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Ready, aim, fire.

Friday night, despite suffering from a monstrous hangover from the night before, I went to a cheesy bar in Shoreditch with my flatmate, her eighteen year old sister and sister’s two friends.

Aforementioned sister and company had pulled out the full arsenal (heels, dresses, mobiles tucked in cleavage) and looked amazing. I, on the other hand, pulled on a striped dress and some leggings and managed to remain in my heels for a whopping 45 minutes before changing into the grungy flats tucked in my bag. They were hounded all night – every time I looked over at them a different man was lurking nearby or chatting one of them up. At one point (and this is a first for me) a guy made polite conversation with me for three minutes before asking for an introduction to one of them.

The only person who did approach me during the night was a large, stern-looking man who grabbed my hand in a vice-like grip and pulled me off the dance floor, explaining as he went that his boyfriend of five years had always wanted to sleep with a gorgeous woman but was too shy to approach me. Admittedly, the boyfriend was pretty hot, but I really didn’t want to get between the two of them (both metaphorically and physically speaking). I won’t even begin to go into the fact that the vibe I apparently give out is “willing guinea pig for gay men looking to experiment with their sexuality” as it’s too worrying to think about.

The whole incident was quickly forgotten when the DJ started playing early ‘90s hip hop and I happily spent the rest of the night busting out my best suburban American dance moves and asking my flatmate to hold my bag while I did the running man to Kris Kross (and yes, it did occur to me that I was probably the only person in the bar that remembered Kris Kross the first time around).

Anyway, while I was out for a run the next morning my flatmate was chatting with sister and company about the night before. The conversation turned to me.

“Does she always get that much attention from men?” one of them allegedly asked.

“All the guys were checking her out,” said another.

First of all, I will say that they could have been being polite (in which case, bless them) or they could have misinterpreted the looks of abject horror I’m sure my dance moves were attracting for admiration. But if what they said was true, when did I stop noticing men noticing me?

I remember when I was their age and my college roommate and I used to go out in Boston with our fake IDs. The two of us were an extremely dangerous combination. We would knock back a whole bunch of vodka shots before doing laps around the bar (making exaggerated eye contact with every remotely attractive male in the place as we went) and then climbing on to the nearest elevated platform and doing our best Girls Gone Wild impersonations. It was like we were playing one big game of Battleships with our sexuality, deploying it in a freewheeling, scattershot manner with the hope of sinking a couple of tankers along the way. At the end of the night, we’d go home and compare notes on who kissed the most guys, who had been bought the most drinks, who had been given the most phone numbers. The men themselves were inconsequential; it was all about the divide and conquer.

I guess as you get older you become more discriminating about where you point the big guns (or perhaps just nervous about whether or not they’re still loaded). But watching the girls in all their youth and splendor made me realize that I’ve been sat camouflaged in a sand bunker recently. That is thoroughly against the ideals of the book, which encourages the reader to mow down everyone in her path: “The eagerness for conquest does not die because you achieve a victory. You may cherish the booty you have won, but you still turn in search of new triumphs.”

As a result, I’ve decided to bust out the arsenal this week. I’m going to flirt with EVERYONE. I’m going to make eyes at strangers on the tube. I’m going to wheedle free drinks out of bartenders. I’m going to smile at fellow runners as I run past. I’ll either emerge with a couple of pelts under my belt or I’ll be taken away in a straight jacket.

Oh! And Triathlete texted last night asking if he could take me for a drink soon – the standoff is over and I have, for once, emerged victorious with prestige intact. So I guess I’m giving him another shot – I’m willing to overlook his use of emoticons and his recent jackassery solely because he is so good looking. If worse comes to worse, I can stick in some ear plugs and just stare at him.

Don’t ever say that women aren’t as shallow as men.

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Ask much…

First things first: I received a text message last night from the Photographer saying he’d had a good time (!) and asking if I wanted to go out again (!?!) How is this possible? I’m flummoxed but fascinated… though not enough to agree to another date.

So. Last weekend I had coffee in the park with B. It was a gorgeous sunny day in London, I was only mildly hungover from my birthday the night before and I was actually sat in the same place at the same time as B. In short: a miracle.

Since B is now on the Island, I filled him in on the project. He listened to me ramble on about it, laughing and nodding his head as I went. And then he asked a very good question:

“So. Why are you doing it? It’s to meet someone, right? Surely that’s why.”

“No!” I cried, “That’s not the point at all. Please, it’s me! You know I don’t want a relationship.”

And it’s true – the point isn’t to meet someone. I’m not in this looking for everlasting love and a happily ever after. In fact, if a relationship came knocking on my door tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I’d turn off the lights and pretend I wasn’t home.

“Okay… so what is the point? Why pretend to be someone you’re not?”

I didn’t have much of an answer at the time (well, I did, but they were mainly blustering and defensive) but I’ve been thinking about it a lot since and here, in no particular order, are my conclusions.

I suppose in a way I think we’re all pretending. We’re all flailing around in a great big sea of singleness, trying on different people for size, showcasing different aspects of our personalities for different people, hoping that something might fit comfortably. In the past, I’ve been the siren, the shrew, the 1950s housewife, the maneater, the girl next door, the eccentric… each incarnation a reflection of a part of myself (but never the whole).

Just think of those lists in teen magazines of “Top Ten Ways to Make Him Notice You!” – wear more makeup, wear less makeup, pretend to love the things he loves, have your own interests, flirt, don’t flirt too much… with number ten always being “just be yourself!” And that’s just it – we’re told that people should love us for who we are (but in order to gain that love we should mold ourselves as into some sort of oblique ideal). I’d like to find out if that ideal is, in fact, what men want.

I’m also doing it because I’m incapable of asking anything of any man (in part because I don’t want to feel obligated to them and in part because I’m scared of their response). As a result, my life was starting to mirror that legendary Liz Phair song, Fuck and Run. These books force me to make demands and set boundaries. There’s a brilliant line in The Technique of the Love Affair: “If you show him that you expect him to be a cad, then a cad he will be. Men will give you whatever you seem to ask of them. Ask much.” Since asking for nothing seems to be getting me nothing in return, I suppose it’s high time I started asking for much and seeing what it gets me.

It’s particularly ironic that all this introspection stemmed from B as it was somewhat down to him that I embarked on this whole project. I never asked anything of him, never pretended to be someone I wasn’t, was never coy or played games. I was just myself. As I looked over at him sat in the sunshine, I had an overwhelming feeling of a lost opportunity. I had to wonder – if I had demanded more, given less and played all the games I’m apparently meant to play, would things have worked out differently?

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Honing the technique

Okay, so I had my first date following the Technique. I wore a pair of silver shoes and some red lipstick to help me channel Scarlett.

Unfortunately, the date itself was a bit of a dud.

We met at the tube station and walked to a nearby pub. By the time the bartender had finished pulling my pint, I was struggling to maintain sparkling conversation. Or any conversation at all. He seemed like a perfectly genial chap but it was like getting blood from a stone.

I referred to book’s advice:

“You must always seem attentive to his conversation; conceal the signs of flagging interest at any cost, but yet don’t look too eagerly engrossed, or he will soon feel his talk is so delightful to you that he does you rather a favour by talking at all. Equally elementary, but highly effective, is the well-known policy of drawing a man out to speak about himself.”

Right. So I put on my most engaged-yet-slightly-disengaged face (remaining careful not to go cross-eyed in the process) and played a fine game of 20 questions. I nodded enthusiastically. I laughed merrily. I opened my eyes wide in fascination. To an outside observer, I’m fairly sure I looked like I had snorted speed earlier in the evening. The Photographer remained relatively stone-faced throughout the performance.

My crowning Technique moment came when he popped out to go to the bathroom. Two rather fetching gentlemen walked in and sat down at the table across from me and immediately started an entertaining discussion about the décor of the pub (which was, bizarrely, Shirlock Holmes-themed).

“Banter!” I thought. “God, how I miss you. TAKE ME WITH YOU.”

One of them looked over at me sat at a table on my own with two full drinks in front of me and two empty glasses to one side.

“Drowning your sorrows, I see? And two different types of drink as well! Must have been a tough day.”

We then engaged in what I can only describe as a flirtatious exchange.

Photographer returned to his seat (which prompted a raised eyebrow from the fellow at the next table) and we resumed our slow death march to the end of the date. At the end of our second drink, Photographer asked if I was hungry.

“No, I’m fine, thanks. Actually, I should get going. It is a Monday night!” I then looked down at my watch and realized it was only 8 o’clock. Oof.

As we walked out, we went past the other table and the fellow I’d chatted with gave me a long, brooding look. Ah, lovely frisson.

The book goes into detail about the benefit – nay, necessity! – of encouraging male competition and inciting jealousy. Morally, flirting with one man whilst on a date with another isn’t exactly a high point for me but there was something strangely thrilling about garnering male attention and (eek!) pitting the two against one another.

I doubt I’ll see Photographer again (surely no two people are that masochistic?) but he provided a fine first outing for my inner-Scarlett.

As for the Triathlete… well, I finally responded to his irritating birthday text message yesterday by saying I was excited to see what sort of surprise he was cooking up for my birthday.

“What, I have to cook? LOL. Not what I had in mind.”

The use of text abbreviations alone made me want to smash my phone into the ground. Nevertheless, I soldiered on and replied in what I hoped was a flirty, coquettish way.

“Ah, I think you’ll find the best things in life are not, in fact, free.”

His response actually made me gag a little:

“What, I have to pay? LOL.”

That’s right, in a matter of weeks the man has gone from opening doors and begging for dates to making prostitute jokes at my expense.
It is this sort of behavior that will assuage my guilt when I’m working whole swathes of men into jealous furies over the next few weeks.

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Frankly, My Dear…

I had quite the revelatory weekend. But first, the next book:

The Technique of the Love Affair: by a Gentlewoman was first written in 1928. It caused quite a stir at the time, with Dorothy Parker (beloved wit, glorious alcoholic and devoted divorcee) saying that if she had read the book earlier in life she may have been “successful rather than just successive.” It was out of print for many many years and was recently reprinted (with editorial notes!).

Let me tell you my friends – it is fucking awesome.

It was written in the time of the Bright Young Things and conjures up the frothy, tongue-in-cheek attitude that epitomized the post-WWI era (see also: Noel Coward, Evelyn Waugh and the aforementioned Ms. Parker). It was a time of bootlegged gin, sharp wit and romantic dalliances. The author, Doris Langley-Moore, was only 23 when she wrote the book (she was married at the time but later went on to divorce her husband. Hmm.).

The basic principle revolves around the idea that the “love affair” is an art form and should be viewed as a diverting hobby rather than a necessity. The author advises her readers to garner as many suitors as possible; you’re meant to be light, charming and flirtatious with everyone and invest in no one. It’s all about building and maintaining your “prestige” (which is essentially what we now refer to as the upper hand). By showing a man that you care more for him than he cares for you or by investing in one man to the exclusion of others, you lose your prestige and therefore your appeal.

Essentially, I’m meant to model myself after Scarlett O’Hara for a month (an extremely exciting prospect as I’ve desperately wanted to be Scarlett O’Hara since I first read Gone with the Wind at age 10). I’m intrigued to see if I can manage to keep the upper hand for longer than a couple of days; I tend to start off with quite a lot of hand before quickly pissing it all away on impetuous text messages or “charmingly wacky” second date confessions. Well, no more! From now on, I will be the ultimate coquette.

The Triathlete was the first recipient of the new rules. His ardor waned considerably when I was away and all the keenness seemed to have been sucked out of him. He’d sent a couple of half-assed texts last week but he hasn’t suggested any new plans and has generally been a bit crap.

Now, if I wasn’t following an obscure 1920s dating guide and was just following my natural inclination, I would have texted him suggesting a date. But that obviously would have lessened my prestige so instead, I deleted all of his contact information from my phone. (I know myself all too well and would surely get drunk and send him a belligerent text if left to my own devices. Best to take matters out of my hands).

Saturday night (at a suspiciously late hour and three days after last hearing from him), Triathlete sent an innocuous text message asking how my weekend was shaping up. I ignored it. Sunday night, I replied as breezily and coquettishly as possible. The book encourages you to play suitors off one another and to make it seem as though you constantly have men clamoring for your attention. You’re also meant to fish for gifts. Thus:

“My weekend was great – so busy! It was my birthday so had big night out on Saturday and then spent Sunday in the park with my lovely friend B [Editor's note: more on that later]. How about you?”

It’s true about the birthday and about the park time with a male friend but I would normally never drop two such blatant hints into a single text message.

The response was almost immediate:

“Happy birthday! Seems I owe you a birthday surprise. Weekend was good but sounds like it was much quieter than yours!”

So far, so good. I haven’t responded and don’t have plans to – in order to maintain my prestige I should hold out on him as much as possible, particularly as he’s been a bit remiss of late. And I still haven’t reprogrammed him into my phone. Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen is a central theme in the book.

Right, I’m off to make a dress out of some old curtains for my date tonight with a crinkly-eyed photographer.

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The Rules in Review

I’m back! Sorry, was hoping I’d be able to write a bit whilst away but I had my parents over from the States and have spent the past 8 days shepherding them around England and drinking heavily on my own in hotel rooms.

So, first things first. It’s the end of Rules tyranny! A review is in order.

To me, following The Rules was somewhat akin to following the Atkins diet: the results are undeniable but the side effects unpleasant and it certainly isn’t sustainable.

Here’s a breakdown of the Success vs. Failure rate:

Latin Banker:

A failure, to be sure. He clearly thought I was a money-grubbing bitch because of dinner and the taxi and as I wasn’t able to contact him the next day to say thank you, the opinion remained.

Kiwi:

Success to a point. Ah, sweet little Kiwi. He was lovely and certainly receptive to The Rules Me (and Actual Me, considering our drunken fiasco of a first date) but he just wasn’t up my alley (so to speak). In truth, in this case The Rules saved me from my overly-honed guilt complex – if left to my own devices, I would have contacted him after the disastrous second date to alleviate my conscience about not fancying him which would have inevitably led to an extremely awkward third date on which I would have had to have sacked him off or (worse) had terrible awkward pity sex.

The Actor:

Negated: I don’t think he even knew I was there.

The Triathlete:

The only remaining Rules survivor. The Rules worked like a charm on him and it’s pretty clear why – he’s totally the Alpha-male type. We’ll see how we fare with the next book…

So, what have I learned?

Hmm.

Well, for starters, I’ve learned that I am EXTREMELY bad at following The Rules. It’s become clear to me that I’m incredibly impatient when it comes to men. I’m always trying to force things to a head – pleasant or otherwise – because I don’t like not knowing how things will turn out. As a result, I don’t allow things to develop naturally. It’s like I’m playing one game of chicken after the next, daring each man to put all his cards on the table and then feeling perplexed when they plow over the cliff like lemmings.

So, in a way, it’s been good for me to be forced to be reserved. By leaving the ball firmly in the other person’s court, I’ve avoided a couple of entanglements I wasn’t particularly interested in and allowed one that I might actually enjoy to play out in its own time. I’ve realized that I’m often so caught up in the drama of a new affair that I don’t stop to think if it’s something I actually want to get involved in.

It’s been strangely refreshing to let the guy make all the effort and I’ve realized that (much to my annoyance) they do usually prefer it that way. Let’s be honest: sometimes it’s nice to have a man make a bit of a fuss over you.

The Rules in conclusion:

Works best on:

Alpha Males who are used to getting what they want and who love a challenge. They tend to be happy to make a big song and dance and splash some cash in order to get what they want, especially if it’s particularly hard to get. They’re the ultimate capitalists.

To be used by:

Women who don’t need instant gratification and who are looking for commitment from a man. And it’s probably preferably if they’re teetotal as following The Rules when drunk is nigh-on impossible. 

So, onwards and upwards to August’s book: The Technique of the Love Affair.

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Suspicious minds

I think I might have my first genuine Rules success story. Which, of course, I promptly tried to sabotage.

So I met the Triathlete on Saturday night after a friend’s birthday party in Shoreditch. He took me to a posh cocktail bar (2 dirty martinis) and then I took him to a dive bar that feels like you’re sitting in your uncle’s living room (3 bottles of beer).

He’s just SO NICE. And so polite! And so attractive! And he constantly compliments me! And he plays with my hair without any prompting whatsoever! It’s all “after you” and “you look beautiful” and “I’m going to place my hand on the small of your back in a comforting, chivalrous fashion” (he obviously doesn’t verbalize the last bit). All of which, of course, makes me highly suspicious.

In the entire run-up to the second date, I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that the Triathlete is undoubtedly a lunatic and that I will probably end up cut into pieces and stored in his freezer. All because he’s been so keen. Ironically, this is the desired result when doing The Rules. Men are meant to be tripping over themselves to get your attention and going out of their way to treat you well. Apparently, for me, this is the hallmark of a psychopath.

Anyway, he suggested we go back to my house and drink bourbon. Aha! I thought. There’s the catch – he’s just using me for sex! But considering how long it had been since I’d had sex (we’re talking a couple of months here), how ridiculously, young-Daniel-Craig hot he is and how much I’d had to drink, I was more than happy to go along with it. And yes, I know I was meant to wait another date but technically we were meant to go out Tuesday so I’m counting this as date number 2.5. Also, give me a break.

I did, however, manage to have a pretty massive meltdown before:

Me, gimlet-eyed in my living room: “If this is just going to be a one time thing, that’s totally fine but don’t bullshit me and say otherwise.”

“Actually, regardless of what happens tonight I’d really like to see you again.”

“Okay…. But don’t bullshit me. I mean, don’t just put on this whole Mr. Lovely show for the purpose of getting me into bed.”

“I’m not bullshitting you. This is just how I am.”

“Hmm. Okay….”

And then, when he told me he was going to go home because he wanted to have a lie-in the next day (he gets up at 5:15am every day for work so it’s kind of understandable):
Me, incandescent with rage and indignation: “I can’t believe you’re leaving. It’s just not on.”

“But you have that early morning training session! And I just want to wake up in my own bed. Not that it’s not lovely here.”

“Well! It’s fine if you want to go but if you do, I don’t want to see you again.”

“But I’d like to see you again. Also, I don’t really like ultimatums. I wouldn’t want to stay because of one.”

“Well. I’m just saying that if you don’t want to see me again and if this was a one-time thing, fine. But don’t bullshit me.”

“Seriously, I want to see you again. I think we’re both just overthinking things. Let’s go out again when you’re back from holiday.”

“Okay….”

When he finally left my bedroom I didn’t hear him leave the flat and I became instantly convinced that he was going to steal my wallet (despite the fact that I had about £2.35 on me and he makes a fair wedge of cash). I put on a giant yellow dressing gown and went into the living room to retrieve it, realizing on the way that he was just in the bathroom.

“Shit!” I thought and tried to scurry back to my room unseen, bag clutched to my chest. I ran smack into him as he came out of the bathroom.

“Hello,” he said, surprised.

“Hello,” I mumbled.

I walked him to the door.

“Okay, well, bye.”

“I’ll see you soon.”

“Yep, okay….”

“I will!”

I woke up the next morning feeling as though I’d had an out of body experience. I went into the kitchen to make coffee and eat peanut butter and my flatmate soon stirred. I relayed my insane ramblings to her.

“Oh, well. We’ve all done it. But I think you need to accept the fact that he’s not a psychopath Maybe he just likes you! Text him later on and make a joke of it.”

But I didn’t need to: he texted a few moments later to say he’d had a great night and was looking forward to seeing me again. He even apologized for the “overthinking” (despite the fact the insanity was obviously, unequivocally, 100% my fault).

So for now I’m going to try to accept the fact that he isn’t a psychopath and isn’t planning on dismembering me. And, even more gallingly, I’m going to try to accept the fact that in this case, The Rules have worked. I’ve been distant with him, I’ve not contacted him or pursued him, I’ve been tricky to make plans with and often unavailable. In short, I’ve been a royal pain in the ass. But he’s keen.

Hmm.

I’m off on holiday for a week but will try to post a couple of times when I’m away. Oh, and the next book will soon be revealed! The Rules tyranny is almost over!

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Sexonomics

Tuesday’s date with the Triathlete was postponed because he had to work late. He was very apologetic and sent several texts and an email saying as much, so I managed to juggle things around and now we’re seeing each other on Saturday (which, hilariously, is my first Saturday night date in about six years).

As for the others:

No word from Kiwi (think the cheek kiss/rapid dash to the bus was a pretty clear sign that I wasn’t interested).

No word from B (presumed maimed in a freak combiner accident. Tragic).

This week’s brief dating hiatus coupled with that comedian’s terrible riff on sexual economics has got me thinking about the bigger picture of following The Rules.

Bear with me here.

So essentially, The Rules works on the principle of a capitalist free market economy – it’s all about supply and demand. The more scarce you make yourself, the higher the demand and the higher your perceived value. So essentially, The Rules encourages you to become akin to a barrel of crude oil during a petrol crisis – rare, precious and extremely expensive. Eventually, one investor will decide to invest in the majority share (the cost of which, in terms of Rules girls, is apparently a large diamond, a house in the suburbs and a Lexus).

I’ve always strived for more egalitarian terms in my romantic endeavors. My ideal situation is more about an equal exchange of goods and services – we both like each other’s company and like having sex with each other, so the wealth should be distributed equally and fairly. There shouldn’t be a lord/serf dynamic involved.

But is this just a false utopia? Am I just a pie-eyed Trotskyite destined to end up shouting about the beauty of the proletariat whilst standing in a bread line? Maybe socialist sex is like socialist politics – a lovely idea, for sure, but in the end destined to collapse under the towering weight of greedy, power-hungry human nature.

With B, I strove to attain my egalitarian ideal. “Join the sexual proletariat!” I screamed. “I demand nothing of you, comrade!” But, sadly, he was a Stalinist at heart and I ended up locked in a cement tower block with a family of nine and feeling grateful when the hot water worked every three days. By insisting that I was demanding nothing from him and that we were two self-sufficient members of the populace engaged in a balanced and fair transaction, I ended up continuously jump-starting my Moskvich while he tooled around in his bloody Volga.

So in comparison, the brutality of capitalism isn’t so bad. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t enjoy the process of hyperinflating myself and I don’t like encouraging investors to hoard supplies. I don’t want to be Scrooge McDuck, living alone and celibate in some drafty mansion, diving around in my pool of gold coins. I hate the way The Rules forces me to engage in the ruthless commoditization of… well, me.

But even I can see that it’s better than the gulag.

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Love is a battlefield

Man alive, this weekend was a bloodbath.

So first of all, B and I were supposed to see each other on Friday but, unsurprisingly and for reasons that are too boring to go into, it didn’t happen. So that’s it – he’s officially on the Island of Lost Men. He’s battled his way off the Island a few times before but this time I’ve taken away any semblance of a flotation device and his relocation is permanent.

Second of all, the Triathlete is REALLY VERY KEEN in a way that’s making me suspicious of him. We’re seeing each other on Tuesday but on Saturday night he texted me and was hinting really quite heavily that we should meet up (which, of course, we didn’t) and then on Sunday (which was his birthday, for Christ’s sake!) he texted again and asked if I was free later (which, of course, I wasn’t). It’s all a bit much. But he’s hot and he’s a great test subject so I’m not ruling him out. I think I’ll just arrange to meet him in a very public and very well-lit place.

Third, I went on a second date with the Kiwi last night. In many respects, he is like the Baby Bear’s bowl of porridge – he’s not too hot and not too cold, he makes plans in advance and turns up on the day but he doesn’t call incessantly or push too much. So really, he should be Just Right – cute and funny and interested but not overbearing. Unfortunately, as soon as I saw him I realized that I had no interest in having sex with him.

Also, the date was a bit of a disaster.

I had a text from him Saturday: “How do you feel about tapas, sherry and stand up? Meet at 6:00 tomorrow by Tate Modern.” Despite the fact that I actually strongly dislike all three of those things, I was impressed by the plan as it showed foresight and thoughtfulness.

When we met up, he looked slightly worried. “I’ve just realized it’s a bit early for tapas,” he said, “Shall we go for a beer first?” I was still stewing in Saturday night’s whisky so a beer was just what I needed. We headed over a tourist trap pub on the river and had a couple of pints. We talked about everything – the awkwardness of parental mid-life crises, the fact that Americans don’t understand cricket, his strange affinity for overcast, dreary weather – and the whole time I thought, “C’mon! Surely you fancy him a little bit! He’s so great!” Nothing.

We didn’t have time for tapas so we ate overcooked pub food and then shot off for the comedy.

I should slip in a caveat here and say that, on the whole, watching stand up makes me extremely uncomfortable. Sure, I’ve seen some funny comedians in my time but on the whole I would much rather see them on a television screen in the comfort of my own home. I just spend the whole act with a rictus grin on my face, willing the guy to be funny and cringing when he’s not.

We got to the venue and it was strangely labyrinthine – lots of levels and empty rooms and doors leading nowhere. The bartender pointed us downstairs and Kiwi and I sat in a large empty room for 15 minutes, wondering when the hell the comedy was meant to begin. Finally, Kiwi flagged down another member of staff.

Kiwi (in hilarious, Jermaine-from-Flight-of-the-Conchords accent): “Yes, do you know where the comedy is meant to be?”

Staff member: “Yeah, it’s just through there” [points at a desolate looking area behind the stage]

Kiwi: “Over there? So can we see it from where we’re sitting?”

Staff member: [quizzically] “No. It’s behind those doors.”
Me: [laughing really quite hard]

Staff member: [pointing at me] “And now she’s laughing at you.”

So in we went through the hidden door to find ourselves half way through the set of a nihilistic Frenchman telling the story of losing his virginity in a Parisian brothel. It was actually quite funny. “Hmm,” I thought, “This isn’t so bad! Also, that comedian is kind of hot. I wonder if I can make eyes at him from the back row…”

After his set had finished, Kiwi and I went to get another drink.

“Do you want to stay for the second act?” he asked.

“No,” I thought.

“Whatever you want!” I said.

“Let’s stay. Should be good!”

We filed back into the humid, tiny room and onto the stage bounded a large golden retriever of a man who then proceeded to talk, incoherently and ad nauseum, about sex. There was a whole lot of talk about fucking and the cost of fucking and repercussions of fucking and all the while sweat is just pouring off of him and he keeps having to refer nervously to his massive pile of notes. “I have really got to cut this act down,” he said repeatedly. “Yes, please start now,” I thought.

I’m fairly certain that for the majority of the act, the expression on my face was similar to if I’d been strapped into one of those g-force testers – grimace plastered on, teeth bared, eyes half-shut, just holding on for dear life and hoping it would be over soon. Not only was he spectacularly bad, but it was also spectacularly uncomfortable listening to a sweaty, unpleasant man talk graphically about sex for an hour and a half whilst sitting next to someone I’m meant to be considering having sex with in the near future.

When it was finally, mercifully over, Kiwi and I walked to the bus station. I could feel the unhappiness radiating off him. He was blaming himself for the way the night had gone, which was unfair – he’d made a hell of an effort and I would never judge someone based on a series of unfortunate mishaps that were beyond their control. To be honest, I’d probably go out with him again just to reassure him that the terrible night hadn’t reflected badly on him.

But my mind was already made up and as the bus pulled up, I offered him my cheek, babbled “thanksforeverythinghadareallygoodtimeg’night!” and literally ran onto the bus. On the ride home, I was filled with guilt and self-loathing. The thing about letting them take the lead and decide everything and pay for everything and work so freaking hard to get you is that when you realize you don’t particularly want them (despite their best efforts), it makes you feel shallow and cold. I suppose the comedian did raise a good point about the sexual economics. The whole thing feels like a strange mathematical equation: Money + effort = pleasure of my company and possibility of sex. I just wanted to shake Kiwi and say “Go find yourself a nice girl to settle down with! I’ll only end up chewing you up and spitting you out! Don’t waste another £3.40 on a pint for me!”

That said, it’s entirely possible that he got on the tube and thought, “Jesus CHRIST, thank god that’s over. That night was terrible and it was ALL HER FAULT.” I guess you just never know.

Date with Triathlete tomorrow night. Let’s hope he’s as good as he seems and I don’t end up locked in a meat freezer in Chinatown

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Twenty Questions

Okay, so Tuesday’s date with The Actor:

The set-up was masterminded by a coworker friend of mine. She burst into the office one day, beaming, and announced she had someone she wanted to set me up with. I was immediately wary: I’m not a big fan of set-ups because, frankly, I think they can seriously jeopardize friendships and damage self-esteem. But then she sent me a picture.

Here’s my theory: attractiveness is one big long ladder. Everyone has their rung. Sometimes you end up dating someone a few rungs down, sometimes you end up with someone a few rungs up – but on the whole, you tend to stick to your general rung area. So what happens if your friend enthuses about how PERFECT this guy would be for you and then you turn up and he’s 10 rungs down from you? Suddenly you realize that your friend thinks you’re a little bit ugly. And that’s not a nice realization for anyone.

Now, before I go on, let me say that I’m content with my rung on the attractiveness ladder. It’s a decent rung. So I’m not trying to do the whole false-modesty, self-deprecating bullshit when I say that I saw the photograph and panicked. He was freaking gorgeous. I was the one who was 10 rungs down, I was the one who would elicit disappointment when I walked into the bar, and I was the one who would surely cause a falling out between he and my friend when he called her up the next day to say “Jesus, you set me up with HER?!”

So needless to say I was a little apprehensive before the date.

We arranged to meet at a bar in Soho. I walk in and he’s sitting alone at a table, iphone in front of him. I am instantly filled with a rushing sense of relief – he’s not that hot! I mean, he’s definitely good looking but I know I can hold a conversation with him without turning an unattractive shade of beetroot.

We got a couple of beers and sat down. “So,” he asked, “have you been on a lot of blind dates? Because this is my first.” Obviously I can’t tell him the truth (“actually, I’d never been on a blind date before until a few weeks ago when I embarked on this sociological experiment and since then I’ve been on about 45…”) so I just smiled and said, “Yeah, a couple. But I’m nice so I promise it won’t be too scary.”

I asked The Actor a couple of questions about himself and his work (he’s also an aspiring writer/director) and it was like pulling my finger out of a dam. As I sat there listening to his (invariably funny and entertaining) party anecdotes and script ideas and acting experiences wash over me I felt a strange sense of déjà vu… Why do I feel I’ve spent my whole dating life playing a one-sided game of 20 questions?

I talked about it with a group of friends the next night and we came to the conclusion that the old stereotype of women talking the ears off men while they absentmindedly nod their heads in response is a complete fallacy. The reality is, in fact, often the opposite. Men get nervous (or bored, or restless, or excited, or hungry) and talk about themselves. I honestly don’t think this stems from self-centeredness; I think it’s because many men aren’t particularly good at asking follow up questions. So while they might ask about what you do for a living, or where you live, or how your day was, they can’t quite figure out how to turn your response into a whole conversation. So the default mode is to bring the conversation back onto familiar grounds: themselves.

The Actor was great fun and I was genuinely happy to listen to him talk for three hours (honest) but I came away from it with the realization that that he knew absolutely nothing about me. It really does seem like men approach first dates as they would a job interview. “Here are my three greatest strengths!” they say, “Let me tell you about the time I overcame adversity!” And I sit there and ask the obligatory questions and follow up questions and come away with a very good sense of whether or not they’d be a good fit in a large blue chip company.

Anyway, in terms of The Rules, I stuck to ‘em. We finished our third bottle of beer and I was definitely getting The Thirst but instead of suggesting another drink, I put my bag on the table and called it a night. He kissed me on the cheek (twice) and took my number but I don’t have high hopes of hearing from him again. In his head, I must be a bit of a cipher – all fuzzy edges and blank faces. Either that or he thinks I’m Jeremy Bloody Paxman.

So here’s the question: if men spend the whole of the first date trying to give you as much information about themselves as possible without gleaning any information about you, on what do they base their second date criteria?

I suspect the attractiveness ladder might come into play.

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Rules exhaustion begins to set in

Following The Rules is starting to fill me with intense feelings of guilt and self-loathing.

Kiwi emailed yesterday asking me out for Thursday. I declined (because I’m meant to wait more than a week). He then suggested Friday. Again, I declined (because I’m genuinely busy that night). And while I was very polite in my declining, I couldn’t do what I would normally do: suggest another time. According to The Rules, you can only say “I wish I could, but I already have plans.” You can’t say what those plans are and you can’t say, “How about Tuesday instead?” The whole thing turns into a ridiculous guessing game and it makes me feel unnecessarily troublesome and coy. I am soldiering on and won’t contact him again until he suggests another date (that is, if he suggests another date. Which I doubt he will.)

Also, Triathlete has been texting quite a lot and I can’t quite wrap my brain around how to respond Rules-style (the book was written pre-texting so doesn’t cover it). So while one of the major Rules is never call him and to rarely return his calls, it’s slightly trickier with texts because it’s like having one long, drawn out phone conversation. So far I’ve adopted a respond-to-every-other-text-after-a-long-pause approach but it’s filling me with an absurd amount of anxiety about coming across as a giant bitch.

I didn’t bank on it being so difficult for me to break old habits and adopt this new pattern of behavior. Even waiting a few hours to respond to a text message makes me feel nervous and itchy and I was actually awoken by a pang of guilt about poor Kiwi last night. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not exactly Mother Theresa when it comes to men. I’ve been cruel and callous, I’ve used them for sex, I’ve screened calls and I’ve ignored past flings on the street. But that always stemmed from my idea of myself as this sexually-empowered, independent woman and it all seemed relatively harmless. But with The Rules, I feel strangely Machiavellian. It feels like emotional politics rather than sexual politics and as a result it seems far more serious.

It’s also interesting to see how The Rules are affecting these two men differently. I haven’t heard from Kiwi at all since his spate of date-suggestions, but Triathlete seems strangely spurred on by my distant behavior. He texted me this morning to ask when he could see me next and I waited until the end of the day to suggest next Tuesday (which was really quite painful for me because he really is very fit and I’d like to gaze admiringly at him sooner than that). He responded immediately agreeing to Tuesday and then sent a follow up moments later: “Although sooner than Tuesday would be nice but you’re obviously a busy lady…”

I am officially a bit suspicious of him. Seriously guys, either he knows I’m up to something or he’s currently drawing up a diagram for the best way to disembowel me because he is too good to be true.

Date tonight with a former actor who is far too good-looking for me. Bloody exhausting.

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