Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Returning To The Fray

I hope everyone has been having a nice holiday time however you've spent it. I've been enjoying spending time with my parents and brother over Christmas. However, I had been bereft of a plan for New Year's Eve. It's my first one as a singleton since 2003 but most of my friends are married and starting to have kids, or unavailable in some other way, so my options seemed to be:

1) Hang out at my parents' place despite the fact that nobody else will be there;

2) Return home and hang out at my flat, again with nobody else there;

3) Gatecrash my parents' friends' party and possibly be the only attendant under the age of 55.

I've spent NYE on my own before and in a way it was an interesting reflective experience, so I had been leaning towards option 2, but part of me wanted to be doing more as I'm pretty much back to full health again - I went to work for a week before Christmas and even managed not to miss our Christmas drinks evening. Happily, a conversation that very evening was the genesis for an alternative idea:

4) Go to a New Year's Eve Speed Dating party!

So that's the plan - restart my dating with a bang and solve my NYE conundrum at the same time. I've never been speed dating before but I've been interested in trying it. Does anyone have any speed-dating-related thoughts/advice/stories to share?

P.S. For readers of my previous post: I've sent a Facebook message to My School Crush. I aimed for light and upbeat but I did mention the crush within it. I'll let you know if I get a reply!

Friday, 17 December 2010

My School Crush

Way back in my second post I wrote about my slow start to dating and interacting with girls/women in general, and I briefly mentioned the one girl whom I'd sat next to in school for any length of time - but to me at that time she was so much more than that. My imagination for blog nicknames must be faltering because I'm going to call her My School Crush.

I'd had other crushes at school, generally one per year. For the most part it was an enjoyable experience - I would feel a rush of excitement when I saw them and even more so if we had any kind of interaction. They would brighten up the day. My mind may have invented my attraction to them for exactly that purpose. I never told them or tried to get closer to them - I'm really not sure what I would have done had one tried to get closer to me.

My School Crush was the last of the lineage and started out in much the same way. I admired her from afar and assumed that this would be the extent of her involvement in my life. But times were changing. I was gradually changing - rather than being 11 or 12 I was 15 and starting to learn (later than most) that talking with girls wasn't such a strange thing to do. My School Crush happened to be in three of my classes - Maths, Science and Economics. I can't quite remember how it happened, but occasionally I must have actually talked with her and got to know her a bit. It probably helped that we had a Mutual Friend in the Economics class - a guy who was much more adept at socialising than I was.

But the big development was to come in our Maths class. Maths had always come quickly and naturally to me and I'd flown through it all the way through school. For the last few months of our two years together as a class, the teacher (who was very keen on maximising the exam marks of his classes) split the class into the Nine top-achieving-kids-to-push-even-more and Twenty-odd kids-who-would-do-OK-but-weren't-worth-bothering-with-too-much (maybe I'm doing him a disservice but it did seem a bit like that, particularly to a friend of mine in the Twenty section.) I was in the Nine and so was My School Crush. Before long I ended up sitting next to her and she would ask me questions about our work. Finally it was paying off to be good at Maths! Test scores and praises and prizes are one thing, but an attractive girl being interested in me (in some way at least) seemed rather more valuable at that point!

I wasn't normally a massive fan of school or of organised learning in general, but funnily enough I really looked forward to those lessons. I was lucky enough to be at a point where I didn't need to worry too much about the actual work and I could concentrate on soaking up this intoxicating new experience. The more time I spent with her, the more I liked her. This was uncharted territory for me - my distant crush was suddenly right up close and even more attractive than before. I had no idea what to do next. I needed more time. I really didn't want those last few months of Maths classes to come to an end. But, of course, they did.

The summer holiday came and went. I knew that our classes would be changing around completely on our return in September. I would be going into some kind of even-more-Maths class and I hadn't seen her at the induction for that. But as far as I knew we would both be taking Economics again (as would our Mutual Friend) and there were only to be two different Economics groups.

I bumped into My School Crush on our first day back and we compared timetables. Bad news - she and our Mutual Friend were in one class and I was in the other. I couldn't switch without changing my other subjects drastically. I still remember that moment of sinking realisation. She said "Well then, I guess I'll see you around." All I could think of to say in reply was "Yeah, see you around."

I did see her around occasionally, but less and less. I made an effort to speak with her at those times - it may have been obvious that I was trying a bit too hard to keep some kind of connection. It never really looked likely to work. I debated whether to tell her - without being quite sure what to say - but often she had a boyfriend, which made it seem inappropriate, and at other times I came up with other ways to talk myself out of it.

...but one day she and I were walking, just the two of us. We were walking through some kind of forest and we came to a clearing and I thought: I should tell her how I feel. Here and now. As we faced each other I started to speak but she simply put her finger up to my lips and said "I know." And then she kissed me. It was wonderful and I felt so full of happiness...

And then I woke up. Waking from that dream and realising that it hadn't actually happened left me in a bad mood for most of the following day. These days I like the idea of trying to enjoy having had the dream rather than begrudging reality, but at that time it felt like I'd just had my greatest wish granted and then almost instantly snatched away.

As time went by and I saw her less and less, the Out Of Sight Out Of Mind effect gradually took my thoughts away from her and readied me for the fact that we wouldn't be walking around the same school forever. By the time school finished I was ready to let go of My School Crush and free my attention for my impending move to university. Apart from a fleeting glimpse in a local shopping mall the following summer, I never saw her again.

...Well, I've never seen her in person again. But now it's 2010 and Facebook has firmly established itself as the way to sneak a peek at people from one's past. About six months ago I finally started to enter her name into the search box and was briefly shocked when Facebook flashed up her photo to me before I'd even finished! She doesn't have an unusual name - how on earth could Facebook know that out of all the possibilities in the world I was looking for her? Then I realised why it had given her priority: we've got a mutual friend - a different guy from our old Economics class. I haven't seen him since school either and I wouldn't claim to know him at this stage, but he sent me a friend request two years ago and I accepted (I had decided to accept any requests from people I'd known at some point even if we hadn't stayed in touch.) So that's how Facebook knew. I think I preferred the magical mystery actually.

So, here's what I'm wondering: I'm tempted to write to her and let her know that fifteen years ago I had a big crush on her and that she brightened my Maths lessons to the point where I wanted them to keep going. Would this come across as a nice thing to hear, or would it seem creepy? Of course, I could contact her and not mention any of this, at least at first, but that option doesn't appeal to me. I like the idea of using Facebook to say the things I never said to people in the past - I've already used it in that way several times (not in terms of confessing to crushes though.) I wouldn't be expecting great things to come from writing to her - I guess ideally I would be hoping for an acknowledgement of my message, and that would be fine. But I wouldn't want my message to be uncomfortable or worrying to read. What do you think? Nice message to receive or creepy guy giving too much information?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Impatience and Time Passing

I like to think of myself as quite a patient person in some respects. I'm willing to explain an idea to someone several times in different ways. I don't get too irate when public transport has a bad day. However, I'm not patient when it comes to my own incapacity or inability to do whatever I most feel like doing.

My break-up in May was not out of the blue - it had looked likely for months. It wasn't long after this before I felt the desire to be dipping a toe into the dating pool again. I wasn't kidding myself that I was ready for a full-on relationship yet but I thought that starting to have some kind of non-platonic encounters would help in the process of moving on. However, I was still "stuck" (as I saw it) living with my ex, and I didn't want to risk angering her by seeming to try to move on too quickly as if our relationship hadn't mattered to me, plus I thought that not many women would want to have any involvement with a guy living with his ex (and I have a compulsion towards honesty which meant I'd have been candid about my living situation if asked.)

Therefore I decided that I felt unable to date while living with my ex. This was one factor in my desire to get our house sold quickly. I had optimistically hoped to have it wrapped up in three months or possibly four. In the end it took six. Six months of my life spent in limbo.

But then I'd be free and ready, right? Unfortunately, my health had other ideas. I spent my first days of post-house sale freedom in hospital and I'm still recovering now. I'm not sure when I'll be back to full health and ready to think about trying out dating again. I know that I've been seriously ill and that I should be grateful to be pulling through, and I am, but part of me is just seeing this as more time passing by while I'm having to sit out on the sidelines.

I also know that it's a good idea to have a full and fulfilling life outside dating before going searching for a possible new relationship, and I can fully see the sense in that idea, but part of me just doesn't want to have to spend more time working on other parts of my life. It's OK as it is; the main thing which I want to change is my love life! But at the moment the days are still ticking by. How many more will slip past before I manage to be ready?

Does this resonate for anyone? Do you think in terms of days slipping by without managing to follow your desires? Or have you managed to maintain a more positive attitude to the passage of time?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

A New Chapter

My break from blogging has lasted longer than I'd hoped, but the event for which I'd been waiting has finally passed so I wanted to post an update and an explanation of why I stopped when I did.

My last posted internet dating tale took place in early 2004. Shortly after that I began a relationship with a woman with whom I'd been friends in real life for several months. A very brief summary of my view of our relationship would be: the first year was wonderful; the second year was good; the third year was pretty good; the fourth year was tougher; the fifth year was a struggle; the sixth year was a much harder struggle. In late 2009 and early 2010 our relationship teetered on the edge. Just when it needed some luck it instead received several body blows and it fell apart. We spent a lot of time talking about whether it could be saved but my feeling was that too much had been said which could not be reversed; our communication was still heavily hampered; our life priorities were diverging and adding to the strain. I ended our relationship in May 2010.

Once I'd ended the relationship I wanted to go our separate ways as soon as possible to begin recovering and moving on but there was an obstacle to this: we had bought a house together in 2008 and still lived in it together. We talked about various options but it seemed that the only solution was to sell it. Additionally, there was no practical way for either of us to leave until it had been sold. I wanted to sell it as soon as possible. She was hoping to switch jobs first because she was working part-time and needed more income to cover living on her own.

Over the summer we found a buyer but the sale proceeded gradually. I felt in limbo in that situation, living with an ex-partner, but was also trying to give her more time to find a job. My big fear was that she might decide to try to block the sale of the house, which might drive away the buyer, and my time in limbo would be hugely extended. As part of my efforts to stay on good terms with her I decided not to mention any of this on my blog for fear of her finding it and taking offence somehow. Hence when I ran out of material concerning the distant past I stopped writing rather than progressing to writing about the present.

In late October the house sale was ready to be finalised but no job had been procured. I pushed for completion of the sale anyway and the final sale date was set for mid-November. We both hurriedly found flats to rent and it looked like my new life was about to begin. I envisaged writing a post like this straight after completion of the sale.

My new life didn't start quite as I'd imagined. Eight days before the sale I began to feel unwell. I had expected the stress to take its toll, but previously in my adult life this had involved a two-day cold and a quick return to health. This time after two days I felt much worse. After discovering that I had a scarily high temperature I was taken into hospital and I was diagnosed with pneumonia and some related complications. For the first few days my mental health suffered too - I was delirious and delusional and even ended up refusing my own medication at times. Thankfully after a few days my normal mental state returned and I tried to be a positive influence in my own treatment program.

The house sale went through during my hospital stay, so my freedom had arrived but I was in no fit state to start to make much use of it. My ex-girlfriend did very kindly carry out the final sale-related tasks which I'd been planning to take care of. She moved to her rented flat and her job search continues as far as I've heard. I sincerely wish her well with both of those endeavours and everything else.

After eleven days in hospital I was released into the care of my parents, who have been wonderful throughout this whole ordeal. I've been staying with them now for eight days, soaking up their hospitality/food/old clothes/spare painkillers/attention and gradually learning to breathe more deeply again. I think I'm on the mend but it may still be some time before I get back to my rental flat (which I haven't seen since the day I collected the keys three weeks ago) and my job. This wasn't my plan for my new start, but I'm lucky to be hopefully making a good recovery from a serious illness, and hopefully at some point in the not-too-distant future I'll get the chance to make the kind of new start which I'd originally had in mind.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Thank You

I haven't posted for a little while and I think that this is set to become a longer while. I'm running low on blogging material, plus real life is moving towards a busy and complicated point. I think I'll still find some time to read and comment on the blogs which I've been following, so I'll still be around. Often I think that I'm more suited to commenting than to posting anyway! Thank you all for reading and commenting - I apologise for the abrupt halt.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Secret Santa of Blogging

The enterprising and thoughtful Life Begins at 30ty came up with the inspired idea of a Secret Santa of Blogging - putting names in a hat and suggesting blog topics for our assignee. One of the suggested assignments which I received was "Write about an experience that made you wiser" and the following memory quickly sprang to mind.

*Warning: this story may cause wincing or cringing!*

I've always liked to think of myself as an agile, athletic person. As a kid I enjoyed climbing trees - even falling out of one once didn't put me off for long. As a young man I no longer climbed so many trees but tried to make up for it in other ways. One of my favourite feats involved any kind of wall or railing up to around three feet high - I could run at it and jump and balance on the top before jumping off the other side, all without using my hands.

One day I was walking towards a road with three-feet-high railings along the side to dissuade people from crossing too close to the traffic signals. The light was soon to change but I knew I could make it across the road if I jumped the railings. My over-confidence had reached the point where I didn't even bother taking my hands out of my pockets as I ran up and jumped.

Somehow on this occasion I misjudged. Instead of landing cleanly on top of the railing, my foot hit the top edge. My momentum swung me over and down. With gravity contributing too, the ground reached me incredibly quickly. The first part of me to make contact with the road was my mouth.

I'd always dreaded the idea of breaking a tooth - I even used to have dreams about my teeth falling out in clumps of two or three. Never mind the blood pouring from my face or the fact that I was in the middle of a road - my first thought was to feel my teeth. Confirmed: front left tooth broken clean in half. I had just managed to make one of my nightmares come true. At that moment it felt like nothing would ever be the same again.

As the lights changed I climbed back over the railings (using my hands this time) and then just stood on the pavement watching the blood drip into my hands. I really didn't know what to do. Some kind people came over to me and sat me down and insisted on calling an ambulance, even though I kept saying there was no need - most of me was fine, and they wouldn't be able to fix my teeth! But the ambulance came anyway. The medic agreed with my self-diagnosis that only a dentist could save me now (he might not have used those same words) and dropped me off near my house. I went in and looked in a mirror. Wow, what a mess. My other front tooth had been smashed further back into my mouth, and my nose and lips were a dark red mess.

It took six or seven dental appointments to reconstruct something roughly resembling what I'd had before. Each time I had to have temporary caps fitted. After one visit something went wrong with the caps and they kept slipping half-off. I actually went to a job interview during this time and probably kept feeling my teeth with my tongue to see if they were still there. Somehow despite this I still got the job!

It took time and patience, but gradually normality returned. My nose and lips healed and my final replacement teeth have been going for nearly eight years now (although I still won't bite some foods just in case.) I look back on this experience as having made me wiser in two ways. First the obvious: be a bit more careful when leaping around! But second: some nightmares can be survived through. Some damage can be healed.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Blog Award

International Woman of Mystery at An International Affair has very kindly passed on a blogging award to me:















In order to accept the award I have to:
•Thank the blogger who awarded it to you.
•Sum up your blogging philosophy, motivation, and experience using five (5) words.
•Pass it on to 10 other blogs which you feel have real substance.

Well, thank you very much, International Woman of Mystery! Your blog is fun and interesting and exciting and I'm happy to be following the journey. I hadn't actually thought very much about what I wanted my blog to be - I'd started reading other people's blogs and wanted to comment but didn't want to be an anonymous enigma. The experience of sharing thoughts in this way has been Fascinating, Uplifting, Thought-provoking, Informative and kind of Addictive!

I'd been thinking of writing a post to thank all of the bloggers I've encountered for being so welcoming and friendly. This is an ideal occasion to give special mention to the ten blogs and bloggers who have been most instrumental in my experience so far:


Lifebeginsat30ty at Life Begins at 30ty - she not only has a great blog of her own split between two countries; she also organised a Secret Santa blogging experiment for her fellow bloggers, and I was very lucky to have her supportive comments on my blog right from the start. I really appreciate it!

Little Miss Angry at Love Me Knot - I arrived at her blog at a time of Jake Gyllenhaal lookalikes and farting discussions! But other posts have given us a glimpse of deeper stories and complicated situations still unfolding...

Larissa at thoughts simply arise - Larissa thinks a lot and writes beautifully about the results. Her blog is thought-provoking and inspiring on every topic it touches on.

"Just Sayin...." at "Just Sayin...." - she's not afraid to tell it like it is come rain or shine, which really lets us readers into her world - to the extent where her Followers list is labelled "My Stalkers"!

Snafugirl at snafu - of the ten most amazingly crazy exploits I've read, Snafugirl must account for at least nine of them. Luckily for us all, the woman behind the legend has the skill to bring her stories to life for us grateful vicarious livers.

Something She Dated at Something She Dated - she has a great quirky sense of humour and a truly unique writing style which is infiltrating my own vocabulary! Her blog is total Awesome Sauce.

Catherine at Simply Solo: Single girl starting over - almost as new to blogging as me, but ten times more talented - she tackles the topics of dating with consummate ease and engages her readers wonderfully.

KayDee at ...like nailing Jell-O to the wall! - currently blogging without her partner in crime, but she hasn't let that stop her from posting some very well-written and thoughtful explorations of issues both in dating and in life.

CrystalSpins at Everybody Wants Some - a great mix of dating stories and advice to those who need it, including the kind of self-pitying nice guy which I once might have been.

Lucky Girl at how very lucky to be a girl - last but not least: the one which started my whole blogging journey. An ostensibly unrelated Google search landed me in a fascinating world of dating tales and I've been hooked ever since.


I'd like to say a massive thank you to all of you and to everyone else with whom I've crossed paths in our patch of the blog world - I'm glad to have arrived here!


Matt

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Mutually Exclusive (Part 2 of 2)

My first three dates with Mutually Exclusive had been fun-filled and gradually more kiss-filled, but I'd felt hampered by an unfortunate lack of sleep and this had prompted me to shorten dates two and three. I'd then caught up on sleep and was very much looking forward to date four and got the vibe that she was too. There was one fly in the ointment: she had mentioned that she would be busy for one week following our upcoming Thursday date. But I had high hopes for our date being good enough to carry us through that week.

After work on Thursday I headed to her place. We kissed and chatted as we made dinner together. After dinner, more chatting and kissing in front of the television. But then came a change of pace: she said that she didn't want anything other than kissing to happen that night. She still wanted me to stay the night but just to hold each other and kiss and nothing further.

It did feel kind of like she was abruptly putting the brakes on after having urged quicker progress on the previous date - I'd got the feeling that she'd wanted to go further just two nights before. Was this a test? Or was that a test? I was confused. But I reasoned that I would rather come across as too cautious than too pushy, so I took the opportunity to be the perfect gentleman - I gracefully accepted her request and held her and kissed her as we went to sleep with underwear still firmly in place.

The next morning, before we went our separate ways, she was at great pains to reiterate that she would be busy for the whole of the next week. And by busy, she meant no time for any contact at all. She said that her family were coming to stay. I didn't really understand why that would leave her unable to even send an occasional text, especially as we were now dating exclusively (and she'd been the one pushing for that status just a week earlier.) But I was still in gentleman mode and accepted the situation without pushing her for further explanation. She kissed me goodbye and was gone.

For the next seven days I respected her instruction not to try to contact her in any way and, sure enough, heard nothing back either. Seven days became eight days, nine days. On day ten I sent her a lighthearted text. No response. On day eleven I sent her a less lighthearted text indicating that I really wanted to talk. Several hours later she finally called me. She said that she had continued to be busy after her family had left and she just hadn't had time to contact me. She apologized but also said that she had more busy times coming up and wasn't sure when she could fit me in. This from the woman who'd said "What's wrong with tomorrow?" when I asked for our fourth date to be two days after our third!

I let her know that I wasn't happy to be seeing somebody so rarely after agreeing exclusivity. I said that I wanted to see her more often if things were going to work out. She said that she'd try to sort something out and she'd be in touch soon.

And she was in touch the next day - sending me the following email:


"Hi,

Hope you are well and happy. Been thinking about us dating some more and i can't really see it going any where. It seems we aren't as compatible as i thought we would be in the beginning. I don't know what your veiws are on this but we could try and be friends although it maybe too late for that."


Hmm, OK... I guess it wasn't really out of the blue, but her choice of words threw me a bit - did she come to the conclusion that we weren't compatible during the ten days of zero contact? Oh well - I might have ended up ending things anyway if her busy times had continued.

After reading the email I saw that she was on online chat and had a brief chat with her. I said that I respected her decision and that I was up for trying being friends too, but she seemed to have changed her mind on that front - she started saying (writing) strange things about worrying that I'd be really angry at her and try to get revenge on her or something. What?? I had no idea at all where this was coming from but I readily agreed that we didn't need to stay in touch. I tried to explain that I bore her no ill will and wished her all the best. End of chat. I never heard from her again.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Mutually Exclusive (Part 1 of 2)

My next internet date continued the trend of very quickly moving off the dating site once we'd initially made contact through it. We used other online chat and email and she was keen to meet up quickly, which worked fine for me. Our first date was on a Tuesday evening just five days after our first messages. I had another first date lined up for the Wednesday which had been arranged further in advance, so it almost felt like this new one was jumping the queue, but then this is how dating works, right?

We met at a pub and spent the evening talking and laughing. She was fun and cute and I enjoyed being with her. I got the feeling that she enjoyed being with me too. The time flew by and all too soon we were saying our goodbyes at the end of the evening. I gave her a quick kiss on the lips, which seemed to go down fine, and on my way home I congratulated myself for having made that move rather than proceeding with caution as I had on too many previous first dates.

The next day, while chatting online again, she asked me whether I had any other dates lined up. I was honest with her: Yes, I have a date tonight - I'd already arranged it before I met you. This didn't seem to go down too well. I guess everyone has different ideas about what's acceptable in the early days of dating and what isn't. To be honest, I would have felt more comfortable only arranging one first date at a time, but I'd got the impression that this would have severely reduced my frequency of dating and hence my chances of finding someone, plus most other people seemed to be multidating anyway.

So I went on my Wednesday evening date. We didn't click - nothing particularly dramatic happened (not even enough to make a blog post!) but we both agreed that we weren't a match. The next morning I informed my date from Tuesday of this and arranged a second date with her for that Friday evening. She asked again if I had any other dates arranged. I told her that I didn't, but that I had been talking with a friend about trying speed dating. She asked whether I was actually looking for something serious and I explained that I was, but that I thought most people did early dating this way. I said that if our Friday date went well then I wouldn't go speed dating.

All of this was taking place against the backdrop of a very busy and stressful week of work for me. I was running low on sleep and feeling rundown, plus I had a weekend trip away with friends coming up. I let her know that I wouldn't be out too late on Friday because of this. We met after work and went to a restaurant. We enjoyed each other's company again and it was unfortunate that the evening could not be longer, but I really needed sleep. We parted ways with a longer kiss and a feeling that things were going really well.

During my weekend away I kept in text contact with her and we arranged a third date for the following Tuesday. On Monday I started sending messages to other women with whom I'd been in contact, letting them know that I was now seeing someone exclusively and wouldn't be going on any new dates. I called off the speed dating plan too.

Tuesday rolled around and I was still stressed at work and low on sleep. Our third date began at a restaurant after work again chatting and having fun, or so I thought, but then she explained to me that she was getting the feeling that I was moving too slowly for her - that I just seemed to be happy to continue going to pubs and restaurants for ages. So I asked her back to my place and she accepted enthusiastically. Off we went. Upon arrival we got drinks and went to my bedroom. We sat chatting and kissing on my bed. The question loomed large and unspoken: would she be staying the night? I didn't want to be moving too slowly again but I really was feeling very tired and desperately needed a good night's sleep. Reluctantly I let her know this and walked her to her car. I asked to see her again on Thursday and she said "what's wrong with tomorrow?" I repeated my need for sleep and she seemed to accept it.

Thankfully I did manage to catch up on some sleep in advance of Thursday. We had arranged that this time I would be going to her place and that this time we would be spending the night together...

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Picture Imperfect

January 2004: Around two years after my first foray into online dating, I was now on something like my fourth. The fruits of my efforts had been roughly a dozen first dates, far fewer second dates and a decidedly messy on-off relationship. But I persevered nonetheless. I still had faith in the concept and figured that if I continued to contribute time and effort then fate would at some point contribute luck.

My next date was with a young lady with whom I'd shared many texts and a phone call or two over a couple of weeks. When I say "young lady" I mean that she was several years younger than me, and I was only 24, but we'd seemed to click humour-wise in our texts. Over the phone we hadn't connected quite so well but then I'm not that great on the phone anyway. We had exchanged photos (by this point in history most online daters had managed to acquire a digital photo of themselves but many of us did not openly display them on our profiles) and had each made appreciative noises about the other. So, next step: meet up.

We met at a restaurant on a Saturday lunchtime. The restaurant was fairly quiet. This was lucky because I'm really not sure I would have recognized her otherwise. She looked absolutely nothing like her photo. How had someone so young had time to change so much? I was having trouble even convincing myself that it was the same person.

Of course, I thought that it would be rather rude to say any of this to her, so I tried to settle into the date and chat, but I was really struggling with the idea that my date had morphed. I felt like I was in one of the more confusing David Lynch films.

We ate our food and talked a bit but my heart just wasn't in it and I think she sensed that. After the food I let her know that I was planning to head off. She asked where I was going. I realised that I couldn't really claim tiredness at 2pm on a Saturday, so I admitted that I was going to do a bit of shopping. She asked to come along and again I didn't want to be rude so off we went. What little chat there had been was drying up fast. I did my shopping and then said that I would be heading home. I was relieved that she didn't ask to come with me.

Afterwards, looking back on the date, I was trying to figure out what I could have done differently. Would it have been better to tell her what was going through my mind? I guess that might have just made things more uncomfortable and still led to the same result anyway: we weren't going to see each other again.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Mystery Woman

It's funny to think that in early 2002 I used to spend weeks, occasionally even months, getting to know prospective internet dates via online chat/email/phone/text before meeting them face-to-face. By late 2003 I was far more focussed on getting to the point of meeting up. I didn't want to precede the first date with lots of virtual contact. Occasionally this had led to comic minunderstandings, but generally it felt like I had the right idea. I was looking for real-life interactions, not an online penpal.

I had made contact with another woman through the dating site but we'd swiftly moved on to external emails and a telephone call. She seemed interesting but also secretive - we'd had a strange moment when she'd been shocked by my knowing her real name after it had been clearly shown in her emails. I'd also sent her my photo and received a reply which I found somewhat enigmatic:

"Hi Matt,
Nice photo. Funny but i have imagine you completely different. You look strong, but in your msgs you sound softer. i bet i will look different to what you imagine. However i will not send you my photo."

I wasn't sure whether to take the message as a compliment or whether I should be irked by her refusal to send her photo in return. And what did she imagine I was imagining? She then gave me a hint in our phone call - casually tossing in the words "when I was modelling..." - but was this part of the process of leading me to imagine something and then finding that she looked different? I wasn't sure. Only one way to find out.

Our date was to be at a restaurant. On my way there I received a text from her saying that she would be waiting outside a nearby shop. I guess that gave me a fighting chance of spotting her! Luckily for me, there was only one woman standing anywhere near the shop as I approached. My first thought: OK, I completely believe that you've worked as a model! Wow. My second thought: I'm really going to try not to get all insecure like I had before in this kind of situation. Let's make this one different.

We went for our meal and chatted away. She was enjoyable company and seemed very interested in me. She was particularly interested in my job - at that time I worked in the stock market. The thought crossed my mind that this might be the main reason for her interest in me but I tried to push that thought aside.

After dinner she suggested that we go to the cinema and seemed very keen to do so. I tend to think that early dates and cinemas don't mix well together but I didn't want to shoot down her idea, so we went and it actually went fairly well - the film was lighthearted and watchable, and she didn't shrink away when I put my arm round her a bit. It did put a stop to most of our talking though.

As we parted ways after this I debated in my head whether to try to kiss her - I liked her and thought the date had gone well but I really couldn't tell whether she wanted me to kiss her or not. In the end I kissed her on the cheek. No particular reaction from her. No idea what's happening in her head.

The next day I texted to say that I had enjoyed seeing her and would like to do so again. She said that she'd liked the evening too but that she was quite busy - maybe in a week or two? Hmm... I wasn't sure that she sounded very keen but I figured I would find out in due course. I asked her out again the next week, then the week after that, then the week after that... She generally sounded quite enthusiastic but always was busy. Then at some point her explanations of being busy started to involve visa problems (she wasn't from around these parts.) Was this:

1) An attempt to say "No" to me in a slightly less subtle but still very indirect way?
2) Or just an honest update on her situation?
3) Or was she even dropping a hint that maybe I could "help her get a visa"??

The week after that she didn't return my call or my text. OK, I guess it wasn't option number 3. I decided that it was time to stop chasing.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

My Two Briefest Dates

Autumn 2003: After taking some time to recover from the (final) messy ending with Pop Idolizer, I staggered back into the online dating ring for Round 3. I reasoned that my gradual accumulation of experience would serve to make the activity more successful for me. However, two of my dates in this stint did little to support my theory. Both women were students and I must be somewhat lacking in imagination as I write this because I can only think to call them Russian Student and Dental Student.

My date with Russian Student had not been preceded by all that much online contact, but enough to establish that it was in fact a date which we were going on. Therefore it threw me completely when one of her first sentences on the date began with the words "My boyfriend..." Er, sorry? Your what-now? It turned out that she had a long-term boyfriend back in Russia but didn't see this as any reason not to go on a date with me. Cultural differences maybe? I don't know - I didn't ask. I didn't take very long over my drink and then I said something about being tired and needing to head off. She seemed surprised, and as we parted ways she said something about meeting up again. I said "Maybe..." and she could see from my face that I meant "No." Her shoulders slumped and she walked away looking dejected.

As I watched her walk away I realised that I really hadn't handled the whole thing very well. Why hadn't I just talked with her about my reaction to her revelation? I'm not sure - I like to think that the me of today would do so. Maybe I was just still quite stunned, plus I genuinely was tired too. Happily for my future conscience, I did the decent thing the next morning and texted her explaining what had happened. She laughed (in text form) and seemed pleased to have received an explanation. I felt much better too for not having just left her to try to decipher my actions.

My date with Dental Student was a disaster entirely of my own making. We met at a station in town and I invited her to choose which bar we would go to, giving away the fact that I totally hadn't come up with ideas for our date. Off we went to her chosen bar and started to chat, but after maybe fifteen minutes I decided that I really didn't like the bar and said that I wanted to go somewhere else. I think her chosen bar had been a bit noisy, but why on earth did I think that this justified shooting down the choice which I'd just left her to make?

As we walked to the alternative bar which I'd suddenly thought to suggest, I was thinking "I'm an idiot, she must think I'm an idiot and she's right..." It didn't help at all that my bar was crowded too and we had to stand. This was particularly tricky because she was over a foot shorter than me (I'm 6'1) which made talking (or more precisely hearing) more difficult. I didn't mind the height difference at all otherwise, but I got the impression that she might have been self-conscious about her height and possibly didn't tend to date tall guys.

Our conversation was starting to struggle and I excused myself to the bathroom, partly to try to regroup. I liked this girl so far but wasn't doing a good job of showing it. Time to turn that around. As I came back I saw that she was sitting down and said "ah, you found a stool..." Then I realised with horror: No, she was not sitting down! My eyes had somehow ghosted in a stool behind her which actually did not exist. She was standing right where she'd been two minutes ago. What the hell was wrong with me??

I recoiled in embarrassment, trying not to laugh at how ridiculous my mistake had been. And not fully succeeding. I apologised profusely and she accepted my apology but with a look on her face that said "wow, you really are a loser." Not long after this she "remembered" that she had to go and "meet some friends" and our train wreck of a date came to an early end. I think I even had the audacity to ask if she wanted to meet up again when I texted the next day - not surprisingly she replied in the negative.

I wonder if, somewhere out there, Dental Student is writing a blog about her past dating experiences, and I'm in there as the biggest dickhead of all time?

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Back To Online Dating

After the pregnancy prank from Pop Idolizer, but before I made the somewhat questionable decision to give things another go with her (with painful results), I did make one good decision: I gave online dating another try. By that time it had been over a year since I'd left the dating website and I'd spent a fair bit of that year hoping that my occasional hook-ups with Pop Idolizer would develop into something more, but at that point it looked very much like they wouldn't and so I decided that it was high time to broaden my dating horizons again.

I got off to a promising start - within a couple of weeks I had three first dates arranged in the space of four days. In my early online dating days I would have felt unsure as to whether this was "OK" but now it seemed like this was how most other people were doing it - and it did feel exciting! I like the process of picking codenames for people I've dated (it seems like this is an important part of blogging!) so lets call them Call 999, Sparkle Motion and Positive Energy.

I met Call 999 at a bar and the date got off to a very average start. We had a bit in common but not a lot. Our chatting was continuous but not riveting. I was beginning to wonder whether this date would end up being classed a success or a failure. As it turned out, somebody else made the decision for me. Some random guy grabbed my date's handbag and ran out of the bar. I didn't even see it happen but the bar staff were after him like a shot (maybe it's a common problem there!) and by the time my date and I got outside the bar they were coming back with her bag, which the thief had thrown aside, but without her phone, which he'd escaped with.

I lent her my phone so that she could report her phone stolen. Her insurance claim required that a report be filed with the police, so we walked to the nearest police station and I waited while she provided them with the details. Then we went our separate ways - our date hadn't been going nearly well enough to survive that. She said something vague about calling me but I remember thinking that this seemed unlikely while she didn't have a phone!

The next evening I met Sparkle Motion at a (different) bar. More than anything else, I remember that date for its demonstration of my insecurities. Before meeting we'd exchanged photos and she'd looked kind of nice-looking. It turned out that she was much better-looking in person. This should have been a good thing, right? But my mind went into the whole "she's out of my league" mentality again. Not only did her eyes and smile sparkle - so did her energy for life and living it to the full. I just thought "there's no way I can keep up with this woman - she works harder than I do, she plays harder than I do, I don't know how she fits it all in!" Of course, I made some attempt to seem interesting enough to warrant a second date, but not surprisingly I failed!

I think of my first date with Positive Energy as one of my best first dates ever. The ironic thing is that I remember her in a very similar way to Sparkle Motion - good-looking with a real zest for life - but somehow this didn't intimidate me with her. I felt an early connection with her. She seemed quite unconventional and I liked that about her. Rather than meeting after work in a flashy bar, she wanted to meet on a Saturday afternoon in my local Pizza Hut! Her philosophy: why spend more when you can have just as much fun for less? And it really was fun - we chatted away about all kinds of things. It sounded like she spent her life doing various zany activities and not worrying about whether anyone thought her unusual. I used to feel that way once - what happened to that side of me?

We went out into town to bars but both just drank water. She didn't drink alcohol but that didn't seem to hold her back in the slightest, and I wasn't much of a drinker either (in recent years I've effectively quit completely.) We ended up dancing in a nightclub until after midnight, by which time our first date must have been going for nine or ten hours! Just one problem though: nothing non-platonic had occurred between us.

Actually, after the date, it turned out that there was another problem. Her profile had said that she lived in the same city as me; then she'd said that she spent part of her week in a different city several hours away; eventually it turned out that she actually lived there and was only in the process of possibly moving here. This also meant that she wasn't available to meet me again for several weeks. This was a big disappointment, but the date had been so great in many ways that I still wanted to see her again.

Four weeks later we finally had our second "date" and again went to a nightclub. This time I wanted to find out whether she actually saw me as more than a friend. Maybe I should have just tried to kiss her but instead I chose rather a weak substitute: I said "What would you do if I kissed you right now?" I like to think I would have then kissed her if her facial expression had looked enthusiastic, but instead she looked shocked and darted away, then acted as if it hadn't happened. OK - I think I had my answer. After that night we stayed in touch occasionally but something was never quite the same. We never met up again.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Pop Idolizer - Final Act

To recap: my on-off involvement with Pop Idolizer had entered a definite "off" phase after she decided to give me a 40-minute taste of her fear of becoming pregnant. Our "relationship", such as it had been, had hardly been an idyllic dream up to that point anyway. We had some kind of connection and enjoyed much of our interacting but there were big "red flags" around commitment and actually managing to spend much time together offline. At first I saw this latest joke/trick/self-sabotage as the final straw.

For several weeks I diverted my attention elsewhere. I went on a few first dates (I may post those stories some time, but I realised that this story is probably more interesting!) and didn't have much contact with Pop Idolizer. Ironically, it was during this time that she seemed to put more effort into pursuing me. Day after day I would get back from being out in the evening to find that she'd called. I wasn't trying to give her the cold shoulder (OK, maybe a little) but I just wasn't putting much energy into having contact with her. I knew that further involvement with her carried risks and that further sexual involvement with her would be playing with fire.

But that fire... It burns so brightly... That heat and light is quite a temptation... I can handle a momentary burn to the fingertips... If I know the risks, maybe I can mitigate them... After all, she was very much into safety - sometimes she wanted two condoms at once! No wonder I lasted longer than I'd expected.

My other dates didn't work out, the shock of the pregnancy incident faded, and I began to see her as my best option if I wanted my love/sex life not to be non-existent. Looking back, I'm not particularly proud of this bit of thinking, but there it is. I started returning her calls. I started meeting up with her again. I started trying to convince myself that all of this was a good idea.

The weeks without my attention did seem to have increased her eagerness to be involved with me. The cliché of wanting what one cannot have held some truth. I guess most clichés do. I happened to be going away on holiday for two weeks soon after we'd started to rekindle our involvement, and I think that this added to the effect. When I got back, she was the one talking about more commitment. For most of the previous time, we'd remained free to see other people, at her request. Now she wanted to be an exclusive couple. I decided to give it a try.

One week into our new official coupledom I was away again for a few days on a stag weekend (bachelor party.) This had been arranged months in advance and I think I even offered not to go if the idea made her really uncomfortable, what with strip clubs being part of the tradition and all, but she said that she was cool with it so off I went. During those three days I did nothing unbecoming of a non-single person but when I got back she didn't seem so cool with the trip any more. She kept asking if I'd kissed any strippers. I was completely honest with her: we had gone to a strip club on one of the nights but I don't think I was ever within three feet of a stripper and didn't pay for anything other than the entrance fee. I actually got bored in there and left before most of my friends. I'm not sure whether she believed any of this though.

We also had problems agreeing on the frequency with which we would meet up rather than just chatting on the phone. I wanted to meet up once or twice a week but after a month of being "together" I'd only seen her twice. The travelling time between us was about an hour but I would have been happy to have been the one to do most of that travelling, but she always insisted on coming to me or meeting halfway. In fact, looking back, I never once was invited to the area in which she lived, and never once met anyone she knew. More red flags!

I kept asking to meet up more often and was granted a third rendezvous. We spent an afternoon together in town and she was warm and lighthearted at first but then started to withdraw from me again. I asked her what was wrong and she said that she was just tired and wanted to go home. Off she went and I headed back to mine.

Soon after arriving home I got a text from her asking if I had time for a phone call. Something in the text, or something in the day, or the month, told me that this would not be good news. She called and explained that she wanted to end things again. She said that she had wanted things to work out between us but that there was still too big a part of her which feared commitment and getting hurt. Fair enough, I said. Nothing unreasonable about any of that. I'm happy to still be friends. It actually felt like one of our least messy endings.

...except that the phone call wasn't finished. There was something else that she needed to tell me. But it was really hard to tell me... But she had to do it... But she wasn't sure how to... Right, she's just going to say it... Oh, she's not sure what to say... This must have gone on for about ten minutes, giving me plenty of time to guess (in my head, not out loud) what was coming. Finally she confirmed that my guess had been correct: she had cheated on me.

While I'd been away on the stag weekend steering well clear of strippers and non-strippers alike, she had gone out for drinks with a guy she'd recently met and she'd kissed him. Then two weekends later (so three weeks into our newly-exclusive relationship) she'd booked a hotel room with him and they'd had sex. And now that she had broken up with me, she thought it would be the right time to tell me.

Ouch-ouch-ouch. Wow, that fire which I decided to play with burned rather more painfully than I'd bargained for. I was upset and very angry with her, but also struggling with the knowledge that in a way I only had myself to blame for rekindling my involvement with someone who had already side-swiped me with dishonesty before.

At first I demanded reasons, explanations, apologies. She did apologise but answered most other things with "I don't know." Over the following few weeks I phoned her several times per week still asking for answers in a misguided attempt to get understanding and closure. She didn't have the answers for me. I came to realise that the way for me to let go of the pain and the anger was to go with my own answers for what I thought had happened. I reasoned to myself that the part of her which feared getting hurt would never trust the rest of her to stop taking the risk of being close to me, so the only way to avoid this terrifying vulnerability was to push me far enough away that I would stay away on my own. The pregnancy hoax had nearly achieved that but after a few weeks I had come back, so it was necessary to push harder.

She was young and relatively inexperienced (as was I.) She'd had a few tough breaks in life. She really just wasn't ready to go down the road which we'd started down. It wasn't that this justified what she did, but I felt that I could at least understand how she had arrived at the point of doing it. And I didn't want to hold onto the anger and pain which I'd felt at first. Once I stopped wanting answers, wanting apologies, wanting anything from her, I could let it go. I could let her go.

I forgave her and wished her well for the future. Our phone contact declined to occasional and then to zero. I moved on with my life. I hope that she did too.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Pop Idolizer - Act II

After some promising email chat, a lukewarm first date and a decidedly chilly second date, Pop Idolizer had indicated that we would be "Just Friends." In my experience, being Just Friends with someone after having met online and gone on one or two dates does not last - there just hasn't been enough time or shared experience for a friendship bond to form and last. However, despite our lack of success in connecting in the real world, Pop Idolizer and I had built up a lot of shared online/email time together, and our emails did continue back and forth at a similar rate after that.

To be honest, I guess that I was partly keeping in touch in case she changed her mind and wanted to have another try at being "More Than Friends." After two months of friendly emails, that's exactly what happened - I wrote a comment hinting that I'd still be interested in more and she said that she liked that idea too. This was right around the time of my date with Pretty Lady... was this just a coincidence, or was that bit of "competition" just what was needed?

So, back to the racy and suggestive emails (and also phone calls) we went. Our virtual chemistry bounced back to life quickly. However, the question loomed large: would we be able to carry that over into the real world this time? It took another two or three weeks for us to meet up again, but this date (technically our third) was to take place at my house - I guess we were both feeling bold!

Any guesses as to how it went?

Yep - really badly. I met her at the station and as we walked to my house the discomfort was as palpable as the near-silence. Once we got to my house I started feeling more at ease but she just seemed more uneasy. She was withdrawn and subdued just like on our second date. After around ten minutes she said that she just wanted to go, so we walked back to the station and off she went.

Thus was set a pattern which was to continue for several months. We met up perhaps around once a month, which generally precipitated her putting a stop to things, then we would reignite our online connection and build up to meeting up again, which would fail to live up to our cyber-relationship and lead to another ending or at least cooling. She enjoyed having attention from me but was afraid of commitment or of getting hurt. As for me, I enjoyed the good phases between us and I didn't see any harm in continuing our liaisons in the absence of anything else happening in my love life. But was my on-off "relationship" with her making me less likely to find anyone else? I told myself that it wasn't, but looking back I may have been kidding myself.

Ironically, the cycle was to be broken not by one of our tentative face-to-face encounters but by email. Our physical relations had gradually progressed through the starting and stopping and it turned out that another big fear of hers was becoming pregnant. Perhaps this was partly why she was more comfortable interacting with me via telephone and email. A few days after one of our rare face-to-face get-togethers, she emailed me saying that she was worried that she might be pregnant. I emailed back suggesting that it seemed very unlikely, given that we'd used protection, we'd stopped before the point of no return anyway, and it had only been a few days so it would be too early to tell even if there were a chance.

Her concerns did not seem allayed by my email and she replied that she was going to take a pregnancy test straight away. At that point I was out of the office for an hour or so, and returned to find an email from her simply saying "I am pregnant."

My initial thought was: I don't believe her. For all of the reasons I'd stated in my email and more. The timings just wouldn't have made any sense. But what the hell should I write back? It didn't seem right to reply to her email with accusations of lying, just in case there was any chance that she wasn't lying. Her email had arrived half an hour before I got back to my desk, so I felt under pressure to come up with some kind of reply. I'd started to write something about maybe trying a second test when another email arrived from her: "Oh, by the way, I'm not pregnant!" followed by unrelated general chat about how her day was going.

Did that really just happen? Did she really just do that? Why would somebody do that? I let her know that I thought it was a horrible thing to do and asked her why she'd done it. She apologised and admitted to wanting me to feel some of the fear she'd felt while waiting for the test result (she really had taken a test but the result had been negative.) I understood that she was afraid but I still thought she'd gone way too far in response. For the first time in our on-off interactions it was time for me to be the one to say "off."

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Pretty Lady

So... back to the drawing board again. Where would my next date come from? I considered taking out another personal ad but decided against it with my low response to the last one in mind. Instead I tried replying to a few. I heard back from one woman whose ad had been entitled "Pretty Lady" - brief and to the point! We arranged to meet at a bar after work one evening.

I arrived at the bar first and grabbed a free table. A few minutes after our arranged meeting time I received a text from her: "I'm outside the bar, wearing a red top. Come outside." I liked its confident tone and I did as instructed.

Her advert title hadn't been false advertising - she was very pretty. I'm sad to report that the thoughts going through my head were along the lines of "She's out of my league... Just a fool to believe I have anything she needs... She's like the wind..." I was intimidated by her good looks, feeling that I didn't measure up. I tried to tell myself that attractiveness is subjective but I didn't really convince myself!

She wanted to go to a different bar instead and I complied. Once we were sat with drinks our chatting went through the usual basics of getting to know each other's pasts and presents and then started to stall through lack of common interests. I could tell that she was getting bored, especially as she started using her mobile phone at one point - not a good sign! But I continued to try to find a way to connect with her. I was aware that I was being quite shallow - here I was finding little in common and seeing my date more interested in her phone than in me at times but still persevering. Would I have acted the same had I not found her so good looking? I thought I probably knew the answer but wasn't comfortable with what it meant.

Soon after this she indicated that it was time for her to head off anyway. I walked her to the station and we went our separate ways. I had a feeling that I wouldn't be seeing her again but despite this I can remember feeling quite elated at having been on a date with a beautiful woman even if she hadn't been all that taken with me. Looking back I feel sad that I was seemingly so superficial at that time, but my memory reminds me that I was.

Of course, when I texted her the next day I suggested meeting up again. Her inevitable declining was concise but gentle - something like "We weren't really a match, don't you think?" She did have a point there. I wished her well and that was that. Hello drawing board my old friend, I've come to talk with you again...

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Pop Idolizer

Summer 2002: several months had passed since I'd left the dating website. My Lonely Hearts advert had resulted in one excruciatingly fun-free date. I guess I was kind of concentrating on my job and friends, but kind of realising that this sounded like a cliché and really I wanted more. I needed to kickstart my dating life again - but how?

An opportunity arrived in my inbox. While on the dating website I had given one of my external email addresses out to a few women. One of them emailed me all those months later. She and I had chatted online for several hours one evening but nothing further had come of it. What had prompted her to email me at this point? She didn't really give any reason but I wasn't about to worry too much about that - to be honest I was pleased to have a dating prospect on my horizon again.

We both had email access at work and time available to use it, so before long we were having email conversations throughout our workdays. We shared a similar sense of humour and we found out all kinds of information about each other's lives. Her ambition was to be a singer on Pop Idol. My ambition was to go on a date with her.

When I asked her on a date she agreed at first but then cancelled and asked to reschedule two or three times. This was a warning sign but I persevered, figuring that I had nothing to lose by being patient. Eventually, after three weeks of email chatting and postponed plans, we had a date which didn't get cancelled.

We met in a bar and sat down with drinks to find out how we'd get on in real life. The fact that we'd already chatted so much via email was both helpful and unhelpful: we already had a connection which carried over somewhat into the real world, but at the same time it felt strange not to be communicating through our usual medium. We didn't run out of things to say but we were both more tentative than we had been in cyberspace.

The date ended without any clear indication of what our next step would be. We hadn't managed to be fully comfortable in each other's company. But the next day, back on the emails, our banter continued where it had left off. We chatted as if the date had been a success and both said that we wanted a second. In the mean time our emails became more racy and suggestive. We talked as if all of our online chemistry would translate into the real world soon. Our second date was agreed around two weeks after the first.

For some reason, I agreed to our second date being at the cinema. Why did I do that? I should have known better! As I approached the cinema I could see her waiting outside. Bad vibes. She looked uncomfortable and guarded. Our initial interaction was less comfortable than on our first date, not more. We went in to watch the film and it seemed that she shrank away from me any time I tried to put my arm around her or show affection. Things were not looking good. It didn't help that the film was pretty bad as well!

We went for a walk after that and talked a bit. She said that she wasn't sure what she wanted and wasn't sure how to be around me. We parted ways at the station soon after that. I had a feeling that our next cyber-contact would not be a bounce back to our previous highs. My fears were confirmed by text later that evening. I think those dreaded two words "Just Friends" were involved again. Real-world reality had won out over online-world fantasy.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Silent Night

After nearly three months on the dating site I was beginning to become disheartened with the venture. I had been on three first dates but no second dates. Each of my dates had been preceded by weeks of online contact. After things with Busy Student didn't work out, I realised that I hadn't started to click with anyone else online recently, which meant that it seemed unlikely that I would be going on another date any time soon. I was considering leaving the dating site and trying to find some other way to meet women. As chance would have it, my computer chose that time to catch a virus. I became unable to access the internet at home - I could still do so at my new job but I didn't think it was a good idea to be logging onto a dating site at work, so I left the site.

Instead I tried a different but similar medium: I put a personals advert in a magazine. I can't quite remember why I thought this would be a more successful avenue but I thought I would at least give it one try.

One advert, one try... one response.

I was disappointed to receive only one reply, but after a brief telephone chat I did at least have a date. We arranged to meet at a bar in the city. On the way there we texted each other a description of what we were wearing. As I neared the bar I could tell that I would be early and deliberately stalled a short distance away, at which point I saw someone matching her description. I couldn't be sure whether it was her and, in a portent of what was to come, I didn't say anything as she went past. I waited until I would be on time and then went to the bar. It had indeed been her before. I felt rather foolish and hoped that she hadn't spotted me earlier.

We got drinks and sat down together to chat. And we chatted. At first. We talked about our jobs and recent life events and interests. Pretty standard, really. And we started to run out of talk. The awkward pauses grew until there was more silence than speaking. I tried to tell myself that saying anything was probably better than saying nothing but I just wasn't managing to convince myself. The second half-hour of the date was just becoming one long awkward pause.

We left the bar and went for a bit of a walk, perhaps both hoping that a change of scenery would help somehow, but it didn't. More of the same. Neither one of us could break the silence for long. After not very long our walk took us to the station and we went our separate ways.

Reflecting on the date afterwards, I couldn't quite figure out how I'd managed to get so tongue-tied. I wanted to try a second date with her to see if we could click better - perhaps I partly wanted this because I didn't have any other potential dates on the horizon. I texted her the next day to ask if she would like to go out again. She replied in the negative. To be honest I think she probably did the right thing!

If I were to run into Silent Night again I would say... well, who am I kidding, I probably wouldn't think of anything to say, or I'd convince myself that I might not have correctly recognised her anyway!

Friday, 23 July 2010

Busy Student

Many of my early online dating experiences had started out the same way - awkwardly. I was usually the one writing the first email, trying to find something to comment on in the woman's profile, and then if she wrote back we might have a few email exchanges and then perhaps progress to online chat, but throughout the whole interchange I was often struggling to come up with interesting material. I'd gotten as far as going on a couple of dates but those had been somewhat awkward at times too. The common factor in all of these instances was me - was I just not very interesting?

Happily, my next experience was a change from this cycle. I had started chatting with another woman and somehow it was very different. I seemed very different. Chatting with her just seemed to flow so easily. I think it partly came about through my being less cautious when we were first in contact - I made some bold and confident comments and jokes and she seemed to really enjoy that side of me. It was almost like I was a different person when chatting with her - not that I was being dishonest in any way, but somehow was managing to display a different aspect of myself.

I hoped that our enjoyable online chatting would translate into an enjoyable meeting in the real world, so I asked her out on a date. Her response was a disappointment for me - she was going to be busy with university work for the following four weeks. After this our online chat became less frequent. Was all of this her way of gently rejecting me? Is anyone really too busy to squeeze one date into a four week timeframe?

As the end of the four week period arrived I had hardly been hearing from her at all and was thinking that she was no longer interested, so it was a very pleasant surprise to receive a text message from her asking if I still wanted to meet up! Wow, maybe she was actually just being straight with me and she really had been too busy to meet up or even chat much. I guess I'd been too quick to assume otherwise!

We arranged to meet at a bar for drinks after work one day (by this time I was working during the day rather than on night shifts, which was a big help!) On arrival we recognised each other easily from the photos which we'd exchanged - always a relief! I bought drinks for us at the bar and we had a bit of an awkward silence while waiting. I was briefly concerned that this didn't bode well, but then we sat down with our drinks and didn't stop talking for over three hours! I was managing to be in that same mode as in online chatting with her - funny, confident, maybe talking about myself a bit too much - and she seemed to be enjoying this version of me.

At the end of the evening we said our goodbyes at the station, with talk of meeting up again, but our goodbye kiss was on the cheeks and felt awkward. On my way home I got to thinking that despite my witty banter I hadn't managed to be confident and initiative-taking in terms of physical contact - maybe she had expected me to take the lead there too and I didn't.

The next day I sent a text saying again that I'd enjoyed the evening with her. She texted back but didn't mention the evening at all. Bad sign. She mentioned that she would be studying that day so I asked if I could distract her with some emails. She said yes and added "You can tell me what you thought of me!" I took this to be a better sign, so I did as she suggested. Unfortunately I think I might have come on too strong with it. Through the wonders of email accounts I still have that email eight years on - here's what I wrote:

"So... what did I think of you? Well, I thought you were pretty, fun, easy to talk with, inquisitive - but in a good way! The time flew by, I didn't realise we would stay until closing, but I was enjoying it more than enough to stay! And I'd like to see you again, which I think says a lot in itself!"

Again her response didn't mention any of this. After a few more emails I asked again about meeting up again and she wrote the two dreaded words: Just Friends. Ouch. I was left wondering whether I'd said or done things to put her off or whether there was actually nothing I could have done to change this outcome. I'll never know. We didn't meet up again - our emails and texts dwindled and then stopped.

If I were to meet this Busy Student again some day, I would say: Did I manage to put you off or was it just never meant to be? Either way, I hope that you went on to find the right guy for you.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Salsa Dancer

Back on the dating websites, I had been messaging and chatting with a young woman who had described herself in her profile as a waitress and a dancer. I must confess that I did briefly wonder if this combination was a euphemism for something akin to stripping, but it turned out that she was a student with a part-time job and a passion for salsa.

By this time I had learned a couple of things. The first thing: It seemed that some women preferred the man to ask them out on a date rather than vice versa. I'm pleased to report that this time I managed to ask her out before she asked me to ask her. We arranged to go to a salsa dancing night - it would be my first time and probably her thousandth, but I hoped that my positive give-anything-a-go attitude would make up for my likely lack of ability.

The second thing I had learned: before meeting up with someone from the internet, it is actually quite useful to have seen a photo! I had managed to use a scanner in a local library to scan a photo of myself to email upon request. She requested, so I emailed. We were chatting online again and she made agreeable comments about my photo and then emailed me a photo of her. It was a nice photo. Unfortunately, my computer picked that particular moment to crash as spectacularly as it could manage. It took me half an hour to coax it into logging back onto the site and by then she was long gone.

I was worried about how this might have come across to her. It must have looked as if I'd abruptly left the chat without comment as soon as I'd seen her photo. Not a reaction which anyone would hope for! So I sent her an email apologising and explaining and complimenting. I think she was touched by the email - I got the chance to show that I cared about her feelings. Perhaps my computer did me a favour in a strange way! Our chatting continued - she was really fun to spend time with online and I hoped that the same would be true offline.

The night of the salsa date arrived. Walking through a dark alley towards the bar I spotted her coming towards me and maintained eye contact as we neared each other. As we met I smiled and was just about to say hello when I suddenly realised: That's not her! Keep walking, just keep walking. I might have really scared that poor girl, eyeballing her down a dark alley. Sorry!

Once in the bar I managed to find my real Salsa Dancer date. She was somewhat quiet and shy in person (and so was I, which can make for a tricky combination) but once the salsa dancing started she was transformed into a confident, lithe, sensual woman. Wow, it's true what they say: confidence is attractive. If only I could keep up! I couldn't, of course. I had the co-ordination but not the grace - the structure but not the form. I think I managed not to step on her feet at least, but I did feel like I was holding her back. Still, I think she appreciated my effort, and on parting we talked about doing it again.

The next day we talked on the phone and she admitted something to me: she hadn't quite entered her correct age on her profile. Her profile had said 18 (I was 22) but she told me that she was actually 17 and still had over a year of high school ahead of her. She could tell that I was initially thrown by this and our phone conversation ended soon after.

I wasn't sure what to do next. I went back and forth with it in my head. I was really enjoying getting to know her. But 17 was too young - wasn't it? But it was only one year younger than I'd previously thought. But couldn't she have been more upfront about it? But the site had an 18+ rule so she couldn't have come clean on her profile. But she could have told me in one of our chats...

I saw her in the online chat section of the website a few hours later. By then I was 90 per cent sure that 17 was too young (but 10 per cent hoping that it somehow wasn't.) I wasn't sure how to break it to her, but she saved me the discomfort by bringing up our age difference first and talking as if we were just friends now. So I went with that.

We had some more fun chats and I even went to the salsa night with her again the following week. Our contact lessened over the following weeks. She invited me to salsa again but I was busy. She made a point of telling me when she turned 18 and I did actually think "Should I ask her out again now?" but then she didn't reply to a text of mine and I took that as a sign to let her slip away.

If I were to cross paths with Salsa Dancer again, I would say: I hope I didn't seem like too much of a jerk by pulling away when you made a difficult admission to me. I hope you went on to meet a great guy with dance moves I could only dream of!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Sexy Eyes

When I joined the dating website I told myself that, of course, this didn't mean that I would completely neglect the possibility of finding romance offline. I didn't intend to put all of my eggs in one basket (read: let myself not bother making any effort to meet women in any other way.) However, that is kind of what happened. At the time I was temporarily working as a croupier in a casino for a few weeks while waiting for my "proper graduate job" to start. This temporary job involved night shifts, mostly at weekends, which put me somewhat out of sync with most of the people in my city. I was also short on money. I wasn't really going out or meeting people or being very sociable.

Well, I was meeting one group of people: the other croupiers working at the casino. Some of whom were women. One of whom I've never forgotten since.

As croupiers we each ran a gaming table - roulette, blackjack, poker... surrounded by eager (or pessimistic but compulsive) gamblers but not interacting with other staff members. We would only meet our colleagues during our occasional 15-minute breaks. Therefore it took some time to meet other staff as a new employee, but I think it was on my second or third night that I met her. I was trying to be the most outgoing version of myself, introducing myself to new people and making new acquaintances. As she turned to respond to my greeting, our eyes met.

Oh My God. She had the most amazingly captivating eyes I had ever seen. I can't even recall what words I said next but I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't make much sense. I remember thinking to myself: "This woman's eyes are too beautiful for me to look into and think straight at the same time." But then thinking straight was over-rated compared with looking into her eyes and feeling my brain turn to mush.

For the rest of that night I made an effort to chat with her as much as possible whenever our 15-minute breaks happened to coincide. I thought we were getting on well so I was disappointed when fate dictated that she be away on holiday shortly after that, for a period of time which would take out half of my sentence in this stop-gap job.

When she returned from holiday I wasn't sure whether she would remember the new staff member she'd briefly met, but to my delight I received a "Hello" and a warm smile and another devastating flicker of electrifying eye contact. Our chatting continued when our breaks allowed - I worked out that I only had about a one-in-four chance of our breaks overlapping but luck seemed to be with me more times than not.

My time at the casino was fast coming to an end and I resolved to ask her out on a date during my last night working there. She was working that night too - I'd checked the rotas beforehand - but suddenly I wasn't getting the luck with our break schedules. The night wore on and I waited for my chance. We got a simultaneous break but she was busy chatting with other people and frustratingly I was lacking the courage to interrupt and try to grab a moment alone with her.

As the break ended people started filing out of the staff room, with her at the back of the group. I had a split-second opportunity to speak to her alone before she went out onto the casino floor. Say something, brain. Say "Can I speak with you a sec?" Say "Will you go out with me?" Say "It's not all work, work, work!" Say "Wait..." Just say something...

I bottled it. I saw my chance hovering in front of me requiring an instant reaction and I let it slip away.

In that last stint working on a gaming table I'm disappointed to say that I tried to talk myself out of the notion that asking her out had been a good plan. I still didn't know her all that well. I couldn't tell whether she was interested in me. Soon I would be working during weekday office hours and she'd presumably still be working weekend nights. None of these were good arguments against asking for a date, but I was trying to make myself feel better about the decision that my reluctant and shy side had taken in blatant disregard of the plan drawn up by my adventurous and enterprising side.

I walked away from the casino that night free from night shifts and the resulting alienation from the majority of the population, but with a heavy heart. I kept thinking about the biggest regrets being the things that one didn't do. As a former staff member I was banned from entering the casino as a customer. I didn't have any contact details for her. Possibly I could have tried phoning the casino to ask to speak with her, or even waiting outside before the start of the night shift to try to talk with her when she arrived for work, but I hadn't got to know her all that well and I didn't want to seem like a stalker. I didn't come up with a way to create a second chance to be brave, and as a result I never saw her again.

If I were to see Sexy Eyes again one day, I would say: I do still regret not asking you out, whatever your answer might have been. I'm not sure whether I can truthfully say "You have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen" to anyone else since I met you. I hope that your dream which you shared with me on one of our 2am breaks has come true for you.

Learning Experience

I wasn't fully sure what to expect when joining a dating website. I knew that I would need to write a description of myself, and then I would go and read other people's descriptions of themselves, and then I would write to them or they would write to me... but how many people should I write to? How many would write to me? And how exactly would we progress to the point of interacting in the real world? I had a lot to learn.

So I joined and wrote my profile. Hi, my name is Matt, I look like blah-blah-blah (I didn't own anything capable of producing a digital photo - this was eight years ago and I wasn't yet in the minority in this regard), I'm a nice guy, I like seeing friends and travelling and nights in and going out and the same things as everyone else, get in touch if you'd like to hear more.

I posted my profile, then searched for women in my area around my age, read some profiles and wrote brief (but non-cut-and-pasted) messages to three of them. Was this enough effort for one day? After a few hours offline I logged back in and discovered that one of the three women had replied. And what a reply! A much longer message than mine had been, something about my sounding "sweet and special" and she even included her mobile number at the end!

At this point I came to the conclusion that online dating was pretty awesome. I had no way of knowing that this reply would turn out to be the most keen and forward first message I would ever receive in two years of on-and-off dating website use. On that day, my first day, it was my only frame of reference. Joining this site was the best idea ever!

Unfortunately I had no idea what to do next. I had a vague idea that I didn't want to seem too forward myself, lest I scare off this exciting prospect somehow. My mind didn't manage to connect the dots of she-gave-you-her-number-so-she-probably-wants-you-to-use-it... so I didn't. The next few moves were all made by her:

She invited me to the online chat facility on the site (I seem to remember my chatting being pretty safe and unexciting);

She initiated texting between us;

She suggested I phone her (so I did, but again I didn't come up with a huge amount to actually say);

Eventually (after nearly three weeks!) she suggested that I ask her out on a date. So I did. She replied "thought you would never ask... I would love to." Finally I started to see the clues that I'd been proceeding far too slowly. Perhaps I was beginning to learn.

Another lesson was soon to follow. After we had established that we would be meeting up (but hadn't yet established when or where this might take place - one agonisingly slow step at a time Matt!) the amount of contact from her began to drop away. Now, this might reasonably have been attributed to my distinct lack of ability to show any kind of initiative, but it turned out that she was actually suffering from a medical condition common to a significant proportion of daters.

I believe the Latin term is Not-Really-Over-My-Ex-Itis.

She was suffering from a particularly acute form called "The thing is, my boyfriend, well actually my ex-boyfriend, we're still good friends which is really great and we talk all the time, but he told me the other day that he's just started going out with that girl who was always hanging around him, even though she's not good enough for him and he could do so much better and I don't know why he can't see that, but it's not like it bothers me or anything, but I'm much better-looking than her and more fun to be with but now he spends more time with her than with me, and I'm not sure when he's going to come to his senses and realise that he'd rather be with me, I mean spend time with me, and not her..." Uh-oh.

At this point I should have taken a giant step back. In fact I did manage to take a bit of a step back (I guess I find that easier than taking steps forward!) and started to talk more as if she and I were friends rather than prospective daters. But I still went ahead with the plan of meeting up. It took another three weeks for this to actually take place and by this time it was more apparent that she was really struggling to cope with the situation with her ex - so much so that when I met up with her she was accompanied by two friends who were concerned enough about her to insist on coming along to make sure she'd be OK. I hadn't been informed of this in advance so it was a bit of a surprise but probably was for the best.

Our "date" involved going to the cinema, which in retrospect didn't seem like a good choice, as it involved sitting for two hours next to someone with whom I didn't yet have a proper face-to-face connection - first dates benefit from the opportunity to talk with each other! Then we went to get a bit of food and a drink, which gave us the chance to talk, but to be honest this didn't help all that much - we weren't finding that connection. I had a very inappropriate feeling that I got on better with her friends than with her. Drinks finished, hugs goodbye, off on our separate ways.

Later that evening I sent a text saying that I'd had a nice time and that I was happy to be friends. Her text back indicated that she would have liked more than that, which worried me at first - was I now another guy painfully rejecting her? Luckily for my conscience, it soon became clear that rejection by me was far less of a blow than the ongoing rejection by her ex-boyfriend with whom she still seemed smitten despite (or perhaps even partly because of?) his continued preference for a different girl. After a couple of days she stopped replying to my friendly-but-only-friendly texts and I never heard from her again.

Around a year later I saw a new profile on that same dating site, clearly in her distinctive style. It said that she was now very happy with a great guy whom she'd been dating for several months, and was only on the site to meet new friends. I didn't write to her, but I was very pleased to read that uplifting update to her story.

If I were to bump into my early Learning Experience again one day, I would say: Thank you for helping me to learn some early lessons about online dating, and I'm sorry if I hurt you during my learning process, however briefly and unintentionally. I hope that the happiness which you subsequently found continues to this day.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Prologue

I was a slow starter when it came to all things dating. At school I was one of the boys who only really knew how to be "one of the boys" - I went to a mixed school but rarely did much mixing. Just about all of my friends were boys and I only remember one girl whom I sat next to for any length of time - more about her another time maybe.

University is where interaction with the opposite sex really comes to life for many people... apparently... but somehow I didn't manage to get my act together there either. At school I felt like i must have been absent on the day when they told everyone "now's the time to start dating rather than shunning those not of your gender" and at university I must have missed the flyers saying "alcohol-fuelled sex parties tonight at this address."

Actually I did have a bit of a plan during the latter stages of university, but unfortunately it went something like this:

1) Men and women often meet and get together at nightclubs and bars;
2) If I meet a woman in a nightclub I won't know much about her - and I can hardly hear a word anyone's saying anyway - so I'll mainly be going on physical appearance;
3) No woman wants to be somebody's second/third/twentieth choice;
4) Therefore I should work out who I think is the best-looking woman in the whole nightclub, then try to work up the courage to talk/dance with her;
5) That's funny... she already seems to have quite a lot of guys around her. Well, maybe if I just wait a while she'll be more available;
6) Wait - she's on her own for a second - but no, here comes someone else? Never mind - I should probably grab another drink first anyway;
7) Can it really be closing time already?

I think that my biggest mistake was not realising how quickly a night was turning into a week, a month, a year... Not seeing the bigger picture of my plan's repeated lack of results. I probably should have sought more advice but I was self-conscious - what guy wants to admit to being this clueless? So the time went by and nothing changed.

After university I spent more time reflecting and realised something significant about my "absent on the day when they told everyone to start dating" thought. I didn't work well with grey areas. Things like flirting, interpreting cross-room glances, reading body language... not my strong points. I was far more adept at activities with clearly stated procedures and rules. Nightclubs worked well for those with a gift for subtle interactions and picking up signals. I would have found it easier if I could just go up to a woman and say "Hi, I'm here trying to meet someone - how about you?" That's when I started to hear more about online dating. Here was a medium in which it was OK to be up-front about your intentions because everyone else was there for the same reason (or so I naively thought at the start!) Rather than having to pretend that you had just wanted to dance and drink and just happened to meet someone, you could say "Yes, actually, I am doing this primarily to meet someone." No subtle nuances, no games.

Of course, my idea of online dating was heavily over-simplified compared with the reality, as I would discover. Still, it did no harm at all to have that new outlet and a new (and less feeble) plan...

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Beginning

I think I've been intrigued by the idea of online dating ever since I first heard of it. Several years ago, back when it still seemed to be regarded as unusual, I joined a couple of online dating sites and went a variety of dates as a result. Not all of them were roaring success stories (there wouldn't be so much variety in that!) but I came away with fond memories of the overall experience.

As it turned out, I met and got to know a wonderful woman in the real world during the latter part of that time. I left the dating sites and embarked upon a relationship with her - a relationship which lasted many years but unfortunately did not stay wonderful forever after. With great pain and sadness the relationship came to an end earlier this year.

I know that I won't be ready for a new relationship any time soon, but I want to believe that it will happen again at some point in the future. I'm warming to the idea of trying online dating again as part of that future. It seems to have evolved a great deal in my absence too! No longer is it the domain of the furtive few - now it is very much in the mainstream.

Hence one of my recent pasttimes has been reading about today's world of online dating. Last month, while wandering the internet immersing myself in such material, I stumbled across a blog of one woman's adventures in that world. I found it to be fascinating reading - her witty and engaging writing brought her tales to life and I read post after post. Then I started to read other blogs linked to hers - what a great way to find out what it's really like out there in 2010! I feel slightly addicted at the moment but in an enjoyable way.

As I started to realise that these bloggers have a great sense of community and friendship between them, I warmed to the idea of being more involved than just reading anonymously - giving back some stories of my own. I started to consider writing my own blog. However, I knew that I wasn't ready to write about anything too current just yet. Then reading another blog gave me an idea - why not start off writing about the past and go from there? Thus I decided that I would write about my online adventures back in the olden days - a little piece of history from an earlier era. One day I hope to be out there again to experience first-hand how much things have changed!