The Dating Game: A Dispatch From London
A half-empty beer, a chance encounter, an amicable mismatch.
By Conor Davage
Expectations managed is a monthly dating column. Conor, a 28-year-old living in London, covers the law of attraction, dating outcomes, drinking etiquette, how to end things, and more on matters of the heart.
I have always been a nervous dater. Typically, I require three to four cans of beer ahead of any first romantic meeting to calm my nerves and pry out my more sociable side, which any unsuspected date could only assume was my natural charm. It is essential that I keep this momentum going during the date, too. That’s why I am underwhelmed as my date returns with our drinks. His fists clench our second round, he places my Guinness on the table and slides it towards the edge closest to me. It’s half empty. “The bartender just poured half of it, sorry,” he shrugs as he tries to gracefully loop his long legs into the seat.
For anyone that is familiar with Guinness lore, a close relative to Irish culture, it is typical to let a pint of Guinness rest mid-pour to allow for a creamy head to build, before continuing to fill it up to the brim. A ritual important to Irish people, of which I am one. My British date, now fully seated, grips his full lager with both hands. It was clear that he expected me to drink this offering, be it premature. I take a sip and wonder if being unaware of such a custom constitutes a culture clash? Sure. An irreconcilable incompatibility? Too early to tell.
My life was romance free for several months. I had effectively removed my pieces from the dating game, straight to jail without passing go. The truth is, I lost interest in dating and the idea of rejoining the market was daunting. After all, it’s a numbers game in which probability is not in my favour, being a gay man living in London. So when this date was conceived, it was after being considered over a period of weeks, mediated through several dating apps, double authenticating attraction before meeting. His texting manner was refreshingly honest. At one point telling me I “seemed sad.” An interesting take on my character, I was eager to correct in person. I hoped his sincerity would carry through to an instant familiarity and connection. I was ready to roll the dice.
He is handsome, with long dirty blonde hair, has a slim build and short, gummy teeth. He dressed like an academic with corduroy pants and mis-matched coloured knitwear. Dressing for functionality and character quirk rather than any obvious trends. He has a posh English accent, with effeminate mannerisms of someone much older, possibly those of a close aunt or family friend. I think I’m attracted to him. As we settle in, the conversation evolves beyond our day jobs and London weather. I want to know his ideal relationship outcomes - a deal breaker for me in my quest for a serious partner and an effective filter at this early stage to ensure I don’t waste too much time. In the current matchmaking ecosystem, you can’t assume anything of a prospective date. I’ve seen everything listed on dating profiles: looking for long term, looking for short term, nothing serious, or worst of all, “exploring their dating goals,” of which I would be a passive contributor in a zero-sum game.
I bite the bullet. Cloaked in a general questioning of ideology, I abstract from my personal investment, and ask “What is your stance on relationships?” “I don’t believe in monogamy,” he explains, as I nod intently. “It doesn’t make sense to commit to one person when there are many people we might be attracted to out there, which we won’t be experiencing because of outdated norms.’ I pause for thought, “What’s the point of being in a relationship at all if it’s open?… You could instead not be in a relationship at all and have the same desired experiences?” I ask inquisitively, but my tone now possibly hinting at my skin in the game. Stumped, he repeats my question back to me, “I don’t know,” he resolves. His expression sunken, I could see his relationship worldview come into question. A belief so firmly held seemed to dissolve with a light probe. In that moment, I didn’t know why I was there. He was playing Monopoly, of which partners, like hotels, were to be collected.
As we leave through the front of the pub, he opens up a shiny plastic packet with a transparent window, which exposes two joints, one of which is for me, he tells me. “I made you a gift”. I don’t smoke and politely declined. He lights up and we walk together to the end of the street. At a perpendicular crossing, he turns left and I turn right. “I’m this way” he points. Unsure of protocol, I linger for a moment. It seemed to prompt him to say, “You can come too if you’d like.” I rashly agree. Halfway across the street, much like my Guinness, he cuts in and interjects. “You’re keen, aren’t you?”
I stop in my tracks, completely stunned by the assertion. “Actually, no, I’m going home,” I responded. He quickly fumbles to explain that he sees me as a friend, and he just meant we could watch a movie together. “Yeah, I know,” I deliver calmly and turn to walk back in my original direction. Incompatibility was confirmed, and although I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiment, it stung.
Three weeks later, I bumped into my date again on my way home from the gym on a Sunday morning. I greet him with a hug and excuse my inflamed red face and sweaty hair. In an attempt to help conversation along and avoid any silences, I ask where he is going. He pauses as if to do a quick cost/benefit calculation in his mind and blurts out, “I’m meeting a guy I’ve been trying to break up with.”
My heart sinks - an instinct bodily reaction, which surprises me given I haven’t thought of him since our previous encounter. I decided to add my two cents and tell him that I think he shouldn’t break it off with the guy that morning, in real life. I reason that it doesn’t give the person the opportunity to manage their disappointment in private. He agrees with me, seeming relieved that I had unburdened him for the day, something I was happy to do for them both. Although not entirely convinced he agreed in principle.
I think back to our last encounter crossing the road, the unspoken subtext is that he’s thinking about it, too. I would have appreciated it if he had done the same for me, let me down over text if I had subsequently followed up with him for a second date. It would have avoided the embarrassment of being told I was just a friend in the middle of the street, after a two hour investment of my time, one and a half drinks later and a unilateral feeling of deflation. A feeling I was now trying to save the next guy from, like pulling an invisible thread that seems to connect all daters together.