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!


  1. Woo! Go Willard!

    There is hope for online dating, and not just for Willard's willy.

  2. emmet said...

    Fantastic stuff although, like the last episode of the Fugitive*, my anticipation of the end will only be equal to my sadness at there being no more.

    *Yes I am far too young to have seen this in the 60s but RTE gave the full series a full re-airing in the mid-90s after the Harrison Ford movie came out. For a lad in his early teens, this more than sufficed.

  3. Elle said...

    Sorry to hear you are off the market. Knowing that there was a funny guy out there genuinely looking for a relationship gave me hope.

    Any plans for a new blog?

    Emmet - I thank RTE for introducing me to 'Murder She Wrote' and 'Columbo'.

  4. Moses said...

    The Physic Garden sounds prosaic.
    I've just been invited to play bingo in east Bristol, following my donation & delivery of a pair of surplus doors to a freecycle addict. I don't know whether it's a date or not, but bingo followed by drinks sounds a good start.
    As an afterthought, should you visit Bristol again in the near future, I'd like to buy you a drink as a thank-you for the entertainment of this blog & other writings.

  5. Unknown said...

    Yep, what Emmet said. I love the blog. I only discovered it last month but read the whole lot straight away.

    Did you know you had so many Irish readers? Emmet, Elle, I got into Dallas, the Bionic Woman & Hart to Hart in the late 90s in my school summer holidays thanks to RTE. Ah yes, finger on the pulse of cultural references...

  6. Huzzah!

  7. vickytnz said...

    Hmm, have to jump in on the 'manic' part: it's literally like she's on some sort of happy perky drug (like a permanent cheerleader). To hell with the fact that the girl might actually, gasp, have her own problems (captured best in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)….

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