Curiously, my worst online dating experience was also my best.
Last year, I met a beautiful woman for a night of wine and wonder, it was a glorious conflagration that ended with the ignoble fade out. Afterwards, I wondered if the bar was set too high and I was destined for disappointment. Online dating, it seems, is tainted by perfectionism – perhaps I simply expected too much. My worst experience comes not from having a terrible time, but from having my expectations so comprehensively blown apart.
Maria was a thirty two year old teacher from South London. We found each other through a liberal newspaper’s dating site, ostensibly the hangout of ‘the creative’ but really just a load of people who are into HBO box sets and visiting the Tate Modern.
We met in a Soho bar on a Tuesday evening. I have noticed that people are no longer willing to give up their Friday nights for a first (and very often last) date. This I can accept. These days however people don’t want to give up their Wednesdays or Thursdays either – these being the preferred evenings for socialising, or working late. The first date has therefore been loaded into the front end of the week – along with the rest of life’s administration.
Maria was not quite as sun kissed as her photographs suggested. Similarly, I saw disappointment in her eyes – both of us were a little less polished than our avatars – dowdier, unfiltered perhaps. We ordered drinks and continued our online conversation about the Capital. We both grew up in a similar part of South London and defaulted to a stilted commentary on the decline of civic values. It wasn’t quite ‘we left the doors unlocked’, more a general agreement that those born outside the city had no real grasp of its workings. Baseless nonsense of course, but finding common ground is essential.
After the third glass of wine, we explored our political leanings – it was the humanity test, the crucible in which fledgling relationships are crushed. Left or Right wing, I truly had no alignment, and yet I felt compelled to display some form of allegiance. However, as I rambled about moderation and ethics, I realised I sounded like a New Labour throwback – some kind of bargain-basement Blair, a mediocre Mandelson in a cheap business suit.
I was losing her. My patter, intended to be provocative, was as inspirational as a summer cider advert.
Feeling my options slip away, I decided to lunge across the table. Clumsy and outright dangerous ‘The Lunge’ is a classic high risk/high gain manoeuvre. One can be equally sure to expect a slap, or an embrace. Even if the date is going well, it is not possible to predict its consequence. In my time, I have been both lunger and lungee – neither position is entirely pleasant.
Fortunately, Maria reciprocated and we started kissing, my sleeve in a puddle of Chardonnay. A glass fell to the ground, someone cheered, another called for us to ‘get a room’ but we did not care. Until we were asked to leave. Parting at Charing Cross, I felt indefatigable watching her leave like a Byzantine emperor surveying newly conquered lands. And then nothing.
On the way home, I sent a text to say I had a lovely time, and that she was lovely, and that I hoped she would think me lovely. The kind of ludicrous message that, while meant to be endearing, could easily be taken as the cry of the stalker. Maria faded out, suddenly and without reason, as is the way with the fade. She simply dropped off the grid. This was my worst experience as it gave me a glimpse of archaic happiness. For a solitary night I was the ’70s Warren Beatty, a louche maverick on the winning side. She was the young Julie Christie, beguiling and inscrutable. And just like the real-life couple, she knew we weren’t going anywhere.
If only I had known it.