The Separated Dad, Part 3 – Feminism

Lucy’s had one date with Pardeep, who’s recently split up from his wife and has a two-year-old son.

If you missed it, you can catch up here.

Lucy was rather perturbed to discover that not only is Pardeep just six months separated and not actually divorced yet, but he also still lives under the same roof as his ex.   However, in spite of this alarming red flag, she found him to be hot AF, interesting, and his post-date texting is responsive without being even slightly creepy (I know, right?! – Ed.), so when he asks her for a second date, she decides to give him the benefit of the doubt and says yes.

After all, it’s not as if Lucy is exactly drowning in offers from tall, handsome and charming men of the right age.  She needs to take what she can get.

Arrangements

Lucy’s currently between freelance contracts (which mostly entails sitting at home in her pyjamas with the heating on full blast and unwashed hair, surfing on Twitter and swiping on Bumble) so they agree to meet for dinner on a Monday evening somewhere between Pardeep’s work in Canary Wharf and West London where she lives.  Now that she has a date, Lucy’s excited: (1) because she finally has a reason to get dressed and put on makeup, and (2), because hopefully Pardeep will take her out for a delicious meal at some lovely restaurant she hasn’t been to before, which will make a very pleasant change from the eggs-on-toast and M&S frozen ready meals she’s been surviving on for the last couple of weeks.

But after the initial success in getting a second date in the diary, the planning grinds to an abrupt halt.  Pardeep’s chat deteriorates to platitudes about her day and photos of his meals, and by the time Monday lunchtime rolls around, the best he’s managed to come up with are a few vague questions about what sort of thing she likes and a whole heap of waffle about going to a children’s party wearing a latex horse head mask (I know, me neither – Ed.).

Lucy’s torn between annoyance that Pardeep can’t manage something as simple as picking any one of London’s eleventy billion restaurants (stick a pin into OpenTable, FFS!) and guilt that in this age of supposed equality she finds herself expecting him to make the decision anyway.  In the end the guilt wins, and because she’s not working and has some free time, she googles a few suggestions and sends them over.

Minimal narrowing down’?! Is this man seriously bloody complaining when she at least took the fucking trouble to come up with some suggestions for their date?  The date which, she would very much like to politely point out, is supposed to be happening in less than two fucking hours?

Lucy finally comes to the conclusion that if she continues to wait for any kind of input from Pardeep, she will still be sitting at home in comfy clothes at 8 pm when she should be dressed up and out in town drinking wine and eating nice food with a handsome man.  So she decides to take charge (after all, maybe he’s just super busy at work?), chooses a restaurant she likes that is relatively convenient for her, and sends instructions over.

His replies are minimalist to say the least.

By this stage it is already 5.40 pm.  Since they are due to meet in an hour, and her passive aggressive ‘we’ll need to find somewhere nearby‘ (by which, of course, she means Pardeep) appears to have fallen entirely on deaf ears, she gives up.  In the interests of at least having an actual fucking plan, she suggests a pre-dinner drink in the Crown and Sceptre near Oxford Circus, throws on one of her go-to date dresses and heads for the tube station.

Wine

Last time he kept her waiting for half an hour, so Lucy makes sure she is deliberately 10 minutes late, (a) to prove a point and (b) so that she doesn’t have to sit around quite so long this time if he turns out to be one of those infuriating twats who is entirely incapable of arriving anywhere at the appointed hour, even when we all have phones with alarms, and smart watches, and Citymapper, and travel alerts, and tube trains that run more reliably than Lucy’s smug married friends telling her that she’ll ‘meet someone when she least expects it’.

Happily, though, this turns out not to be the case, because Pardeep is already waiting by the bar when she arrives, looking very chic and handsome in smart work trousers and a slim-fit pink and white checked shirt. Note to self, thinks Lucy, this is a man who responds well to clear instructions. This is something she can work with.

“Hey,” he says, and gives her a kiss on the cheek. “What can I get you?”
Lucy orders a large glass of sauvignon blanc, but when her wine arrives, it is mysteriously a very dark red colour. Lucy’s confused, and in as polite a manner as she can muster given that the idiot barman appears to have fucked up a very simple instruction, she points out the error.

The barman looks mightily pissed off at the interruption to his otherwise very busy Monday evening of leaning on the bar surveying the entirely empty pub, but corrects the error nonetheless, and Lucy and Pardeep retreat to a nearby table.

“So how was your weekend?” he begins, imaginatively.

Lucy tells him about the friend who came to stay. This friend had recently had an awkward experience where a much older male colleague had offered to give her a lift home, and then during the journey pulled into a side street, stopped the car, reached out and grabbed her hand, and proceeded to express, passionately, his love and devotion to her.

“My friend was horrified!” she exclaims in empathic outrage. “This guy is like, 20 years older than her, and she was totally freaked out. Trapped in the car with him, in some random dark side street, she didn’t know what to do. Now she’s not even sure if she wants to go back to work because he basically sexually harassed her.”

“Oh come on,” says Pardeep, sternly. “That’s not really sexual harassment.”

Lucy is incensed. “But it is!  He made an entirely inappropriate approach to a much younger colleague and made her feel extremely uncomfortable!”

“Yeah but how was he to know?” Pardeep argues. “All this #metoo stuff has gone way too far.  Now a guy can’t even chat up a girl he likes without being accused of harassment!  Normal blokes are in fear of getting it wrong; people just need to lighten up!  If a guy likes a girl he should be able to say! I bet you if that work chap had been young and hot she wouldn’t have minded in the slightest.”

Lucy can feel her blood beginning to boil, and naïve, idiotic Pardeep is about to be on the receiving end of the full force of her outrage. She launches into a full-on tirade about inappropriate behaviour, about how it’s one thing for a guy of the same age to ask a friend out if she’s been giving him encouragement, and quite another for an older work colleague to stop a car in a dark street when the girl has never given him the slightest sign of interest. From here she moves on to critique Pardeep’s naivety and draws in the themes of men’s historic power over women, everyday sexism, the pinkification of girls, and the gender pay gap.

“Men have always had power over women and we’ve always had to put up with it,” she concludes. “You don’t see it because you’re a guy and you’ve never been on the receiving end. But it’s there, little things, all the time, drip drip drip… It all feeds into society’s attitudes and the cumulative effect of all these tiny little putdowns is that women continue not to be taken seriously or treated equally by men.”

She finally pauses for breath.

Pardeep looks like he’s just accidentally taken a wrong turn and ended up driving the wrong way down the motorway.  Oops, thinks Lucy. Was my feminist rant a little too much for a second date?

She wonders if maybe she went a touch too far. Everyone says you should be yourself, and have opinions, because your date’s going to find out who the real you is soon enough anyway, but if being yourself means he’s now too terrified of you to even breathe, it might be time to rein it in just a tad.  Be yourself, but not too much.

Steak

They finish their drinks and head over the road to Mac and Wild, the steak restaurant Lucy picked out. Pardeep appears to have recovered from the feminist rant and Lucy begins to wonder if maybe it even engaged and intrigued him.  Maybe he’s even the kind of guy who likes a girl who has opinions (shock!).  Well, either that or he’s now so afraid of her that all he can do is follow meekly and hope that she releases him in one piece at the end of the evening.  Lucy’s not sure which is more likely.

In the restaurant they order fillet steak, chips, mac’n’cheese, and a side of greens as a nod towards healthiness. To drink, Lucy sticks two fingers up to all the wine snobs and orders another glass of sauvignon blanc.  It’s her favourite, so why TF shouldn’t she drink it with steak if she wants to? Anyway, Pardeep doesn’t seem to notice or care – that is, until the waiter brings the drinks and, for the second time that evening, Lucy’s wine has miraculously changed colour.

“What on earth is wrong with people tonight?” she asks, exasperated. “Am I speaking a different language? Do I have ‘I’d like red please’ written on my forehead?”

“It’s Monday,” shrugs Pardeep. “It’s the B-team on duty tonight.”

With the correct wine in front of her, and a massive plate of food, Lucy soon finds she’s actually having a lovely time. The meal is delicious, conversation flows, and in spite of one or two ill-thought-through opinions, Pardeep is actually excellent company.

They bond over a shared love of steak and wine.
“Would you prefer to date a teetotaller or a vegan?” he asks her.
“Hmmm… tricky one. It’s lovely having someone to laugh with over a bottle of wine, but some vegans can be spectacularly annoying and self-righteous. Plus cooking for one would be such a resounding pain in the arse, so I’m going to go with teetotaller.”
“I agree,” he laughs. “You can still drink if you date a teetotaller, but if you end up living with a vegan you’ll basically have to become one too, and that would just be fucking miserable.  You’d never be able to share a pizza or a curry ever again!”

Lucy has a momentary vision of spending the rest of her life being forced to chew on plastic fake cheese and rubber sausages, of never again being able to have a roast dinner or hangover fry-up or a filthy takeaway, and swiftly agrees that this sounds like the worst kind of sour-faced misery.  And since they are so clearly on the same page, they both order another glass of wine.
“I wasn’t going to drink. You’re a bad influence!” Pardeep laughs. “It’s a Monday night and I have work tomorrow!”
“You need to forget it’s Monday.” Lucy tells him. “We’re just out for dinner, so enjoy it.  When else will you be drinking this week?”
“Actually I’m at home all week,” he confesses. “Though I might have a date on Friday.”

Although Lucy shouldn’t be surprised that Pardeep has other dates, she’s having such a nice time that she does feel a slight twinge of jealousy at the thought of him going out with other girls. But she can hardly be upset; after all, she’s still on Bumble and went out with the Hipster last week.  It’s what dating is all about these days: keeping all the plates spinning, waiting to see which ones drop. Everyone’s doing it – she’s just surprised that Pardeep is so open about it. But he’s new to all this only dating malarkey, so maybe he still has stuff to learn about how to be a dating app fuckboy. Give him time, he’ll get there soon enough.

“Does your wife know you’re dating?” she enquires.
Ex wife,” he corrects her. “I very much doubt it.”
“You haven’t told her?”
“I don’t speak to her.”
“But you live in the same house!”
“Yeah, but we live in different parts of it and we don’t speak to each other.”

Lucy struggles to understand how this can work in a typical London home the size of a portakabin. “What, have you got separate entrances, bathrooms and kitchens?”
“Ok no, we do speak, but only as necessary. We don’t chat.”

Lucy thinks this sounds like a fucking terrible way to live. She’s also not impressed that Pardeep is not only dating other girls whlle still sharing a house with his ex, but that he hasn’t even had the courtesy to let her know.
“Don’t you think you should tell her before she finds out from someone else?”
“It’s none of her business,” he explains, defensively.  “We’re effectively divorced. We’re not friends, we just have to get on for the sake of our son.”

Lucy’s not sure how she feels about Pardeep’s attitude to this. Of course she has no idea what went on in their relationship or with the break up, but he does seem to be a bit insensitive and disrespectful towards his ex.  Coupled with his thoughts on the #metoo movement, Lucy wonders if Pardeep is actually harbouring some rather outdated attitudes towards women.  But she’s pretty certain he’s been berated enough for his opinions for one evening, so she lets it go.

Photos

Pardeep has his phone on the table, and it lights up with a notification. Lucy catches sight of his lock screen photo. It’s phenomenally dull: a generic swirl of colours or some other similar phone company corporate shit.
“Wow,” she teases. “That’s a really boring screen saver! Surely you can find a better one?”
“It’s kind of new,” he explains. “I just changed it quickly because the previous one was of my wife.”
How new?  Lucy wonders, but she manages to keep her mouth shut. Instead she adds, “Haven’t you got a holiday photo or something you can put there?”
“Hmmm… let me see.”
Pardeep opens his phone and Lucy gets a good old look at his camera roll as he scrolls through photo after photo of his son, the occasional pub group selfie, and a few holiday snaps with a mate.
There is nothing even remotely weird, suspicious or dodgy in there at all, and Lucy feels a sudden flush of affection towards this sweet, rather nerdy, entirely clueless but well-meaning man. She suddenly sees the advantage of dating a guy who is straight out of a marriage: it’s as if he’s brand new, freshly minted, still unsullied by the sleaze and unpleasantness of modern dating.

She wonders if maybe she’ll get a snog tonight. This time she’d actually quite like one.

Bill

Steak and sides enthusiastically polished off, they get the bill. Lucy puts her credit card down on the little tray.
“What are you doing?  asks Pardeep, confused. “Are you suggesting we split it?”
“Of course,” shrugs Lucy.
Pardeep frowns uncomfortably. “Is this a test?”
What kind of question is that?! No it’s not a fucking test, you idiot!
She swallows her surprise. “Of course not! I can’t exactly bang on about equality and then expect you to pay for my dinner, now can I?!”

Pardeep hesitates, unsure, his hand holding his own credit card hovering a foot above the table. He seems to be veering into uncharted territory here, and doesn’t appear to know what do to. But after a moment’s standoff, he shrugs and adds his card to the tray.

But later, as they walk to the tube, he can’t seem to let it go.
“I’m still feeling guilty about letting you pay half,” he says.
“What, really?
He nods.
“Look, it’s fine,” she reassures him. I have a job, I can pay my own way. Dating in London is expensive. We’re all doing lots of it, and if you always have to pay it’s going to get very expensive for you.  Yes it’s nice to be treated, if you want to treat me sometimes, but you’re certainly not obliged to do it every time. Besides, you paid last time.”
“But what if I earn more than you?”
“You may well do, and sure, if you want to invite me to a super fancy restaurant, then yes you can pay. But I just don’t think it’s right for the guy to have to foot the bill all the time. I can afford to pay my share. I have a job… well, maybe not right now, but I will soon hopefully… and if I’m still out of work in another month then yes, you can start paying for everything!” she laughs.

Band

At Oxford Circus a middle-aged rock band has set up on the pavement and is playing ‘Sultans of Swing’ by Dire Straits. It’s a crisp, clear night and a small crowd has gathered to listen as the music bounces off the buildings in the still air. The sound quality from the single speaker is terrible but a few people are still bopping gently in time to the music.

They stroll over to join in.
“They’re quite good!” Lucy says, delighted.
“Do you think they were famous once?” Pardeep wonders. “Maybe they were huge in the 70s but blew all their millions on coke and hookers so now they’ve resorted to busking in an attempt to reclaim their past glory…?” He laughs.
The band launches into ‘Rocking All Over The World’. Lucy grins and starts singing along, even though the only words she knows are ‘I like it, I like it, I like it, I like it’ and ‘Rocking all over the world’.  The moment is perfect. Full of steak and wine, on a still, calm night, with an unexpected musical treat and a handsome man by her side. This would be a perfect moment for him to lean in and kiss her.
She tries to encourage him by gently putting her hand on his arm and looking up at him, but because he is entirely crap, of course he doesn’t even notice.
Fucking men, she thinks.

Goodbye

After two songs they start to get cold and make their way into the tube station. At the usual spot they pause to say goodbye and Pardeep leans in and decisively… gives her a friendly hug.
WTF?!
Lucy’s confused. They’ve had a lovely evening and quite a lot of wine. Surely that equates to a snog?!
“What was that?” she exclaims.
“Well I didn’t think I could go for a kiss since it was so clearly frowned upon last time,” Pardeep explains.
“Well you did rather…” Lucy tails off.
“I jumped you.”
“Well yes. You took me by surprise. But it’s all about the moment, you’ve got to read the moment.”
“And now?” he queries.
“Now would be ok.”

He leans down and kisses her then. But just like last time, it’s a little awkward, and his technique definitely needs work.
Lucy pulls away, disappointed.
“I’m sorry, I’m just not into PPIs..? PDFs..?” he laughs.
“PDAs!  Me neither, particularly,” she adds, even though she is very used to kissing in public now, and it’s entirely possible the guy who monitors the CCTV at Oxford Circus even has her on some kind of watch list.

They kiss again, and a passer-by wolf whistles.
“Was that at us?” Lucy laughs, but Pardeep is clearly embarrassed and has had enough.  He gives her hand a squeeze and another quick kiss, and then walks away.

To find out what happened next, click here.

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