“What the hell does one talk about on a first date?” is a hard enough question, but it’s not as bad as working out what can only be called a pre-date. Since the crucial teenage years were marked by frizzy hair and the (erroneous) belief that I was fat, my education in that direction is rather stunted. This is probably why boyfriends have mostly entered my life through neutral, non-threatening portals such as work, study or friend-of-a-friend gatherings. It must be admitted that that is where I’m at my best. Friends first is the only formula that works for me (maybe more so now that the fat is quite real). And I’ve never lost a single friend, my poor efforts at staying in touch notwithstanding; my break-ups with the said boyfriends seem to have simply consisted of returning them to the friend state.
I’m absolutely useless on first dates. I feel myself seizing up or getting silly and there’s precious little I can do about it. Being of an age where everyone I know is keen on setting me up whether I want it or not, I have a lot of opportunity to see myself like this and I don’t like it at all. Email beginnings are fine of course – I’m a writer after all – but they inexorably lead to the face-to-face moment of truth, which probably creates much Jekyll-and-Hyde confusion for the party of the second part.
In the cafe I currently patronize, I’m always surrounded by teenagers in various stages of hooking up. I should envy them the hair and the poise, except it’s certain that most of them must be feeling fat and frizzy inside. So what I really admire is their ability to bell the cat nevertheless. Not only did I squander my teenage years sitting very still under a bushel, but am also wasting the present ones doing the exact same thing. Instead of proper dates, I opt for elaborately casual meetings that I have to invent terms for and end up never knowing whether I’m coming or going. And pretending that it doesn’t matter.
What it comes down to is that I’m not a first-impression person. Like a good pot of stock, I need ages of simmering to bring out the good stuff (have developed an interest in soup lately). The good thing about not being a teenager any more is that I’m perfectly okay with that. Perhaps I don’t need a date so much as an imaginary boyfriend. Shilo, when I was young…
There’s a much better piece in the Times by Sathnam Sanghera on the subject of dating in your thirties.
Schrödinger's cat, the detailed version.
Schrödinger's cat in the version I like best. A snippet from the Big Bang Theory.
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