Okay, so here's the problem. I get lots of first dates. And I mean lots. Sometimes I worry I'm hogging the North's fair share of first dates, but whatever. The problem is, I rarely go for second dates. And it's not that I'm meeting entirely inappropriate people any more. I screen them carefully now, so all the weirdos, unsexy pervs (because a bit of kink is fine with me) and flakes don't get through. But I never want to go on a second date. And often, neither do they.
This strikes me as odd. I'm not the only person this happens to. My friends often bemoan their single status but then steadfastly refuse to invite guys on a second date. After careful consideration, and listening to my friends' umpteen descriptions of technically perfect first dates that have failed to yield results, I think I've figured it out.
First dates are no longer about finding someone to carry on dating. More usually they're about finding someone to stop dating.
How many times have you sat there, on a technically perfect first date, where the chit-chat is witty and funny and sexy, and you're eating good food, drinking nice cocktails, and thinking about how sweet the other person is, while secretly tallying up as many faults as you can find? This to me seems to be the problem.
First dates are about convincing ourselves not to take things further, which seems an utter perversion. I'm almost sure it's more about protecting ourselves than genuinely not wanting to find someone (because otherwise why are we going on these dates in the first place?). We're our own worst enemies.
I was on a great date the other week, and the guy in question had so much in common with me. He was hot. I was hot. The sex was hot. We started off with drinks, which spiralled into dinner, which led to clubbing, which followed with a night at his, and then brunch in an underground café. On paper, it seemed right. But the whole time, I was expecting something to go wrong. I was anticipating that it wouldn't work out because, well, it never works out, does it?
Maybe if we'd given each other a chance, and asked for that second date, we might have found something more? Maybe we told ourselves the problem was there was no 'spark'. But we laughed and had fun and were attracted to each other. It's not exactly an explosion of emotion, but surely it's a spark of some kind?
Maybe we didn't really get to know the other side. We weren't enemies: we were allies, fighting for the same thing, and could have worked together if we'd let down our guard.
I'm not going to lie: I go into first date mode as soon as I meet someone for the first time. Like a great tactician, I move into battle with stories I know will make him laugh, or will impress, or will leave him shellshocked.
I know which parts of myself to reveal and move in formation, trying to delay the inevitable while in no-man's land. But in doing so I'm actually adding to my own defences and retreating from the possibility of a relationship, rather than conquering it.
The revelations are not real displays of personality, because they're constructed and considered. We're not really letting our defences down because we've planned our actions like a military operation. We're dealing out propaganda. We're fighting for hearts and minds, but half-arsed, as if we already expect to lose and just want to minimise the collateral damage.
After we've been round the block a few times, we're all pretty guarded on first dates. It's how we survive. So shouldn't we cut each other some slack? Maybe sometimes we're complaining that there's no spark, but maybe that spark's been sacrificed for best behaviour. Sometimes we need to feel, and the best way to feel is to open up to getting hurt.
Isn't it a good idea to wait for a second date, when the armour slowly comes off? Isn't it then we should be expecting the real spark? Isn't that when we start to ignore the catalogue of imagined problems (he won't call me back, he isn't prompt enough, he went to public school, there was too much teeth when he blew me) and let ourselves get to know someone?
I've been on many first dates, and one thing I'm positive about is I never got to really meet someone until much later on.
[Originally published in Oct 2010 issue of Bent
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