I’d had a few too many because I was nervous and I thought it would be a good idea to loosen up a little, give off the impression that I was a carefree gal with pure comedy gold that could laugh at herself while simultaneously being extremely attractive and feminine. I’m wearing my favourite, navy blue and mustard yellow striped tailored trousers and a long sleeve black crop top. I’ve got ankle boots on and my dog tooth Zara coat that I got in the Barnardos in Brixton, two seconds from my old flat, a bargain that has gotten me a fair few compliments from absolute babes on the tube. We arranged to meet at Waterloo station and as I was running late he arrived before me, waiting for me amongst the commuters as I got off the bus. Ruffling my hair for volume and licking my teeth every five seconds in constant fear that, even though it has never happened before in my entire life, my lipstick has decided to melt off my lips and make me look like I’d just devoured a juicy M&S beetroot and feta salad or perhaps downed a large glass of red in nervous anticipation. He was taller than most so was easy to spot and as a hugger I knew I’d go straight in for the affectionate albeit aloof greeting of a casual (not too tight but not drippy either) embrace.
We began walking straight away to avoid the awkward side to side hands-in-pockets sway I knew I would soon adopt, a compensation technique that I would like to think makes me look endearing and sweet but I know actually just makes me look like I have a bit of a problem. The conversation is flowing because I can’t hack a silence and within minutes I’ve already used up my Game of Thrones card which I usually save for later on in conversation as a ‘I’m not your usual girly girl’ curve ball. He definitely thinks I’m babbling, I’ve just asked what his favourite colour, animal and meal is and he thinks this is an interrogation. My top lip is sweating. I think I just made a Jew joke and I really don’t know how he’s going to take it and I’m laughing to diffuse the horror and I told him my favourite breed of dog was a Labrador which is ridiculous because we all know it’s a cocker spaniel.
After traversing the whole of the South Bank and tripping over my own sentences we find a cosy pub/bar and nestle on a wee table for two in the corner. He gets me my vodka soda with fresh lime and himself a Guinness, I try to ignore the blatant basic bitch glare he gives me at my choice of drink and sneak to the bathroom to check my face for vampire teeth and chimney sweep smudges that I may have acquired on the journey where nothing whatsoever touched my face. When I get back he smiles at me, and I’m relieved to feel that I may fancy him a little. One of my biggest fears about a first date is that I won’t find the person physically attractive and being too polite to terminate the date will suffer through. All the while suppressing my gags and trying not to make it obvious that I’d rather be absolutely ANYWHERE but here wondering why you haven’t taken care of your ghastly yet admittedly impressive mono brow. But he has a nice smile and he’s wearing nice clothes- so I resume my pew and let him lead with the topic for fear I’ll drop another anti-Semitic joke that he absolutely will not enjoy.
I get the next round, because I like a guy to know I won’t and don’t expect to be a kept lady- that I can pay my way- and we start talking about social media and potential business plans and books and I think- hey this guy is really cool? He’s intelligent, he’s ethical, he’s funny- so far so good. But now the fact that I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I’ve just finished my second double vodka soda in the space of forty five minutes is becoming apparent as my vision starts to fuzz around the edges and I’m finding him far more amusing than I should be; thankfully though he soon suggests we head for dinner. He’s chosen Wagamama’s because he knows I’m a vegetarian and I try to hide the fact that the thought of marriage and kids has just passed through my head because clearly we are soul mates and so I take a seat at the table. By this point I’m embarrassingly tipsy but I’m hoping that what my friends say about never being able to tell when I’m drunk is true as I try to choose something ‘graceful’ from the menu that I won’t spill all down my chin. He chooses the same dish as me in an effort to experience new veggo flavours and my respect for him deepens, we talk about anything and everything. Thankfully the rice sobers me up and by the end of the meal I’m in a relatively normal state and can resume appropriate first date decorum. He kindly pays the bill while I’m in the bathroom despite my protests and we begin the stroll back to where I’ll be catching the bus home. After an elongated walk to the bus stop I’m relieved that my bus is rapidly approaching and that there is no time for a goodbye kiss because at the end of the day I’m just a socially inept prude with personal space issues. I hop on with a cowardly wave and a high pitched ‘thanksforanicetimegethomesafelybyeeee!’ and am on the phone to my mum to tell her how it went before the doors have closed.
This was the last date I went on, last December, and was the first date I’d been on since I broke up with my ex in the May. I met him on Bumble, he was one of two guys I had said yes to and we had built up an amusing rapport over the week leading up to the date, my first Bumble date. I had had bumble for quite a while now, making the transition from Tinder after a girl friend thankfully opened my eyes to the higher quality of men as opposed to profile after profile of Inbetweeners reprobates I had been flicking through in the months before. I had been on a couple of tinder dates in previous years but nothing ever came of any of it and I was always left with a feeling of disappointment and an overall ‘ick’ at the guys I had met. I’ve had two relationships, one just shy of two years and one of nine months. My first relationship was by far the best, I was 15 and he was 14 and we had been best friends for two years before he got the courage to ask me out. I said yes and then didn’t speak to him at school the whole next day and avoided him as best I could until he sought me out and reminded me that we were together now and that sort of meant we had to look each other in the eye and have a conversation, ‘But why?’ I protested- but it turned out to be a good decision. My next (and last) relationship was rather disastrous and has completely put me off ever having one again. Although we are still friends, I’m rather haunted at the memory of the whole thing and try to push it to the dark confines of my mind where I store information I’d prefer not to remember.
So, I wonder. What makes a good relationship? Why was my first one far better than my second and why are dating apps a complete load of rubbish? Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. Well. First we will talk about attraction. I was having a conversation a little while ago with a guy on board (I work on ships) about how when you first arrive somewhere, anywhere, you unintentionally do a little reccy of everyone in the room to scout out potential mates. Now, he’s not wrong and I am particularly guilty, especially if I’m with my girlfriends, of poking my head into a bar and doing a 360 before scrunching my nose up and suggesting we keep looking. But it has come to my attention recently that I never find anybody initially attractive. There has only ever been one that I have ever met in my life that I have looked at upon entering a room and been like ‘oh wow’ at just his appearance. I am fortunate enough not to suffer from dreaded beer goggle syndrome, so my interaction with men is very limited and I often find myself feeling frustrated that I don’t find the whole room attractive after a few G+T’s like my friends do as I would probably have a lot more fun.
I used to panic because I thought I was unreasonably fussy and that there was something wrong with me for never fancying anyone. I was worried in case I could only be attracted to these insanely handsome guys that were way out of my league and that I would be yearning for someone who would never even glance in my direction. I used to be exasperated spending hours on dating apps swiping left for every single guy on there until I ran out, those little red search circles pulsing away trying to scrape more men from the bottom of the barrel. I couldn’t work out why I never thought anyone was good looking. But recently I was reviewing my dating history and although I am pretty proud to say I have been with some absolute tens I have also been extremely fond of some six or sevens, perhaps even fives to others. So I AM capable of fancying men who aren’t professional rugby players or Gods. Why is it then I don’t swipe left for anyone?
And then I realised- I don’t actually find ANYONE only physically attractive. I realised that if you put a hundred men in a room and told them not to smile, to stand completely expressionless and say nothing, I would struggle to pick one I thought was attractive. I would see just a mass of features, of noses, eyes, hair- an army of statues. But if you were to have me sit down with each of them, for them to chat to me and for me to get a feel of their personality then I reckon there’d be a fair few that I would take to. I have never thought of myself as a hugely shallow person, but I didn’t quite realise how dependent I am on a cracking personality until I started using dating apps. I realised that these faces I was seeing as I trawled through guy after guy were just blank shells. That I was saying no to men who might completely blow me away after a five minute conversation but because I can’t get a feel of them as people I’m not interested in their looks. My guy friend couldn’t believe that I couldn’t say whether someone was good looking or not- they either are or they aren’t surely- but for me it’s so different. Men who I initially thought were kind of gross have grown on me very quickly after a compliment and some witty banter and men who I thought were ‘conventionally’ good looking have turned out to be as dull as dish water. I’ve come to realise that it actually is all about personality, physical attraction is what follows.
Another reason my first relationship stuck out as being so much better than the other flings I’ve had is for the simple fact that we were friends first. I truly believe that this is the golden ticket for a long and happy relationship. As I said, I’d been close friends with the guy for two years prior and I knew quite a lot about him. We used to argue fiercely about his infuriatingly narrow minded view on things and my supposed naivety, but we would still sit next to each other in every lesson we had together and text a thousand times a day. He was a very open person, very loud and sociable- similar to me. From what I could see he had no hidden personality traits and all his opinions on things were aired (sometimes annoyingly) regularly, leaving nothing in the dark. So when it came to the realisation that actually I might be able to view him as something more than a friend, I already felt so incredibly comfortable in the knowledge that I knew him that it meant there was nothing left to uncover that would shatter my impression of him. I had already learnt about him as a friend, therefore the only thing left to discover was how much I could enjoy his personality as someone who was now special in his life- a massive joy for me.
I think in today’s society we are a generation of rushers. We rush to catch the tube despite the fact there’s another one two seconds later- we rush to get ahead of people on the street. We rush our food, burning our tongues on our coffees as we gulp them down before a meeting. We rush phone calls and lunches with our friends and families because there is always somewhere else to be and we rush to achieve things in life. We rush into career’s we might not be quite ready for, we rush to grow up so we can feel adult and important- and we rush into relationships with people who we haven’t taken to the time to properly get to know, left confused and perplexed when it goes up in flames. It has actually happened to me so many times- which has left me with some massive fears and insecurities- that I meet someone who at first glance I am besotted with, I think they’re amazing and wonderful and incredible and absolutely perfect for me, and then after a while the lust fizzles out and you settle into the mundane routine of relationship life and you start noticing all the differences between you both that for some reason you couldn’t see at the start. You start realising that their opinions aren’t the same as yours, their morals and ethics are questionable and you don’t actually have a lot of respect for them as a person. They aren’t up for all the things they told you they were and they don’t enjoy the same things as you and the reason they said they did was either because they fantasised about being a person who does enjoy those things or they just wanted you to like them. Either way, wooing under false pretences is extremely unfair and has left me feeling really shit at times, thinking that you know a person and coming to realise they are actually someone completely different.
This is why it’s crucial to get to know as much as you can about a person before you start dating them. You’ll get to learn that they actually DO like hiking, and that they actually DO like travelling and reading and that they’re not just saying they do to impress you. You’ll be able to have conversations with them where you can both discuss your honest views on things without the pressure or fear that you’re going to say the wrong thing or that the other person will disagree, because when you’re friends why does it matter if your opinions differ. And only after spending so much time with someone as a friend, will you see whether you actually respect a person. Will you be able to see if they are decent, and kind, and generous and genuine- because they will have been their complete selves around you without the expectation of making a good impression. When you first meet someone in a bar or on a dating app, it’s obvious to both parties that the conditions under which you are meeting are solely romantic. Therefore everything you say and do is with the hope of appearing attractive to the other person, and who is 100% their usual self on a first date? First impressions are important yes, but it’s so easy to hide being a facade, to portray yourself as something desirable even if it’s completely different to who you actually are. To really get a taste of a person you need to be in a real situation, with real topics and real conversation where each person feels completely at ease to be their true selves. And speaking from experience, there is nothing more rewarding than falling in love with your best friend. You get to take all those things you liked about the person when you became close friends with them and times them by a thousand, and add another several hundred that you never knew existed but were lucky enough to earn the right to discover.
It’s so difficult in a world that is so focused on the aesthetics, so obsessed with appearance and what’s on the surface to look for and find someone special. I do get the appeal, with a dating app it’s like a catalogue. You can pick and choose, yes or no without the awkward ice breakers and introductions. But if you actually think about how incredibly shallow the concept of saying yes or no to someone’s face and nothing else is, you’ll see that you can never judge the way someone could make you feel based on a photo. I’ve felt some of my strongest feelings for guys who are SO not what I would usually go for, but they way they boost me, the way they make me laugh, is something I would never have had the chance to experience had I have seen them on a dating app. If you’re like me and you’re not massively social, would rather be eaten by a bear then step into a night club and prefer to be in bed by ten with a book and a cup of tea, meeting the love of your life seems seriously unlikely unless we reach for the same avocado in Lidl. And although I am by no means looking or waiting for anyone, I am confident in the knowledge that whoever he is he will be someone who I will meet and get to know naturally and gradually because when it comes to choosing someone who you are going to let into your life, trust and build with, you really want to make sure you’re taking your time.
So don’t panic if dating apps aren’t working for you- you’ll meet someone the good old fashioned way who will show you all the things you never knew to look for.