My housemate Luke suggested we try speed dating…
I was glad to be doing something with Luke other than drink tea. It had also been a while since I did anything special in the dating sphere. Online dating seemed to reduce everyone to a soundbite, a glib comment, a filtered photo and the illusion of success. I needed to get away from the prescriptive profiles and back to something real. I couldn’t take another virtual rejection. Speed dating, with its directness (as Luke put it) seemed to offer a solution of sorts. Face-to-face rejection, that I could handle. The idea had been in the works for a while – but now that Luke was seeing Lauren he insisted he attend solely as a Wing Man. A sole wing man? I said, you sound like some kind of flying circus flunky. He waved me away, but I had a point.
Initially, Luke had suggested a ‘lock and key’ party, apparently this is where men are given keys and mandated to find the corresponding lock. All the women are given ‘locks’ of some form. It was a metaphorical enactment of the whole dating scene – and, frankly, sounded a little ghoulish. I can imagine the facilitators rolling their eyes as yet another oaf mutters can I stick this in? to a dry-eyed Home Counties honey.
Speed dating was also daunting. I knew that my looks were acceptable, and my personality serviceable – but I didn’t know if I could deliver in such short bursts, I was a slow burn. Bravery was required, so Luke and I met for drinks beforehand. We arrived inebriated at the venue, a decrepit basement bar in Soho.
I said, “I’m glad they always keep these things out of sight.”
“Yeah,” Luke said. “They don’t want us to ruin the ambience upstairs with our desperation.”
The room was divided by gender. The women, embroiled in the novelty of it all, lingered in groups. The men (mostly in pairs) came in two types: lurking drinkers, or fleet footed charmers – extroverts, with their haircuts and iPhones – top button-uppers. By the time the event commenced, I was seeing double. The first few women caught me off-guard, and I was yet to discern the judging etiquette. Each person was assigned a number; you then had to tick a sheet with either ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘friends’. The third choice was of course ludicrous, none of us were there to make new friends. We had enough friends – too many friends, if anything. The first few faces did not excite me, nor I them – I rolled through some arbitrary chat awaiting the call to move on. During a break, I leaned up against a wall.
“Mate,” I said, waving my marking sheet. “There are some well fit women here.”
Luke held up his hands. A nearby group looked over.
“Look,” I said. “Number twelve, have you seen her?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Yes, you have,” I pointed at a tall brunette. “You were talking to her earlier, it’s Xena, mate!”
She turned and we faced away. Moments later, the event resumed and we went back to our seats.
“You’re drunk,” said my speed date, a woman in a suit.
I tried to think of a sharp repost.
“Well, you, my dear,” I leaned back, “are wearing your work clothes.”
The bell sounded and we shifted round. My next date was dressed in black and wore her hair in a severe fringe. She grabbed my card and ticked the ‘yes’ box.
She said, “So you’re the drunk guy they’re talking about.”
“You’re ok. Tell me, who do you like here?” She waved her hand like a beguiling sorceress.
“Her,” I said, pointing to Xena.
Presumably, I had chosen poorly.
“I like him,” she pointed to a bearded man in a jumper.
“But of course. Bit hot for that pullover though, don’t you think?”
“Fair point. Listen, I don’t really know what I’m doing here.”
“I guess not.”
We continued in this vein, a mating dance of sorts. My wit was as dull as a childhood Sunday. Still, I powered through the chatter, hoping the dark intensity would be worth it (like when I took up cycling to work). The event drew to a close but my date and I continued talking.
I said, “We’ve gone over the allotted time. Should we stop?”
I waited for a smile or a sardonic mark but nothing followed. Luke had disappeared. I felt the woman’s hand under the table, touching my knee. Delectably old fashioned, the sort of thing one does to initiate a back-alley grope. Keeping my face fixed in an expression of glacial indifference, I tried to reciprocate but something blocked my hand. I looked – it was her other hand. Embroiled in a mess of limbs, I tried to retreat but got caught in our coats.
The crowd was thinning out, Luke reappeared at the bar with a woman, she had a kind face and easy smile. And here I was, awaiting the kiss of the spider woman. Like some kind of office-bound Odysseus I was sailing towards the rocks. At least he had tried to resist – millennia had passed and still we had learned nothing. A sharp pain seized me as she dug her nails into my thigh. I was finished.
This is a serialisation of my book ‘I am Marcello’.