Fresh out of a two and half year relationship, the first date was always going to be difficult. Think of all the pre-date nerves you’ve ever felt and amplify them with the added pressure of being severely out of practice, nursing a broken heart and spending your days as a patient at a psychiatric hospital in North London. Great first date chat. The First was chosen at random, as they all are on these apps, but he seemed suitable. A masters student at UCL doing something Geography related, I can’t remember, but I do recall that he was hot. The obligatory exchange of text messages took place until a time and place was chosen, a Wednesday afternoon in Spitalfields, at a bar I had only previously visited to use the loos in an emergency. The pre date jitters were strong, and I found myself dressed, made up and ready to go a full hour and a half before I had to leave. That’s how I found myself alone at the bar 20 minutes before the agreed meet time, checking my phone self consciously and wondering if it was too late to call the whole thing off. Surrounded by other couples, women meeting for a catch up and the steady flow of tourists through Spitalfields Market, I suddenly felt very ill-prepared to be meeting someone new and disloyal to my ex. Even though I had ended things, I still cared deeply for him and knew how much it would pain him if he knew that I was meeting up with someone new. Alas, the shot of vodka I had done in my kitchen before leaving was finally starting to settle in and I reassured myself that I had every right to move on. It might as well be with someone as hot as The First.
As time ticked on and I increasingly looked down the street for the sight of the 6ft, older student that had agreed to meet me for a drink, my phone buzzed.
“Hey! So sorry I was reading and time went a lot quicker than I realised. Getting on the tube now though so shouldn’t be too late.”
I groaned, out loud, to the startled looks of the women next to me. Him being 20 minutes late and me 20 minutes early totalled in 40 mins of sitting alone and anxious. I felt like a mug and was certain everyone around me thought I’d been stood up. Hell, I thought I might be.
I considered doing a lap of the market to fill the time, but had managed to grab the last table in the summer evening sun and wanted to hold on to it. I was also unsure how far I would get on my nervous knees and new platform espadrilles, so decided to stay put. Eventually, I see his brunette head pop around the corner and a sigh of relief is released from me and my strange company, who were probably preparing to console me had he been a no show. I had had 40 minutes to prepare my greeting, and hadn’t thought of what to say. I wanted to kick myself. I jump to my feet and knock the table in the process, making the cutlery rattle at the same speed of my anxious heart and manage to blurt out a “Hello.” I offer an awkward half hug across the table, which is accepted lacklusterly as my eyes search for the hovering waiter, suddenly desperate for a beer.
The ins and outs of our stunted conversation have slipped from my synapses, clearly not making much of an impact on me. All I remember is nervously sitting there whilst he delved into the story of his Irish family and university shenanigans that were meant to impress me, whilst I struggled with the impulse to scream at him that I had just broken up with my ex. I can’t have been the best company, but neither was he. The only thing that I can remember discussing was Brexit. My breath was held when I asked him what he had voted, which I was about to release in comfort once he confirmed he was Remain; only to hold it again when he followed this with “but.”
“But what?” I spit at him. The emotions that surround Brexit momentarily triumphing over my heartbreak as I fixed him with a cold stare.
“… but I didn’t get my postal vote sorted in time and I was on holiday for the referendum.”
My already large nostrils flared and he most likely thought that I was going to accidentally suck him and his chino shorts through them, due to the intensity of my disapproving inhale. I remember my therapy and count to 10.
Considering we were already on rocky terrain, I figured it was ok to ask about his previous Tinder adventures. He admits he’s been on a few but not found anyone he wanted to pursue. He has a strategy, he tells me. If it’s not going well, he’ll make an excuse after the first drink and avoid ordering another so not to “waste anymore time.” As if on queue, the waiter appears and asks if we would like another drink. The First looks bashful as I playfully watch him navigate this excruciating social situation, his brain calculating the different outcomes of his next decision.
If he says no, I’ll know he’s doing a runner.
If he says yes, I’ll think he’s into me, or at least now feels trapped into another drink with me.
Not ideal either way.
As a general rule of thumb, all outcomes are going to be bad when you tell a girl your strategy for avoiding being honest with women, or have a strategy at all for that matter. Just be honest. Although it is funny to see you squirm.
He takes the latter route, so we settle in for another over priced beer and he manages to ask me a few questions about my life. At this point I’m just thinking about the vegan cheesy chips I’m going to eat with my flatmate later and fill the time with idle chit chat. I use it as a time to practice talking about myself without horrifically oversharing. You’ll have to read his (hopefully) non-existent blog post to see how unsuccessful I was at that though.
Finally, the beers are finished and we split the bill. I have the principle of always splitting the bill in order not to feel like I owe anyone anything, and will only accept being paid for if I’m sure that there will be another time for me to return the favour. I was not sure in this circumstance.
We hug goodbye, no less awkwardly than our first attempt and he heads to dinner with his mum, and me to meet my friend. I fill her in on the date over beers and vegan mac and cheese / dirty fries, which as a non-vegan she doesn’t return to the kitchen, just accepts it stoically so we can share. She’s a great friend. We cheers to moving on and getting back into the field with hot tall boys, even if they aren’t the one.
I text The First when I get home to thank him for a nice evening and add that it was nice to meet him.
He responds, “You too! Hope you have a nice evening with your friend.”
I risk another text and tell him that we had a lovely time, my flatmate being in a good mood after a positive day at work. The two blue ticks mark that it’s been read, but no response ever comes. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but some form of “Thanks but not thanks,” would have sufficed. Little did I know, I had met my first ghost and my life was about to get seriously and more deeply spooky after this.
As far as first dates after a relationship go, this wasn’t terrible. It wasn’t perfect, or even great, but it was manageable and the equivalent of dipping my toe into the ocean of dating. It was decided with my friend however, that a few more weeks of chips, beer and scandalous chat was probably required before I decided to wade in any further.
So that’s what we did, and it was wonderful.
Cover art: Gillian Wearing, Everything is connected in life… (1992-3)