Deborah Ross: Our Woman in Crouch End

Just say no - except if the man has money, a loft apartment and a Britta water filter

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It seems to me that if someone can not only write a book called The Jane Austen Guide to Dating but also get it serialised in The Times - which, surely, will next be giving away cellophane-wrapped beach bags and trashy sarongs - I figure I can bloody well write my own guide to dating. You may say: ah, but what experience do you have, Ms Ross, as we have heard that while, in your day, you went on the occasional first date, there were rarely any second ones, if there were any at all? I can not deny this, or deny that my track record makes Liz Jones look like a total goer getting it 24/7 in all the positions there are, but not being an expert on something has never stopped me before. Here goes:

A few introductory words

Dating can be like walking through a minefield, the only difference being that you are unlikely to get your legs blown off and your face charred, but that is a small matter and it is unkind of you to undermine an otherwise excellent analogy by even mentioning it. Still, every woman I know - some well; some vaguely; some not at all - are confused about how to navigate this minefield that isn't really one. Personally, I always turn to the Rev Ian Paisley, who looks rubbish waltzing in an empire line dress, but whose wise words have been, and always will be, manuals for anyone who wants to find not only a lifelong partner, but someone true who will make your problems his, just as you will make his problems yours, unless you are too busy and he's just being annoying and doesn't he know your problems are enough for the both of you? What a schmuck.

Times have changed, but Paisley's words remain as wise and insightful as ever. In essence, dear female reader whom we, too, hope to seduce from The Daily Mail ... next week, a sarong that doubles as a beach-bag and a Marian Keyes paperback that can also be used as a Royal Doulton tea set ... it is this: Just Say No! Always. Although you may, if the occasion merits, expand with: "No. No. And never from behind, you filthy sodomite!" After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged solely by the Rev Ian Paisley and a few other loopy Christians that this kind of thing is strictly for pervs. And Elton John.

Don't play games

This refers not just to Monopoly, which can go on interminably, but also Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Frustration, Operation and Mousetrap, not that anyone has all the pieces anyway (ditto Operation, plus no battery and no tweezers). For the last word on game-playing in a relationship, I always refer to Tolkien's great work of a hobbity nature, The Lord of the Rings, which is as valid and telling as it ever was, even though I've never read it because it's so boring. That last word is always: "Zzzzz."

If you like someone, make it clear that you do

Alternatively, though, if you don't like someone, but are desperate, then you can always pretend that you do. Affect to be interested in what interests him, obviously, but draw the line when it comes to any kind of holiday that doesn't involve a lobby, like camping, as no matter how lonely or sad you might be it simply isn't worth it, plus you'll have to pee in a bush and how are you going to miss your feet?

A Big Issue seller is always a good bet, by the way, as there is every chance he'll agree to stay over, especially if it's raining and he has a big hole in one shoe. (Big holes in both shoes and there'll be no getting shot of him. Don't fret about sex without love. I know I don't. Don't mentally compile your shopping list during sex as you may call out "chops" and "Jif" and "silver foil" and give the game away.)

Actually, contrary to most advice, it's a great idea to show a man that you are interested and sometimes very interested, which can mean hanging on to his leg while crying: "Don't leave me, don't leave me." And: "Take me from behind. I insist upon it." And: "Let's have a game of Operation, even though we've lost all the pieces and the battery and the tweezers but what the hell, I'm up for poring over a cardboard cut-out of a man with holes in him if you are, darling." For further reassurance on this matter, I always refer to Enid Blyton, whose stories are as pertinent now as they were 10 minutes ago, even though they usually involve rowing to an island for an exceptionally dull adventure and have nothing to say about anything.

Don't fall for superficial qualities

What, like good looks and money and a loft apartment and a Britta water filter? Piss off! (For more on "aspirational arseholes", such as myself, who'll sleep with anyone so long as the car is sufficiently soft-topped and apartment suitably lofty, see Zadie Smith, whose contemporary fiction remains as contemporary and fictional as ever. For a great deal less on arseholes generally, see Paisley above).

The bottom line

Get pregnant on the very first date, then lock all doors so he can't bolt. It worked for me.

Trust

He says he'd like to be allowed to go for a little walk soon, as it would be nice to feel the sun on his face again after all these years, but we'll see.

The Dross Guide to Dating is being serialised in the New Statesman, which is offering a free, female-friendly miners' helmet as well as vouchers for the bad comprehensive of your choice.

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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