Of all the things that irritate me - and believe me, there’s a very long list - the one sure way to enrage me to the point of silence is the often repeated question: “Why are you still single?” The question is usually preceded by a list of my perceived attributes and accomplishments, and while that’s all nice, the words that frequently leave me musing into the small hours are the lyrics to Morrissey’s 'I Know It’s Over.' “With your triumphs and your charms... why do you sleep alone tonight?”
Self-pity is never a good look and should be the enemy to any self-respecting columnist, so while I could rake over the possible reasons for my enduring singledom, it all comes back to one undeniable fact: until recently I had not been on a date for two years.
Scarred by my last relationship (to someone who can politely be called a “control freak”), I threw myself into work, into building a life for myself which meant that I never had to depend on anyone else for happiness again. One of the problems with becoming a borderline workaholic is that when you do finally find yourself with that sacred day off, the emptiness and loneliness can be unbearable.
I finally briefly dated another guy, who was perhaps the most handsome man I had ever met. He also knew it, was supremely self-obsessed, secretive, deceitful, remote and had all the lethal charm of a cobra. I backed off (this one felt dangerous), vowing never again to entertain a former reality TV contestant/wannabe pop singer who, on a date, was more likely to plug me into his earphones so I could swoon at his latest self-penned tune than to intoxicate me with his conversational prowess.
Although never one for New Year’s resolutions, I decided in January that something had to change. I needed to get myself out dating again, back into what friends called - and this term itself makes me cringe - “the dating game.” The hideous cliches abounded: “Dust yourself off and start again”; “It’s a numbers thing: you go through the No’s to get the Yes’s.” The prospect of the whole dating thing filled me with horror. And then there was the small matter of how I’d fit it into the many unsocial hours that I worked. But these were just excuses. I was avoiding meeting new people and all the old memories and fears of rejection resurfaced. The first thing I needed to do was to get a grip.
The next challenge - much harder than it sounds in this age of online chat which frequently leads nowhere - was to arrange a day to meet the guy I’d been talking to. The ludicrous reality was that I’d probably spent longer than any harmless date would have lasted by tapping inane “How are you’s?” into an iPhone over the course of two months - yes, that long! But it’s not just the monumental waste of time I’m talking about it here: it’s the excessive level of expectation I’d begun to attach to a complete stranger - an inevitable consequence of the ridiculous length of time I'd shunned dating.
So much about online dating revolves around perspective. It seems highly appropriate that my journey back into this crazy dating game coincides with a time in my life in which I am seeking new challenges in my work life. How different should a date be from an interview? Surely both of these interactions are about not only whether the person you’re meeting feels you are suitable, but whether you would be comfortable spending time with them. And so, it was with this in my mind that I went on my first date - the first date I had been on in years - with a cute Italian who claimed to be “looking for something more serious.”
The verdict? It went well enough. We agreed to meet again. He was pleasant - even if a rather long lecture on spiritualism left me looking at my watch, while the pretentious arty way he talked about creating Electronic Dance Music, had me reaching for a second glass of Pinot. But I kept an open mind. It was only on the second date, in which he stared across the table and asked me whether he should go into porn or not - as I took the first bite out of my cheeseburger - that I concluded this was one perspective on a relationship that I certainly wouldn’t consider. And that perhaps is the key to the whole dating experience: not compromising on what you want and need. “Just keep on with it. The more you do it, the easier it becomes,” replied a friend when I relayed this episode. Yes, another cliche (unavoidable in this game, I fear), but also a reassuring truth. Still, the dating drought had finally been broken - and fortunately, I already had someone else lined up - and a few after him, too. This time I'm going along without any expectations at all.
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