First date – the very phrase is like a cut throat.
Don’t be so melodramatic, you may say. You are only typing that because you are a columnist, and because of this, you cannot see in grey. Nonsense, say I – there are two experiences in life that cause a peculiar pain, as if your soul is removed and sold for parts, like a blood-stained Honda Civic. One is being left by someone you love – or more correctly – someone you think you love, because I no longer believe that someone who actually loves you gives you that peculiar pain. It is not actually love, but masochism. (For more details, read Women Who Love Too Much by Robin Norwood.) The other is a first date. One happens once or twice in a lifetime, unless you are mentally ill. The other is like Jaffa Cakes – innumerable.
You may have heard of a tweeter called Rhodri Marsden who has established a web page for first date testimonials, which has caused a bit of a furore. Reading it is like sticking your head down the toilet. It is called FirstDateHell. He made the page after a first date during which he found himself asking a woman, “What’s Wigan like?” He soon learned this was almost a successful first date, because others have had worse. One person wrote, “I went out very briefly with someone who stubbed a cigarette out on the back of my hand. After asking to. And me saying no”. Then there was: “He called me 10 minutes before to ask if I was running late, picked a fight with a stranger for looking at him and said aliens are in the Bible”. Then my favourite: “Met guy at his flat, he opened door in blue check fleece dressing gown and an electronic tag on ankle. ‘Shall we just stay in?’” And finally: “I went on a date and he took me on a burglary”. All this is topped by the experience of my friend P, who went on a first date, went back to the stranger’s house for sex and discovered the man had leprosy.
Why are these stories so interesting? They explode the lie of normality. (Reader, tell the truth. You’ve stalked people haven’t you? I know I have. I have stalked a man’s bicycle, which may make me, technically at least, a mechanophile.) It is customary to believe that there are normal people having normal relationships, going to Ikea and being very functional and with only a few crazies circling them, keeping all the dysfunction for themselves. Ha. This is why I love FirstDateHell. It confirms that beneath the fragile veneer of civilisation, everyone is mad.
“One first date strategy is to act crazy and essentially reject before you are yourself rejected”
Love is obviously the ultimate crucible of madness. Relax, you might say, it’s only a first date. Only a baby with a cold is more vulnerable than a human on a first date. How high the stakes are – do you want me, or will you find me repulsive and ask me what Wigan is like, before fleeing to someone hotter, cooler, better? We relive all our childhood traumas in the dating vortex, which is why first dates compose the worst of our behaviour. It is the fear.
There are, generally, two strategies for a first date. They are both designed to handle fear and they both suck. The first is taught at grandma’s knee and is explored in depth in the stupid self-help book The Rules. The Rules say – be a flat-packed lady, Lady. Don’t do anything interesting. Smile, nod, and say nothing that might expose you. It doesn’t matter that he is, essentially, only getting to meet your clothing. You will be safe. The other strategy is to act crazy, and to essentially reject before you are yourself rejected. (To wear a dressing gown and an electronic tag to a first date is either a conscious rejection or a comedian trying out new material.) This was always my way, which is why I once told an orthodox Jew, “I’m an alcoholic, a drug addict and a nymphomaniac,” in Pizza Express. I can’t remember any other first date stories due to post traumatic stress, I think. Although my comedy boyfriend says he took me to see Schindler’s List and the date was more disturbing than the film.
The solution? There is none, although old age numbs both the desire and the potential to be loved by strangers. And there is always death. If anyone has been on a first date where the other person has died, please write in. You will not be alone.
Main picture credit: Rex Features
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Stylist's regular columnist Lucy Mangan is on maternity leave.