"So, tell me about your hair." I uttered this remarkable sentence during a date fairly recently, and ever since I've been wondering what prompted me to say something that managed to dovetail excruciating banality with sinister creepiness.
The answer, of course, is anxiety. Having inserted yourself under the romantic microscope, you simultaneously overthink and underthink everything you say, as your words take on this enormous burden of responsibility. You could be exposed as dull, over-eager, macabre, or an investment banker. It's probably safer to say nothing. In fact, it's safer not to show up, but that's generally considered bad form.
I try not to be too hard on myself, though, because there are men worse than me. I've collected evidence during solo visits to Wagamama, where for some reason – possibly an edict from head office, I've no idea – I am frequently seated next to couples slurping noodles while making heroic attempts at first-date chat.
A few months ago I watched in awe as a man in his mid-50s tried to impress a much younger woman by opening with the magical phrase: "Do you know what an extended warranty is?" He segued neatly into a lecture about insurance premiums before concluding, with a sly wink: "Now, you're the only woman I know – who I might like – who knows anything about insurance." (He probably considered his admission that he hadn't quite made up his mind about her to be a masterstroke.) "You don't understand it like I do," he continued. "But that's fine." She didn't think so. Last week, again in Wagamama, I sat toying with bits of squid while a young man offered his date a dozen reasons why he doesn't like fish, before dropping some award-winning nervous clangers such as "What's your postcode?" Tragically, I missed the build-up to his finest moment because a Wagamama employee was asking me if my squid was OK. (It was.) But when I continued my eavesdropping I heard him say: "I pushed her on to the bed and screamed at her. She was so scared she started hyperventilating! Sorry, I'm not sure where I'm going with this." Suddenly, my own worst ever utterance – "I think I'm going to try and kiss you now" – made me look like the model of sophistication, which, of course, I am.