In a very brief foray into online dating, I’d exchanged messages with a few potential dates that Spring. In between changing jobs and trips to New York to meet new colleagues, I wasn’t really giving it an enormous amount of attention. One chap, though, seemed nice enough to schedule a dinner with on my return from NYC. He was tall, his profile claimed, and relatively handsome, from what I could make out in a couple of bad quality photos; into food and travel; and his messages were perfectly spelt and punctuated. How bad could it be, thought I, and so we arranged dinner near his office in St. Paul's one weekday evening.
Standing in the shadow of the cathedral, the inevitable disappointment of the online date made itself known: the man who walked up to me really wasn’t what I’d been expecting. Wearing a vast red, scruffy anorak, he was a good five inches shorter than his 5’10” claims. Not wanting to be too prematurely judgy, I put a slight sinking feeling to one side and, not being familiar with the area, nodded along at his suggestion of dinner at “a little place he knew”.
I was enormously confounded when we stopped outside what wasn't a particularly “little place”, our destination apparently being the St Paul's branch of STRADA. A surprising choice for someone who professes to be into his food, I thought, but probably bad form to bail now.
I should have bailed.
We sat down, and my date proceeded to gripe about the hideous a day he’d had. We ordered. He told me how much he hated his job and his colleagues, who just didn’t give him the recognition he deserved. I gripped the stem of my glass wine, and prayed he’d lighten up when he’d had something to eat. He didn’t. Throughout the meal, he went on to be relentlessly negative about every facet of his life – he didn’t get on with his family; his commute was awful; he didn’t like his housemates. He was most remarkable in his apparently all-consuming inability to ask me a single question about myself. Not how my day was, what I did for work, or whether I was enjoying my pretty bog standard plate of pasta.
“We’ll just get the bill, shall we?” he said as he practically licked his plate clean having inhaled the meal. Not wishing to be stuck for any longer than I had to be, I agreed, enormously thankful for an excuse to scarper.
When it arrived, he picked it up. “I’ll get this.”
Well, that’s something at least. “Thank you very much, that’s very kind.”
He fumbled in his pocket for a raggedy bit of paper. He opened it at the table, and compared it to the bill. When the waitress came to take his card, he handed her what was, less to my amazement by this point than my resignation, a 2 for 1 voucher (I’m all for thrift, but there’s a danger in pulling out a 2 for 1 voucher on a first date that you’ll just come off as cheap).
I went to drain the dregs of my wine glass, disappointed to find I’d got to that stage much earlier in the evening. We shrugged on jackets, and I pled an early meeting, as relieved as I’ve ever been to scamper off into the night, some 45 (long, oh so long) minutes after I’d met him.
I returned home thoroughly glum. “That’s it,” I said to Colin, as he chirruped round my ankles in the kitchen. “I give up. There is just no point in dating. From now on, it’s you and me, my boy.” He wailed forlornly at the tin of cat food on the kitchen side.
The next morning, I was on the train into work as my phone bleeped.
Hi, was really good to meet you last night. I had a great time! Fancy doing it again soon? X
At a complete loss as to how two people sitting at the same table could have such wildly differing experiences, I texted back my polite but decisive decline and leant my head back on the seat, vowing that the disappointment just wasn’t worth it.
Fate, of course, in her ever-amusing way, had other ideas. My strict, lifelong boycott lasted all of two months before I met The Writer – a man who, to this day, hasn’t once suggested we have dinner at a STRADA.