The thing about first dates, is that you can learn a lot from them.
Faced with a complete stranger, it’s interesting how much stuff you can actually learn about yourself. Because in reality, first dates are one of the few encounters in adult life, where we spend any length of time talking to a complete stranger about ourselves.
In regular life, it’s easy to fall into behaving a certain way with people – whether it’s because of your position at work, or because of a shared history. Maybe you hold a senior position at work and adapt your personality accordingly, suppressing your sense of humour, day in, day out. Or maybe you were the quiet one at school, and so around old school friends you always take a back seat.
By contrast, first impressions allow you to choose which parts of your personality define you TODAY. The parts of your life you’d like to talk about. The cards you’d prefer to keep close to your chest.
When you write a dating profile you actively select the specific facts and parts of your life which you’re happy to share with strangers, and first dates are a real-life extension of that filter.
Rather than an opportunity to act like a completely different person (because realistically, how long can you keep that up?!), what first dates can do, is provide an interesting snapshot of who you are, right here and now. What parts of your current life are really important to you? Which parts really define you? And which trappings are simply outdated or anecdotal?
But the lessons don’t stop there.
And where relationships are concerned, there are two important lessons to learn from meeting and interacting with other singletons.
1) Exactly what you want and need in a partner
2) Exactly what you want and need from a relationship.
Whilst the latter point is something that only really comes into play after the first couple of dates, the first point is something which underpins every interaction.
It’s easy to write ideal tick lists. Most of us are guilty of it.
Ask any singleton about their ideal partner, and very few will simply shrug and be unable to give you a descriptor.
I’d like a tall, dark, handsome stranger, with a Masters degree and a full passport.
The more dates you go on, the more you realise what really is important.
Ironically, if I were to line up the last five guys I’ve been attracted to, they share very little in common on face value.
Take height for example. As a 5’8’’ girl, with a wardrobe of 2-3 inch heels, I like to think height is important, and to some degree it always will be. I wouldn’t want to date someone who was shorter than me, or shorter than me when I wear heels. However if you asked what height my ideal man is, I’d say 6’2 or 6’3.
Mr SC was 5’11. And I still fancied the pants off him.
My few fleeting weeks seeing Mr Second Chance taught me a number of things, and most of them were things about myself. Sitting on my sofa, completely fascinated by tales of his life, I had realised something important about the guys I’m attracted to.
I’m attracted to driven, ambitious guys, but they also need to have an unorthodox edge. They can’t be too straight-laced. The guys I’m attracted to haven’t sat on the Milk Round conveyor belt all their lives. They may have gotten back on it at some point, but the kind of men I’m attracted to have a bit of a spark. Something a bit different, combined with the whole preppy, successful posh boy routine.
Yes, yes, and I wonder why I’m still single …!!
Anyway, having found a preppy, successful posh boy, with an unorthodox life and adventurous streak … and been scuppered by situation and timing, as you know, I’m still nursing my wounds.
I found someone I really like, and don’t particularly want to date anyone else, because I don’t think they’d compare.
The good old Henley Boy effect!
1) I write a dating blog, and
2) I was the one who broke up with Mr SC, because I could see how rubbish the timing was. And I’m not gonna become a nun, so it’s time to go back out and date.
Even if the reality of heading back to my normal dating haunts – Tinder, POF, and now (appallingly so far) OKCupid – means I’m unlikely to find another Mr SC overnight!
Reminding myself that first dates are fun, even just for the novelty value (yep! Even after 60+ first dates, I’m still meeting a brand new person!), I’ve been seizing the day, and trying to catch up on that 1 date a week average that I promised the 30ish Me blog I’d keep to this year, as part of my New Year’s Resolutions.
And so I’ve been rather indiscriminate on Tinder.
Reminding myself that attraction isn’t a set list of requirements, and that I’m not looking for a husband, just a first date (I’m sure I’ve heard this before somewhere … 😉 ) I set about more liberally swiping Right, and at least replying to some of the less offensive messages I received on POF and OKCupid this week. (For some of the offers I DIDN’T accept, check out the photos on Twitter!)
In the process of my Tinder swiping I happened upon Bear Grylls.
No, not THE Bear Grylls (he’s happily married with kids, and I’m sure is far too moral to contemplate Tinder even if he were single!), but a guy who looked rather like him in his photos.
An attractive, educated guy. He came across nice enough over his messages, seeming polite, and friendly, and interesting.
An army officer.
Which on the one hand was probably something I should stay clear of, but equally is an important part of the process of me getting back on the metaphorical dating horse. Because at the present moment, every time someone mentions the Army, my thoughts go immediately to Mr SC.
We chatted over Tinder on Saturday afternoon, and knowing I had little planned for Sunday other than a post-wedding hangover, I suggested meeting up for dinner the next evening.
As expected, he was a perfectly nice guy. He was interesting, and a complete gentleman. He hadn’t lied about his height, or his age, or used misleading photos. The photos used were relatively recent, and in real life he was probably more attractive than the actual Bear Grylls.
But I realised something almost immediately. A lesson I actually learned on the first internet date I ever went on – a few weeks before I met the infamous Henley Boy.
Personality is something you can’t properly grasp until you really speak to someone.
You can look at a series of photos, and read a string of messages, or converse with someone for a couple of days, and think you know what to expect. And then the minute he opens his mouth, he can be completely different to the man you were expecting.
It’s the reason I always suggest meeting up with people early on.
Because two guys could reply to text messages in a really similar manner, but have completely different personalities in real life.
Standing, face to face with Bear Grylls, as he handed me a drink, and politely took my coat, I also realised something almost immediately. Something I had understood back on New Year’s Day in Waterloo Station, when Mr SC had appeared out from behind the concourse Christmas Tree.
It’s only when you first meet someone that you can tell if there’s a spark. And I can tell that spark (or lack of) almost the second a guy opens his mouth.
Don’t get me wrong, Bear Grylls was lovely, and I had a perfectly nice evening. He was an attractive, intelligent guy, with stories to tell. He was polite, and funny. The kind of guy I would happily set up with any one of my single friends.
But there was no spark.
The night was not without other lessons.
Obviously, the very nature of a date – meeting a complete stranger, and sitting in a one-on-one conversation with him for two or three hours – means you learn snippets of that other person’s life.
But the lessons I’ll take from Sunday night, aside from the reminder about the importance of a spark, relate more to Mr SC than they do to Bear Grylls. Or rather to me and Mr SC.
Unsurprisingly (I mean, come on, I still can’t stop mentioning him on the blog, so inevitably I’m the same in real life!), it was impossible for me to talk about Army life with Bear Grylls, and not stumble upon the topic of Sandhurst and Mr Second Chance.
As soon as I’d mentioned I’d just split up with someone who was training at Sandhurst, Bear Grylls’ jaw dropped open. Literally stupefied.
Not (surprisingly!) in horror that I was some kind of weirdo Army-officer groupie.
But genuine shock that I’d attempted to have a relationship with an Officer Cadet.
‘He was 28 …’ I rationalised immediately, thinking that was why he looked so horrified. (The average Cadet age is 22 or 23!)
Bear shook his head. ‘No, sorry, the reason I’m so surprised, is I don’t understand how you did it! It’s impossible to have a girlfriend while you’re at Sandhurst! Me and my ex broke up within weeks of me starting there!’
He literally couldn’t have said anything better to me on that date if he’d tried!
I had told myself the same thing a hundred times over the past two months. My friends had told me. My Army Officer friends had told me. But somehow, coming from this complete stranger, who knew nothing about me, or the knackering efforts I’d gone to trying helplessly to make things work, it was so much more real. And carried so much more weight.
The look on his face couldn’t have said it better.
I hadn’t failed. I’d made a bloody good go at an impossible situation.
Relaxing a bit, I went into a bit more detail, and explained some of the other responsibilities Mr SC had taken on whilst at Sandhurst. The extra ambitions he had which monopolised even more of his time at the Academy, and inevitably pushed me farther to the back of his priority list.
Bear Grylls chuckled.
‘Ah! Sounds like you had yourself a Thruster!’
‘A Thruster …. One of those guys who always goes the extra mile. Who wants to graduate top, become a general …. That guy who always stays in the office three hours later than everyone else.’
Whilst he didn’t say it maliciously, it was clear that Bear Grylls himself was anything but a Thruster.
Again, this wasn’t news to me. I knew Mr SC was incredibly driven, and had ambitions far beyond those of the average Officer Cadet.
But rather than making me think I should have picked more wisely. Avoided the ‘Thruster’ (a frankly hilarious nickname which genuinely sounds like a sex toy, and a potentially rather comic future blogname!). All that Bear Grylls’ comments made me think, was that actually, I probably have Thruster tendencies too. More in younger life, but still a fair few nowadays. And if I had been at Sandhurst, I would definitely be a Thruster too. What’s more, one of the many reasons I had a spark with Mr SC, and didn’t with Bear Grylls (despite the latter arguably being more conventionally attractive), was probably totally down to him being a Thruster. Because drive and an A type personality are things which I find attractive in a guy.
Things which are more important in a match for me than whether the guy tips the 6 foot mark. (Which yes, Bear Grylls did).
It wasn’t a bad date. I had a fun evening, a lovely meal, and I laughed out loud almost as much as I did at the Table8 event on Friday.
I hadn’t been looking for my ideal man. In fact, I don’t think I’m ready to replace Mr SC in my affections just yet.
I’d wanted to meet someone new, and remember how much fun first dates can be. A reminder of why I set myself the crazy 30 Dates adventure last summer, and why meeting a serious of complete stranger ended up becoming the highlight of my year.
Tonight is Pancake Day in England, and I have my first ever Pancake date – with another Tinderite. And on Friday I’ve scheduled in another first date in London. I’m chatting to a guy who just went on holiday to the Caribbean, and another guy who’s creating his own online start-up. Deep down, I have a feeling none of them will eclipse Mr SC, and the connection I had with him, just yet, but it’s definitely more fun finding out than it is moping on my sofa. After all … who doesn’t love pancakes?! 😉
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx