There is something unseemly about discussing politics on a date. On a first date anyway. First dates should be about the star-fire of urbane humour and charming, self-deprecating chatter. First dates are for talking about your wonderful friends (honestly, they’re like my family) and offering moist-eyed anecdotes about your cherubic nephews. First dates should also be spent discussing culture: music, movies – or even better, the theatre. As a general rule, the conversation should be light and inoffensive. Bang on about Netflix, if you must. Drivel on about your career, if you have to. Talk about travel, festivals, your Tate membership (and how you still don’t go as often as you’d like) – anything. Just don’t do politics.
Politics – like religion, football or marriage – is the kind of topic that ruins a first date. It’s just so dour, so lacking in frivolity. I once mentioned welfare reform on a date (clearly, I was on fire that night). Not that I was trying to be controversial, it was just something that came out of the general flow. Nevertheless, my date, a power-heeled City siren, eyed me like Heath Ledger’s leering Joker – why so serious? she intoned. And she had a point, it was a moribund subject. I tried to lift the mood with a little sunny speculation on the forthcoming ‘Strictly’ finals, but it was too late. I was burnt.
Last week I had a similarly distressing experience when I went for a drink with ‘Lucy’ – a teacher from Islington (yes, the signs were there, as they say). We had met online and arranged a date in the usual quick-fire fashion. It was only afterwards I learned a troubling fact about Lucy – she was a Corbyn supporter. While examining her Twitter profile I had been astonished to find it loaded with cold-eyed aggression, sarcasm, and tirades against the ‘Red Tories’. She wanted to prove something, I suppose, although what exactly wasn’t clear.
We eventually met in a packed pub on the Strand, a mutually convenient after-work location. An unglamorous boozer, tawdry yet functional. Looking at the crowd, it would seem the unvarnished facade was part of its appeal. A bit like Corbyn, I guess. In fact many things about the date reminded me of the New Politics – mostly the untrammelled anger.
“So, tell me,” Lucy said, “How do you like working in the City?”
It sounded like an accusation.
“It’s all right.”
She took a sip of wine.
“The money’s good,” I said.
This paltry mitigation was meant to sound practical and upbeat. I wanted to come across as a realist – good for the long-haul. Instead, my line had the ring of the imperialist.
Lucy said, “Money’s not everything, you know.”
“I’m with you. But I grew up in a rubbish part of South London.”
“And? I grew up in a rubbish part of Buckinghamshire.”
“Ha, good one.”
“Listen,” I said. “All I’m saying is if you grew up with holes in your zapatos, you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough.”
Lucy took another drink – her eyes flicked to her phone. I quickly switched to some innocuous chat about American TV. However, as I rattled off a checklist of shows, I could tell her mind was stuck on politics. Eventually, I allowed the conversation to drift back to something she had touched on earlier: social justice. Yes, romance-killing social justice.
“But don’t you care about inequality?” She said.
I had just lambasted the latte-sipping Occupy movement.
After searching for the heartfelt answer, I opted for the truth:
“…It’s just they were blocking my route to the office. It was quite annoying actually. I mean what’s wrong with sending a few annoyed tweets from home, why disrupt everyone else?”
“So, you’ve got a problem with peaceful protest then.”
“I didn’t say that. I just don’t know what they were hoping to achieve.”
“Gandhi achieved a lot. He was a peaceful protestor.”
“Sure, but he also recommended we ask the Nazis to invade England – just to show them that only love can defeat hate.”
Lucy put her glass down. “No, he did not.”
“He did. Ask the Internet.”
I offered another drink. Lucy said yes – clearly there were more matters of state to be addressed. The clock was running down. At the bar I glanced over to see her checking her phone. I thought she was doing a bit of fact-checking at first, then remembered that incessant phone-checking is a universal habit.
“Listen,” I said, sliding a house white across the table. “It’s clear we have very different views. I just don’t get this whole new politics thing. I mean, I’d be happy with the old politics, just done well.”
Lucy’s face softened. We both remembered we were on a date.
She said, “Well, you have to admit Corbyn’s got us all talking.”
“Yes,” I took a gulp of wine. “I suppose he has.”
Afterwards Lucy texted me to say she ‘didn’t think it would work’. That’s dating-code for ‘I don’t like you’.
So much for straight talking politics, I thought. Still, at least I got the message.