Whatever else you do on a date, remember to look compassionate. This may sound ludicrous, however, think about it for a moment. We want to meet compassionate people. We want to meet people who demonstrably care about others. We want to meet the Kindly Ones. This simple fact is in plain view at all times – and yet somehow still invisible (like the fact while 80% of the content on Netflix is rubbish we still endorse the meme ‘Netflix and Chill’).
Let’s start with a fact. Men are not naturally compassionate. Some of us may have compassionate souls, but the feeling is never front and centre in our minds – particularly on a date. We’re too preoccupied with trying to impress. I suppose that’s why so many of us disappoint. When it comes to attractive character traits men mistakenly think humour is more important than anything else. And while there is something to be said for the winning power of wit, being a funny bloke will only get you so far. When it comes to choosing The One most women (I’m guessing) are looking for something more than a good old backslapping laugh.
I am no different from the rest of mankind. Displays of compassion are just not my thing. Not that I am an especially gloomy character. I just consider myself a realist. A stoic raconteur, constantly vacillating between biting cynicism and dark humour. The problem with having such a persona is that my patter can seem a little dour. This isn’t intentional of course. In my mind I am a wizard of black hearted larks. A master joke-smith. Unfortunately, the reality of my situation is not quite so sanguine. In person I come across like a precocious sixth form poet, and as such I have learned that I must not (under any conditions) be myself on a date. My negative valve – usually a source of wit and relief – must be firmly closed. Be positive, my colleague Jess always says. Women don’t like irritable men. But irritability is part of who I am, I said. It’s my schtick.
“Then put your schtick away,” Jess said. “You need to lighten up if you ever want to find a girlfriend.”
We had been discussing my latest date. I had failed to show the requisite emotion and blown it with another would-be woman of wonder.
It was Saturday evening and Jane and I were on a train heading from London Bridge to Brockley. We were on our third date, heading for my ludicrously overpriced local boozer. She’d never been there before but I knew she would like it – they served their beer in jam jars, and their food on wooden boards. It was perfect.
The train was nearing New Cross Gate when a young man passed down the isle. He placed a small packet of tissues on every spare seat. On top of the tissues was a small note. I picked it up and read aloud:
“Please help by buying these tissue. I have small brother and sister I am trying to look after. Thank you and God bless.”
I placed it down and let out a snorting laugh.
“What?” Jane said. “I think it’s sweet.”
“I think he needs help with his grammar.”
“Oh god, you can’t be serious.”
“I most certainly am. Why is it that every guy who does the tissues thing has a sob story? Either they don’t get capitalism, or they get it better than we do.”
“I can’t believe you.”
The train shuttled on. I looked out the window. Jane got out her phone.
I quickly turned giving her a start. “I’ll just say this,” I said. “If he wants to help his brother, why doesn’t he get a job? That way he can pay tax and help everyone’s brother.”
Jane looked back at her phone. “I don’t know,” she said. “Why don’t you ask him?”
The tissue seller walked back up the train. A young bearded man bought a packet.
“I think I will,” I said. “I mean look at that bearded bloke, I bet he doesn’t even have a cold.”
“That’s not the point.”
“That’s exactly the point. He’s only doing it to show the rest of us what a wonderfully kind person he is. They call it virtue signalling.”
“Do they now.”
“Yes, they do. He wouldn’t give a damn about that guy in any other circumstances. Don’t you think?”
She didn’t respond.
I watched the tissue seller as he collected his wares. The train pulled into Brockley station. I noticed a small boy waving on the platform. The seller stood near the door and waved back. I snuck a glance at Jane – fortunately, she was still engrossed in her phone.
We all want to help. I get it. The tissue seller is only trying to make his way. Same as me. Same as anyone. Still, it doesn’t mean he can’t get a tax paying job. There are plenty of them out there.
This is how I explained the matter to Jane in the pub. She regarded me with frosty eyes. It’s fine, she said, staring down at her chunky chips. But it wasn’t. Nothing would ever be fine between us again.