidence.

The man had had a fantastic date several weeks earlier in which he felt woefully out-classed. While he arrived in an oversized jacket, jeans, and leather cuffs, she showed up with impeccable makeup, perfect hair, and a very stylish outfit. She was stunning. It may have been self-consciousness, but he thought he detected a small flicker of disappointment for a moment. *Refer to the earlier comment about not sweating the things one can’t control.

Worse still are the dates in which it’s clear the other person has life figured out to a terrifying degree. House. Car. Well-paying job. Future plans. Disposable income. The man is in the midst of a huge life transition and is secretly hoping to find people who, likewise, don’t have their shit entirely figured out.

Direction is great, especially if she is also still asking for them.

There was one that turned out to be a fellow divorcee. While he found the conversation helpful, talking about one’s exes all night doesn’t exactly make for the start of something special.

The 30-something factor

What is it about turning 30 that makes people feel the need to state how firmly entrenched they are in their own lives? Starting out a conversation with, “I’m pretty set in my ways and need someone who can just fit into that” doesn’t sound as enticing as many people seem to think it does. It speaks, unfortunately for them, to what has likely been a spate of bad experiences. As soon as our friend hears this, his internal translator automatically switches to Drama-to-English conversion. Still, it sure beats the dates whose clocks are ticking and seem to be in a rush to start spitting out pint-sized facsimiles of themselves.

It’s something that’s on the man’s list, as well. However, he would be happy if it didn’t feel like that had to happen tomorrow.

Facing the door, the man has continued to fidget with his glass while we’ve had our reverie.

His mind has been elsewhere. He’s checked his phone to steal his resolve. “Jeez, it’s like a job interview! I need to refer to her profile at least a few times. Gotta make sure I don’t prattle on. Do I tell her I’m separated? Will that go as poorly as it usually does? Would it be rude if I were drunk before this starts?”

Of course, there are those dates when things just click. They’re hard to quantify, but keep your eyes peeled next time you’re in a pub and watch for the signs. Someone waiting anxiously off to the side. They invariably keep the door in view. A new face walks in and, for a second, their eyes meet. Is there recognition?

Fred?”

“Nancy?”

Sorry, this narrator isn’t great at names, off-the-cuff. Let’s edit that.

“Clyde?”

“Bonn…ie…?”

*pause for awkwardness then, in unison…

“Hi, nice to meet you!” *cue ridiculously-cute laughter. “Oh, we’re so silly, we just interrupted eachother with the same sentiment. Haha, you talk first, no you. It’s really busy here, do you want to stay?” …

Anyway, it’s palpable.

Our friend has had a mere few of these. Granted, he went a little overboard with dating apps for a time. He’s probably been on a dozen first dates in the past year. Of those, 3 stood out. One fizzled. One vanished. One … is still a gigantic question mark. A gigantic, hopeful, mark … but a question, all the same.

There is that moment.

He didn’t think it actually existed. He assumed that perhaps he was simply too analytical. Maybe his very nature prevented him from having those moments and experiences lauded by so many others. Perhaps, at the end of it all, he would have to choose between being alone or settling. Neither one being appealing options. I … he … he will not settle.

Then he had one of those dates. It was cold outside and she’d worn a hat. He wasn’t sure what to do with his nervous energy but, when he saw her, their eyes met and he didn’t care. Eye contact wasn’t difficult. They walked through the streets to a quieter venue. She progressively closer as they began to chat. He thought that, hm, perhaps she was actually flirting with him. By the end of the night it was quite clear. They drank too much. Laughed like idiots. Made stupid jokes that were somehow still funny. It was relaxed, easy, and didn’t feel like work at all. Tonight, they were the couple in the pub whom people would keep tabs on throughout the evening.

I think they’re on a first date.” “That is awkward and adorable.” “I give them 2, 3 dates tops!”

Separating on the Tube would prove difficult, but it would happen with a mixture of wistful glances and excuses to ‘accidentally’ bump into the other. It was adorable and certainly annoyed most of the other riders on the train. PDA is popular in London, but certainly frowned upon by most Londoners not currently engaged in PDA of their own.

The gentleman in the pub would turn out to be right. After 2 more seemingly fantastic dates, she would vanish and our friend would spend several days enjoying that uncomfortable mixture of loss and confusion. No matter, at the end of it all. He now knew that such things were possible. Perhaps he’d even write about it down the road when he felt comfortable revealing himself in such a way. He did have a blog, afterall. It was even supposed to be the account of starting again in a brand new country. Why not give readers the full monty, so to speak?!

Perhaps he would do just that.

Perhaps tonight would be another of those nights.

Wouldn’t that be nice. He’d been doing quite well of late. His life was getting back on track. He’d found hobbies and expanded his friend network. Relations with his ex had found a comfortable plateau. Crazy people had started avoiding him on the subway. He’d even begun to find music again. Yup, things were starting to come back together.

He was still quite lonely, however. While he was in no rush for something serious and all-consuming, a solid and semi-regular relationship with another person would certainly not go amiss. In several months he’d find the aforementioned question mark, but this was too far on the horizon for him to even glimpse from here.

It’s a tricky minefield out there. Emotions run high. One often doesn’t know what to expect. Exit interviews would certainly not go amiss. It’s unlikely anyone will say for sure when you’re doing things right or wrong.  The trouble is, it’s really easy to get emotionally invested in another person. Our friend isn’t a player. He’s in the game, but he doesn’t really like it. He can’t flit from date to date with ease. He can’t keep multiple people separate and still cling to sanity. If he likes someone, he has to let his emotions get involved. It opens a person up to easily getting hurt … but it also opens one up to having positive experiences. Actually connecting with someone is a terrifyingly exciting prospect.

We’ve been so caught up in our aside…

…that we haven’t noticed the brassy undertones of jazz gently tugging at our the periphery of our awareness. Our friend has stopped fidgeting.

Adam?” …

Maybe this time …

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