Monday, October 16, 2006

Reasons en vacance (some Turkish delights)

The advertising blurb for my chosen holiday promised that this was the resort to 'stretch yourself to the limit'. What it didn't add was that there would be a number of reps willing to help me do that in a more hands on manner. No sooner had I touched tarmac than I had acquired three hirsute suitors, who in less amorous moments were also employed as the snorkelling, sailing and photography experts.

Courting in Turkey is a territorial thing. (Perhaps 'courting' is a euphemism in this sense - the tireless efforts to steer me away from the beach and in the direction of the bedroom could perhaps be less romantically termed 'hunting'). Despite knowing each other in the way that only reps that are forced to share accommodation can, an invisible rota existed that ensured that no two alpha males would be in the vicinity at the same time. On the one occasion that it must have slipped off the noticeboard, Sailing (with whom I was competing in a limbo competition) had words with Snorkelling (who was bystanding) and it was agreed that one gentleman would relocate to the end of the beach for the rest of the evening. (Photography was broodily waiting on my sunlounger the next morning to assure me that since I had ventured home alone, the contest for my affections was still open). Before you assume that with such magnetic appeal to the locals I must be blessed with the assets of Gisele Bunchen and a bikini with an inability to stay put, I will counter that I had food poisoning and hair like a poodle for the majority of my trip.

Still, the incessant comments about Sailing's desire to break into the media, and the fact that I am phobic about photos meant Snorkelling was the front runner. On the last day, I learnt to scuba dive, and waved the metaphorical finish flag with a kiss at the bottom of the ocean. Twenty minutes Snorkelling played his second romantic card, by asking if I had ever 'had two men at once'. Rapidly followed by a request to give him a 5 minute trial period where he would show me the delights of anal sex.

These things never happened to Judith Chalmers.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Reason #2 (now who's being stupid?)

Let's get this straight. The last meeting with Reason #2 had ended in a grown-up, emotionally responsible manner. I woke up in my own bed, minus a £20 cab fare but with dignity intact. Thanks to quite flexible shoulder joints I could even pat myself on the back.

It was obviously time to screw it all up again.

When Mick Jagger sang 'You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what you need' he probably didn't have a holiday-booking deranged female on his mind. Chances are there wasn't a second verse that suggested that going back on the sensible 'friends only' rule was likely to convince a commitment free target that more effort was needed. Still, never one to let logic get in the way of an opportunity to bang my head against a brick wall, I found myself once again sipping beverages and chatting about families. Whilst mentally rehearsing a routine of sexual athletics that would qualify for the olympics.

Sadly my floor show (which only just stopped short of a flowing ribbon) was never realised. The suggestion of 'an early night' was taken as just that and with little more than a peck on the cheek, I was on my way to the bus stop.

Reasons en vacance (a holiday minefield)

The legacy of Bridget Jones introduced the concept of 'smug marrieds'. What it didn't introduce was the reality of 'smug travel agents'. Get your holiday choice wrong and you could end up surrounded by the under-tens whilst spending the equivalent of a term's school fees on having your own room. After two weeks of information overload, I was convinced that leprosy was less of a hindrence than travelling toute seule. Had I been living in a gun-liberal country like the US, the 'why don't you consider going with a partner?' opening gambit from the Club Med rep could have ended very, very badly. Still, the call centre was in France, the force of my wrath was restrained by international boundaries, and I was enrolled in all inclusive trip to Turkey.

Reason #2 (some guidelines are set)

Let's skip the drinks and niceness and head straight to pub closing and an extra sneaky beer back at his. Yes, yes, it's so lovely to hook up again, and, yeah, it's funny how we're so alike and oh, do you really thing so, that's a sweet thing to say and you really shouldn't worry about and...hang on one freakin' moment, it's happening all over again. But this time it came with a 'would it be so wrong?' prefix. And the five tiny syllables gave my endorphin-addled brain a chance to get some oxygen before it was time to breathe through my nose. And the conclusion it came to was that, well, it would. Some boys fall into the 'kiss and run' category, and some the 'kiss and stick around'. The fact that he'd 'randomly' introduced lines about his lack of desire for a girlfriend into every conversation lead me to believe that our two circles of romantic vision were not coming together in a venn diagram. Friends was good, more was good, but oscillating between the two was a hiding to crazytown.

This time the money went on a taxi home instead of shoes.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Reason #6

Reason #6 recognised me from a certain pubic house I used to frequent. Over a decade ago. Whilst those of a higher level of dating sanity may have pondered the stalking implications of such a confession, again I was willing to give fate a chance in the hope we could one day look back and laugh about how we'd missed the opportunity to date each other for ten whole years before ending up in relationship nirvana.

It seems an appropriate time to introduce the 'window of opportunity' concept. In any kind of fancying scenario, there passes a small gap during which it is ideal to step things up a level. Frequently early on in the grand scheme of things, even questionable humour / ethics / personal hygiene will be filtered through a cloak of adrenaline and hope that, given a few encouraging nudges, future Sunday mornings will become a whirlwind of carnal bliss and not time to plan your weekly supermarket shop.

The downside of the 'window of opportunity' is that it does exactly what it says on the tin and is a time restricted option. Wait too long to actually physically set something in motion and the mist of adrenalin clears and gives way to cold, hard realism.

Now that's clear, let's analyse where Reason #6 went wrong.

Time from my profile uploading to email contact hitting my inbox: exceptionally swift
Time from email arrival to email reciprocation on my part and telephone numbers being exchanged: long enough for me to date Reasons #1 to #5
Time from phone number exchange to text edging into smutty territory: disarmingly instantaneous
Time before the question 'how big are your nipples in terms of UK coinage?' arose: one phone call

Now, text / phone suggestion is a wonderful thing, but the law of dating mishaps determines that the more scenarios are listed in explicit details prior to meeting in person, the less likely they are ever to happen post 'date'. And therein lies the rub. 3 months later, and despite the fact that Reason #6 lives a matter of doors away from me in Dalston, we have never met. Still, I now know the financial value of my breasts, which will surely come in handy one day.

Reason #4 (the aftermath) and Reason #2 (some more confusing niceness)

So the shoes are bought, and with a few 'Britain's Next Top Model' laps in front of the mirror, the confusion over Reason #2 is banished and we're all set for being friends. And prompted with the details of Reason's #4's evening performance, Reason #2 springs into friendly action with an offer of comfort food and a shoulder to cry on.

Some thai curry later, Reason #2 was sympathetically massaging my self esteem with reassurance that I was way too good for Reason #4, and apologising on behalf of mankind for the manner in which I had been treated. It was so succesful a campaign, I fully expected an Amnesty International protest to be initiated with any further Reason #4 contact. Tissues and compliments flowed more freely than icing sugar in a cake factory. Reason #2 had single-handedly transformed 'nice' from a wishy-washy puppy dog adjective to a post-modern aspirational boyfriend prerequisite. And as Ms(es) Fein and Schneider once again folded their collective arms and tutted, the 'friends' once again veered off the 'friendly' path and into altogether more uncertain territory.

Uncertain? But surely this is the point where Reason #2 realises the spark was just hiding under a pile of damp first date washing and we head back into harps and vicars territory. Sadly not, compadres (too dangerous to use 'friends' at this point in the description). Reason #2's Excuse #2 was that he didn't want a girlfriend. 'Let's see what happens' in the relationship section of the site could more accurately have read 'as long as it doesn't develop into anything too regular'. Friendship status was resumed, and my credit cards prepared themselves for another beating.

Reason #5

Based around a certain person, but more of a general rule, one of the awkward truths of courting a made-up name and a photo is that occasionally that knight in shining armour turns out to be someone you already know quite well. The embarrassment of winking across the web is comprehensively cringeworthy:

1) it proves that despite happily muching your lunchtime sandwiches across from them for months, you've never really been bothered to look at their face properly
2) it suggests that although happy to drink gallons of booze in their presence, entirely lose all inhibitions and potentially risk arrest / an offer of work in a strip club, you've never had the metaphorical balls to ask them out on a date
3) if you've bypassed (2) and (3) successfully (by either looking at them occasionally or not previously wanting to ask them out on a date) it hints that your selection standards have gone into '50% Off - Everything Must Go!!!' clearance overdrive with the realisation that you are internet dating.

The horror doesn't end there. Presuming this is not some kind of movie starring Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan where the platonic friends realise they've been hiding their true feelings all along, the accompanying scenario is less likely to include harps and vicars, and more frequently a scramble to extracate oneselves from the situation without inferring that now you realise who they are, your libido's fallen right off the edge of the planet. Credit where credit's due, Reason #5 gave us both the internet equivalent of the 'my pregnant friend's just gone into labour - must dash' rescue call by hinting that I might possibly know him slightly better than a 21 character tagline. Upon which all potential scripts for textual filth and depravity were swiftly swept into the bin, and with a LOL we moved onto romancing other people.

One final hint for those that would like to avoid waking up with a friend / colleague / distant-but-still-illegal relative on the online pillow next to them. Many dating site photos err on the cryptic side - whether because the subject is avoiding showing their sticky out ears by focusing on their chin in the foreground, or sporting some kind of intriguing expression which renders them unrecognisable and shields from matey ridicule. Playing adult twister a few times at the next social gathering should ensure you are more than acquainted with lesser-known angles and facial contortions of your single allies.

Reason #2 (back to the future)

Ok, back to Reason #2. Reason #2 was the original reason I sent £18 pounds into dating cyberspace and started writing to strangers. And as it turned out, Reason #2 ended up being someone I'd probably witnessed in the flesh already, being as how he shared a desk with someone I already knew in a squelchy capacity, in a company where I'd already worked. Still, it didn't bother him or me, so one wet Saturday (and one where coincidentally I'd just loaded all normal clothes in the wash) we went for a drink.

Several drinks and a quick bite to eat later, I was wondering if he was just a bit too nice to make a move. It turned out he wasn't. If anyone is familiar with 'The Rules' (or 'Complete Book of Rules: Everything You Need to Know to Capture the Heart of Mr Right' to give it its full title), suffice to say the evening ended in a way Ms(es) Fein and Schneider would not have approved of.

So far, so Reasons To Date. But sadly, it seemed the opinion was lopsided. Lovely as I was, the email explained, the spark just didn't seem to be there. And so I wiped my tears, bought some shoes to get over it, and moved onto Reasons #3 and #4.

Reason #4 (an aside)

It seems I am not alone in my experience of unlikely pick-up lines. Legend (well a friend with a penchant for gossip and cigarettes) has it, one unlucky lady was wooed with the phrase 'Please let me. You won't even notice, I promise'. Perhaps some kind of Capital-wide evening course in Marketing is in order.

Reason #4

Reason #4's pre-date preamble involved lists, the type which are circulated around office email as a way to 'get to know' your friends. (Note to list-junkies: it's easier and more efficient just to go to the pub on a Friday night work drink - you'll soon find out who's 'the shouty one', 'the teary one' and 'the one who always manages to lose a shoe by the end of the night'). As a girl who regularly spends 20 minutes plus just deciding on jewellery at the top of the morning, being asked to define my personality through book, film and travel choice was tantamount to being given a crayon and told to sketch out my DNA sequence. What did 'great' literature really mean anyway? Laughed until I spat my soup out, or made me a better person? What about half-books? Did they count? (Half-books, unlike Pret's half sandwiches, are not actually real, but a device I am using to cover instances when a tome has been cast aside around page 70 something in favour of 'Nikki's Story: Why Pete Dumped Me' in Now magazine). Anyway, at the end of the list rainbow lay a pot of gold labelled 'cocktails in a trendy hotel', so I persevered.

Friday night, somewhere in Clerkenwell. In homage to Reason #4's declaration that he worked in fashion PR, I bedecked myself in ironic gold necklaces and tried to ignore the danger that someone might mistake me for a Christmas tree. I needn't have worried. Reason #4 was ridiculously attired to a level that only fashion peeps can manage. It was a match made in heaven.

Onto the cocktails. I went Martini, he went White Russian. He also went to the bathroom a lot, but explained quite graphically that this was down to a digestive as opposed to a narcotic issue. Maybe the vodka had kicked in, but I remember thinking that such a level of openess so early on in our relationship was a good omen. As was the fact that we ended up sitting next to a group of his friends. As I gaily conversed with his fashion allies, it seemed that a marriage filled with sartorial bliss, conversational merriment and 40 per cent proof beverages was definitely on the cards. 2 hours later, there was just one tiny issue to iron out - the fact we hadn't actually spoken to each other over the course of the evening.

And so the bar shut. The friends went home and we were finally left in search of another bar, and a chance to explore the intricacies of each other's minds. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.

Fast forward ten minutes, through bag carrying, beer drinking and a bit of satirical disco dancing. And an introduction into black magic. Yes, it surprised me too. Actually, I have no issue with alternative faith, but it had never really cropped up on a date before. I was expecting 'I'd like to see you again' and 'I can make you into a queen of the black arts' slapped me between the eyes. What was in this beer? (The cocktails were technically in the day before by this point, and were thus discounted.) Still, any residual confusion was tsunamied out the way with the next question - whose house we would be heading to to 'seal the deal'.

'Um, I'm not sure I'm quite at that stage yet' I stammered like a teenager in a sex education class.

Gents, there are a number of things you can do when faced with a quick-fix hurdle as detailed above. One is to accept these things take time, and suggest a second meeting. Another is to move off subject but ingratiate yourself to a point where the predatory behaviour is glossed over and first, if not fifth base, is conceded, as Judy Blume might say.

The following is not a recommended option:

Line 1: 'What's the problem?(See Appendix 1) I just want to put my penis in you (Appendix 2). It's not exactly like you're a virgin, is it? (Appendix 3)
Line 2: Nothing. Just put your beer down and walk out of the bar. (Appendix 4)

For the hard-of-understanding, here's a brief explanation why:

Appendix 1: That's surely obvious
Appendix 2: Referring to your genitalia by its biological name just reminds me of courdroy clad science teachers, which isn't helping your chances
Appendix 3: If a balance of > 0 = no longer worth bothering about, someone needs to tell Bono to stop campaigning against all that Third World Debt
Appendix 4: Think about it. Even if I was drunk enough to think that 1 to 3 constituted a reasoned argument, the same alcoholic intake combined with high heels is going to make it impossible to chase after you.

Maybe he realised the error of his ways. Maybe he thought his proposition lacked clarity and he wanted to phrase it more poetically. Maybe he reasoned I'd want to skip the vanilla and jump to raspberry ripple with sprinkles, whipped cream and a flake on top.

Cue 2am text. It's good to know if I ever change my mind, I'm one phone call away from a buggery delivery service.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Reason #1 (the reprise)

Those of you familiar with dating sites will know they often feature a popularity chart. Somewhat like the now sadly demised 'Top of the Pops', the mechanism by which an entry climbs the scale is shrouded in as much mist as King Arthur's sword. In truth, logging on obsessively and leaving the internet on at work may have aided my ascendance, which around the time of Reason #3 hit the pole position. It coincided with a text message from Reason #1. Having charitably / masochistically (delete as appropriate) pondered that Reason #1's opening gambit might have been the result of nerves, time pressure or undiagnosed Tourette's, I had offered a rematch. Soon after the 'You're number 1 - how big is your ego?!' bon mot popped up in my inbox, I realised it would be easier to just get therapy and some voluntary work at the weekends.

Reason #3

Reason #3 lived in London's fashionable-but-alternative East End. I know this because each profile lists the profiler's location, but in case of any doubt, Reason #3 had kindly included photos of himself in a fashionable-but-alternative warehouse flat, wearing a fashionable-but-alternative trilby. He was also wearing a tight-fitting sleeveless vest which led me to check the gender selected in the 'looking for' section, but I put it down to a gym obsession (then thought about that and checked again). No matter. Being fan of both fashionable-but-alternative East London and hats, I thought I'd give him a shot.

Wednesday evening, 8pm, Liverpool St Station. I'd had a haircut that made me feel a little bit 'Amelie' and French, and he had conveniently recce'd the location by meeting another girl in the same spot the previous Saturday (information courtesy of eagle-eyed flatmate). So far, so internet dating.

We met, we said our hellos, and we ambled to Brick Lane, chatting amiably. A lecturer in a 'pillar of the fashion community' college (explains the hat), I extended a good-natured interest in his tutees. And then the space-time continuum split asunder and dating as we know it came to a screeching halt. In as much as a screeching halt can involve your date staring frozen, silent and aghast. I prayed to little baby Jesus to send me a clue as to what conversational minefield I had once again stumbled into, or at least to let us start ambling again before my thighs began to ache. And so the answer came. When I had asked whether there were many 'foreign students' in his classes, I had somehow unveiled myself as a covert fascist.

I blame my upbringing. Back in the 1970s educational system, 'foreign' simply translated as 'one born overseas', without the Daily Mail adjunct of 'bringing feral customs, maloderous spices and a downfall to Western Civilisation'. 'A simple mistake to make', I thought. 'Detestable bigot', my date presumably deduced.

And so the roles were set. Errant pupil versus headmaster, seemingly, and not in a 'using role-play to add spark to your relationship' way. What started with a lecture on how 'overseas' was the new 'foreign' gave way to a tumult of black marks and beatings on matters as diverse as the following.

Body language (defensive) and use of accessories (handbag, in this instance) to 'create barriers'.
The inexplicable inclusion of 30 plus men in the 'youth' televisual category.
An inability to understand art, followed by an inability to understand communication and the basic principles of humanity.

After being called 'kooky' (a word in the same category as 'zany' in my linguistic filing cabinet, and inevitably used as self-decription by someone from accounts who wears Bart Simpson socks) and repremanded for shouting, I skipped the imminent instruction to stand in the corner to retreat to the ladies. After a brief self-assertiveness exercise ('You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?), I walked out on my date in a way that only a truly British girl could. By apologising.

'I'm sorry, I'm going to have to go home now. I really can't take any more arguments'.

Upon which he replied, 'I don't blame you'. Strange when people choose to agree with you.

Reason #2

We'll come back to Reason #2 later. It's complicated. Let's skip to Reason #3 for now.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Reason #1

Reason #1 was cute and kinda naughty looking. The tagline on his profile 'On Wednesdays after work I repair electrical equipment free of charge' led me to believe he was creatively witty (or perhaps an aspiring tradesman). The fact he said he came from the same geographical region as Jimmy Nail leant itself to aspirational fantasy set to a 'Crocodile Shoes' soundtrack. And so we arranged to meet.

2pm, Friday lunchtime. Quiet pub, scattered with a couple of meanderers post lunchtime rush. And me, obviously, wearing a cute pink dress embellished with bad girl dice illustrations, and an expression of absolute terror. What if he turned out to be horribly disfigured and I had to spend the next 60 minutes pretending not to stare whilst maintaining a veneer of girlish vulnerability? I scanned the internet photos in my memory frantically to determine whether they had all been taken from one side. Just as I was contemplating making a run for it in 3 inch heels, I spied him at the bar. And surprise number one, he was cute. Suprise number two, his accent 'worked' in real life, even without the cowboy boots music video.

Surprise number three was a little more, erm, surprising.

Roughly 7 minutes and one third of a mineral water into the date, he pondered what kind of girls he would attract now he had added 'thoroughly open minded' to his list of 'would like to meet' qualities. Now, I like to think of myself as a large-handwriting-with-big-loops-under-the-ys kind of lady (google search it) so I thought I'd be on safe ground when I asked what 'thoroughly open minded' meant.

The answer apparently (though possibly not if you use the MS Word Thesaurus function) is 'willing to insert her whole arm into my anus'.

Conversation-wise it was a bit of a killer. Politics, religion, child slavery at the hands of multi-national trainer corporations - as far as get-to-know-you banter, nothing comes close. Perhaps I had got to know a little too much. Suddenly my forearm, which had previously been happy twirling the straw in my drink, adopted an ominous presence which forced me to stare at it. All the romantic comedies, self-help manuals and BBC2 dating formatted light entertainment paled into nothing as I scrabbled desperately for something to say that would rest comfortably between 'get this sicko away from me' and 'shall we bother finishing the drinks first?'. Being British, and thus desperate not to offend, I countered with

'that must involve a lot of, erm, practice and, erm, lubricant'.

The date ended shortly thereafter but educationally I now know what a shedload of ecstasy and a week off work can be used for.

SATC has a lot to answer for

So I'm 30-something and work in the media. Were this New York (or at least an HBO funded comedy/drama set in the environs), 'work in the media' would translate as 'wander coquettishly around my apartment in perhaps a man's vest and manolos, pausing occasionally to tippity-tap into a cute white apple mac'. Journalism in the US, it seems, generally involves a word count of 7 or less and a question mark. Which is lucky, as it leaves much more time for raucous nights out with the girls involving Cosmopolitans and ironic jewellery, or nights in with a ballet dancer / furniture maker / wearer of good overcoats, having riotous sexual sheenanigans whilst mysteriously keeping my bra on.

Over in the UK, life is somewhat different. A country steeped in tradition (and rain), 'dating' this side of the pond invariably involves one too many shandies and a pass at a friend of a friend. Not for me, I boldly declared (to myself, admittedly, but it was bold none-the-less). I want me some of that restaurant(y), taxi(y), cocktail(y) stuff. To bump into cute guys whilst sheltering under restaurant awnings (well, we might as well factor in the rain) and to sit discussing the merits of Big versus Chair over breakfast.

And so I went online. And therein begins the story.