Lucy’s had two dates with Josh the Geography Teacher, and while they went well enough, she’s still far from sure if this is going to be an actual thing. So when Josh goes away for a week she decides to set up another date. Just in case, you know, he turns out to be Lucy’s Perfect Man.
This is modern dating now. You have to hedge your eggs. Can’t put all your bets in one basket. Lucy doesn’t even know what Josh thinks of her anyway: maybe he’s only keeping her on the back burner while he pursues someone else he likes better. And while last week’s kiss was really rather lovely, sparks haven’t exactly flown between them, so who knows if it will come to anything. No, Lucy thinks in a mild panic, I’m not far off 40 now, I can’t afford to waste any more time.
So she goes back to Soulmates and sends a message to Julian, asking if he’d like to meet her for a drink.
Lucy matched with Julian a couple of months ago, but they’ve never met. His profile doesn’t contain any outrageous horrors: he ticks all the boxes in terms of age, height, marital status and intelligence; he has no kids, and his photos are not too repulsive. In fact he totally reminds Lucy of a guy she used to date, and she wonders for a second if this is why she’s attracted to him. Isn’t it weird, she thinks, how if a guy resembles someone else you used to fancy, you’re instantly more drawn to them? Even though in reality this new person might be a total cunt.
This may be one of the reasons why people have a ‘type’. Lucy heartily wishes her type could be divorced middle-aged office drones with beer bellies and no hair, it’d make it an awful lot easier for her to find a husband.
Lucy and Julian chatted briefly a while back but never got round to arranging a date. He’s not the speediest of repliers, and so while she was waiting to hear back from him her subscription to the site expired. She moved on to other things, and when he did eventually get back to her she was unable to read the message, and so it languished in her inbox, inaccessible and un-replied-to.
But now she’s sucked it up and forked out another 32-fucking-quid for the chance to get dicked around and ghosted by a slightly more intelligent class of man, and happily Julian is still there, and still interested.
They agree to meet in a pub close to Farringdon station after work. Lucy’s quite pleased that Julian’s decisively suggested a venue, and it’s only after she’s accepted that she realises he lives in St Albans, and that he’s picked this pub entirely because it’s convenient for his train home afterwards. This makes her grumpy.
So as she schleps across town to the inconvenient pub, she’s really not feeling it. In the days leading up to the date their texting has been sporadic at best, there’s been no real banter, and it’s been so long since they chatted properly that she can barely remember him at all. In short, she’s rarely been less fussed about going on a date. But it’s arranged now, and Lucy, who suffers from severe and chronic FOMO, would never dream of cancelling. For one thing, it’s horribly rude and inconsiderate to the other person, and for another, well, what if he’s The One? In spite of the red flags, you never know, right? Gotta take that shot, and maybe, just maybe, she’ll be pleasantly surprised. Perhaps there’ll be rainbows and fireworks and he’ll blow all the competition out of the water.
Oh who the fuck is she kidding. Of course there bloody won’t. This is the internet dating wasteland after all. After three fucking years you’d think Lucy would have learned by now.
She’s reminded of that quote, what is it? That the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Well Lucy is quite clearly certifiable. The men in white coats will be on their way soon.
Julian is waiting outside the pub with a folding bike resting against his leg, wearing jeans, a white shirt, and a navy jacket. He looks exactly like his photos: tall enough, neatly styled brown hair, slim…ish, but not especially toned (he clearly needs to do some upper body exercise apart from just cycling, thinks Lucy). But broadly speaking, looks-wise he’s pretty much exactly Lucy’s type. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all, she thinks, optimistically.
She walks up to him and offers her cheek for a kiss. And in that split second when they step into each other’s personal space she feels… complete and utter indifference. Just like that, an instant and irrevocable no. There’s that moment, isn’t there, when you come into another person’s orbit, and their gravity either pulls you to them or repels you. With some people, very rarely, Lucy gets that jolt of attraction (it happened instantly with The Ex, and with Michael, the Married Man), but with Julian it’s the exact opposite. She just doesn’t fancy him in the slightest. And it’s not to do with his looks, which are perfectly fine. Maybe it’s his unconfident body language, or the fact that he seems nervous and doesn’t quite make eye contact? But Lucy’s dated guys who were nervous before and sometimes it can be endearing, so it’s not that. Maybe his vibes, his aura, his pheromones, are simply incompatible with hers. Whatever it is, a nanosecond is all it takes for Lucy to realise there is zero attraction. Less than zero in fact.
Shit, she thinks, I knew I shouldn’t have come. And then, OK, so this is going to be an exercise in polite chitchat for one drink, and then I’ll try to get away as soon as is polite without embarrassment or hurting his feelings.
She feels slightly sorry for him now. He’s probably a decent enough guy, and he doesn’t deserve a harsh rejection. Even if she doesn’t fancy someone, she always wants them to have a good experience with her, even if it’s only the one time. The dating world is a harsh and inhospitable place, and Lucy feels strongly that everyone should try to move through it with as much grace as they can muster. She doesn’t want to be responsible for adding in any way to the shitheap, or for scarring Julian and ruining him for the next girl. Men are just like toilets, you should leave them as you wish to find them.
So she buckles up, and follows him into the bar.
It’s one she hasn’t been to before: a vaguely hipster cocktail bar with dark wooden floors and high tables surrounded by bar stools. Lucy stands uncertainly in the middle of the room, unsure whether to grab a table or head for the bar, and wondering whether Julian is going to offer to get the first round, or whether she’ll need to take charge and do it. For a painfully long moment she thinks that having dragged her all the way to the wrong side of town he’s not even going to buy her a drink, but finally he realises what’s required, and takes her order. Lucy realises a Very Large glass of wine is going to be necessary to get through this. Preferably with a triple vodka chaser.
She heads for a nearby empty table, which has a sign on it informing her that it’s ‘Reserved for Millie from 8pm.’ OK, thinks Lucy, and surreptitiously looks at her watch. It’s 6.30 now. So if we sit here, then the worst case scenario is that I have to make polite conversation for an hour and a half, at which point we’ll get kicked off the table and that’ll be a good excuse to leave. Ninety minutes. It’ll be a struggle, but she’ll cope. She hopes Millie and her friends are early.
Julian comes back from the bar with two glasses of wine and shuffles up onto a stool.
“So…,” he begins, looking down at his glass. “Busy day? What have you been up to?”
Because he’s not making eye contact, Lucy’s forced to look at the rest of his face, and instantly notices that Julian has terrible teeth. Small, crammed in, and deeply stained, they look like they belong to an elderly Russian woman, not to a youngish man with easy access to quality dental care. The top row is only slightly wonky, but weirdly small; the bottom set are crammed in tight and painfully crooked. When he speaks, his words are sort of sucky and lispy, almost as if he’s been given dentures that don’t fit, and he hasn’t got used to them yet. And it’s clearly something he’s aware of, because he repeatedly puts his hand in front of his mouth, an unconscious gesture that suggests he’s well aware of his unfortunate dental deficiencies and is trying to hide them.
While Lucy tries not to stare with horrified fascination at the neglected gnashers, Julian tells her about his week. He recently moved to St Albans, and has been doing up his new house.
“Oh really?” Lucy feigns interest. “What are you having done?”
“I’m just sprucing it up a bit. New ceiling spot lights. New wooden floors.”
He tells her in great detail all about the building work he’s having done, and Lucy reassures herself that every second that she listens to tedious home improvement tales punctuated with teeth sucking is one second closer to the time when she can leave.
A group of three young men in suits takes the next table and Lucy looks over, desperately. Sadly none of them looks like they might be Millie and her friends. She wonders if they will rescue her if she makes desperate hand signals under the table, but it’s no use. They’re not even looking this way. She’s just going to have to make conversation as best she can.
She encourages Julian to talk about his interests, and he tells her about his recent trip to Iceland. Lucy’s been to Iceland, so they should have some common ground, but for the same unexplained reason as before, the conversation simply doesn’t take off. It’s like trying to start a fire with wet wood: every time either of them strikes a match it just flares briefly and goes out. She can’t believe she washed her hair and put on a dress for this.
Lucy downs her drink swiftly and wonders if she can leave now. She looks at the time and is dismayed to find it’s only just gone 7. It’s too early, she thinks in despair. He’ll never believe my day tomorrow is so busy I need to leave just yet. FML.
The only thing she can do is suck it up, so she gives herself a pep talk. Come on, Lucy, she tells herself, this is the ultimate first world problem. Having to sit in a nice bar drinking wine? Woe is fucking you. Get a grip, woman.
And pep talk duly delivered, she goes to the bar for Round Two. If for no other reason than to get a break from the tooth sucking.
She buys a wine for Julian, but only a spritzer for herself. If she’s going to go straight home after this there seems little point in expending money, calories and liver function, just for the sake of getting through the next 45 minutes. When she returns, conversation turns dramatically to the fascinating subject of what Julian is up to this weekend. In thrilling news, he’s going to visit his mum in Cheshire.
Lucy notices he says ‘Mum’ and not ‘Parents’. There’s probably a story there, but she doesn’t give a flying fuck. She’s just about ready to commit ritual harakiri and wonders if the pub would be able to supply he with a samurai sword. Or failing that, a kitchen knife would do. Then she wonders if she could fake a heart attack, or perhaps she could go to the loo and throw herself down the stairs. Maybe the paramedics would be cute. But she remembers she’s not wearing matching underwear, and has to throw the idea away.
She idly ponders all of the other dates she’s been on, even the mediocre ones. I should have appreciated them more while I was there, she thinks. Turns out they were fantastic by comparison.
Even though Julian is still trying to hide his mouth behind his hand, Lucy still can’t take her eyes off it. It’s like a horrifying underground cave of doom, filled with crusty stalactites and stalagmites. It wouldn’t surprise her if there was even a troll or a giant man-eating spider in there somewhere too. It’s just as well we have no chemistry, she thinks. Imagine if he was nice… at some point I’d have to put my tongue in there. The thought makes her feel faintly nauseous.
By 7.30 she can’t take any more. Sorry, Millie, it would have been lovely to meet you, but I’ve got to go. But how to get away? Pretend to suddenly remember a really early meeting she needs to prepare for? Fake an emergency phonecall?
When she tunes back into the conversation Julian is talking about his smartphone, and Lucy tells him that she’s planning on buying an expensive new one but hasn’t yet plucked up the courage to splurge the money. And suddenly she sees her chance.
“Now I’ve had two glasses of wine I should just go home right now and order it online,” she says brightly. “You know, while I’m not feeling guilty and before I change my mind!”
It’s the lamest of get outs ever but it does the trick. Julian gets the hint loud and clear. He slides down off his stool, and puts his coat on.
Lucy feels stunned relief. Where she was expecting to have to make an awkward apology, this was astoundingly easy. But then she realises that of course Julian can hardly have failed to notice the crushing lack of chemistry either, so he’s probably pretty relieved too. In fact, on reflection Lucy realises she probably could have left after the first drink after all. Lesson learned.
To avoid having to walk to the tube station with him, Lucy does her usual pretend-to-need-the-loo trick. She says goodbye in the bar and heads downstairs to wait until he’s gone, holding onto the handrail to make sure she doesn’t fall.
Next week: Geography Josh gets back from holiday.