I spoke briefly in my post about The School Crush about the different ways people make a first impression. With The Challenger, I stuck to my new rule of not trying to hunt him out on Facebook (though have since realised this would have been futile anyway!), however I was quite quick to form (positive) assumptions about this date.
The Challenge was referred to me by a friend I play sport with … we’ll call her the Rock Chick, a nickname I’m sure she won’t be adverse to, as she’s the lead vocal of a rock band! In the small world that is my 30 Dates Challenge, the Rock Chick used to live with the Burlesque Dancer! Though she wasn’t the one who referred him to me, and if anything, she raised an eyebrow when she heard he was number 3! Having heard about my less than perfect date with the Burlesque Dancer (he was the one who asked me if I own a merkin, remember?), the Rock Chick was determined to find me a nice, eligible date, who I’d have a good evening with. She gave my phone number to one of her work colleagues, and I received the following string of text messages in the lead up to the date …
The opening gambit, first text – ‘Dinner on Saturday night in Reading? The Rock Chick gave me your number and suggested I take you out on your best date ever!’
When discussing the 30 Dates Challenge …
‘How many have you had? I’d be interested to see the scoring system and was intrigued with your motives …’
I replied ‘Will explain motives on Saturday, nothing sinister! Have done 5, you’ll be number 7. No set scoring system, and apparently I’m quite generous!’
His response, which I loved – ‘Lucky number 7 for you then …’
To be honest, after that text, I was very tempted to call him Lucky Number Seven, but I think the whole point was that I was meant to be the lucky one! And so I decided on the nickname The Challenger, because he seemed very much up for the challenge, and almost like he wanted to compete with the other 30 Dates to make sure I had the best date … an attitude I really liked!
On Saturday morning I woke up to a text saying ‘Morning! Hope you had fun with 6, but saved your top form for number 7!’ (Which having read The School Crush, you’ll know was definitely the case!) He offered to drive over and collect me, but I thought that might be an overstep for a first date (even one referred by a friend), and so I agreed to meet him at the bar of a boutique hotel in the centre of Reading, where we’d be eating dinner.
I had a few obstacles on my way into town, not least the birth of two of my best friends’ child, two weeks earlier than expected. I took a detour to their house, and unsurprisingly stayed far too long meeting the newborn than I originally planned. As a result, I was ten minutes late arriving to my date, and despite original plans to get the train in and have more than one drink on the date (you can tell I was expecting it to be a good one!) I had to drive in. Driving in also posed an extra challenge, as there was a flash storm last night, so my route into Reading was flooded and my parking space was just far enough away from the restaurant that by the time I arrived, my carefully straightened hair had adopted more of a drowned-rat chic.
As I stepped through the doors of the Malmaison Hotel, I was greeted by probably the most surreal moment so far of my 30 Dates Challenge.
Lying, spreadeagled across a chaise longue was a red-faced, bald drunk man, who kind of wolf-whistled at me as I came though the door. ‘Well hello ….’ he said, in a thick Russian accent.
I smiled politely. He was sat on his own, and the Challenger had said that he would meet me at the bar … Had the Challenger changed his mind and sat in the entrance to make it easier for me to find him?
As the drunk man slurred his way through some twisted compliment about ripping out his heart, and the heart of his three year-old son (I kid you not!) to give to me, as a sign of his desire (??!!!), all I could think was ‘Surely Rock Chick wouldn’t have set me up with this guys? Not after Burlesque Dancer and the Merkin??!!’
He reached forward to shake my hand andI asked his name. And this is where I promise I am not even embellishing for the sake of the blog.
He had the same name as The Challenger!
Not wanting to ask if he was my date, in case he wasn’t but decided to lie, I just smiled politely, and said ‘I’m just going to the bar’, at which point I left the hallway, and headed straight for the alcohol!
At the bar, I told the bartender my dilemma. ‘I’m here on a blind date, and there is a really drunk guy in the lobby who has the same name as my blind date, but surely that can’t be him? My date said he was meeting me at the bar.’
The barman smiled and gestured behind me, to a man sat barely half a metre behind me. ‘How about him? He looks like he’s waiting for someone.’
I turned around slightly to subtly take in a smartly dressed man, who at that point I would have put in his thirties.
‘Do you want me to ask if he’s your date?’ the bartender asked cheekily, sounding rather like he wanted to.
I politely declined, grabbed my diet coke, and went over to introduce myself, launching straight into my tale of the drunken fake Challenger in the hallway before I’d even really properly introduced myself.
The Challenger had really made an effort. The hotel is a really nice setting in the centre of town, and he explained he’d chosen it specifically because he thought I was getting the train and didn’t want me to have to walk too far from the station. I really liked the idea of being asked for dinner, rather than just a drink, on a first date. It means you have a good amount of time to talk to one another, often in a quieter setting than a bar, and it just suggests an element of investment. Both time-wise, and if I were on a non-challenge date, financially too, as it’s nice to know the guy likes you enough to at least consider the idea of buying you dinner, even if as a self-sufficient girl you’d happily pay your share.
When I met the Normal Fish, who I’d actually been chatting on and off with for over a month on POF, it really put me off when he made clear he would only go for a drink on the first date, and that ‘if I was lucky’ I might get invited to dinner on the second date. I know some guys like to be traditional and pay for everything on a first date, but I would much rather have a nice meal and longer, more relaxed conversation, and then just split the bill at the end if it’s money that the date is worrying about.
Anyway, back to Date Seven …
So, we chatted briefly in the bar of the hotel about my challenge. It was interesting, from his texts, I’d expected the Challenger to be extremely confident, if not even arrogant, given his approach to the challenge over text. However as we talked about it in person I saw quite a different side to him. He explained how the Rock Chick had approached him at the coffee cart at work about going on a blind date, and that he’d only very recently become single. He’d ummed and ahhed about it, asked to see a picture of me, and then agreed, only to be put off when Rock Chick explained the thirty dates angle.
Obviously Rock Chick has some super persuasive skills, as apparently she gave me a sterling reference, and explained that she thought I’d be a really fun date and was just doing this all for a bit of a laugh over the summer. I don’t know the intricacies of what she said, but it obviously worked, as here he was taking me to one of the nicest restaurants in town.
We settled down to eat, and barely looked at our menus for the first half hour. Every time we’d start looking at the food, something interesting would come up in conversation, and the waiters had to ask four times before we actually ordered anything.
Conversation flowed relatively easily. By this point all I had drunk was diet coke, and yet I heard myself stumbling over my words, and stuttering a bit. Was I just tired? Or did I actually fancy this guy a bit?
It’s weird, because in the bar area, if I’d have had to pinpoint an age, I would have said The Challenger was in his mid-thirties, but in the subdued lighting of the restaurant, and from the different vantage point of my low chair, he looked a lot younger. It was only about an hour in, when I actually asked outright, that he explained he was 33.
The Challenger was an attractive guy. Smartly dressed, and really polite. On our way from the bar to the restaurant, he tried slightly awkwardly to usher me in front of him with a hand on my something I’m not used to a guy I’ve only just met doing. It didn’t go well – I kind of awkwardly skipped forwards in a manner which wasn’t graceful in the slightest!
I definitely noticed myself becoming more awkward and clumsy in his presence. Ironic, given my talk about degrees of brilliance depending on how much you fancy someone … but actually, I think when I like someone, my personality shines more, but physically my coordination all goes to pot!
Before my first date with Henley Boy, I had dinner with one of my best friends near the bar we were meeting in. I’d been chatting to HB for a week before we met, and I was really excited to see if we clicked as well in person as we had over texts. During my dinner with my friend, I dropped an entire drink, and smashed my head on a lampshade.
By contrast, on my date with the Challenger, I just dropped my knife a couple of times, and stumbled when later put an arm around my shoulders as we walked to my car, but you catch my drift … There was some spark there, even if my sub-conscious had to tell me as much!
Dinner was nice. The restaurant was quiet, so we were given a large table, and able to chat easily. We talked about both our experiences of online dating, an impromptu speed dating night Challenger had gone on in Washington DC on a recent business trip, and being adults. I told him some of my (Good) Nutter stories, and conversation was comfortable and interesting. He seemed relieved that I hadn’t come to dinner to simply tell him I had lived and worked in Reading all my life.
After dinner we headed to a nearby bar for a couple more drinks, and I felt a little bad for driving, as I sat sipping Diet Coke and the Challenger began to get a bit drunk, though he had seemed quite nervous when we first met, so it was nice to seem him more relaxed. We laughed about ‘The Game’ and Pick-Up artists, and I told him the story of the Pick-Up Artist guru I had met whilst doing my dive master in Honduras.
At one point in the bar, The Challenger actually started reading my own blog in front of me, on my phone, which was all a little weird! Throughout the night he referred to the points scoring system, though most times it was to deduct points from me – for turning up late, turning up soaking wet, not drinking … It was all said in jest, and it gave us grounds to joke and flirt, which is always always a good thing.
At the end of the night, I offered to drive the Challenger home, at which point he admitted that his Dad had been visiting for the weekend, and he had sacked him off and left him home alone to come on a date with me. Which I told him I would take as more of a compliment about my company, rather than reading into the way he treated his Dad! (though apparently he had cooked dinner for his Dad before he’d come out to meet me!)
I had a really nice evening, and told The Challenger as much. I probably fancied him the most out of any of the dates I’ve been on so far. It’s hard, because you genuinely can’t tell in simply a few hours, but he definitely had me interested enough to go on a second date.
On our way back to the car, during one conversation he put his arm around my shoulders, which as a girl (who probably is worse at reading signs than she thinks, given the Henley Boy history!) I took to be a good sign.
It’s quite weird finishing a date with someone where you know there’s chemistry, but you don’t really know how much, and you’ve been talking for a good portion of the night about all the other dates you’re going on! I’d even made reference during the night about the fact I didn’t expect to snog anyone on any of the 30 First Dates, a comment I may have found myself regretting in the car at the end of the date, as it seemed like I’d inadvertently told him some kind of rule about the dates … and one I hadn’t even actually created!
It’s strange, looking at the date, and wondering what it would have been like if I hadn’t been doing the 30 Date challenge. I can’t honestly tell you what I would have done. Or what I’d have done if I hadn’t driven in, and had had a drink or two more. Maybe I would have been open to a goodnight kiss …she types, shrugging and grinning at the computer screen.
If he asks, I’ll definitely agree to a second date. If anything, just to have a date ‘outside’ of this challenge, to see whether we really do get on, when I’m not comparing him to 29 other men, 23 of whom are still faceless!
So … probably my best date so far chemistry wise, and a really nice setting. He seemed a bit gutted when he heard about some of my exciting date venues that he hadn’t thought of something less cliched, but then we’re 7 dates in, and it’s the first time I’ve been asked out to dinner, so it’s not really that orthodox!
Dinner was lovely, venue was chosen really well, and for a date in Reading, it was a pretty good choice. Unfortunately we don’t have the Shard or the Millennium Eye … just the Wave and the Madjeski!
We met … at Malmaison, in Reading
I wore … my trusted white fifties prom dress with black polkadots, a black cardigan and black ballet pumps
He wore … a navy button down shirt, and a dark grey suit (Best dressed date so far!)
I drank … Diet Coke, and a Rose & Lemonade. He drank … Long Island Iced Teas, bottle beer, JD & Coke and Sailor Jerrys & Lemonade
We talked about … the challenge, pick-up artists, previous relationships, online dating, blind dates, America, travel, uni, family, sports
The date lasted – three and a half hours
The date ended – because I was getting tired, he was getting drunk, and the pub we were in was getting really loud!
Marks out of ten …. Interesting, as I’ve been on more unique dates with some of the other guys, but then I really liked the build up to this date with Challenger’s approach to it all over text, and it was a really nice venue for a meal, and obviously I was quite attracted to him …. so I guess this one takes the lead with an 8.5/10 🙂
Next date? Another one I’m really looking forward to … The Fake Pimpernel, on Tuesday in London
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx