In a Nutshell

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CC Image courtesy of Jim Surkamp on FlickrTuesday night. Emerging from the tube, I pull out my phone. A new message from a new match. I tap the icon and read:

Good day. Good day?

It takes me a moment to process and another moment to laugh. This is already the most promising Tinder interaction of 2016.

 

As the conversation goes on I realise something incredible: that here is a man who writes longer messages than I do. I’m half-tempted to send Adrien screenshots for all the stick he gives me at work for being verbose. Sam too for that matter: he once told me he only reads the ends of my texts.

 

Saturday, my new correspondent sends through his standard essay. Halfway down:

I’m not so familiar with Tinder etiquette and I’m not sure if we are supposed to exchange X number of messages or words or inches of text first…

If we are, then I think it’s safe to say the threshold has been crossed.

… but I find it very interesting and pleasant talking to you and I have an inkling that we would enjoy chatting in person…’

He asked me out. In a nutshell.

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CC Image courtesy of viktoriawigenstam on FlickrHe walks away.

‘I used to have a massive crush on him,’ I say to the girl opposite, ‘and then the other day… we matched on Tinder!’

She does fish out of water and points in his direction. ‘Go – go after him!’

I shake my head, smiling, feeling our three-year age gap more than ever. ‘No.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because….’ I shrug. ‘We’ve got nothing in common. It wouldn’t work.’

‘Do you still find him attractive?’

‘Yes.’

Hell yes.

‘Then… look,’ she says, ‘I’m going out with Sam and we’ve got nothing in common. He’s maths, I’m arts, but it works.’

‘Yeah but – you have got things in common. Friends and… you both reel. Whereas, well, when I spoke to that guy just now – we’d run out of things to say!’

‘Maybe he’s shy.’

‘Yeah… yeah, he probably is.’

 

Four years ago I quit my job in the arts and took an administrative role in a start-up. Its offices backed onto a wine bar and when important clients visited, it fell to me to reserve a table there. I would walk the 30 yards or so along the pavement, my hopes rising with every step. Sometimes I’d be wearing my red dress, just long enough to be office-appropriate, and if he was there I’d smile and turn the same colour as it. I confided in a colleague who, like me, couldn’t understand what it was about him. All I knew was that he passed the acid test.

One day, after a bit of flirty emailing, I went round to the bar. He was there and we talked our usual nonsense for a bit. Just as I was about to leave I suggested we go for a drink sometime. He looked a bit awkward. ‘Sure,’ he said. Which I interpreted as enthusiasm.

Fast forward a week and I’m back at the bar. I have a plan. The plan is to give him my number, which I’ve scribbled on a scrap of paper. The plan is to give it to him quickly, casual-like, as if I was passing and it had just occurred to me to do it. The plan is not to chat for a bit, repeat the suggestion of going for a drink then practically put the bit of paper into his hand. That was a red dress day.

Shortly after that I found out he had a girlfriend. Which solved the mystery of what it was that I liked about him.

*

I meet his eye, smile. He smiles back. He’s on his way out – that’s clear from the coat – but we exchange pleasantries and I introduce him to the girl opposite. His friends appear; they’re ready to leave. We kiss on the cheeks.

‘You should come down to the bar more often,’ he says.

Again he kisses me, and walks away.

 

Two days later…

I bring up his profile. Everything about it is wrong: the clichéd phrases, the dodgy grammar, the selfie. I hit the message tab and start writing.

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CC Image courtesy of nic snell on FlickrWhen you’ve been single for as long as I have, the idea of walking into a room full of friends and acquaintances hand-in-hand with a guy, of kissing someone in front of them – it all feels like a big deal.  It’s as if, with that interlacing of fingers, that meeting of lips, you’re taking yourself off some kind of shelf, ruling out a whole host of other options.

Tuesday is a case in point.  I’m hovering at the bar, awaiting a glass of white.  Stephen arrives first.

‘I’m not getting you a drink!’ I say, with a laugh.

It’s a long story.

He looks mock-offended.  ‘I was going to ask if I could get you one.’

‘Oh!  Thanks, but not to worry – I’ve got one coming.’

There’s a bit of small talk, then he says,

‘So, what about you and boys? Anything going on?’

‘Errrr… umm…’

Experience tells me guys like Stephen don’t ask this question out of polite curiosity, which is confusing.  I’ve known him for getting on for a year.  We met at a dance and continued to see each other quite often, usually fleetingly, whilst moving at speed to music.  Recently I’d found myself seated next to him at a dinner party and had a ball.  Then, at an actual ball, I discovered his fun side and together we danced the night away.  But not once in that time has he shown any interest in me other than as a dance partner, so this is disconcerting.

But even more disconcerting, and the real reason I’m now doing fish out of water – where is my wine?! I need something to do whilst I figure out what to say! – is that, for the first time in a long time, there isn’t a straightforward answer to this question.  If I didn’t fancy Stephen, I would just say ‘yes’, think of FFS, smile goofily, and go on my way.  But I don’t do this.

‘…errr…’ I scratch my head. ‘Umm…’

Time for the good old-fashioned turnaround.

‘… I don’t know.  What about you?’

He too ums and ahs for a moment before concluding, ‘It’s complicated, and no.’

‘Yeah, same, sort of, no, I don’t know.  I don’t know!’

Articulate or what?  Evidently I don’t want to rule out an option, not until I know what the deal is.

‘I’m sorry, is this a difficult question?  Would you rather I asked you about books?  Have you read anything good recently?’

No, I wouldn’t rather he asked about books, because books make me think of FFS which in turn makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.

He looks past me to the sofas.  ‘Would you like to sit down?’

That’s an easy one.  ‘Yes!’

So we do.  Now he begins in earnest, with the body language and the subtle flirting and the compliments etc.  More disconcerting by the minute.  And it doesn’t help that Sam, Rachel, Freddie… oh loads of people I know have a ringside seat.

*

‘Shall we get the tube?’

What’s strangest about the way events are unfolding is that this is exactly how I’d like things to have played out with so many people in the past, but now that it’s happening with Stephen….

 

The next train isn’t due for five minutes.

‘What’s the most fun thing you can think of doing for five minutes?’

I’d say that, had this line come from FFS or Matthew or Tristan, I would have loved it; but that’s not true – or rather, it’s not their style.

‘Dancing!’ I say, feeling a bit sorry for the guy.  I’m not making it easy for him, but then I don’t think I want to.

He takes me into hold.  The train comes; we board.  I don’t know if you’ve ever tried waltzing on the Circle line but that evening, for the first time, I did.  It should have felt like all my Christmases had come at once but something about it doesn’t feel right.  I’m not relaxed, I’m definitely not drunk enough, and when he suggests going for a drink sometime, I’m faking it, kind of.

‘Yes!’

Because I’m too much of a coward to say what I feel.

 

We’re approaching his stop.

‘So, how about that drink?’

‘Yes,’ I say again, though with less conviction than before.

The train pulls into the platform; the doors open.

‘This is you, right?’ I say.

‘Yes.’

‘Well, goodnight.’  I lean in to kiss him on the cheek.

‘You’re not coming for that drink?’

It’s gone midnight on a weekday, so no, Cinderella is not ‘coming for that drink’.

I glance at my watch. ‘I have to go home.’

We say goodnight in the doorway, then he’s off.  I settle back into a seat, thinking and probably saying aloud, ‘WTF?!’.  Part of me wonders what FFS would say if I told him about the events of the evening.  I can’t know for sure, but it would almost certainly make me laugh.

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CC Image courtesy of thephotographymuse on Flickr‘But I don’t care, I really don’t care!’

Sam raises an eyebrow.

I laugh.  ‘OK, I get it!  It’s not convincing!  But I really don’t–.’

I fall silent.

‘Even if he was hoping for something that night,’ Sam says, ‘that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not interested in something more long-term.’

‘No, that’s true.  But, still, it didn’t feel great, as in, it felt like that was all he was interested in, and because I haven’t heard from him since… that kinda suggests–.’

I break off.  Three people have just come in: Pleasant And Stilted, his girlfriend, and the hostess who hasn’t heard of carrier pigeons.  It’s like a reunion of sorts, with one member noticeably absent.

***

Everyone’s pairing off for the last dance of the night.  I turn to Sam, who’s beside me, and has been for much of the evening.

‘Would you like to?’

‘I was going to suggest it, only,’ he nods discreetly in the direction of the only other man without a partner, ‘I always feel the paying punters should get a dance…’

He’s a saint, this guy.  I pull a face. ‘What if I’d rather dance with you?!’  A thought occurs to me.  ‘Does it make a difference if I’ve been dumped?!’

He laughs.  ‘Yes.’  And leads me to the floor.

I haven’t danced with Sam in months; I’d forgotten just how good he is.  How he places you like a china vase, spins you like a top, makes you feel like the only girl in the room – the world!

Walking off the floor, I put my arm around him, rest my head against his shoulder.

‘Thank you Sam, I so needed that dance.’  I give his arm a squeeze.  ‘Best one of the evening – thank you – and not just because…’

He smiles.  ‘My pleasure.’

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Sally steers me in the direction of a guy who looks vaguely like the hot one from One Direction.  His head is a mass of curls – what is it with me and big hair?! – and I like his style on the dance floor.  I resist her pull.

‘Errr… I’m not sure.’

She wants to play wing woman.  I can only see this ending badly.  Sally is blonde, bubbly, incredibly sweet – all the things I’m not, and all the things I imagine the One Direction lookalike, and any straight-thinking male for that matter, would go for.

‘It’ll be fine!’ she says.  ‘I’m good at this!’

*

An hour later, I’m walking to the bus stop flanked by Freddie and Sam.

‘Olly was nice,’ Freddie says.

‘Yes.  I think he liked Sally.’

‘Oh.’

Silence.

‘Yeah,’ I go on, ‘she’s a very charming wing woman – rather too charming I think!’  I laugh, but I don’t feel very happy.  ‘It’s hardly surprising.  She’s very attractive.  If I was a guy, I’d probably fancy her.’

Again, silence.

‘I think,’ Freddie says, looking over at Sam, ‘what she wants us to say is that she’s more attractive than Sally.’

I laugh.  ‘No.’

Well, yes, but only if it’s true.  What I actually want right now is for it to be true, or for the last hour to not have happened.  I’m mature like that.

Sam mumbles for a bit in a Hugh Grant-esque kind of a way, before concluding, ‘What I’m trying to say, is that, where Sally’s concerned, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.’

I frown.  ‘Hmm I think you’re biased.’

Clearly he can’t win.

‘He probably thinks you’re too good for him!’ Freddie says.

Sam looks impressed.  ‘That’s very good.  I wish I’d thought of that!’

We laugh.

‘You’re funny,’ I say, ‘but I don’t think people think like that.  I mean, I don’t believe that would stop a guy from trying it on.  It might stop him from succeeding, but not trying.’

We walk on in silence.  At the fork in the path, we say goodnight.  Sam strides off to the right, whilst Freddie and I cross the park.  In the distance I fancy I can hear Sally’s tinkling laugh.

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