Quite literally 28 Dates Later - The end of the blog

In case you hadn't realised, this blog is finished (awwww). For six months, January - June 2013, I went on 28 Dates from 28 different dating sites, after my first online date ended with an infected human bite wound.

500,000 unique readers will be aware of how it all turns out - of the three options at the top, I thought the most likely end was "get myself killed" at times - but just in case you've just stumbled upon it, here's links to each every post, in chronological order:

1: The Biter

...my first online date, in which I meet a girl who almost bit my finger off - from OKCupid.

2: The Girl with the Knives

...in which I recount my previous worst ever date, which involved a wall of sharp knives.

3: The Adulteress

...in which I consider having an affair - from Ashley Madison.

4: The Lizard Loving Nerd

...in which I encounter a fiscally prudent herpetologist - from Geek2Geek

5: The Republican Warrior Princess

...in which I take romantic inspiration from Ayn Rand, and meet a "gun loving, god fearing Republican" - from The Atlas Sphere

6: The #Twittercrush Part one & Part two

...in which I meet up with someone I had a crush on through twitter, and make her charity cupcakes. - From Twitter/52 First Dates

7: The Farmer

...in which I meet a soft-fruit farmer and get my first proper kiss of the project - from Muddy Matches.

8: The Fan of the Blog

...in which I meet a fan of the blog and on this occasion, I *am* the bad date.

9: The Naval Officer

...in which I am "sexted" by an officer and a gentlewoman and we discuss our favourite admiral. From Uniform Dating.

10: Three Jewish ladies

...in which I discover I am a hot piece of beef on J-Date.

11: The Cougar

...in which I date an older woman. From Cougar Dating.

12: The Guardian-reading Tory

...in which I meet the only other socially liberal but economically conservative person known to man - from Guardian Soulmates.

13: The Blandest Date

...in which I meet a woman I have nothing in common with - from OKC Crazy Blind Date.

14: The Sleazy Hookup

...in which I hookup with a friend - from Bang with Friends

The half-time show: A midway through maudlin reflection on why I was single after 14 Dates.

15: The Tabloid Date Blogger

...in which I meet another Date Blogger and get reviewed - from Single, bored and Geeky about films.

16: The Psychic

...in which I date a woman with psychic powers. Or so she claimed! - from Beyond Psychic dating

17: Two Fakers & a Cambridge Undergraduate

...in which I don't date either a Czech pornstar or a High-flying lawyer, and end up taking out a Cambridge undergrad instead. - from Plenty of Fish

18: The Fundamentalist Christian & the Sex Devils

...in which I date a Christian, who put the "Mental" into "Fundamentalist" - from Missionary Dating

19: The London Cosplay Otaku

...in which I date a lovely lady who was into dressing up. - from Lovestruck

20: The New York Millionaire

...in which I am a gold-digger. from MillionaireDating

21: The Second Injury

...in which I can't tell you much about the date apart from the fact I received an agonising sex injury on it.

22: The Hometown show

...in which I try online dating in my small seaside hometown - from Match.com

23: Pet Dating with my Hedgehog

...in which I take my pet Hedgehog on a date with me - from Pet Dating

24: The Data-Driven Dater

...in which I try to date arithmetically, and meet a woman who dates by Spreadsheet - from E-harmony

25: Speed Dating with the Pickup Artist

...in which I go to a Scientific speed dating event and am lectured by a strange pickup artist - from Dating Science London

26: My Single Friend and the Finnish Superwoman

...in which my friend Janine tries to pair me off with a Finnish lady-adonis - from MySingleFriend

27: The Video Gamer and the Zombies

...in which I fall off a barn and my date steals my sniper rifle from my cooling corpse - from LFGDating

28: The Doctor and the Cliffhanger

...in which I meet a lovely doctor in Chelsea Physic garden, and reject her by Text message! - from Doing Something

29: The Blind Date 

...in which I go dating in a National Newspaper column - from Guardian Blind Date

30: The Happy ending and the Girlfriend

...in which you discover who I ended up in Love with (we're still together after six months, so it all seems to be working out). 

But…but…what about the text message to the Doctor explaining you were seeing someone?

Oh, alright, I suppose I should tell you what happened. In between Date 24 and Date 25, I got a message through OK Cupid.

 Now, this isn’t unusual – I haven’t actually closed my account on any of the sites I’ve joined, including ones I’ve never got dates through – I’m still holding out for a sexy baroness from nobility dating site Godmother.com or an amazing Indian wedding from arranged marriage site Shaadi.com.

However, this message, unlike lots of others I’ve received (I’ve got 16 sitting unread in my J-Date.com mailbox alone) piqued my interest.

It read:

So – I have got worried that you might think I’m stalking you and so thought I should drop you a note reassuring you that I’m not.”

So, not a stalker. A good start.

“I appreciate the paradox in sending someone a message to confirm that I’m not harassing them but I was telling a friend about your blog (recommending if that gives me any credit). Once she’d stopped laughing we decided to see if we could find your dating profiles and it was much easier than we’d expected, given you’ve linked to the blog in them. Once we’d got that far it seemed rude not to read them... and then I realised I’d show up as having checked you out. A lot.

So I presented the conundrum of ‘contact or not contact’ to my office mate. Her response was “Well we haven’t got anything else weird to do today…”. Obviously not reporting me to the police would be appreciated – it would mess up my career quite a bit.

As an aside – by our ‘weird’ task of the day she is equating you with various things I have made her do recently - including going to a Nate Silver talk in a parliamentary committee room and learning ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ in Spanish. She was wrong. This is clearly weirder.”

By the time we actually got around to meeting, I’d done date 25 and date 26. To cut a long story short, we met up for drinks on the Southbank, which led to a.) me deciding she wasn’t a crazy stalker and b.) a lovely kiss in the sunshine. That led to trips to the Globe theatre, meals out, the cinema, picnics, her meeting my friends, me meeting her friends, us deciding we were a couple, and indeed, last week, her meeting my mum. Yes, it’s proper serious and everything.

We’ve been dating for almost three months - which may explain the slow rate of progress on the blog. I think by now, as Nik Vincent-Abnett hoped, I have taken the girl in question – the “winner” of the blog, if you like – on at least 28 Dates. Huzzah! A happy ending after all.

So, in conclusion, I met the woman I love through online dating. If you’re single, give it a try – it worked for me…

(Sort of...eventually.)

THE END (really this time)

1.) I reserve the right to do another post if there’s a book or a film or (whisper it) a wedding or anything of that sort.

This post originally appeared at the end of Date 28, but I've decided to separate it out.

Date 28: The Guardian, the Finale & the Girlfriend

So, at long last, it's the end of the blog.

I've learned a great deal since I first set foot in the dating wasteland - for example, to stop girls *before* they bite your finger and exactly what the tensile strength of the human cock is. 

For my last ever online date, and my last ever (1) post on this blog, I decided to do one of the dating experiences I've read about loads, and always wanted to do - Guardian Blind Date

For those of you who aren't familiar with how it works, four years ago, the Guardian started sending people on dates. Now, every week, one couple a week share their Blind Date story for the delectation of the Guardian’s readership every Saturday. At least two of their daters have got married:

It's fun, vicariously reading what other people think of each other. The dates don't always go well. Some people obviously have a dreadful time – this one where he starts by complaining she was "25 minutes late and didn't apologise" and ends with "I'd run out of things to say, so we walked to the tube in silence" sounds grim.

As ever with online dating, some people are just pricks – check out Mister "I was hoping for Anne Hathaway, and she’s not Anne Hathaway".  I think the oddest one I’ve ever read is "I got trapped in a courtyard, then he asked if I owned a corset and then I didn't know what to say when he suggested we 'call a spade a spade and leave it at tonight'." 

The way you get to go on it is you send an email to blind.date@guardian.co.uk, telling them a little bit about yourself. I’d always thought about going for it, but I suspected they’d have trouble finding a date for a Tory who writes for the Telegraph. Occasionally, being a right winger is useful – for example, if you turn up for jury service in a tweed jacket, with a copy of the Spectator under your arm, no defence barrister in their right mind will select you. On the other hand, it’s not ideal when trying to get picked for a thing in Britain’s best known left-leaning paper. I told them I was a TV producer who wrote a dating blog, and hoped they wouldn’t delve too deep.

The (slight) subterfuge worked, and the Guardian’s in-house cupid got back to me quickly, and started setting up a date for me. Apparently, the reason I went forward so quickly is that the ratio of men to women applying is about 20 women for every man. So get writing, chaps.

Once you’ve had a response, you wait, and then once they’ve picked a person they think you're suited to, they set up the restaurant, and then a photoshoot in the Guardian’s office in King’s Place. I was nervous – I felt sort of like Frodo sneaking into Mordor in the Lord of the Rings. To blend in, I wore sandals, and had some Quinoa in my bag. I figured if anyone stopped and ask me I could bluff a few lines like “Ooh, that David Cameron” etc etc.

I just hoped I wouldn’t get caught out by a Great Escape “Güt Luck” style question and end accidentally blurting out something that marked me as the enemy. I probably should have worried more about the photograph. I’m one of those people who always looks hideous in pictures, no matter what I do. I used to say I’m not photogenic, but a cruel photographer friend once said to me, “Actually, being photogenic or not is a reflection of whether you actually look in real life as you do in your pictures – and I’m afraid you really do look like that when I point a camera at you”.

As it was, I rocked up, appeared in the pictures and managed to get out in one piece. The day of the date rolled around, and wearily, I got on the tube and went to meet the lady in question. You can read about how the date went here. 

Now, *I* actually quite liked her, and believed she was 25 when I met her, but it seems my friends ummm…felt differently.

I still stand by telling the “Spiderman jizzed on me on a nightbus” story, btw. It made sense in context, honestly! For the record, the date was perfectly pleasant and she actually looks far better in real life. It's just a bad photo. But, alas, I fear she was as Zathras from Babylon 5 would say, “Not the one”.

So, there you, 28 dates from 28 different dating sites and still single. I’ve learned a huge amount while writing this blog; I’ve made mistakes but had a great time. In doing it I’ve become a fervent advocate for online dating and met at least a dozen women I know I’ll be friends with for years, had some great experiences – and the not-so great experiences make for good stories, at least.

THE END...or is it...?

If you want to know what happened next, jump to The Happy Ending here.

Date 27: The Doctor, the Garden and the Cliffhanger

So, Date 27 - The Penultimate date. 

Obviously, by this point, while I was hoping it would end up as the ultimate date, I wasn't holding out too much hope - it really is a barren wasteland. I was starting to worry that my Telegraph colleague Tim Stanley might be right, that there might be no woman in the world willing to date a man who still likes model soldiers in his thirties. I mean, it's not like I'm addicted to them.  I just like them, ok? They're not a problem. I could give them up any time. I just don't want to.

Ahem, trips to group therapy aside,  I felt I wanted to maximise my chances, and this was my last shot at a mainstream dating website. I pored over lots of the remaining big sites, thinking to myself, "where am I going to find Ms. Right?" I was getting increasingly disenchanted with the whole process of online dating - as much as I like talking about how great I am, writing essays about how great I am more than twenty times was starting to get to me.

That said, one of the dating sites I've been looking forward to trying is called "Doing Something" - and while pretty mainstream, it's also fairly odd. It's sort of like Chat Roulette, but for dating. All you do is upload a picture of yourself, and a one line perfect first date. That's it. No essays, no pointless questionnaires, no existential crises while you try to figure out if a person who says they like both "staying in" and "going out" is just saying they enjoy "being alive"; usually those people love both "the city" and "the countryside", or as I like to think of it "most terrain". 

That sort of contradictory profile is incredibly common - occasionally they hit brilliant heights of self-delusion - on Guardian Soulmates, I saw a woman who maintained she wanted a man who would judge her for what was inside, not her looks - as long as he was at least 6'2", because "I like to wear heels, and hate midgets".  I'll be honest, I did judge her on the content of her character.

As opposed to other sites, Doing Something is refreshingly stripped down and free of pretence or artifice. I think it just acknowledges the fact most people don't look much beyond that all important profile picture, and a huge amount of what people write in dating profiles is self-important guff or lies designed to make you sound much better than you really are. 

You spin through a bunch of dating ideas, and that (plus a picture) is all you get to judge them on. Of course, writing a short description of what you think would be an ideal date is actually quite hard. While my experience thus far suggested "Couple of drinks in a pub, while we try to work out whether the other one is boring?", I sat and pondered a lovely summer evening date for quite a while. This was a harder challenge than it might at first seem.

Two close friends of mine - who are now in one of those lovely (vomit-inducing) relationships everyone is jealous of, met through the site. To quote the lady of the pair,  "Steve had seen that I had looked at his profile so sent me an invitation to spin the wheel of date. I accepted, in spite of his hideous profile picture and the result was: eat breast milk ice cream."  I wasn't quite exciting enough to go and drink human milk for the first time in 32 years, but I thought I could come up with something that was better than what 50% of people write, which is "Wine on the Southbank".

While I rather like wine, and I'm quite a big fan of the Southbank, I thought I could come up with something more original to stand out. You don't want to sound too weird (Breastmilk?!) but equally, saying "I want to go to a pub" makes you sound like a frighteningly prosaic alcoholic if that's *all* they know about you. 

Lots of people suggest the cinema or theatre for a first date - I think because they think it makes them seem cultured. I'm not sure that's a good idea, as the whole point is to get to know someone; I'm not sure how much you learn by sitting quietly next to someone, other than whether they understand social norms relating to silence.

I'd like to say I instantly came up with something brilliant, but as Mark Twain said, sometimes a good off-the-cuff remark takes weeks to think of. After a couple of hours of pondering, I hit on the idea of going for a walk around Chelsea Physic Garden, a sort of hidden botanical garden down by the river, that not many people know about. I found out about it from a Tim Powers book about time travel, apothecaries and wizards on stilts. 

The real garden has a distinct lack of stilt-magi, but it is beautiful, especially on a pleasant summer's evening. It also has the advantage of being near loads of lovely West London pubs - so if things went well, we could repair to one of those for booze and more chat. After a week or so of trying, I managed to arrange a date with a lovely psychiatrist. Now, I'm sure some of you are saying "Thank god, he's finally getting help", but this was an attempt at a romantic meeting, rather than a therapeutic one.

We met, wandered, and chatted. She told me what she could about her practice, within the bounds of confidentiality; asked me about what possessed me to write a dating blog. We swiftly left the plants and ended up at a pub.

As ever on an online date, the topic of odd online dates came up. It was fascinating to hear a psychiatrist's perception of the world of online dating. She said she'd been on probably as many unfulfilling dates as I had; especially, she'd found Guardian Soulmates an enervating experience.

It seems, from the female side of the site, there's an army of wistful, chin stroking men who long for the relationship they had when they were 19 - they're looking for a "manic pixie dream girl" who they can educate about what's cool in music, books and films.

Of course, this being the Guardian, that means being lectured about late 90s indie bands, "graphic novels" where Superheroes go through a bruising divorce, and Belgian art-house films only being shown in one dingy cinema in Crouch End. It's almost enough to make you choke on your organic Quinoa.

She said "It is something of a shock, as a highly-educated 30 something, to find yourself recast as captive student against someone who knows significantly less about the topic than you do. I happen to possess an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of crap indie bands myself. Being female though, I don't like to brag."

For the record, she was definitely better on 90s bands than I was, despite my own tragic past as an Indie shoegazer. I used to go to gigs in purple velvet trousers and acid yellow DM boots. Yeah, I was 19 once too. Fortunately for the psychiatrist, I've spent the last 14 years trying to grow up. Well, apart from the whole "toy soldiers" thing. 

Following on from the Manic pixie chat ("What really interests me though is the word 'manic'. It's used (as far as I can tell) to denote a preference for some form of mental instability. What on earth is that about??"),  I asked if she'd ever been on dates where she thought the other person had needed professional help. She gave me an answer that made me worry a little (and not for the first time) about the sort of people who are drawn to online dating.

Still, lack of lecturing aside, we had managed to amuse each other, and we both seemed pretty normal. We kept talking, covering all sorts of odd topics - we actually got into a quite heated argument about the rights and wrongs of prostitution and drug abuse. It was lovely - a great date, all told, a genuinely interesting intellectual conversation, and we had lots in common. I'd say she was my intellectual equal, but she was clearly a damn sight smarter than I was.

However, after the date, I sent the following text:

That wasn't an excuse (although I'm told it's often used) - the psychiatrist was genuinely lovely, and I do wonder what would have happened if I'd met her earlier.

So, there you go... there's a lady in my life now. I have indeed, won at internet dating. Tune in next week for the last tale from the wasteland... the tale of how I finally escaped!

Date 26: The Video Gamer and the Zombies

So, after 25 Dates, I was starting to get exhausted. That's part of why the blog has been moving forward with all the alacrity you'd normally expect from a Mississippi sheriff's department investigating the murder of a young black man. 

The other reason was that the end was looming, and I was still single. While at this point I'd met at least two women I'd thought about ending the blog for, it hadn't panned out. I was starting to dread writing some kind of nonsense about "every woman being date number 28" or something equally trite to round this damn thing off happily. No, the "every woman is Date number 28" thing would never work. I mean some of you are married or lesbians or part of the whole QUILTBAG or whatever.

Anyway, feeling exhausted and burned out by the relentless grind of the dating (well over 50 dates at this point) and the blog, I decided to take a bit of a break, take stock and indulge in some of my hobbies - you know, the ones that don't involve receiving sex injuries while searching for Ms. Right. I luxuriated in a couple of weekends without dates, where I could just slob around in my dressing gown, playing computer games, watching box-sets of TV I've missed, and at no point having to make small talk while drinking an overpriced gin and tonic. No, I was at home, so I could make myself a cheap gin and tonic, while kicking myself about forgetting to buy ice.

I always feel a bit guilty about drinking at home alone, and I especially feel guilty about playing co-operative computer games drunk. I've written before about how playing particular games is a bit like being in a bad relationship, and we all know how fast that can go downhill when you add booze. In between playing games, I was still logging on to dating sites, trying to find a particular kind of lady.

I was determined to get at least one date off of a site that catered to people who like playing computer games. It's always been a bit of a dream of mine to date a woman who I can play games with. I've got a couple of friends who met and married through playing World of Warcraft together (you know who you are, Alice and Phil). Once you've been to a wedding in Stormwind Cathedral, I suppose it leaves a mark. 
Stormwind Cathedral. Nice venue, but the catering charges are extortionate.

They have a lovely daughter called Caelia now, and I suspect if she ever has to ask her parents how they met, "raiding the Troll city of Zul Gurub to slay the Snake headed blood god Hakkar" is a pretty amusing, if non-standard answer.

As I've got closer to the end of the blog, I've realised that I may never get a date off sites I'd quite like to do, like arranged marriage website Shaadi.com (although a successful date on that could complicate the blog as I've already done Ashley Madison), circus performer and clown dating site, Boo Hiccup (no sexy trapeze artist for Willard, it seems)  or that one where your Jewish mum creates your dating profile and talks to other Jewish mums about how great you are. I'd even suborned a New York Jewish comedian friend to pose as my mother, but alas, no takers.

You'd think finding a gamer girl would be easy, given that something like 48% of the gaming market is ladies these days, but actually, not that easy at all. I suspect it's because while tons of women play and enjoy games, very few self-identify as the kind of person who wants to go on a gaming dating site. I suspect it's because most people imagine a gaming dating site will be not unlike this Tim and Eric bit:

Ahem. I could probably find a lovely woman who could tell a Space Marine from a Colonial Marine on something like Ok Cupid or My Single Friend, but the point was to get 28 dates from 28 dating sites, so I persevered.

There's quite a variety of gaming dating sites out there, and in my brief dating hiatus, I've tried most of them. It's not the most promising of fields. In digging around, I managed to find, Date A Gamer - a website which prompted Harry Langston of Vice to say of it "Gamers – no matter how integrated into mainstream culture gaming is becoming – are still thought of as lonely, weird, socially awkward individuals who struggle with the opposite sex. Not all gamers fit within those stereotypes, just like not all footballers are racists who sleep with their teammates' wives, but, as with that particular example, there are always some who snuggle up comfortably within the cliche." Date a Gamer seemed dead, at least in London;  the adult hookup version, ShagAGamer.com seemed to have quite a lot of escorts, not a lot of real women looking for dates. 

Another, GamerDater, had one of the ugliest websites I've ever seen, and I struggled to find a date from it, or even get a response to a message. I choose to believe that's because it's a mostly console dating site, and I'm much more of a PC gamer. Ahem. Yep, that's the story I'm sticking to.  Quite a few others - including Warcraft specific site World of Datecraft, and bizarre "pay girls to play games with you" site Gamecrush seem to have gone bankrupt.

The best one I found was LFG dating - LFG being gaming slang for "Looking for Group". It's a small American site, but at least it seems to have real people on it. It's pretty basic, although slightly tweaked for a gaming audiences. For example, amongst your preferences for going out, there are boxes to check for "LAN parties" (where a bunch of people get together in a house and link their PCs together, a very 1990s phenomenon) and  "LARPing it" (dressing up like a goblin and being hit with big rubber swords).

Having found a site that was at least alive, I commenced looking for my gaming lady. There was one problem - LFG doesn't have many Brits. Still, think back to the story of Phil and Alice, when they "met", he was in Aberdeen, and she was in Southampton. For this date, maybe it didn't matter where the lady was, at least in the first instance. Also, I'm a sucker for an American accent. So, a bit more looking, and I eventually struck up a conversation with a lovely Yankee lady.

I explained the whole blog thing, she was charmed, and thought it sounded like fun to go on a literally online date, where we'd play a game together, chat online, and see where that took us.

For the date, she decided the most fun would be for us to spend an evening being chased around Chernarus, a zombie filled Eastern European shithole, the setting of rather good indie computer game Day Z. Or, as she'd have it, Day-Zee. The basic concept of this game is you rock up in a zombie filled wasteland with nothing but the shirt on your back and a gun that's so worthless it might as well be a kazoo, and then just do whatever you want, until you get eaten by Zombies or murdered by another player who wants to steal your boots. It's terribly, terribly realistic - you can freeze to death if you don't find a coat, break your bones, all that sort of thing.

Or "whatever we wanted" would be to go on a date as survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse. Romantic, eh? So, we logged on at 8pm one Saturday evening, and started chatting while we tried to navigate our way to each other. I'll be totally honest, while I'd played DayZ before, she was much better than I was. By the time I actually got to the Orthodox Church we'd picked as a meeting point, I'd almost died about three times. I felt this was the online gaming date equivalent of turning up late with a huge egg stain on your tie. Still, we'd been chatting the whole time, and getting to know one another.

She was a single mum in Chicago, running a little cafe she'd bought with the cash she'd saved up in the military. We talked about a bunch of current affairs stuff - she was fascinated to meet a real-live journalist (Well, "meet", anyway). We talked about the USA, the Middle East, geopolitics and so on. She proclaimed it to be "pretty refreshing" to find someone she could talk to about politics without getting them getting bored.

We decided to push out into the world, try to find some decent guns and canned food. One of the nice things about DayZed (definitely, definitely Zed) is it's very persistent, so we knew we could log in at the same time and play together again. It *was* great fun, walking around an abandoned town at night, scavenging for firearms, trying to avoid zombies, all while getting to know one another. it did feel vaguely like we were the protagonists of a zombie movie - exactly the kind of fun fantasy experience gaming is meant to deliver.

We talked about her military career, her ex-husband, what it's like to be a woman in a male dominated environment. She told me a few chilling stories of the kind of sexist abuse she gets as a female gamer - the kind of thing you can find here at Fat, Ugly or Slutty, a website that exposes the sort of everyday abuse women get for beating people in computer games. Maybe it's not so surprising that the "date a gamer" websites are so dead.

 Indeed, as we started to investigate an abandoned farm, we came across one of the internet's archetypal douchebags, the thirteen year old boy in a high place with a sniper rifle. Fortunately, he was a bloody terrible shot, but the problem with the loud noises of a rifle is it brought an army of zombies down on us. Taking shelter in a barn, we realised if we went out outside, sooner or later he'd get us. Equally, if we stayed on the ground, we'd get eaten. She was a much better shot than I was - so, proper gent that I am, I gave her the last of our bullets for our Lee-Enfield rifle, and decided that I'd run out across the open ground, luring all the zombies over to our teenage tormentor. Hopefully, he'd see me coming, pop his head out, and she could waste him.

"She said "Ok, decent plan, how will you deal with all the zombies then?" I said, "Well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it". I knew I was going to die. She knew I was going to die. But we did it anyway. I ran out, and against my own expectations, managed to get into the building with the sniper - while still pursued by a flesh eating moshpit. I dashed up the stairs, and had the satisfaction of surprising our sniper chum by getting behind him with a double-barrelled farmer's shotgun. I, of course, missed completely, despite being at point blank range and he chased me up on to the roof, where my date wasted him with a single shot to the head. It was a genuinely brilliant moment - we hooted and whooped and laughed. 

I picked up his massive tricked out sniper rifle from his cooling corpse, which turned out to have precisely zero bullets in it - which sort of explained why he hadn't killed me. Shit. This left me trapped in a building full of zombies, with no way out. Except jumping off the roof. Pumped up with thinking I was an action hero, I did exactly that, and broke both my legs. By this point, we were both crying with laughter at my spectacular ineptitude. She came over to me, and got the sniper rifle from me as I bled out, so at least I didn't die for nothing.

It was a great date - probably one of the best I've done, if I'm honest. The lady confirmed if it had been a real date, "I'd have kissed you at the end of the evening for sure. Even if you can't shoot for shit".

Anyway, only two left to do! Hoping to get the penultimate piece and the last ever date up next week...

Date 25: My friends sold me to a Finnish Superwoman

So, I'm getting close to the end of the adventure, and starting to confront the very real possibility that I'll be single at the end of it, barring some sort of incredibly convenient narrative twist (but more on that later). 

I'm also deep into making a quite difficult documentary film, and working on a number of big investigations and articles for newspapers, so my dating (and writing!) time is limited, despite the end being in sight. That said, when you start to get comments on your serious, proper articles like "I don't think it's too much to ask that you spend more time going on and writing about amusing dates and less time investigating large-scale wastage of public money. Priorities, man" ... you know you have to get back in the game.

So, like anyone flailing around in this sort of situation, I turned to my friends for help. Fortunately, there's a website set up for just that situation - My Single Friend (MSF).

The idea is, "we" (we all being all the smug married happy people in the world) all have that one friend who is single and you can't understand why. Or, more likely, you totally understand why this hapless goon is single, but are willing to lie to a stranger in order to make up the numbers at your exquisite dinner parties. 

The gimmick, and the difference between it and other sites is you don't write your profile, your mates do. This avoids the crushing humiliation of actually writing yet another dating profile, plus makes online dating less of a solitary activity, and more of a fun thing you do with friends.

I'd heard only good things about the site, so I was looking forward to trying it. It's popular among ladies - partly because it's a good way of bonding with and actually helping a single depressed mate over a bottle of Lambrini, but also partly because it's quite hard to get someone to fill out the profile unless you really are friends with them. Getting even a good friend to actually follow through on writing it is quite hard - it's surprisingly difficult to convince someone to write a 400 word essay about why you're great, no matter how many times you've held their hair back while they are sick by a Bristol Kebab van. 

The reason that makes it popular is the requirement to actually have some friends (and the fact it's a paid site) acts as a good sieve through which the neanderthal misogynist element that hangs around the periphery of most dating sites is filtered out. In case you're late to the blog, here's a good recent example of that sort of thing, via the excellent Ms. Holly Brockwell.  

Mind you, that might not always work. I think my favourite MSF anecdote came from a friend in telly, who found herself very drawn to a man on the site, after he was written up beautifully by a lovely female friend of his called Zelda. After about 5 dates, the friend asked the man, who she had by then fallen for quite heavily, "when am I going to meet Zelda?" The bloke rather shamefacedly admitted she'd already met Zelda - because he'd made Zelda up. However, the friend forgave him, and reader, she married him. Maybe I should just cut out the middle man and have "Zelda" write my profile too.

"She" could mention how I'm just like Ernest Hemingway, except with the body of a bronzed greek god. Or, you know, maybe be a little more honest. However, I (perhaps foolishly, as things turned out) decided not to cheat. 

Now, I have a wide group of friends who have been following the blog since the beginning, all of whom have been clamoring to help out. The question was to whom should I entrust the responsibility? This was, after all, the dating equivalent of giving away one of that pair of keys you use to fire nuclear weapons at Russia. As an aside, I've always imagined the British versions of those keys would be a bit shit - that the person handing them over would say "Oh, you have to wiggle them a bit to make them work. There's a knack to it. Try some Vaseline."

I sat down and tried to figure out who should I anoint as my herald. A male friend? A female friend? A gay friend or a straight friend? Someone I knew from work? From University? From School? An arch-leftie? A Swivel-eyed Tory? A relative?

No, scratch that. It should never be a relative. Firstly, if I wanted to go down that route there's The J-Mom.com (where your Jewish mother writes your profile), and secondly, I'd spoken to one friend who told me her sister had written her a profile saying "Well, she likes tupperware". Hardly enticing.

A single person might know the dating scene better, but a happily married person might be better at actually knowing what people who settle down are looking for. Decisions, decisions. Egalitarian that I am, I let anyone who wanted to write me a profile do one. This is how I, (Sigh), ended up with 5 profiles on My Single Friend.

One thing I realised fairly early on was that some of your friends should definitely not be writing your profile, even if they aren't related to you. The key sign will be, that person is a dick. There was one profile, written by the male model chum I've mentioned before, which led with "Do you love to laugh? And fuck? Then Willard is the man for you!" 

I mean, yes, I was looking for a woman who enjoyed both laughter and sexual congress - that is to say, "a female human" - but I could see that this wasn't a profile that was going to work. Or was it? He's much more successful with women than I am. 

Once, a few years back, we were standing in a nightclub toilet, when in walks an attractive lady. He says "You realise this is the gent's toilet, right?" She replies "Yeah, I know". He says "So what are you doing in here then?" She says "Looking for a man like you". He smiles, gestures at a toilet cubicle. She smiles. They then depart into it to get naked. I was pretty astounded at the time; indeed, years later I'm still astounded. Then again, I think there's a reason he pulls in Nightclub toilets and I don't. I have different charms, lets say. Ones less obviously displayed in a muscle vest.

I suppose that's the nature of online dating in a way. It's best for people like me who are a good at being charming in print. A well-written dating profile is the closest I'm going to get to a push-up bra for a good sense of humour, or a tight pair of jeans for being well read and interesting. Handing over the rights to show that off to someone else felt odd, especially if they seemed to be screwing it up.

You are also relying on your friends to not say something unflattering about you. And lets face it, they know you well enough to know all the unflattering things about you. Some of them are honest enough to say those things, the damn fools. 

Another of my profiles, written by a smug married couple, included the line "He's lovely, brilliantly chaotic, always dropping everything to rush off on some sort of adventure...that means he's not the most reliable of people. He missed our wedding!" Thanks guys. Way to make me sound like a good bet. You might as well have written "AVOID AT ALL COSTS - DEADBEAT DAD IN THE MAKING". They did at least have a big section on what a good cook I am, so at least the kids will get well fed on the one weekend in four that I see them. Of course, I probably would have had to sell their beds to pay the rent that week or something. 

Of course, you're not completely at the mercy of your friends. You get a right to reply at the bottom of the friend's profile - where I could point out I'm not some sort of cataclysmically unreliable chancer (anymore). My excuse was pretty much that there was a different Willard, an evil Willard, but I killed him.

What you basically need is someone who knows what a single woman on a dating site is looking for. And someone who likes you enough they are willing to l̶i̶e̶  gloss over your flaws.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, that came from a single female friend - in this case my long suffering chum Janine. Yes, the lass I was talking to on facebook chat at the start of this blog. Janine wrote a profile that was appealing enough I wrote my right to reply saying "Well, I pretty much agree with Janine, to be honest." Janine, by the way, is very much one of those people I haven't got the slightest idea why she's single. Well, to be fair, she *does* love country and western music. But, if you can see past that flaw, (or, god forbid, share it) and if you're an exceedingly handsome, charming man, preferably Irish, who is reading this, and fancies a date with her, drop me a line via the blog, and I'll see what I can do.

So, all of the profiles were running, and I sat back and waited. They all generated interest. The male model's profile did, to be fair, attract quite a few women with a serious amount of cleavage, very few of whom could spell. Janine's was by far the best. Within a week of turning it on, I'd spent the money to get a full account, and arranged a date with a stunning Scandinavian lady. Well, I *think* Finland counts as Scandinavia, anyway.

She - slightly bizarrely - invited me as her date to a dinner her company was holding on HMS Belfast, which is an old battleship (well, heavy cruiser) moored near Tower Bridge. Now, normally, I think dinner first dates are a bad idea, as it's much harder to escape quickly if things go wrong. However, she seemed nice enough, so I thought what the hell. When was I next going to get the chance to meet a beautiful woman on a battleship? It's not often you get to go on a date where the venue is festooned with 6" guns. I was a little worried this might have ended up another one of those super weird dates - battleship, foreigner, work do all rang alarm bells, but it was fine in the end.

It was quite fun - we ended up arriving early, sharing sparkling wine, and spent most of the evening chatting happily, with only occasional smalltalk with other guests about other things. We chatted about Finland - I surprised her by knowing quite a bit about the Finnish concept of Sisu, which is a basically untranslatable nordic concept, all about being tough and stoic while terrible things happen. I didn't know that it could come in good and bad varieties, and that a cowardly person could be described as having "Bad Sisu", which had a Finnish word which I can't recall and even if I could probably couldn't find all the accents required to type it.

Inevitably, the nature of My Single Friend means you end up talking about the person who recommended you. She'd been recommended by her smug married sister - but of course the conversation turned to why if Janine thought I was so great, isn't she dating me? Well, sometimes you can like a person, without there being any spark of romance.

Which sadly was also true of this date. She was very sporty - into snowboarding, hang-gliding, running marathons and rock climbing. It's fair to say, I'm not really into any of those things, as I'm not James Bond. 

She lamented the shortage of well-read, successful, interesting men who love all those things, and I sympathised, all though I suspect to be good at all of those things you'd need to not sleep very much, or possess a great deal of Sisu. 

She was certainly all of the above, so presumably there's some eugenically perfect chap (currently, no doubt climbing a mountain while reading Camus' L'Etrangere) out there for her. However, it certainly isn't me. 

So back to the wasteland, and once more on my own...

Next week, Willard tries Warcraft dating through LFGDating and Chat-roulette style random dating from Doing Something... and then the week after, the big finale!

Date 24: The Mix Tape Scientist

I've done some strange dates in my time. However, without doubt, this was the strangest evening thus far.

It all started quite promisingly. My friend Martin, who writes about science and things for the Guardian, invited me to this scientist dating thing.

The idea was it was a speed dating event, for scientists. As well as the dating, there were a series of quite fun sounding experiments in human relationships. You were going along to simultaneously meet people interested in science and do science at the same time.

So, for example, once they'd done all of the speed dating blindfolded so things were completely based on your conversation; another time they'd done a thing with motion capture suits and body language. It sounded like a fun, interesting night out, and maybe a good way to meet the kind of intimidatingly intelligent lady I'm attracted to. Ideally a doctor - I mean, what better way to make my Jewish mum proud?

It was being held in a Trade Union Working Men's hall in deepest darkest east London. I probably should have looked at the phrase "Trade Union Working Men's Hall" and realised this probably wasn't the event for me.

I got off the tube and started to wend my way through the narrow streets. The bustling markets gave way to deserted streets, which gave way to row after row of boarded up terraced houses. The neighborhood was like a demilitarised zone.Eventually, after about 15 minutes walk, I got to the working mens club. It was like a bunker - huge oak doors reinforced with steel, steel bars over all the windows. Inside it was a glum place, all peeling paint, tattered home-made flyers for discos in 2010 and fused sets of fairylights.

Downstairs, in the basement "Ballroom", there were a set of plastic chairs, a bar where a burly barmaid with a beehive was serving beer, and a gigantic heart, crudely fashioned out of tinsel. Not the most promising venue. It had the air of a Butlins holiday camp in a fallout shelter. And not a ritzy fallout shelter either.

Two cheery, exceptionally enthusiastic women greeted me, checked my ticket, and gave me a massive sticker with my name on it. Because nothing says cool like name labels! A few minutes of chatting to them revealed to me this wasn't just going to be fun, it was going to be SCHEDULED FUN! You can't have fun without a timetable, right? It was about this point that Martin, demonstrating the renowned reliability of Guardian journalists, texted me to cancel. I was on my own. Fucking lefty bastards.

People started drifting in. There were a bunch of pretty attractive women, and a bunch of male scientists. I'm not saying they lived up to a particular stereotype, but there was only one other bloke who looked like he, rather than his mum, bought his clothes.

Anyway, looking at the schedule, we had a half-hour lecture on the psychology of dating from an expert, then an experiment invoving looking at objects we'd brought with us that summed up our personality, then the speed dating. We took our seats and our man with the PhD got started into his lecture. Not only did he habitually clear his throat to such an extent I thought he might be trying to pronounce words in one of those Eastern European languages that Stalin banned, the material he delivered was a straight lift from the pages of the Game. 

It went a bit like this:

"Hruumphh. Ummmm Hi. I, ummm, I'm like, writing my PhD on the secrets of Ahhruumphhh....ruurummppphhharrhhhmmmmppph a group of fascinating geniuses. Men who describe themselves as Ahhrrruumpppphhhh pickup artists." 

<Pause, flip through dense Powerpoint slides, pause to visibly rub himself, continue>

His PhD was in looking at the bible of the Rape Jedi and seeing if it was true. He described women like fish in a Jack Cousteau movie - strange, mysterious, unknowable creatures of the deep -  and I could tell there hadn't been a lot of field research on his part.

It was so strange, for the first five minutes I thought it might be character comedy or performance art. There was no analysis of whether all the tricks to attract women were true or not, just verbatim repetition of the Rules of the Game, accompanied by a Powerpoint covered in spangles and glitter. The Powerpoint was incredible - the sort of thing an eleven year old girl might design after an afternoon of watching My Little Pony while overdosing on Skittles.

After that five minutes, it dawned on me that he was TOTALLY SERIOUS. He wasn't pretending to be a weird academic studying a self-help book as though it was Marx - he was the real deal. There was no diversion into what might work for women on men, despite the 50/50 male female ratio. Just half hour an hour of how to manipulate and deceive the ladies, delivered by a man who had "I want a Fritzl dungeon" written all over him. I was seriously worried that at any moment he might flip to a slide of the glittery suits he'd made from his victim's skins or something.

Despite the horrified looks from the organisers and most of the audience, he ignored signals to stop, and just plowed on with the full lecture. At the end, he got to the end of his presentation, and asked "Ahhrhahhhump...Any questions?"

There was a moment of silence, and I put up my hand. He pointed to me, and I asked "Isn't this - and the whole pickup artist scene - all just weird misogynist bullshit?" He didn't really get a chance to answer as there was a spontaneous round of applause from the ladies. We then broke for drinks, where everyone expressed shock and dismay at the guest speaker's performance, then we all launched into looking at the objects we'd all brought with us. The men looked at the women's objects, and vice versa. I'd brought my BBC issue flak jacket, which was misidentified loudly by someone as a "fishing vest". Wrong kind of rugged manly appeal.

This might have been interesting, but mid-way through this, a group of rowdy seventy year old working men insisted on pushing into the venue, and sat in the corner in a group, drinking bitter and heckling the nerds. One had his wife with him, who sat at separate table, playing patience. Maybe married life isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The one object that really caught my eye was an old school mix-tape. I hadn’t actually seen a cassette tape in ages; and for people of a certain age, mixtapes are the sweetest gift. I picked it up, and was pleased to see that the person who had brought it had superb taste in late 90’s Britpop. The game was afoot.

Finally, the speed dating kicked off, and we started to rotate around the tables. The women were all interesting, but seriously underwhelmed by the quality of the men. “It's like dating the characters, rather than the cast, of the Big bang theory”, said one woman.

After a bit of hunting, I found the mixtape lady. We sat down, got to chatting. She was impressed I'd guessed hers was the mixtape, and she'd pegged the flak jacket was mine right away. She was a teacher – observant, pretty, interesting, great taste in music, but regretting coming to the scientist dating thing immensely. I asked her why and she replied “The last bloke was picking his nose and his bum at the same time as he walked over.”

That’s not a bad epitaph to the night as a whole. As soon as the speed dating was over, everyone rushed for the door, despite the fact that a really good comedy duo, Robin and Partridge were booked to play. I think everyone was desperate to avoid being stranded in the mutant haunted wastes of East London before the last tube left. I stayed and watched the desultory spectacle of two great comedians performing to an audience of grumpy drunk heckling old men before I left.

As I sat slightly shellshocked on the train home, I totted it up. I’d gone to a science experiment in a bunker, where the MC was a misogynist obsessed with glitter, which had been gate crashed by rowdy pensioners. Still, I lived in hope that the mixtape lady would email me and we could go on a date for more than four minutes.

Sadly, she didn’t get in touch – but these days, I'm pretty relaxed about not being everyone's cup of tea. For all the strangeness, it wasn't a bad ego boost – I realised that compared to some men out there, I’m quite the catch…