The Dating Game

If I don’t know the rules of the game, then I don’t want to play. I can tell you which line is “out” in a game of badminton; how much you’ll owe me for landing on Park Lane with one hotel. But there’s one game I’ve played that refuses to publish its rule-book.

In the world of the singleton, going on “a blind date” is an event. A bit like going to the birthday party of a friend-of-a-friend: it might be fantastic, but you sense it’ll probably be a let-down; after all, you don’t know who’s going to be there. You may well have conducted your “courtship” online, but, to all intents and purposes, until you meet someone in the flesh (more of which later, you hope), there’s no knowing just how, if at all, you’re going to get along.

I tend to know within the first minute whether I’m going to enjoy the blind date. I either won’t be able to keep my eyes off them, and need regular bottom-lip dribble servicing, or I shall become The Charity Worker, donating hour after lengthy hour of my time to someone whose “personality” is anathema to my every sense, in turn begging the question whether, perhaps, their internet correspondence was ghost-written by Peter Ustinov, or some other witty raconteur (either dead or alive – it is ghost-writing, after all).

But let’s imagine that the blind date delivers in person what was so alluring on email. Bingo! The hours fly by, as do the pints, as do the steaming innuendos, until last-orders signal home-time. But whose home? This bit requires subtle tact and concentration (despite the skinful provided by the freshly-departed hostelry). But then comes paranoia, entering stage-left, like every good baddie. I’m thinking: “I’m liking them greatly, the banter’s been good, but what if they’ve secretly been playing Charity Worker all along? Am I being tolerated? Have I got my hopes up for nothing? Best not suggest ‘The Coffee’. Wouldn’t want an awkward scene. But… that smile. It’s a come-on. Isn’t it? Oh, come on! You’re confusing the ‘come to bed’ smile with the Charity Worker’s ‘end of shift’ smile.”

With no more pavement left to tread, you subvert the will of the Awkward Pause by saying “I’ve had a nice time, we should do this again”. They agree. You part. And you spend the tube-ride home dissecting the intonation of their agreement. Did they mean it? Or was it the final charitable donation? The penny on the collecting plate, the rattling spin of which resounds as soon as you wake up the next morning.

I’m as vexed as the final-year English students at Cambridge University who have, this week, been examined on exactly what they think Amy Winehouse means when she sings “love is a losing game”. Never mind “love”, it’s the access road that needs tackling first. Dating is a means to an enigmatic end, of which the code is hard to crack. Yet, despite the uneven playing field, like any good sport, the heart receives a workout. It’s no wonder they call it having a “flutter” on the gee-gees; the gamble that is the Blind Date gets the heart fluttering. And where there’s movement, there’s energy. Or rather, energy in motion; E=motion, e-motionally speaking.

And there’s the crux. We don’t tend to do emotion on first dates. We’re too cool, we’re too self-protecting; our sense of pride won’t allow it. And that’s where we’re going wrong. We should do emotion. It’s both nothing and everything to be scared of, yet it lets us know where we stand. If only everyone would play by my rules.