Save me, Alan Carr!

I know in some ways it’s a bit daft, but every now and then I have a pang of guilt about the little guy and the fact that he’s growing up in a household that has no men.

I mean, sure, he’s under no illusions about who his daddy is – he sees him every six weeks – but … on a day-to-day basis, he’s missing out on all the things that boys do with their dads, from fixing and dismantling stuff to poking about under the bonnet of the car.

I know that plenty of boys grow up without a father around at all, but in our gang, we’re pretty much the only ones. (I recently discovered one other single mum – one! – after four years of searching.)

I also know that not all dad are practical gurus and that I’m quite welcome to get into DIY or bike maintenance myself, but whatever a parent’s skills are, by the very nature of the beast, they can never be as broad and varied as those of two parents’.

Now, generally speaking, I’m not the sort of mum who panics because her child hasn’t mastered quantum mechanics shortly after ditching the diapers … but I do sometimes worry that I can’t help the little fella with lots of things he might be enthusiastic about. Which might, I suppose, be one of the reasons why I find myself here, back at the speed dating again.

I know, I know. The devil made me do it.

Even though these soirées tend to be about as much fun as stepping on snails in the dark, they’re also the only practical way for a single mum to meet other singles – what with having approximately zero socialising hours and all. But honestly … why I do it to myself I just don’t know.

Masochism, maybe?

Anyway, so far I’ve sat through a full five minutes of Baz’s jalopy racing (Baz doesn’t know a thing about me beyond my name); an intense conversation with a Russian nuclear physicist whose greatest passion seems to be collecting beer mats (what is it about me and Russians?); and a highly jocular, if slightly forced, conversation with a guy from the American airbase who pronounced caramel as cormel … leaving us at cross purposes for a decent chunk of our allotted five minutes.

Yeah, I know… but these are the kind of conversations you have at speed dating events.

Anyhow, just a few seats away, coming closer with every round, I see a guy with a striking similarity to Alan Carr. And throughout the beer mats and whatnot, he becomes a beacon of homeliness; a cosy, Paddington Bear-type character that I’m quite looking forward to meeting … though not necessarily in a romantic context, it must be said.

He’s not exactly like Alan Carr. Obviously.

He’s presumably less funny … and almost certainly less gay, given that he’s elected to spend his evening at a decidedly hetero speed dating session. But nonetheless, I can’t deny I’m expecting some sort of similarity. So when he opens his mouth and a deep Yorkshire baritone comes out, I nearly fall off my chair.

“I didn’t expect that accent,” I say.

“It’s the Alan Carr thing, isn’t it?” he replies, quick as a whip. “Everyone says that. They’re expecting a mincy mockney then this voice comes booming out.”

“You do have a bit of the Alan Carr about you,” I say, as if I’d just thought of it. “How does that work out in the world of dating?”

“Not as well as you might think,” he says, grimacing.

“Well, at least you seem to fall into the ‘normal’ bracket,” I reply. “You’re not into jalopy racing, are you?”

He shakes his head.

“Beer mats?”

He starts to laugh. “You’ve had a good night, then?”

“The best,” I say wryly.

Around us, everyone is starting to pack up and leave; our five minutes are up and the event is drawing to a close. Nearby, the Russian physicist hovers expectantly.

“Oh lord,” I say, tilting my head in his direction. “Beer Mat Man. Save me, Alan Carr!”

And do you know what? He does.

He holds my coat for me, then pulls my arm firmly through his, gives Beer Mat Man a robust nod by way of farewell, and marches me out of the door.

We hold our poise until we’re well clear, then burst out laughing.

“That was impressive,” I say. “Truly masterful.”

“Oh aye,” he smiles. “Alan Carr doesn’t mess about.”

Then he pulls me close and kisses me, and I think, you’re darned right: Alan Carr really doesn’t mess about.

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How nice is nice enough?

So I suppose you’re wondering how the date with Smiley Man turned out?

Well, the answer is that it went very nicely, thank you. So nicely, in fact, that we both quickly agreed that we’d like to meet up again.

Both times we talked extensively about our respective offspring without anyone getting bored or rolling their eyes: he’s a part-time single parent to his daughter, which means he gets where I’m coming from in terms of free time, or lack of, and understands when my messaging comes to an abrupt halt because I’ve just caught the little guy waving the loo brush round the bathroom and suddenly need to remove all his clothing and scrub him from head to toe.

He shares my modest approach to alcohol – important in a dating scenario – and is used to early nights and early mornings, which are pretty unavoidable round here. He’s also good friends with his ex-wife and they’re doing a great job of co-parenting their seemingly delightful daughter.

In short, he seems like a thoroughly decent chap and meeting up was all very easy and pleasant and there wasn’t a trace of awkwardness. Which is good … isn’t it?

Now, see, here comes the difficult part, because there are actually no black marks against Smiley Man: he really seems like a very nice guy and – unlike the vast majority of guys I’ve met through dating sites – he falls well within the parameters of ‘normal’, without for a moment being boring.

And yet, and yet …

The crux of the matter is that I just don’t think there’s a spark. There, I’ve said it. I genuinely enjoy his company but I’m not vaguely interested in kissing him. The thought hasn’t even crossed my mind.

And even as I say the words, I can hear the voice of my mother saying, “Ah, but physical attraction soon fades!” and I know that – up to a point – she’s right. I also know that most of the guys I’ve dated long-term were not instantly physically appealing to me. (Although it should also be noted that I’m no longer dating any of them, either.)

So what’s a girl to do? Should I keep on meeting up with him in the hope that something or other may, sooner or later, blossom? Or is that just stringing him along?

Like the perfect gentleman that he is, he hasn’t attempted to kiss me either. And I have caught him on the dating site at least once when he wasn’t talking to me, which suggests that he’s very happily and very reasonably keeping his options open. Or else that his interest in me tends towards the platonic, too.

So, do we just bobble along meeting for friendly coffees, or should I take the bull by the horns and at least articulate my ambivalence?

For once, I’m at a complete loss. My internal etiquette has no template for situations such as these. Under normal circumstances it would, of course, be no problem to keep meeting up until we either got it together or found someone else to make eyes at, and neither of us would be obliged to comment on it at all. But the simple fact that you’ve introduced yourself to someone with the express intention of bagging yourself a significant other somehow puts a different tint on it.

To confuse my already befuddled brain that little bit further, on a rare night out with friends recently, I met up with an old acquaintance who actually did make my pulse quicken just a little. Now, is that just physical attraction raising its fickle head or … what?

Whatever, it was a welcome frisson that at least served to remind me what attraction feels like, because in among nappy changes, night wakenings and early morning tantrums, it’s pretty easy to forget. The fact that the friend doesn’t live in the same country, let alone the same town pretty much negates any possibility of anything happening but … hey, isn’t that the story of my life?

Anyway, I’m all set to meet Smiley Man again this week. At least I’m supposed to meet him … if I can ever leave the house.

The little guy has come screaming into the Terrible Twos in fifth gear and bedtime is now an hour-long battle. (Such are the freedoms of the big boy bed and his ability to get out of it, again and again and AGAIN.) I have visions of Smiley Man waiting patiently at our rendezvous while I’m wrestling a recalcitrant toddler back under the covers for the fourteenth time.

It’s at times like these that the whole thing just seems so flipping difficult that I start to wonder whether there’s space in my life for two men after all. But whilst cuddles from a certain snuffly little guy melt my heart and fill me with joy, I also want someone to share cuddles with after 8pm.

So I suppose all I can do is wrestle that toddler into bed one more time and make a dash for the door … and hope that sooner or later it will become apparent whether I’ve made yet another friend or something a bit more special.

The big bland

So here we are again. AGAIN. Yet another promising conversation with a seemingly appealing gentleman.

Actually, I say it as if it were something that happens every day, but the truth is that the majority of conversations I’ve had with ‘gentlemen’ from the dating site either fizzle out in a mutual wave of apathy or never get started in the first place. (And that’s without counting the guys that introduce themselves with a LOL. We all know how I feel about that.)

Anyway, after extensive correspondence over the course of a few days, The Chef professes to be very excited to have met me … and I must admit that I feel a cautious enthusiasm as the conversation continues and we build up an easy rapport.

I know all too well, however, not to get carried away: it’s frighteningly easy to get on swimmingly via text or email or whatever and then find out that you have nothing in common once you meet in the flesh. And so it is that I end up suggesting a quick coffee one lunchtime – quite a sneaky proposal, since it requires a mere cycle into town rather than any complicated babysitting arrangements.

I’m almost surprised when he agrees; too many of these guys seem to be looking for a penfriend and recoil in horror when you suggest meeting them face to face. But in fact, he’s so keen on the idea that he decides he’d rather do away with a swift caffeine fix: he’d rather take me to dinner, all the better to enjoy my company over the course of an evening. Wow.

And so it is that Friday night sees me pop the little guy into bed then skedaddle into town at top speed to meet The Chef at a cosily intimate restaurant for a sophisticated dinner à deux.

As I park my bike across the road, I see him waiting outside. He’s a little older and more tired-looking than his photos suggest but … hey, I probably look tired too; I’m not going to quibble about that.

We start chatting immediately and there’s not a minute of awkwardness. In fact, the waiter has to return three times before we’re anywhere near ready to order.

As the night wears on, the conversation flows along with the wine. The food is good and it’s pleasant to be out and about like a grown up again. Overall, the evening is … fine.

Yes, only ‘fine’. It sounds strange to damn it with such faint praise; we’re having a nice time. Or at least I am. And yet, and yet … he occasionally shows a slightly chippy side to his character. And he keeps talking about the grand side project he’s working on but can’t tell me about. Nothing to mark him as an out-and-out weirdo but, still…

I feel slightly on my guard, but willing to reserve judgement. After all, almost all of my previous boyfriends were ‘growers’ and to be honest I’ve had so many failed dates that I’ve lost perspective on the level of attraction that’s required before you agree to meet someone again. He hasn’t exactly bowled me over and I can’t actually imagine wanting to kiss him yet, but neither does he repulse me. I’d be happy enough to meet up for another coffee or something, without any expectations. Is that enough?

In any case, the evening ends rather abruptly when I realise that it’s 10.35pm. Although I’d warned him at the beginning that my babysitter had to leave at 10.45 on the dot, neither of us had kept an eye on the time, so suddenly I’m scrambling to get the bill and get my coat on and get out of the door, and our goodbyes are rather perfunctory.

I arrive at home panicked and breathless, but I’ve made the deadline and the babysitter takes his leave, leaving me to mull over the evening’s events. Principally, I feel … nothing really, not bothered one way or the other. Which is a bit of a strange way to feel.

Anyway, it soon becomes apparent that he felt more or less the same way, since our frequent correspondence stops almost immediately. I feel oddly indifferent. And since ‘meh’ is unlikely to be the basis for a solid relationship, I have to conclude that it’s not a bad thing.

Attraction is not an exact science

Soooooo here we again, on another lunchtime date.

It’s a lovely sunny day and as I cycle towards my destination, I’m full of the joys of … well, autumn – even if this glorious day is distinctly unseasonal and about as far from a typical dank, autumn day as it’s possible to get.

Today I have the pleasure of passing my lunch hour with yet another potential beau from the dating site, so I roll up at the appointed hour, only to find that he’s already there. Splendid. I like a man who’s punctual.

We agree that it’s far too nice a day to sit in a coffee shop, so we grab a take out and make our way to the park.

He’s a very nice chap, and we pass a pleasant half hour chatting about this and that: where we’re from, where we work and what we do in our free time. He’s polite, intelligent and pleasant company and I learn that he’s a scientist with a gym habit (alas, my pre-baby gym-going days!). He also has a fluorescent yellow cycling bib, which he doesn’t take off.

As far as conversation goes, I’d happily meet him for another coffee but any hopes of romantic compatibility are dashed by one topic of conversation: lunch. He asks what I my usual arrangements are when I’m at work and not meeting potential love matches in the park.

“Well,” I reply, “I usually make my own food and take it in; we don’t have a canteen at work.”

“Ah, yes,” he says, “I usually make my lunch, too: just some rice or pasta with vegetables and a third of cucumber.”

“Oh,” I say, raising an eyebrow. “A third of a cucumber?”

“Yes,” he replies. “It’s just the right quantity.”

He pauses.

“Well, actually, saying a third is not quite accurate. I have half of a third in the morning, and half of a third in the afternoon.”

“I see,” I say.

And I really do see. Now, I’m aware that I have plenty of foibles of my own – and the longer I’m alone, the more I acquire – but I immediately see that he would be driven batty by my slapdash slicing and I would be driven insane by his precision pruning.

His scientific mind is evidenced again not five minutes later when I mention how the little guy has finally learned to blow bubbles, and how we have fun by chasing them round the garden.

He smiles and looks enthusiastic, saying, “Yes! That’s great. You could try different mixtures, to see which dilution works best!”

I smile at him.

He really is a nice guy, and maybe I’m wrong to judge him so swiftly but … I fear he’s not the guy for me. Or maybe I’m not the lady for him. Either way, I’d happily meet him for a friendly coffee but, as previous experience has shown, that’s not really what people on dating sites tend to want, and so he’s consigned to the ‘no’ pile, cucumber and all.

As I cycle back to work, my phone pings. It’s another message from the dating site.

“Hello sweetie pie,” it begins. “You really are beautiful…”

Before these sweet words curdle on the screen, I flick to check the sender’s profile. Scrolling through age, height and eye colour (who cares?), I go directly to ‘About me’.

The profile is short. In fact, ‘Victory3000’ has written just one word: LOL.

And that, I think, as I get back on my bike, really is all I need to know.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Oh. My. God. Ohmygod. Omigod, omigod, omigod! I went for a date with a guy and … he was NICE!

Now, I understand this may sound as though I’m damning him with faint praise, but considering my usual fortune with the opposite sex … well, let’s just say I’m reluctant to go overboard prematurely.

Anyway, the Resting Administrator – he’s taking a break from his usual admin career to come to the UK and improve his English, as well as date the locals – is tall, dark, handsome and, shockingly, nice. I can hardly believe it. For once, the dating site has come good, I think.

Although our date is brief, we have time to go for a coffee, take a walk and sit in the sunshine, watching the world go by. And we have a thoroughly pleasant time. So it seems only logical to arrange another date to see how this thing progresses.

And so we arrange for a drink the next evening (I know – evening! Get me…) in a pub that’s close enough to home to facilitate a quick dash if anything happens that my dear babysitting friend can’t cope with.

Although the gap between the little guy’s bedtime and the start of the date doesn’t leave time for a whole heap of preening, I brush my teeth, do my hair and treat myself to a slick of lipstick. At eight o’clock sharp I’m stood at the appointed place and…

… my date isn’t there.

Undeterred, I take a seat and try to resist the temptation to fiddle with my phone. Not five minutes later he arrives, apologises for his tardiness and zips off to get the drinks.

And it’s then that the wheels come off the wagon.

Because when he sits back down, he’s not the charming man I spent the afternoon with; he’s a leering, over-“friendly” guy who’s either undergone a complete character transformation or has made a little too free with the pre-dinner sherry.

I sit, perplexed, as he tells me he’s disappointed that I didn’t immediately start calling him ‘baby’ or ‘honey’ as he had done in his texts. Then he embarks upon an embittered rant about how the people in his building don’t respect him and how wrong this is as he’s always respected other people and even as a teenager he never disrespected anyone and if I did then I’m surely a bad person…

Initially, I just feel bored listening to him rave on. And then I begin to question why I’m sitting there at all. I’ve got barely an inch down my drink and I already know that this is going nowhere. And so I raise my hand to bring his torrent of bitter words to a halt.

He looks at me for a moment, and blinks.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m not having a nice time. In fact, I’m feeling quite uncomfortable and I’d like to go home now.”

Immediately, he wilts.

“Sorry,” he says. “Yes … I’m sorry … of course … let’s go.”

I half-expect him to contest my decision, but at the door he just apologises meekly once more and we part.

My babysitting friend mimes disbelief as I walk through the door not 45 minutes after I’ve left.

“Already?!” she says. “What happened?”

And so I tell her.

And the next day, I receive a string of apologetic messages, but it’s plain that there’s no going back from here. I reply to one, then delete the rest. Eventually, he falls silent.

I feel utterly confused. How can someone’s character change from black to white – and back again – in so short a space of time? But I refuse to let one setback get in the way of my new dating regime. In fact, the very next day I get another message from another gentleman who – on the surface at least – appears to be quite normal, and a date is duly arranged.

Now, I’m working on the basis that a girl would have to be very unlucky indeed to meet two crazy guys in one week, right?

Let’s hope I’m right because I’m meeting him for coffee in half an hour…

The tide (finally) turns

I don’t know what happened to June: one minute it was there and the next – pofff! – it was July. Just like that.

Perhaps it was in contrast to previous periods of extended solitude, but June seems to have whizzed by in a haze of action and activity, from sunny Fridays lazing in the park to visits from old friends, barbecues a-go-go, a toddlerful of strawberries and even a day out at a festival.

(Admittedly, it was a festival aimed at the under 5s and filled with glue, glitter and sensory play, but it was a festival nonetheless.)

The last month has also seen the little guy’s word count zoom to …. ooh, about eleven.

In addition to yes, no, shoes, door, duck! (triumphant tone, applied to anything with wings) and buh-bye! (solemn hand-waving of the turn-the-tap-on-and-turn-it-off-again variety) we now have more! (insistent look) and no more! (an equivalent to more!), as well as any amount of earnest conversation that doesn’t quite amount to any recognised language.

Even my name has changed: I’m now a perfectly pronounced mom-my, rather than the ma-ma-ma of yore. Yes, my little pud is growing up. He even tried to dress himself today. And OK, he was draping the clothes over his limbs rather than actually slipping into them but hey, as some philosopher* once said, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.

Yep, there’s a definite sense of change in the air, and it’s change for the better.

For starters, after hitting an all-time low, relations with the Baby Daddy finally – finally! – seem to be on the up. He’s sent a couple of messages lately full of enthusiasm about spending one-to-one time with the little guy.

Admittedly, it’s six weeks since he actually saw him and the proposal is mainly to avoid contact with me, but no matter. Father and son time is always good news in my book, and I’ll be happy for my little piglet to get some quality poppa time.

There are changes afoot in other areas too: it seems improbable, I know, but my Aura of Romantic Doom seems to be leaving me. Yep, this weekend I went on not one, not two, but THREE dates.

Surprisingly, for such a long-awaited event, there isn’t that much to say, except that coffee was drunk and the conversation flowed quite nicely, but … I’m not sure any of the candidates is set to be waltzing down the aisle with me any time soon.

Admittedly, it’s hard to gauge compatibility in a 90-minute ‘interview’; if you go on first impressions, you’ll only ever spot the instant hits with no chance of identifying the ‘growers’. Which means you might end up dating the equivalent of The Cheeky Girls, whilst passing up on slow burning – and possibly longer lasting – pleasures.

I also concede that the presence of a one-year-old doesn’t really give an authentic dating experience, but all three gentlemen were very gallant about it and acquiesced to the little guy’s demands with alacrity.

Still, even if I didn’t find Mr Right, it was nice to dip a toe into the waters and remind myself what it’s all about. Because, to stretch a watery metaphor, it finally feels as if the tide’s in my favour, so it surely can’t be long until my ship comes in.

*It was Laozi in the Tao Te Ching. I looked it up to spare you the trouble. And no, it wasn’t Confucius. Wikipedia told me so.

Cancellations and celebrations

Of course, the date didn’t happen. Of course it didn’t. In the continuing farce that is my love life, it was only to be expected. We decided on the day, but the place and time were still up for grabs … when he fell silent. And that was that.

Because if someone gives you the silent treatment, there’s not a lot you can do about it except be silent right back. My only consolation is that if someone doesn’t have the courtesy to drop you a line to tell you that they’ve gone off the idea/have other plans/have decided that they’d rather pull their finger nails out one by one they probably weren’t much of a catch anyway. Hey ho.

And so I went to the dating event. I went to the dating event where I met two very nice women, with whom I’ve stayed in contact, and I didn’t talk to a single man. Not one.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: if you don’t put yourself out there, you’re never going to get anywhere. You’ve got to be in it to win it. And of course, you’re right. And you should ‘never judge a book by its cover’ and ‘seize the day; procrastination is the thief of time’ and all those other platitudes that can so easily be applied to other people.

But you know what? I just wasn’t feeling it.

Maybe it’s because I’d been up since the crack of dawn (or possibly even a little before), maybe it’s because I’m so out of practice in the dating game or maybe it’s because the assembled examples of manhood just weren’t my kind of guys, but I simply couldn’t be bothered.

It felt as though I’d made a big enough effort by changing into slinky trousers and climbing into high heels without having to drag a conversation out of some sullen dude with IT hair.

(And I’m sorry, IT guys, there really is a stereotypical IT hairdo. It doesn’t mean you all have it; just a significant enough proportion to make it a stereotype. You may also want to debate what is meant by ‘IT guys’ but if you do, that probably means you are one.)

As I stood looking around the room – which was fairly strictly divided into groups of men and groups of women, with very little overlap – I thought how, under normal circumstances, I’d make the effort to start mingling and drag a couple of girls with me but … I just felt too tired to do it.

Physically tired … mentally tired … tired of the same old introductory conversations. Just tired.

So I sipped my free drink and then I sloped off home, more convinced than ever that dating sites and dating events and god knows what other wildly contrived ways there are to meet a mate just aren’t for me.

However, my blue funk of dating despair didn’t last long. Just a few days later, I was cheered by some Very Good News: a dear friend of mine, having snared her man in the not-too-dark-and-distant past, is getting married. And hurray for that!

Apart from being wildly happy for her (and, indeed, for him) it gives me hope that there are some good guys left in the world. Single ones, at that.

And although their numbers may be dwindling as, one by one, good women like her snap them up maybe – just maybe – it means that there’s someone out there for me, too.