After the recent story about Lucy’s attempt to find love by rejoining Guardian Soulmates, here’s one from the archive, about Lucy’s previous foray into the world of left-of-centre dating.
It’s 2015, and Lucy’s been single for about 6 months after The Ex ended their 5-year relationship. After some time spent weeping into her sofa cushions and losing a shit ton of stress weight, she’s decided she’s now skinny enough and sufficiently in need of a shag to join a dating site in the hope of finding someone new.
She chooses Guardian Soulmates – the dating website from the people who publish The Guardian newspaper. Lucy thinks it’s safe to assume that the guys she meets here will therefore be typical Guardian readers: educated, intelligent, interested in the world around them, politically left-of-centre, liberal, and sensible. In other words, completely perfect.
It turns out she’s wrong.
One of the first people who messages her is Sunil. Sunil is, as his name suggests, of South Asian heritage: tall, dark and handsome, with great hair and a nice smile. His profile is well-written and he even appears to have a sense of humour.
Amazing! thinks Lucy. He’s great! Maybe she’s not going to be single again for long after all.
They quickly agree a date and swap numbers, and Lucy is even more impressed when, the next day, Sunil phones her.
She likes it when guys call. It shows they have manners, and are making an effort, and can do conversation. And this is all true of Sunil. He’s chatty, and has a nice voice, with an extremely posh Queen’s English accent.
“What are you up to this weekend, then?” he enquires.
Lucy fills him in on her thrilling plans, and asks about his.
“I’m going to do a bit of shopping,” he says. “Might go to Penhaligons and pick up some perfume. You like Penhaligons?”
Lucy’s heard of the brand, but isn’t familiar with their range. She does, however, like a man who is well-groomed, and smelling nice is very important. Nothing more guaranteed to get Lucy’s clothes hitting the floor than a hot and charming man who smells subtly of delicious aftershave.
But is Penhaligons the thing? Later, when she googles it, she’s not so sure. It turns out the brand is a very traditional British perfume house that’s been going since 1860. Their male scents have names like ‘The Tragedy of Lord George’, ‘Roaring Radcliff’ and ‘Monsieur Beauregard’. Sounds like the type of thing a paunchy middle-aged toff in red corduroy trousers and a tweed jacket would dab on his pulse points before heading out to set his dogs on a few pesky foxes. Not at all the sort of fragrance likely to have a modern independent woman reaching for a guy’s belt buckle.
She wonders what this says about Sunil. The fact that she found him on Guardian Soulmates suggests he’s going to be liberal and open-minded, but his extremely posh accent and his choice of perfume brand give her a little niggling doubt. Still, she doesn’t want to stereotype – people come in all creeds and colours, and as a well-spoken young lady herself, judging someone based on the way they speak is the last thing she would ever do. So she puts on one of her go-to date dresses, and heads off to meet him.
They’ve arranged to meet at Vapiano, a pizza and pasta joint that also has a bar area. Lucy would never agree to dinner on a first date, but Sunil’s assured her that they can just have drinks in the bar, and then always get food later should things go well.
He’s waiting in the doorway when she arrives. He looks like his photos: a full head of black hair, tanned skin, perhaps not as tall as she was expecting. And just like the stereotype she was dreading, he’s wearing corduroy trousers and a tweed jacket.
Uh-oh… thinks Lucy. Amber flag warning. What self-respecting man in his late 30s wears cord trousers? And with a tweed jacket, no less? This ain’t the Cheltenham Races, love.
“Hello,” he says, and leans in for a kiss on the cheek. Lucy gets a full hit of the perfume: musky, woody, like something her grandfather would wear. If her grandfather had ever gone swimming in an entire vat of Aramis. It’s an instant turn-off.
Don’t judge, Lucy. Give him a chance.
They hesitate in the doorway, scanning the busy room for a free table. Sunil spots a couple getting up and leaving. “There’s one,” he points.
At that moment, two Muslim women wearing hijabs, who’ve been waiting nearby, swoop in and grab it.
“Ah bollocks,” snarls Sunil. “The Ewoks have stolen it. Bitches.”
Lucy’s jaw hits the floor. Did he really just refer to two Muslim women as ‘Ewoks’? As in, the little furry creatures from Return of the Jedi who wear hoods over their heads? Was that some kind of Star Wars reference she doesn’t get?
As if to squash any doubts, Sunil laughs. “Don’t look so shocked!” he exclaims. “I could have said plenty of far worse things!”
Lucy is stunned. He’s joking, right? An unfortunate, ill-judged joke, but some sort of joke? Surely no one is that openly racist, especially not someone from Guardian Soulmates and especially not someone who is himself from an ethnic minority? Because if he is, then this is going to be the shortest date she’s ever been on.
As she hesitates, uncertain if she can just turn around and leave again after having made all that effort and come all that way, another table becomes free. Sunil makes a beeline for it and sits down, and still bewildered, she follows mutely.
“So,” he barks, brandishing the menu with a flourish. “What’s a nice girl like you doing on Guardian Soulmates? You’re not a liberal lefty, are you?” He almost spits the words out.
Finally, Lucy finds her tongue. “Um, well, I do read the Guardian, and yes, you could say I’m a bit liberal… What about you, why are YOU on Guardian Soulmates?”
Sunil laughs. “I just like intelligent blondes. Preferably with a nice accent. And Soulmates seems to be a good place to find them. But there are no guarantees, so that’s why I phoned you – you know, to make sure. And I liked the sound of you, and now I’ve seen you I’m very pleased I came!”
With horror, Lucy realises that she has somehow ended up on a date with a racist Conservative with a thing for posh white girls. The phonecall was not him being friendly and confident, it was him vetting her. If her accent hadn’t been up to scratch, the whole thing would have been off.
She needs to escape – but how? Remember, dear reader, Lucy is newly back on the dating scene; she’s still finding her feet in this mad world and certainly wouldn’t be able to just get up and march out as she would definitely do now she’s older, wiser, and far less patient. And as much as she knows there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell she’s going to see Sunil again, she’s reluctant to leave so soon. She’s made an effort, washed her hair, dressed nicely, come all this way… to turn round and get back on the tube and go all the way home again having just got there seems like too much of a failure.
Maybe a friend can help get her out of the situation with some sort of fake emergency? While Sunil goes to the bar, she grabs her phone and quickly texts Amir. This, of course, was when Amir was still just her good friend, and before the dating debacle that ruined their relationship (which you can read all about here).
But Amir doesn’t reply. So she decides the only thing she can do is stay and get drunk at Sunil’s expense. She allows him to buy a bottle of prosecco and some pizza without even offering to split the bill, and being an old-fashioned kind of guy in every way, he’s happy to pay.
Lucy hopes he doesn’t think this means he’ll be getting sex later. Or ever. She’d rather never have sex again for the rest of her life than let this man put his penis anywhere near her.
They make small talk and eat their pizza. When he’s not being racist, Sunil is actually pleasant and chatty: he tells her a bit about himself, he asks about her, he’s interested in her job, he flirts and pays her compliments, and it turns out that eating pizza and drinking prosecco at his expense is not actually the worst way to spend an hour or two.
But every so often he chucks in a comment that makes her squirm. There’s a sneer at the black couple at the next table because the guy is much slimmer than the girl “and they’re into fat arses in their culture”. He goes on a mini rant about his female boss, who is “a feminist bitch”. He even complains that London is too full of immigrants, which Lucy thinks is mind-boggling coming from a man she’s 100% certain can’t trace his lineage back to William The Conqueror (who was himself an immigrant anyway).
She blinks at him in surprise, but the irony of his comment appears to entirely pass him by.
So she finishes her pizza, swiftly drinks the last of the prosecco, and makes her excuses. She doesn’t even bother to text a polite thank you as she would usually do if the guy has paid. And when Sunil texts her later to continue the conversation, she doesn’t reply.
Late to the party as ever, Amir eventually replies the next day.
Lucy chalks that one up to experience and goes back to Guardian Soulmates to see if she can find someone who isn’t quite so racist for next time.