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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1 Comment »

  • “Here are my three greatest strengths!” they say, “Let me tell you about the time I overcame adversity!”

    Heh! Too funny.

    Perhaps if they find your rung acceptable, the second date is a default yes, with more of a chance to learn about you if they’ve rid themselves of some of their nerves.


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