The fleece Mark was wearing was something I would’ve bought from Camden Lock market when I was 12. Its garish yellow and blue flowers felt luminescent against the grey sky that was raining, hard and even the dogs wearing strange, green glow stick-like collars, looked normal in comparison.
I hated the fact I was so angry over the fleece. I think I was more angry that he had chosen it – a simple black jacket would’ve done the job. To make matters worse, he was carrying a white umbrella with Hello Kitty all over the top and I would’ve rather us both get wet than him put it up.
You see, ever since Mark and I matched on Hinge, I had been fantasising over him. Coming from someone who couldn’t even get a flutter watching Gordon Ramsay baste a steak, this was huge!!! I liked him not just because of his crooked nose and shoulder length brown hair, but also because he had gone to my school, and I’d always had a crush on him. I maybe spoke to him three times during those three years – he ran with a more nerdy set than me who made me feel stupid if I’d talk to them. It felt like a full circle; fate, and frankly I was sick to death of the “stranger danger” that comes with chatting up random dudes on the app. After months of a frustrating lull, talking with Mark felt like a sexual charge had zapped through me and … and there he was, in person, standing next to me in that fleece and umbrella and as the rain poured down harder, I decided that some things should just remain a fantasy.
Of course, I didn’t just up and leave. I’m not a complete bitch, and anyway he launched straight away into a story about him going to a squat rave.
“No, not a cool one, but one full of tech nerds.”
His laugh was goofy and I laughed along and tried to add in my two cents but he was determined to finish the story, not in an arrogant way, but as if it was a compulsion to finish his thoughts completely. My mind wandered off, which is never a good sign and I tried to look for a free bench, couldn’t and then he stopped talking. He stopped and it was silent. Shit. I didn’t remember what he had last said…squat rave, tech…a DJ set? I replied saying that I once went to a party where they send the address 24 hours before. Christ, hearing myself saying it felt pathetic and I don’t know why I said it, it was kind of like a sigh but with words.
“Um, no, I mean I don’t think that’s cool I just, no I’ve never been to a squat rave.”
And he said, “No, it’s ok, I get it” and it was so sincere I knew that I could say anything I wanted and not feel judged.
The whole point of the park was that we were going to have a picnic, well one with just coffee but you get the point. Once we found a bench he took out a coffee flask and a packet of biscuits and I laid out the blanket I had bought with me. He then said “One more thing” and handed me a can of gold spray paint. “Here, have it, I know you mentioned you needed some.” And I think it was the nicest thing a boy had done for me and I wanted to take back everything I’d thought about the fleece. I can be so cruel sometimes. We sat drinking the instant coffee and ginger biscuits and he started on about race cars, and I nodded along to it which he seized onto and said “You want to hear more?”
From there he was on about football, and how different teams use different methods and I wondered if my dad would make enough spaghetti meatballs for me tonight. I was hungry and wet and despite the weeks of hoping Mark would be a match, he wasn’t. Fireworks started up above us and from a drone or something this would’ve looked picture perfect but all I could think is meatballs and cheese, meatballs and cheese!!
Via text Mark had playfully accused me of not letting him in, but he hadn’t asked me a single damn thing on the bench. Groundhog Day for dates in my life (hold the violins). Finally, the topic changed to music, (at last, something I care about) and specifically, lyrics that move us. I said one of my favourites is “You don’t have to say a thing, you’re the song without the sing” and it was weird sharing that with someone I didn’t fancy. It also felt like I was straight off a moment from a film that would be a gif doing the rounds on Tumblr. Have it! He admitted my lyric was nice and then said his was from a song by The Beatles. Before I could ask which one, he got out his phone, and started scrolling and I saw he was looking at lyrics and then, he started to sing Hey Jude.
I froze and held my breath a little. He wasn’t a great singer; a little shaky, but the fact he had the balls to go for it gave me no choice but to rate it. That was the thing with Mark, a blend of nerves and confidence that amounted to a cluster fuck for the person on the receiving end. I liked imperfect singing voices…Over the years I’ve developed disdain for people who sing so seriously during karaoke or when a song comes on the radio. No need to show off! Go enter bloody X-Factor or something!
It wasn’t so much the singing that was painful, it was knowing I’d have to let someone down who sings on a date. Strange how emotions can be so conflicted, isn’t it? Anyway, we got up and headed to, well, out the park, passing a few more of the glow stick dogs and it dawned on me Mark had no intention of stopping the date. We were walking down a hill, passing my high school (bad memories) and I couldn’t even tell him it was my school because he was in full swing, talking about a trip he took to Russia. By this point my brain was so fixated on the meatballs and turning my head to face him felt like too much effort so I just walked with eyes to the pavement. I probably looked slightly crazed. The crux of his story was outrageous, interesting, but should have been condensed from half an hour to ten minutes. I got chapter and verse on the quality of chicken soup he ate and the train he took and when he couldn’t tell if I was still engaged, he would just laugh a bit, looking at me, as if to conjure up more momentum.
Hell, he clearly needed to vent and I was willing to listen, but without bells and whistles. I was fucking fed up of smiles and nods that never amounted to anything, apart from a sore jaw and neck!
When we got down the hill and near to the high street with the station, I assumed this was goodbye. As we got closer to the station I pointed at it “There’s the station then” and he said “Oh, nice”, like I was marveling at its architecture and not prompting him to leave!! At that point I practically felt I was being followed and decided to walk to my bus stop and part ways there. He sat down with me on the thin joke of a red seat the bus stop offers and a nasty yellow light was streaming through by a nearby streetlight. I could see his blackheads and I shuddered to think what I must look like – and then he gave me “the look.” The look that suggests someone is about to kiss you and my heart started racing and I think it was more fear than anticipation. I just wanted to get my bus and into dry clothes and eat dinner. The bus arrived and I hugged him, smelling the faint scent of aftershave and I felt a bit bad as I watched him stand at the bus stop in his fleece.
Unlike most of my dates, I got a curtesy text when I got home to say that Mark had had a good time. I, with meatballs in mouth, was on the blower to several friends, hashing out the date, asking them if it was worth another go. “I just don’t know how I feel”, I kept saying to them. That’s the thing with online dating, you invest so much energy painting a picture of the person, and then it always feels like a bit of a let down once you’ve met. My friends, being the optimists that they are, reminded me that “Some things take time” and he “was a refreshing change from the fuck boys I usually dated.” This was definitely true. So, I decided to continue texting him. He was keen to meet up again pronto, and I postponed things, which he was hurt by but understanding, which again made me think he was a nice guy. To ease my mounting dread to meet up again, I suggested we watch a movie virtually. I hate talking on the phone, especially FaceTime, but maybe because I didn’t care so much, it was fun! We ditched the movie and ended up talking for FOUR hours! Can you believe it? I got up “36 questions to fall in love” which we asked each other. I can’t say that I fell in love, but to me asking someone how they think they’ll die or what their childhood was like is far more interesting than what they ate for lunch. This new model that Mark provided was strengthened by this phone call. I could have never imagined talking to someone so comfortably, like it was my best friend. As good as this was, it confused me more about how I felt toward him. One thing I was sure of, I was going to meet him for a real life date.
It was another rainy night when I met Mark along Southbank for our second date. I was wearing red velvet flared trousers that were wet with rain at the bottom and leaves were clinging on, so I looked like a walking rake. I saw him approaching and took a sweet sigh of relief seeing him without the fleece. That evening he was in a light blue pilot-type bomber jacket with his long hair tied up and cropped grey track pants and timberland boots. The outfit was a strange mishmash, but not offensive and allowed me to focus more on his face, which looked very elegant.
We sat outside on stools and annoyingly had to download an app to order and pay for our drinks. After the coffee and gold spray paint I was expecting the chivalry to continue, but he didn’t even offer to order my red wine! This was supposed to be a new type of guy, and sitting on my stool I felt that same sense of crippling disappointment I always did. His strong suit seemed to be his thoughtfulness so I felt like 80% of why I liked him had just been thrown in the bin. As a passive “fuck you” I excused myself to the toilet in a strop and listened to a bit of music in the cubicle to calm me down. When I got back out into the cold and on my stool, I asked about his day, he asked about mine, and then it dawned on me that I had nothing else to say. How was I going to make this date stretch out for at least an hour? So naturally I started on about how Series of Unfortunate Events was the best film ever made, and then he started explaining jokes from Anime shows and books that I didn’t get and that weren’t funny to me. He was so effusive about these jokes that I desperately wished I was better suited, for both his sake and mine. It was the same feel of the squat rave story, that without reading the room, he had to finish these jokes as a matter of course.
I told him about a girl who was three years younger than me had asked if I was a virgin. It was meant as a joke, but he didn’t laugh and he looked wooden.
“Well, so what?”
“Well, she’s supposed to think I’m cool and had the cheek to ask if I was a virgin!”
“Yeah but she was probably saying it genuinely, because she is one herself.”
The way he said it sounded accusatory, like I was a horrible person when all I meant was to make a light-hearted joke. One of the worst things someone can do to me is make me feel like I’m a bad person, so this was a red rag to a bull. The worst thing of all was I thought he had a point.
It seemed to be an ongoing theme that like a stroppy five year old, on our dates all I could think about was how cold and hungry I was. I always sucked it up in the past; the date was engaging enough that the hunger only hit me on the Uber home when I’d order McDonald’s. Since we had already paid for two drinks via the app, there wasn’t the finality of “settling the bill”, so I drew things to a close.
“It’s weird that we’re on a date because we’re so different. I don’t get any of your references.” This was bold for me, and was another moment where I think therapy had helped me with communication.
“Yeah but I don’t need to understand all of you.”
I let out a long “Hmmmm” which really meant “I at least need 30% common ground to work with buddy.”
And with that we got up off our stools and braced the heavy rain along the south bank. I felt slightly drunk after standing up so was stumbling a bit which made me feel dumb. He gave me the look again; and this time he went for it and it only confirmed what I had thought. Not a match. His teeth clinked against mine like they were trying to start a band and there was no rhythm and when he said “you’re so hot” I felt like puking in his mouth. A la the first date, this could have been romantic, some Spider Man type shit, kissing in the rain with the Big Ben in the background, but my trousers were now carrying Christ knows what on their flares and I started to question whether I had just forgotten to kiss! Maybe it wasn’t him.
How do you determine who’s the good kisser? Must make sure I Google this later!
He held my hand and said he wanted to show me a building and I put my foot down and said I needed to go. Know when to call it quits my man – it was chucking it down! On the tube home I wondered whether in life it was always you have the bad boy who’s hot, or the nice guy who can’t kiss. I didn’t know whether I’d ever find the sweet spot in between. It’s a weird feeling when you know someone thinks something is just the beginning, but for you the end. It sounds dramatic but I had never been the one to sack the guy off – it was always the other way round.
For the next few weeks Mark bombarded me with texts, nice ones that remembered the specifics of my life, but I couldn’t handle it and told him I was going on a “digital detox”. I knew he was in the bin but I couldn’t shake the feeling I was throwing away this new; kinder model of a man too hastily. Friends tried to help but made me more conflicted, “Anna, my friend didn’t even like her boyfriend at first”, “Chemistry takes time”, “You can teach them how to kiss”. Damn it!! Shouldn’t you know when you know? But then again, sometimes instant chemistry burns faster then it starts.
To be ghosted is a nasty thing. For the “ghostee”, it’s the easy option – no confrontation as to why they’re no longer interested, just a casual “I don’t like you anymore and have zero respect for you.” I’d be lying if I said I was tempted to let things just “fizzle” but I’m not that callous so I formulated a text. It was vague but somewhat true, saying that I wasn’t in the right headspace at the moment for anything. Maybe that was worse than ghosting because then he’d think there was still a chance. Who knows. Mark handled it well and never spoke to me again after his reply of “ok, I understand! Hope writing your book goes well!”
Mark’s gold spray paint still sits on the table by my front door. Maybe it’s there because I’m determined to use it, or maybe it symbolises someone who thought to bring it to a park for me. Perhaps both. I’m still not sure how these things work, and if a cool guy who’s nice really exists, but after Mark, I know how it feels to be respected, and that’s better then any date I’ve ever been on. You may have expected a disturbing twist or an unfortunate ending here, but I must say, it feels good to flip the script.