My First Date in 8 Years

Mimi hasn’t dated for nearly a decade. But what’s changed since we were teens? Here are her first impressions about the trials of modern dating.

As the Central line rams and clatters loudly into the platform, I look up from my glasses and conclude the date in the most platonic way possible. I stick my hand out to shake his.

“Well! It was lovely to meet you!”

Did that come off condescending? Never mind: focus on your escape. Get up. Walk. Keep walking. Hold on to the pole – don’t fall over. Stop train, please stop, I’ve already said bye. Doors, please open now. How about now? Ah, they’re open! Jump down and don’t look back. They hiss shut and the train judders and screeches away.

“See you soooon…” I trail off halfheartedly before they close.

Lies. I got home, Whatsapped him saying “thanks but total friendship vibes right, haha?” then proceeded to panic block him off everything. If that was a date then fine, Universe. Don’t bother with a second.

Apparently this was bad form. Apparently almost everything is bad form. Blocking them is immature. Texting too often will scare him off, or give signals you’re moving too quickly, or just bore him to death so he inevitably ‘ghosts’ you.

“Listen, dating is a game and you’re going to be terrible at it to start with. Everyone is,” a close friend and dating app connoisseur advises, wisely sipping her wine.

I’ve been out of this so-called dating game a little while… Nine years, but who’s counting? My ex broke up with me on Skype two years ago (while we were in the same city. Classy…) And my hormones and I have been without so much as a drunken kiss or two since. I didn’t know I’d be coming back to this, though. The game: where romance is dead and the instruction booklet has long since been thrown out with the recycling. The rules, and there are many, can thus only be relayed through the old wives’ tales of more experienced players. Result? To put it mildly, I’m a terrible listener and have no idea what I’m doing.

Dating for me is still stuck in August 2008, when I met my ex for the first time. Picture the scene like something out of One Tree Hill or The OC. Except we were actually 15, not 30 year olds in band tees and mini skirts. His idea for a first date was to spend the afternoon dying his hair the so-emo shade of blue-black everyone loved so indubitably back then. In a McDonald’s ladies room we dunked his head in the sink, laughing non-stop as old Chinese grannies glared and hissed at us. We got cheeseburgers because: When in Rome. Then we sat under a tree and discussed deep topics like the intro to Bat Out Of Hell and how to inhale a cigarette without coughing. While the litter-laced tide slowly washed in, we compared hand sizes – barely touching, sparks flying – while waiting for his patchy, bathroom sink dye-job to dry.

I knew he fancied me. I knew I fancied him. I knew he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I knew that as a teenage girl, it was the social status symbol to have a boyfriend. It was a win-win, and it was so simple. Why can’t it be this simple now?

Modern courtship however, with its Tinders, Bumbles and Lord-have-mercy OkCupid algorithms (in the words of Comic Book Guy: Weirdest. Dating Site. Ever.) don’t hold a torch to the butterflies of a good ol’ teenage crush. Do I care whether you love to travel? (If I see the term sapiosexual one more time, I will hunt that man down – probably to the ends of the earth – and have words) Or are a city boy working in finance? Or about that topless picture you send your sidewhores on your dull-as Snapchat?

But here’s the real crux. In my – albeit humble – experience, these apps treat love like a Zara sale. Shoppers scan around in a frenzy to see which jacket, shirt or marketing consultant could be their next great find… going swipe-right mental on their lunch break through all these bargains. He’s fit! Swipe. He’s nice, he’s funny, oooohhh he’s a doctor. Swipe! A posh lad? Colin Firth-me-a-swipe-o’-that. Scottish? How exotic. Swipe. Face tattoos? Well, at this point why the hell not?

Then once you’re over the “oh no, I couldn’t possibly message him first…” phase and the chat gets a little more creative than “What you doing tonight?” you start getting a little excited. In my case, a little too excited. ‘My word, his chat is so good,’ you dangerously begin thinking. ‘He’s so funny!’ (He isn’t actually that funny, you’re just at that point now.) You start to speak every day, you agree to meet… then poof! He’s gone. Ghosted you? No… he can’t have. He’s a gent, the first proper one you’ve met on here. There’s no way a man with manners would do that.

But he did. He ghosted you. This would never have happened in high school. How could it? You’d see him at school on Monday, there was nowhere to hide. Now your ego is shattered. You become convinced you’re hideous and destined to die alone, because any decent man you meet will get to know the real you then proceed to run a bloody mile.

“Just be patient,” my sage colleague croons. “When you’re not looking, that’s when you’ll find him.”

Easy for you to say, you think to yourself. You, with your perfect man you met in a bar. How traditional. Your French husband who you can curl up with on the sofa and discuss Dostoyevsky until you fall asleep in each other’s arms. Oo-la-laa-dee-bloody-daa.

I’ve learned as well how easy it is to become bitter over a boy you’ve never met. A stranger you thought was your soulmate. Who knew flirting could be so addictive? Alas, these truly are desperate times. Or at least they will be if I keep letting them. Instead I’ve decided to turn to my friends for comfort. The ones who insist he’s gay or been in a terrible accident first. Then the one you can strip down to your barest insecurities with and not feel like a pathetic loser after all’s been said, done and he’s actually had the nerve to block you.

I’ve also decided, reluctantly, that I am a romantic. I want the butterflies, the sideways glances and the nervous attempts to hold hands. I want an afternoon stroll in the sun to feel like a moment I’ll remember forever, and nothing less. But after having my confidence collapse one too many times from all this dating app nonsense, it’s high time I stop searching for someone who seems perfect on paper. I don’t want a Mr. Big to my Carrie – a looker who likes you when it suits him, then leaves when you’re too much to handle. I want a Ben Wyatt to my Leslie Knope. The kind of guy who reads you and can’t get enough. Who would never try to curb your enthusiasm. Who sees your offer to take him on a date as a gesture not a threat, then thinks how he can top it next time.

Because in the end, whether I’m single at 24, 34 or 74 (and still probably on Tinder) I know that no matter how bat-shit insane a boy thinks I am, my friends would never ghost me. So in the meantime, I don’t need to find The One. I’ve already found them.

Words by Mimi Davies

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