Lucy’s had one date with Simon, a tall, handsome man she found on OKCupid.
A few years older than Lucy, with no kids, a stable job and excellent hair, on paper Simon seemed perfect. Via WhatsApp he was chatty, flirty and interested in her, he didn’t send any toe-curling photos, and was able to write full sentences without liberally peppering them with stray apostrophes and misspelled words like some sort of cretin who’s never read a book and spent his school years getting stoned behind the bike sheds.
In other words, he ticked almost every one of Lucy’s boxes.
But in spite of so much promise, the date fell flatter than a Bake Off cake disaster. There was less spark than a box of fireworks left out in the rain and about as much laughter as you get at US immigration. Far from being the witty charmer Simon had been on WhatsApp, he seemed downtrodden and defeated.
End result: Lucy went home feeling not happy and hopeful, as you might expect after a first date with an attractive man, but sad and disappointed.
If you missed all of that, you can catch up at Part 2 – Melancholy.
Lucy’s aware that holding out for a ‘spark’ might not be the best approach. If you’ve been single for more than about a week you’ll know there are plenty of smug coupled-up types who’ll waste no time at all in gushing about how they weren’t attracted to their partner until weeks or even months after meeting. And many are the times Lucy’s had an electric connection with someone that ended up crashing down in flames. So she knows ‘the spark’ is not always the answer, and that she should give people a chance to grow on her.
And yet. All the relationships Lucy’s ever had have started with some sort of chemistry, a little fizzing, that pit-of-the-stomach tingle that tells you this one is special. Meanwhile every time she’s gone on two, three, or more dates with a guy who seems, well, just kinda nice, in the hope that something will develop… it hasn’t.
There have even been several times where, at the end of date three, she’s literally had to sling her bag over her shoulder and make a sprint for the door – because she knows her date is probably going to be expecting a kiss, and moving to a different country and changing her name seems to be the only way to avoid having to perform one out of politeness.
One of the things Lucy does like about Simon is his clear, straightforward interest in her: no bullshit, no game playing. He wants to see her again, and soon, and Lucy sees no reason to hang about. She needs to give this another shot as soon as possible, to find out whether this rocky start is going to turn into a stairway to Heaven, or a road to Hell.
So she invites him to join her for a movie and dinner just a few days after their first date.
Normally Lucy wouldn’t dream of suggesting a cinema trip for a second date – sitting in silence in the dark not exactly being renowned as a great way to get to know someone. But she’d made plans to go by herself to see A Star Is Born, and it might not be in cinemas for very much longer. If Simon comes too she’ll get to do excellent multi-tasking: see if the film hype is justified AND figure out for sure whether this thing is salvageable without having it dragging on any longer than necessary.
By Sunday she can either have an exciting third date in the diary, or be back on the dating apps. Nothing if not efficient, our Lucy.
But there’s still a problem. When Lucy got close to Simon, the overpowering scent of his aftershave made her feel faintly nauseous – which is probably not a good way to feel around someone you might be hoping to spend the rest of your life with. How can she marry the guy if she needs to remain at least six feet away from him at all times?
Maybe, she wonders, she’d feel differently about him if he smelled better. Because smell is so important – a waft of delicious aroma from an average-looking guy can propel him instantly to sex-god status, while a dreamy Adonis with melty eyes and a six-pack loses all his power if he stinks of stale Stella and Marlboros.
But the question is: was it merely Simon’s aftershave she didn’t like, or the actual smell of him? Was it her animal instinct telling her that their pheromones, immune systems, auras, whatever it is, are not compatible, or is it just that he needs to be trained to have better taste in perfume?
Lucy needs to find out.
She wracks her brains for a while, and in the end comes up with this message:
Of course this excuse is a total fucking lie. She’d never have lasted more than five minutes with The Ex if he’d smelled so toxic. And after four years of singledom she certainly can’t remember what he smelled like. But clearly she can’t tell Simon the truth – that would be much too harsh, even for direct, honest-to-a-fault Lucy.
It’s only a little white lie, she thinks. And besides, if he thinks it’s OK to ask me to wear heels on the first date, I can definitely ask him not to wear aftershave on the second. It’s only fair!
Fortunately Simon takes it all in his stride.
They agree to meet at the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherds Bush. An afternoon screening at the Vue multiplex, followed by dinner, still gives Simon plenty of time to pull his sparkling personality out of the bag. And if it turns out he really doesn’t have one, and his WhatsApp messages are actually being written by a bot, well, they can always talk about the film.
But as Lucy marches round the shops, running a few errands before heading to meet him, she finds herself regretting the decision. Now she’s in a rush, she’s not going to have time to get everything she needs, and she was actually looking forward to the chance to enjoy a movie and some popcorn by herself. Instead, she’s probably going to have her peaceful afternoon ruined by a man who, last time, was so bloody negative he made her want to throw herself under the nearest bus.
Simon’s already in the cinema foyer when Lucy arrives. He’s wearing jeans and a crew neck jumper, and he looks fresh and pleasant, but Lucy feels nothing: no stomach fizz, no lurch of attraction. On the plus side at least she’s not repelled: when she goes to kiss him he smells clean, no hint of the toxic aftershave he wore last time. It’s always a bonus when your date doesn’t make want to vom, thinks Lucy, trying to look on the bright side.
“Hey,” says Simon, imaginatively.
“Hey,” replies Lucy. “I’m sorry I’m making you come to the cinema with me. This is a crap idea for a date. We should have gone bowling or something instead!”
Now she thinks of it, bowling would actually be a good idea for a date, because Lucy’s shit at bowling. It’d give any guy the chance to show off his manly skills in front of her, unchallenged. Lucy could play the damsel in distress, and her date could be the hero and show her how it’s done. She makes a mental note for the future.
“It’s fine!” says Simon. “We can go bowling another time!”
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, thinks Lucy, saying nothing.
They go into the sexy dark of the cinema, full of excitement and promise: sitting close in the dark, your pulse quickening as he gently leans into you, the hairs on your arm standing on end as his hand brushes yours, maybe if things go well a spot of snogging or light groping in the back row… Except of course in this case the dark is about as sexy and full of promise as a broken light bulb in the public toilets at a caravan park in Southend. Lucy feels anxious and awkward. What if he tries to touch her?
She worries about the film, which she’s heard gets seriously weepy. Lucy’s armed with tissues, so she’s got the tears under control, but she really doesn’t want Simon to see her all red-eyed and snotty. She’ll have to see if she can cry quietly, in a ladylike manner and clean up the mess before the house lights come back up.
In the end it turns out her fears are unfounded. Lucy enjoys the film, Simon keeps his hands to himself, and she doesn’t cry. One of the advantages of being dead inside after years of singledom, she thinks.
There are fucktonnes of crappy chain restaurants to choose from at the shopping centre. Lucy fancies a burger, so she reels off a few options including three burger places – but Simon ignores them all and chooses Jamie’s Italian, which is a bit shit. Bollocks.
They sit facing one another. Simon goes for pizza and Lucy, still craving meat, orders the nearest thing she can get to a burger: chicken and chips. Their starters – calamari and arancini – arrive alarmingly swiftly and are drier than Lucy’s love life. Simon, sensibly, hardly touches a thing, so Lucy eats the entire lot because they’re in front of her. It’s her superpower.
“Did you like the film?” Simon asks, clearly aware that that this date is a total waste of everyone’s fucking time.
“I did! But as always I was annoyed about enormous the age difference in their relationship. He was so much older than her! It’s creepy!”
“You’re right,” Simon agrees. “How old do you think Lady Gaga‘s character was supposed to be compared to Bradley Cooper‘s?”
A quick Google tells them that in real life Gaga is 32 and Cooper is 43, which is already bad enough, but they both agree that in the film Gaga’s character was supposed to be even younger.
“It’s really annoying how the male lead is always so much older than the woman,” complains Lucy. “Why do ageing men always hook up with the hot young things? It gives normal guys unreasonable expectations!”
“Is it unreasonable?” asks Simon. “I’ve had big age gaps before. The youngest woman I dated was 13 years younger, and I recently dated someone who was 54.”
Lucy unsuccessfully tries to hide her surprise. “How did you end up on date with a 54-year-old?”
“She messaged me on OkCupid – and she was very clear about what she wanted.”
“I can imagine, a hot young thing like you!” Lucy teases, in a crap attempt to lighten the mood. “But what did you want? Why would you say yes to a 54-year-old?”
“She said she wanted to paint me, and I was intrigued.”
Suddenly grey, morose Simon takes on a whole new shade of colour.
“Paint you?! Like, all over your body? Or on canvas?”
“That’s exactly what I asked her! But she was an artist. She wanted to paint my portrait, so I said yes.”
“And did she?”
The waiter comes over to clear away their plates, so Simon doesn’t answer for a pregnant moment.
“No,” he says, when the waiter has gone.
Lucy feels a flash of disappointment.
Over equally disappointing mains Simon tells Lucy he’s thinking of moving back to London. “Would you rent or buy?” she asks.
He tells her he rents the flat he lives in near Sevenoaks. “I’ve been there a really long time,” he tells her. It’s a bit like student digs, and it’s quite depressing. I also own my parents’ retirement property, but I can’t live in that until I’m 55. Which is actually not that far away!”
Lucy has a vision of Simon, living by himself in his depressing one-bed student bachelor pad in the sticks, eating beans on toast and watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory while bemoaning his advanced old age, and feels slightly sick.
“43 is not old!” Lucy tells him, trying to pep him up yet again.
“It’s middle-aged though. Did you know that people born today have a life expectancy of 100 years?”
“That’s way too much,” shrugs Lucy. “I think 85 is plenty. When I get that old I’ll just book into Dignitas.”
“If you book now, maybe you’ll get an advance discount,” jokes Simon darkly. “Or some sort of loyalty points?”
“Hmmm,” muses Lucy. “I don’t think loyalty points are a great idea, it’s not like you’re going to go back there again!”
“Maybe they would do a couples discount if you go with your other half?” ponders Simon.
Lucy’s pretty sure that if she were married to Simon she’d be looking to end it all long before she reached the age of 85.
You know things are going really fucking excellently when you’re talking about death on the second date, she thinks.
She changes the subject. “So if you move to London will you get a new job?”
“Yes I think so,” Simon tells her. “But I’m worried that at 43, if I apply for jobs in London, the trendy young IT people will laugh at me.”
He seems to be so afraid of failing, stuck in a rut and fading slowly into irrelevance, rotating on the hamster wheel until the end of time. It’s too depressing for words.
Lucy advises him to do up his CV and send it to headhunters. “They’ll soon give you feedback on how you can improve and what you need to do,” she tells him. “And if one person rejects you it doesn’t mean that you’re no good, it just means you’re not right for them. It’s like dating!”
So now we’ve moved onto CVs and careers advice, she thinks with a heavy sigh. Hardly the topics designed to make me want to drag the guy back to my place and rip his clothes off.
Still, at least she knows now. Despite the fact that he ticks quite a few of her boxes, and he’s a nice guy, she and Simon are definitely not going to be racing home to bang like rabbits until the sun comes up. Time to admit defeat and move on.
Outside the front of the restaurant, Lucy hesitates. She’d rather get the tube, but that would involve walking back to the station with Simon and she’s really not sure she can take any more of this depressive atmosphere. Plus if they say goodbye at the tube station he might do something outrageous like go in for a kiss, and she definitely doesn’t want that. Not that she thinks Simon’s the type – he definitely lacks the confidence for anything like that – but you can never been too careful.
“So…” she says with forced brightness, “I’m going to get the bus! I had a great time, see ya, bye!”
“Let me know you get home safe,” says Simon, almost automatically.
Lucy neither needs or wants to do that, but – fuck! – now she has to. It’s kind of like some sort of weird contract, where if the other person says those magic words, you’re under their spell, and you have to oblige even if you don’t see the point and have no intention of ever seeing them again. What would happen if she didn’t? she wonders. It’s not like he’d call the fucking police.
But she feels guilty, so of course she does. Closure, if you will.
She never hears from him again.
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