Chemistry. We talk about it all the time in dating terms. It’s mentioned in people’s profiles, crops up in those early conversations when the bubble of curiosity has yet to be popped. It’s that elusive, intangible thing that you really can’t put your finger on, but you damn well know when it hits. You’ve probably experienced it – if you’re lucky. So, I thought I’d delve further into the topic. I thought, why not talk about what it’s not. When there’s nothing, not a jot, nada, zilch. It seemed apt and the timing perfect, especially following my date with Mr E.
Mr E is English, 39 years old (I can see this cougar tag beginning to stick…) and works in banking. Our date was an accident really. I’d logged onto the dating site late one night to check emails and browse a little when an Instant Message (IM from now on to stop me typing the whole damn thing out!) popped up. He’d been browsing too, found my profile and (crucially) saw that I was online right at that moment so decided to see if I wanted a chat. His face was, well… friendly – NB: I didn’t say attractive, drop-dead gorgeous, likely to cause swooning – and his profile name (Jimbo) seemed safe and just like a man who really couldn’t take himself too seriously.
A bit of banter
Hello Gorgeous! He typed. It wasn’t the most original start. Hey I type back. We chat a little and it’s clear that Mr E has quite a sense of humour. We move onto some quick-fire questions and answers.
White wine or red? Mr E
Cinema or theatre? Me
Beach or adventure holiday? Mr E
Taxi or tube? Me
French knicker or thong? Mr E
‘What the hell!’ [out loud] Me
Now, people, it’s worth mentioning in case you’re unaware, that IM and late nights often equal horny men, which is fine if you’re really feeling the guy but when you’ve jumped from ‘taxi’ to ‘thong’ in the space of six words its stretching the limits of the imagination just a tad.
I’m not really feeling this, I type, So think I’ll log off…
Sorry, types Mr E in quick response. You sound really nice. Let’s at least meet for a drink.
I ponder his suggestion for a while. There really isn’t any chemistry. I don’t feel a spark of excitement when I’m waiting for him to respond. We’re just two people online when pretty much everyone else is tucked up in bed. And despite his witty patter, his profile pic still hasn’t blossomed into anything other than friendly… But he’s sharp-witted and seems intelligent enough so after a little more banter I agree.
We meet in Kings Cross, in a pub that’s nestled under an old railway arch. As I walk up to the bar I look around me. I’m never sure if I’ll recognise my date so I try to scan faces and look cool at the same time. I’m halfway to the bar when someone calls my name and Mr E walks over to me. He’s about my height and has a portly middle. He also has a portly face and the beginnings of a double chin. He’s wearing a crumpled suit with no tie and his shirt lies open at the neck. Now, in that split second when we see each other for the first time we both wordlessly agree that neither of us is the other’s type. I can’t quite put it into words, but I’ll try. Him: he looks a little hesitant in his eyes. His smile argues with his face. He suddenly seems a little flustered. Me: I don’t feel that zing of attraction. My tongue is far from tied. I’m already planning what takeaway I’ll get on the way home.
Going through the motions
He gets me a glass of wine and we retreat to the corner that he’s nabbed for us. There’s an air of ‘we might as well go through with this now we’re here’. And go through the motions we do. Now, don’t get me wrong, Mr E is full of funny stories. Like… erm… Well, they were funny at the time… You really had to have been there… And he laughs at my own feeble attempts at wit. To be fair, he isn’t bad company. It’s just this chemistry thing. Or lack of…
I feel obliged to offer him another beer and I swear I see his shoulders sag. Damn, why the hell did I do that? So much for being polite. We work our way quickly through our second drinks and then agree that, ‘It really is time to be heading home now.’
We walk back to Kings Cross station making small talk – him about opening a second-hand bookshop on the Norfolk coast and me about retiring somewhere hot. At the station before he heads for the train and I take the stairs to the tube he kisses me on the cheek. ‘Good luck in your search,’ I say.
‘Yeah. You too,’ he replies. And that, as they say, is that. We’re both relieved it’s over. The understanding is mutual. We gel like oil and water – one simply can’t settle with the other, and it really is cool…
A to Z lesson
NO CHEMISTRY FACT NO 1
No ‘hunk’ nerves. Come on, people, you know what I’m talking about. That ‘I’m going to become ever so tongue-tied when I’m around you’ feeling. Yes, you feel like a bumbling idiot, but damn it shows chemistry…
NO CHEMISTRY FACT NO 2
Despite good IM banter and real person-to-person conversation – yes, some of us do still prefer real conversation to faceless, impressionless e-comms – his face hasn’t transformed. There’s nothing wrong with having a ‘friendly’ face, but if it doesn’t move to the ‘you’re pretty damn hot’ stage then something simply ain’t gelling.
NO CHEMISTRY FACT NO 3
Take heed. If you’re really feeling no spark, don’t agree to a date. No spark, no fire!
I finally arrange a date with Mr M. We’d spoken once, texted a few times but hadn’t quite managed to meet. To be honest, with all the missed opportunities I’d kind of ruled him out. So, when I get an impromptu text from him asking if I’m free tonight I think, ‘What the hell’ and I agree to meet. His online name is MeMyselfandI and at first I’d wondered if it was a nod to the self-obsessed (profile names tell you a lot about a person but then that’s a whole separate post!), but when we speak I don’t get that vibe. His heritage is mixed but he refers to himself as Moroccan. He’s also 33, 10 years my junior. So, I’m a cougar. It’s official.
We meet at London Bridge. I arrive first, but am not waiting long. He looks just like his profile picture and I guess because he’s recognized me I must do too. He’s tall, dressed well and has an intense face that softens when he smiles. He greets me with a kiss on the cheek and he starts walking. Fast. Now, I’m a fast walker but Mr M he’s got the whole ‘quick pace’ thing licked. He walks like a man who knows where the journey’s going to end.
‘So you’ve got a place in mind?’ I say. He nods and explains that it’s a Thai restaurant not far from the station.
The Suchard Thai restaurant on Tooley Street is busy, but there’s a table by the wall so Mr M strides over to secure it.
Dinner is fine, if a little bland, but the conversation is vibrant. Mr M asks me if I’m bothered about the age difference. To be fair, I hadn’t really noticed. Time passes quickly in a way you don’t notice when you’re enjoying yourself. The chemistry is good. He sprinkles a couple of compliments my way. We talk. We laugh. We move onto a bar.
When we’ve got drinks and have settled into one of the bar’s comfy leather sofas we talk about what we’re looking for.
I tell him I’m just dating at the moment, that I’m seeing what’s out there and that I’m not ready for anything serious. He’s ready for a relationship and if he finds someone he gels with he’ll focus on developing it.
That’s when our discussion becomes passionate. Mr M tells me my honesty could end up hurting people. I’m going through what he calls a ‘selfish’ phase. ‘You’re out there dating, meeting people who potentially want to start a relationship, but you’re not ready to settle down, so it’s all about you.’
I like the fire in him and he makes me think. It’s true. Maybe this is all a game if you’re not actually ready to settle down. You’re going to meet people who are ready. But it won’t be a game to them. No. They’ll feel a connection with you and then won’t be able to take it anywhere.
But the flip side of the coin is hard to ignore I tell him. Quite frankly, it isn’t a bed of roses when people lie either. But Mr M doesn’t really seem too concerned with that. I wonder where this is all coming from.
‘Where’s this all coming from,’ I say.
‘I’m just talking hypothetically,’ he says. ‘I’ve been there. I’ve done the whole ‘selfish’ thing and people get hurt.’
And then it dawns on me. This honesty of mine. This brutal, cold light of day truth could potentially hurt him. There’s chemistry here, but my commitment to a relationship isn’t.
But there’s also something else to consider. At 33 Mr M has time. Time to spend a year or two exploring the possibilities of a relationship that may not work. At 43 I really don’t feel I have the same luxury. I want to feel I’m starting something that has a good chance of going the distance. But I also need to feel ready and just now I’m not.
‘So basically what you’re saying,’ he continues. ‘Is we won’t see each other again. That’s kind of what you mean if you say you’re just dating.’
It actually isn’t what I’m saying, but it’s obviously what he’s decided he needs to hear so I don’t argue the point. And in doing so have I lied? Have I compromised my own belief in being honest and open? Maybe so. But maybe on rare occasions a tiny white lie can actually help a situation.
The fire in our conversation does something to us both and Mr M leans in to kiss me. It’s nice. It really would be good to have a second date, but reluctantly I have to admit that he’s right – it ‘honestly’ wouldn’t be a good idea.
A to Z lesson
Speak your truth and do it soon. But speak it with sensitivity, tact and compassion. You can’t control how your honesty is received but you can control how it’s delivered. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you want, but let the person you’re dating know too.
I remember being on the receiving end of an ex when he, honestly and brutally, told me he wasn’t ready to commit. Ok, so it was painful to hear, but at least he didn’t pull the wool over my eyes. Or tell me we had a future when we clearly didn’t…
Mr J is Jamaican. Works in IT. In his photo he’s grinning like a Cheshire cat. No, seriously. A grin so wide it takes up half his face. It’s a little off-putting and, honestly, a bit deranged looking, but his profile is cool, literate, witty and jumps off the screen at me. I email him. There’s a small round button right next to each profile picture and when it lights up the person you’re checking out is online. His glows green like a traffic light on ‘go’ and I get an email right back. We exchange a few emails and it’s clear he knows what he wants. I’m not ready for a relationship, he writes. I don’t want to be mothered or a mother for my kids. That’s good, I think, because I ain’t your mum.
We meet after work the next day at London Bridge station. It’s cold and when I arrive (on time) he looks frozen. And short. Shorter than me in my 3in heels, and shorter than I remember from the stats on his profile. He looks different. But, then, he’s not grinning.
‘Hey,’ I say.
‘Hi. I got here early,’ he says, looking up at me, as if I’m somehow to blame. That’s when he does it for the first time. He sniggers. A nervous, ‘I don’t know what else to do but snigger’ kind of snigger.
I’m nervous too, which means I talk non-stop. It’s like verbal diahorrea. I can feel I’m doing it but I can’t stop. I’m beginning to think this date was a bad idea.
We decide to walk along the Southbank to find somewhere to have a drink. As we walk he sniggers and I chatter. It’s not the best combination. We find a pub away from the river and he buys me a drink. I stay off the alcohol, worried that my rambling will change up a gear.
First date no-no
We sit at a table near the bar. Before long the conversation turns to past relationships. A big first date no-no according to all the rules. But my date either doesn’t know the rules or he doesn’t care. Instead he stamps around the no man’s land like he’s gunning for the enemy. ‘She was selfish… she was always out with her mates… she was untidy… she… she… she…’
I tune out.
I’m feeling hungry now so when he eventually pauses – to snigger – I suggest we go somewhere we can eat. While we walk I explain that I’m not ready for a relationship just now and am happy being single and dating.
He agrees and then says. ‘But it would be great if this were a slow burner.’ In a kind of I’m going to send you mixed messages kind of way…
Tom and Nicole we ain’t!
We end up in Wagamama’s. While we’re standing in the queue he stares at me and smiles. I ask him what’s wrong. ‘Nothing,’ he says, ‘I’m just looking at the height thing.’
Lord knows why, I think. We’re hardly Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in happier days so there is no ‘height thing’.
Now Wagamama’s is great, don’t get me wrong. But as a first date location it kinda sucks. Let’s face it. The food is banging, but you’re generally wedged between two sets of strangers (unless you’re lucky enough to be stuck on the end of a table) and it’s blatantly obvious to the couples either side of us that this is a first date, especially when one guy leans across and blatantly winks at Mr J.
Then I forget (or maybe it’s a subconscious decision) where I am and what I’m doing and order noodles. Bloody noodles. The messiest, most embarrassing thing a woman can eat on a first date. You try getting a forkful into your mouth without spraying sauce everywhere.
As I slurp my noodles he starts to slag off his past dates. ‘She was fat, she was depressed, she was too full on… she… she… she…
I get a strange feeling of déjà vu.
He really isn’t selling himself that well. But then – when I imagine myself sitting where he is watching me tackle the tangled mess on my plate – neither am I.
So, it’s a surprise when he suddenly says, ‘Well, just the first kiss to tackle now.’
I almost choke. But after a split second vision of him performing the Heimlich manoeuvre on me the rogue noodle slips happily down my throat.
‘First kiss?’ I say.
He sniggers. I ask for the bill.
When I offer to pay half he doesn’t argue with me.
Strangely enough on the way back to the station he’s full of the joys of a successful first date. At the top of the escalator he leans in for a kiss. I shake his hand instead.
‘It was great meeting you,’ I say. But quite honestly, I’m lying.
A to Z lesson
No. No. No. Guys, come on. Don’t run down the sisters in the presence of one. If you’re still feeling bitter, lay off the dating for a while. After all, the one simple thing your date’s gonna think is ‘what the hell is he going to say about me?’ And find a damn tape measure will you. At least get the height thing vaguely accurate. Short man syndrome is all in the mind. Well, ok, maybe not… But don’t start what could end up being a beautiful relationship with a lie. And ladies never, NEVER, N-E-V-E-R order noodles on a first date!