When I was at college, I sometimes did some peer tutoring.  This usually involved studying with fellow students for a particular class.  However on one particular occasion, I was assigned to Dan.  I was in my senior year and he was a Freshman.  He was fresh out of Brazil, a very friendly young man with the most amazing apartment I had ever seen.  It was in South Kensington, a penthouse with an elevator that opened into the flat, a fact I remember had really impressed me at the time.

Dan needed help with his English, he was following the foundation course before being able to take up his degree courses.  We would do his assignments together and I would help him express himself in what was a foreign language for him.   He needed to pass this foundation level so he could get started on his degree course so we spent a lot of time together not only preparing assignments but also talking, so that he could practise.

I thought he was a pleasant fellow and was extremely pleased for him when he passed all his exams and was told that he could start his degree proper.  He called me to tell me of his success and said:

“Now you aren’t my teacher any more,  I would like to invite you out for dinner to celebrate passing my exams.”

I accepted – why not?  I wasn’t into him or anything but dinner to celebrate his achievement sounded nice.  We arranged a time and place.  He asked me if I wanted him to pick me up, but since I had a car and he didn’t and we were meeting in his neck of the woods, I said I’d meet him at the restaurant.  He had suggested a Chinese place.  I arrived, he was already there and he stood up, took my coat and handed it to the waiter, and pushed my chair in behind me as I sat.  Very chivalrous. (And unusual in my experience to that date – and since – who are we kidding?)

We started chatting.  He was off to Brazil for the holidays and he was excited to see his friends and family after his first semester away from home.  The waiter comes.

“Are you ready to order?”

“Yes, we’d like set menu four for two please.” Said Dan.

I glanced at the menu.  Set menu 4 was the most expensive and as such predominantly seafood and fish.

“Er” I started.

He spoke over me.

“And a bottle of blah blah..” (I don’t remember, something red.)

“Er, I don’t…”

“Thank you very much” he said to waiter handing him our menus and the wine list.

“What were you saying?” He turned to me and asked.

“I was trying to tell you that I don’t eat fish or shellfish or drink red wine, and I wouldn’t mind changing our order for something I would enjoy more.” I said extremely calmly considering the fact that people ordering for me reminds me of when we were young and my aunt would always go ahead and order stuff her kids liked and the rest of us be damned.  Also the control freak inside me (not as deep as I would like) was stamping its foot and screaming loudly.

This threw him.

“What?! I planned for us to have this! I came and studied the menus. This menu is nice.  It’s the best one!” he cried louder than was strictly comfortable for anyone in the restaurant.

“I’m sure it is,” I replied quietly, “And I really appreciate the effort, but I don’t eat shellfish so you’ll be eating most of it alone.  What can I say?” I said, trying to lighten the mood, “I’m a cheap date!  I don’t drink, or require lobster!”

He was really upset.  I didn’t know what to do.

“Why don’t you let me have a look at the menu and I’ll order something else?” I suggested gently.

“Are you a lesbian?” he asked abruptly.

“Are you asking me if I’m gay because I want to order my own dinner?” I asked incredulously.

“WELL WHY ELSE WOULDN’T YOU LET ME BE THE MAN IN THIS SITUATION?” he shouted.

I started sweating.  I hadn’t dated a lot before (at all in fact) but this seemed a little extreme.  I backed away a bit, alarmed.

“ WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?” he continued yelling, “I’M TRYING TO BE NICE TO TAKE YOU TO A NICE  PLACE. I LIKE YOU, I THOUGHT YOU LIKED ME TOO.  WHY DID YOU AGREE TO COME?”

“I thought we were celebrating you passing your exams.”

“YES! BUT THIS IS A DATE!!!” he said wildly.

“Okay,” I said “But what does that mean exactly?  That I have to be quiet and eat what I’m given and drink stuff I don’t like?”

He stood up and came to stand over me threateningly.  He wasn’t particularly tall, but I was sitting down and I did feel really threatened.  He was beside himself shouting about how he was doing me a favour and how I should be grateful and that I must be into women or something etc etc.  I got up and asked for my coat.  It was a testament to how angry and threatening he was that the usually unflappable and deadpan Chinese wait staff were hovering,  concerned.

He grabbed my arm really tightly.

“Where are you going?”

I had had enough.

“I am going home.” I said, snatching my arm away.  I put my coat on and walked towards the door with him shouting at me the whole time.  When I got to the door, the waiter was waiting for me with his coat on. ” I will walk you to your car or with you to find a cab madam”, he said.

He took me to my car and I got in and sat there shaking for 20 minutes waiting to calm down.  I was both angry and shocked.  As far as first dates go (and I mean first ever date, not first date with one person) that was an inauspicious start.  I have often wondered what would have happened if I had just eaten and drunk what was put in front of me, the sort of reaction I would have gotten if I had refused an advance or something.  Good thing I felt strongly about dinner in restrospect.

Needless to say, it took a long time for me to date again after that.

My friends all assured me that it couldn’t possibly get worse.  I mean it was traumatic, sure, but even I knew that not all dates went that way and sometimes the woman got to choose her own meal or even the location!  As a first experience Dan was terrible.  Fortunately I managed never to see him again.  And though none of my other dates have ended in violent rage, I have had some doozies.

A few years ago, I met P.  My first impression of him that he was gay to be honest.  Not because he ordered his own dinner, but because he reached over and grasped my wrist to admire my bracelet.

“I make jewellery myself, and this is very pretty” he said.

We got to talking.  He seemed nice enough.  We were at a big event so a lot of my friends were there making obscene gestures and pulling funny faces behind his back and being generally helpful.  He was leaving for Greece the next day and we exchanged numbers.  I assumed I wouldn’t hear from him again.

He called the next day and we spent the next few months keeping in touch by phone, text and email.  Eventually I went to Greece for the wedding of a friend of mine, and he asked me out for dinner.  We went for a walk and ended up in a quiet, out of the way restaurant where we had a very pleasant dinner.  After our meal, I got up to use the bathroom.  When I got back to the table, he wasn’t there.  I sat down, thinking he would be right back.  Suddenly, I see him waving to me from another table.  He was sitting with two young women who I assumed were friends of his, and so went along when he waved me over.

“I would like to introduce you to K & F.” He said to me.

“Pleased to meet you.” I said, to an awkward silence.  I stood there hoping for a natural disaster to save me.

“So,” I said, to break the silence. “How do you guys know each other?”

The girls looked fantastically uncomfortable.

“We just met,” they said, “P just came over to introduce himself.”

Wow I thought, I must be a riveting dinner companion if he’s trying to pick up women during our date.  Worse, he’d used the “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” line.

Chalk another one up to experience.  So far:  Dating 25 – M – nil.

Some dates are disasters because of circumstances – like when you arrange to go walking in the park and it rains torrentially when you’re somewhere where there’s no shelter and you find yourself with mascara running down your face wearing completely see-through clothing.  Or when you have suggested meeting at this great steak place and your date waits til you have sat at table to announce that he is a vegetarian.  Or when one of you gets unavoidably detained and leaves the other standing alone for an hour.

I have forgotten a date once.  I had arranged a Sunday morning coffee and I was at home pottering when I heard my mobile ring.  It was J waiting patiently at the rendezvous point wondering where I was.  I felt very bad about that.  So bad in fact, that I went on several other, not very enjoyable, dates with him.  The most memorable one being when I killed myself to get there on time as I had to leave work late and had to park 20 minutes away (Covent Garden is impossible for parking).  As we left the restaurant, I said:

“Would you mind walking me to my car as I have parked a while away, and I will give you a lift home?”

“No thanks, I’d rather not, it’s cold and the station is right there. Goodnight.”  And with that he toddled off to the station.  What a charmer.

Actually, having gone through the teenage feminist rebellion of not wanting anyone to open doors or generally look after me on principle, I now find it rather lovely.  I mean, it doesn’t have to be a man doing it for a woman, it’s just nice to be polite. It all comes down to manners.  A good date is a polite date and that goes for both parties. I know talking about politeness makes me sound about 90 years old, but it’s the truth.  I am not some princess who expects to be wined, dined and impressed.  A date by definition is something that has to work for both parties.  Not in an  I-did-two-nice-things-for-you-so-now-it’s-your-turn-to-do-two-nice-things-for-me way, but in a we’re-both-out-to-have-a-good-time-so-let’s-try-to-be-as-polite-and-entertaining-as-possible way.

I would consider a successful date an evening/afternoon/day where a lot of laughter is had, no one bleeds or throws up and where at the end of your time together, you part company with a smile on your face and you do not sag against your front door saying never again.   I mean dates can be pretty exhausting, as I am sure we can all agree but  there is a fine line between presenting your best self and being somebody entirely different.

I have had friends who have undergone the prerequisite personality change to become the person they think the object of their interest wants and it rarely, if ever, works out.  I tend to err the other way (not necessarily the right thing either) I make no attempt to be anything other than myself, but I am aware that sometimes that comes across as not making an effort.

Regardless.  I am not going to be one of those girls like in the movies who lies like a flatfish about her outdoor skills on a first date only to find herself thigh deep in a river by the third date trying to pretend she knows how to thread worms on a hook and how to gut a fish.

No sir, that’s not for me.  If the romcom has taught us anything, it’s the following:

1)      Never put off telling him/her the truth about the giant lie your entire relationship is based on by saying “It’s nothing, I’ll tell you later”.

2)      Never exclaim: “Hang gliding! OMG, I LOVE hang gliding!” if you’ve never done it.

3)      Being high maintenance only works for Reese Witherspoon, SJP and other gorgeous actresses.

4)      Pretending you love animals when you don’t, never leads to anything pleasant.

So that’s the dating thing covered.  Be polite, considerate, entertaining and yourself, and everything should be alright.  For myself, I also humbly request being allowed to order my own dinner and not being left in Covent Garden at eleven thirty.  Oh, and if my date can refrain from chatting up other diners, well, that’s a bonus.

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