It’s been a week or so since the bitter disappointment of the so-near-and-yet-so-far encounter with Ben from Twitter, so Lucy decides that, in an attempt to Keep Calm And Carry On, she will go back onto Guardian Soulmates to see if she can find a replacement. Or better yet, an upgrade. Someone with better hair and without a fucking Other Girl in his back pocket.
In her inbox she finds a friendly message from Josh, who is 41, 6’2″ tall, slim and broad-shouldered, with brown hair and startling blue-green eyes. He looks perfect. And Those Eyes Tho. They’re so oceanic Lucy feels like she could just dive right in for a swim.
Josh tells her he’s a geography teacher, which Lucy thinks is brilliant because (a) that means he must be educated and intelligent, (b) he gets nice long summer holidays during which they can go travelling together, and (c) he will be great at map-related pub quiz questions like ‘What is the only country with a coastline on both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf?’ and ‘Which European country shares its border with the most neighbours (nine)?’
*Answers at the bottom, for those who can’t be arsed to Google.
They exchange a few emails, during which Lucy double checks that Josh can indeed spell and punctuate correctly, and having established that he can (and therefore that the impressionable young minds of the country’s children are safe in his hands), she gives him her number so that he can message her on WhatsApp. Which he does, shortly afterwards.
Josh doesn’t mess about! Lucy likes this – a man who has confidence, a bit of imagination, and a sense of humour. Lucy doesn’t remember any of her geography teachers from school having those qualities (more’s the pity: she might have paid more attention in class) but this is the 21st century now, and clearly they’ve evolved.
It gets her wondering what other unexpected skills a 21st-century geography teacher might have. She hopes she’ll get a chance to explore his hidden depths and find out…
While Lucy is momentarily lost in her daydream, Josh surprises her with a voice note. She likes this immensely – she’s discovered recently that the tone and texture of someone’s voice is actually a pretty important factor in whether or not she fancies them, and a voice note allows her to assess that from the comfort of her own home, in her own time, without the pressure of having to have an actual fucking conversation where she’d have to be witty and articulate and engaging with a total random stranger.
And happily, Josh has a great voice: warm and deep, with no discernable accent.
Hi Lucy, it’s Josh, he says. I just thought I’d say hello, it’s probably nice to hear someone’s voice, as well as receiving lots of random texts from someone you’ve never met before. I hope you’re having a good day. Maybe speak soon, it’d be nice to meet up at some point, and if we can find a time. Ok, bye.
Lucy sends one back, doing her level best not to trip over her words, say anything too stupid, or swear, and trying to smile throughout because she was once told that you can hear a smile in someone’s voice and smiling makes you sound more attractive.
There’s a chance Lucy might be overthinking this whole voice note thing.
Hi Josh, it’s Lucy, she says. I’m not very good at doing voice messages, I hope I’m doing it right. Thank you very much for yours. I hope you’ve had a very lovely day doing whatever it was that you were doing. And yes, meeting up sounds good at some point, I’m around in London at the moment, not going anywhere for a while, so let’s figure something out. Bye!
It’s totally crap, but she managed not to accidentally say ‘cunt’ or ‘fuck’, so that’s pretty much a win. She asks Josh what he’s up to, and he responds by sending her a photo of a tent and telling her he’s away camping for the weekend. Which, given that it’s still basically the depths of winter, seems to Lucy to be an unnecessary amount of pain for a person to put themselves through out of choice.
Lucy, it must be said, is not a fan of camping. Give her a nice cosy B&B and a proper double bed any day.
If things work out with Josh, she sincerely hopes he’s not going to expect her to go camping with him. As much as she’s intrigued by the idea of one day having sex in a tent, she certainly wouldn’t want to make a habit of it. And it’d have to be a yurt or some kind of fancy glamping tent with proper beds and fairy lights, not some poky canvas 2-man rabbit hutch with foam mats on the floor and a damp groundsheet half a mile from the bathroom block. That definitely wouldn’t be the sort of thing to get her in the mood.
As well as his weird penchant for sleeping uncomfortably in cold and muddy fields, Josh reveals another catch. He’s not from London. He actually lives and works in Northampton, some 65 miles away – but is a regular visitor to the capital because he has a son (ok, make that two more catches), who lives with his mother in the south of the city.
Ok, so: likes camping at unseasonable times of the year, lives far away, has a son. Three potential pitfalls that could cause problems in any future relationship. But he’s also sweet, nice-looking, intelligent, has a great voice, and, probably most importantly of all, he’s interested and responsive (which is SO fucking hard to find on dating apps these days). So when he repeats his request to meet her for a drink, she decides to give him a chance and accepts. And because he’s from out-of-town she even offers to suggest a venue.
Josh appears to be wonderfully quirky. Lucy approves.
But when Tuesday arrives, there’s a slight problem with the pub she’s chosen.
Lucy seems to be making a habit of cocking up her attempts to be helpful and picking pubs her dates don’t like (see The Entrepreneur) and makes a mental note to insist the guy chooses from now on.
When she arrives a few moments later Josh is standing on the corner in jeans and a slightly tatty overcoat. She recognises him instantly, partly because he looks just like his photos, and partly because he looks exactly like, well, a Geography Teacher. Short brown hair but with salt-and-pepper tendencies, a neat, short, greying beard, a kind face with a few lines that add character; intelligent and kind of homely-looking. Not flash or pretentious in the slightest, just the sort of nice-looking guy you could definitely take home to meet your mum. He gives her a kiss on the cheek and as he does so Lucy is struck by his size: at 6’2″ and slim, but with strong, broad shoulders, he’s the perfect height to make her feel feminine. It’s not an instant wow, far from it, but maybe she feels a slight frisson? Hard to be sure. All still to play for.
They wander down the street to a quieter pub and perch at the bar with a round of drinks: beer for Josh and the usual large glass of white wine for Lucy.
“So how was your day,” he asks. So far, so standard as an opener.
Lucy tells him she went to the dentist, and takes the opportunity to check out his teeth without it seeming weird. His are fairly average, hardly a Hollywood smile but even and straight enough. Certainly nothing horrifying going on there, which is nice. Good teeth are important, Lucy thinks. If you’re going to start locking lips with someone, you don’t want to be repulsed by what’s inside.
“So you went camping, I see,” she offers. “How was that?”
“It was a little cold and it rained a bit, but it was fun.”
“Did you go on your own?” Seems a bit weird.
“Yes, I like getting out of the city and into nature by myself. When my son is older I’d like to take him, but he’s too young right now.”
Lucy wonders if maybe Josh is a bit of a hippy loner, and hopes that at the very least he remembers to wash every day and wear deodorant.
“So why are you dating in London if you live in Northampton?” she asks.
“Well I used to live in London, and obviously I still have connections. But then I got offered the job in Northampton so I decided to take it. Dating is better here than up there though, and I’m down here a lot, so I don’t think it’s really a problem.”
No, thinks Lucy. This could work for her. A man who turns up at weekends to take her out and give her a good seeing to, but disappears off during the week when she’s got shit to get done, could be just the thing!
“Yeah it’s a funny old business, dating,” she continues. “I think someone should make a documentary about it. Not a dating show, but an investigation, where they interview people and find out what the hell is going on. I’d really love to know men and women’s thoughts on the matter. Like, I know so many really great single ladies who can’t find a decent man, but almost no single men. Where did they go? And why do people ghost? Why do guys send dick pics? This stuff needs to be researched properly.”
“Yeah,” agrees Josh. “My friends often ask me why I’m single.”
“Do you have an answer for them?”
“Just picky I guess. Too busy?”
“Yeah, me too,” Lucy agrees. “Boys are totally annoying most of the time, so they’ve gotta be amazing or it’s just not worth the effort and disruption!”
“Yeah, relationships take up a lot of time! So I always end them quickly if I don’t feel they are going anywhere.”
“But maybe you don’t give them a chance to develop? Are you a commitment phobe?”
This conversation seems to have got quite involved surprisingly quickly, Lucy notices. Is this a bad sign? Normally when people start talking about dating and relationships on the first date it usually means she’s been friend-zoned. But Josh doesn’t seem to be all that normal. Maybe the usual rules don’t apply with him.
“I don’t think so,” he replies. “There’s lots I’m committed to.”
“When was your last relationship?”
“Actually I haven’t had a proper relationship since 2002.”
2002?!! That’s over fifteen years ago?! Ok, now Lucy’s worried. What’s wrong with him? He seems like a personable, attractive guy. He’s not a dickhead or a fuckboy, that’s for sure. He has social skills and decent personal hygiene. So why has he been single for fifteen fucking years? And if she were to date him, would she have to start training him up from scratch? She’s not sure she has the energy, tbh…
Also, something doesn’t quite add up. No relationship since 2002, and yet he has a kid. Hmmm, thinks Lucy, there’s a story here… Is it too soon to ask? Something about Josh’s slightly shy manner suggests to her that it is (clearly she’s not quite drunk enough yet), but makes a mental note to investigate further, should there be a second date.
They finish their drinks, and there’s a pause. What now? thinks Lucy. This is hardly earth-shattering stuff; she’s not falling over herself to grab Josh by the collar and drag him back to her cave. But there’s something about him that she likes: his blue eyes, his calm, thoughtful manner, the fact that he seems a little, well, unusual. Mildly eccentric, shall we say, but in an endearing way.
“Would you like to get some food?” he suggests.
And as it turns out, she would.
“Great,” he seems pleased. “Shall we get some bar snacks to share?”
“You’re not a vegetarian or anything awful like that, are you?” she asks, suspiciously. Someone who likes getting all down and dirty in nature is bound to be vegetarian, right?
There’s an awkward pause. “I am, actually! What’s wrong with that?”
Lucy suppresses an inward sigh. Oh Josh…. just when it was all looking vaguely promising.
Slightly embarrassed, she tries to backtrack. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean… you know, well, it’s just…”
He sees her discomfort and laughs, his eyes crinkling. “It’s ok, I was joking. I’m not veggie. Though I am trying to cut back on the amount of meat I eat.”
Lucy smiles a sigh of relief, that (a) she can eat pink steak in front of him without feeling bad, and (b) his sense of humour is still intact.
They order a slightly eclectic range of tapas plates, including squid, mac’n’cheese, a salad, and some chicken bites, which he eats with gusto, thereby happily proving that he is most definitely not a vegetarian.
Over the food, they chat about a wide range of topics. He tells her he recently went to Barcelona, and was there during the troubles over the Catalan independence referendum. This leads them into an in-depth conversation about politics, Brexit, Scottish independence, the Tory government and Trump, all of which they appear to agree on. They talk about co-habitation, and Josh reveals he’s lived alone for a decade and has never lived with a partner (so will he be housetrained? Lucy wonders). She somehow ends up massively oversharing about living with The Ex and the way it ended when she came home from holiday and found out he’d packed up all his things and moved out while she was away. They break all the rules of first date conversation, talking about dating, relationships, ex-partners, politics, even religion, and Lucy finds Josh to be intelligent, well-informed, thoughtful, articulate, and very easy to talk to.
But is he a friend, or something more? It’s hard to tell. She likes his company, most definitely, and while he’s not a chiselled hunk of physical perfection, he’s certainly perfectly pleasant to look at. But if she’s not feeling that surge of attraction after a couple of hours and several glasses of wine, will she ever? Could he be a grower? Or is that wishful thinking? In Lucy’s experience, if she doens’t feel a WOW on the first date, it never happens. But there’s always a first time for everything, right?
It gets late and the staff start hovering and removing plates and glasses from in front of them while giving them meaningful passive aggressive glances.
“Looks like it might be time to get the bill,” Josh says, and Lucy agrees, ready to call it a night.
There’s a brief tussle about who pays what – the part of the evening that Lucy hates and always finds super awkward. Josh says he’d like to treat her, but she knows that as a teacher he doesn’t earn all that much, plus he has a kid to support and he’s travelled all the way from Northampton, so she’d feel a little guilty if he paid for everything. So in the end they agree that he’ll buy the drinks, and they split the cost of the food. This somehow seems fair, and the fact that he’s so keen to pay for something is an encouraging sign.
No need with this one to run away or pretend she’s going in a different direction. They walk companionably back to Oxford Circus together and he gives her a kiss on the cheek and a lingering squeeze, holding her for slightly longer than necessary before heading off down the tunnel. Lucy smiles to herself as she heads home. She’s pretty sure she’ll get a chance to do some more geography study soon.
To find out what happened next, go to Part 2 – Cocktails.
*If you were wondering about the answers to the geography questions, they were Saudi Arabia, and Germany.