Andrew was the kind of guy who would have been better company when he was married.
There are lots of Andrews on Tinder and dating sites in general. They are the last of the self-titled nice guys who tell you they chose divorce because their lives were simply no fun anymore. They are not sure what fun is but take the mildly, reductive view that it has everything to do with being single. They are on a quest to even the score in their lives, a great imbalance caused by Not Being Single. In Andrew’s case he had Not Been Single for 26 years. This played on his mind a great deal and he had evidently come to the conclusion that it had impaired his quality of life in a major way. He said so.
“The only good thing from the past 26 years is my 3 kids.” Like the only good steak I’ve ever eaten was in 1988. Every other steak was a waste of time. He is here – and on pretty much every online site you can think of – to even the score and get those 26 years back. His mission is not to meet a woman he finds interesting but to extract his lost fun.
“That’s very minimalist of you. Anyway, you can’t retrieve what you didn’t have in the first place,” I pointed out.
“But I would have had it.”
“How do you know? That’s like me saying I’ve missed out on being 6ft tall. It didn’t exist, so you can’t miss it.”
He looked shocked. I kind of enjoyed it.
There are stages to being single, that those newly released into the wild cannot understand. Being single does not automatically come with divorce. Being single requires you to carve out a life for yourself, not spend all your time looking for people to fill it in. Divorce puts you in the twilight zone, not the single zone. You have to earn your stripes as a single or else you’re forever stuck in the half-light, neither one thing nor another, waiting for the statistically unsound second marriage to rescue you (and then dump you on the floor again.)
He wanted so desperately to be a bad boy. The desire for notoriety oozed from him. He wanted to begin a new life of tempting and then trashing women. But he was a Primark version, lacking in the inherent personality and charm that gets the real bad boys the result they want. Unlike Andrew, those guys don’t have a sense of entitlement: they just have a really good sense of bad and that’s what makes them so compelling, even for the wisest of women.
Andrew, on the other hand, was a floppy-eared, undisciplined, hunting dog who had lost his way.
Our meeting typified what was wrong with digital dating. He seemed ok when we first started chatting. He was quick, funny and even whimsical. He was also intelligent and had good general knowledge. And he had a nice face. So that is why I was out with him on a warm Friday evening. He suggested we meet at the Southbank and said he would bring wine. When I heard that I thought, “Oh cool, what a nice idea.” You know kind of carefree and fun and so that is what I imagined he might be like. But I had foolishly forgotten I was meeting someone who up till now only existed as messages on a screen, a broken screen at that. If you think about that scenario for too long you feel cheap.
He opened his backpack and produced an M&S bag with a bottle of wine in it. I do not understand the place of that particular temple to greyness in the British psyche. To me it has always seemed to embody everything that is safe and boring. If he had bought the bottle from Tesco or Sainsburys I would have been joyful, however the fact that he went to M&S just said all the things I didn’t want to hear. One of the salient features of online dating is that little things matter, even plastic bags.
If you ask me what we talked about I don’t remember. He couldn’t look me in the eye. He seemed to be talking at me, espousing his views on everything, especially the now and future of his three daughters with whom he apparently had a very good relationship. He alternated this with talking about his online dating and the girls he’d slept with. Match, Plenty of Fish – you name it – he’d done the rounds with alarming alacrity.
I quite liked the idea of the Canadian girl who wanted her dog to be in bed with them.
‘”What do you think of that,” he asked. It was the first time in his conversation he’d asked me about anything.
“Well I wouldn’t do the dog thing on the FIRST date,” I said with a smile on my face.
He spluttered. “I just told her there was no way and I was not staying if the dog was even near the bed.” He said this in a way that suggested this girl was missing out greatly if she continued to want her canine sleeping companion.
I told him that I once slept with a guy who had his dog in the bed, on a pillow and that it was very cosy. He seemed shocked. It was good that I did not tell him about some of the other things I’d done. But there was no chance of that. It was all him, him, him. How he’d left the big house in Wimbledon to Her, his generosity knowing no bounds. As we all know, the men who tend to leave without waiting for a big share, either can afford to do it, have found some post adolescent totty or have been domestically abused. There was no sign of the last one so I did not feel sorry for him. Especially not when he asked me what I wanted to eat and I pointed to the Korean food truck, so he chose the Italian Meatball truck.
In all my adult life I have never been asked how a date is going. He shouted it in an unprepossessing, loud, youth populated bar thus letting everyone know our status. Suddenly I was glad we were in a place nobody would ever visit twice.
“Sorry, can’t hear you. Good music.”
“I asked you how you think this date is going?”
“I have a really nice piece of toast waiting for me at home.” I didn’t say that. I was thinking it. Very unconvincingly I said, “Good. Yes. Good.”
When you have to discuss these things, you know you’re not doing it. And we were not doing it.
We would never do it.