Sometimes first dates are doomed to fail. They're rubber-stamped with the word "NO" and are whizzing down a conveyor belt towards a silo marked "REGRET" before you've even met. I had one last week. I turned up at the bar 20 minutes early, walked in, and was greeted by an ex-girlfriend sitting near the door.
"What are you doing here?" she asked. I shrugged. "Oh, right. You're on a date. Oh dear." I quickly effected a last-minute venue switch, because I didn't want my strangely upbeat dating persona scrutinised by a woman who knows to her cost that it wears off after about a fortnight.
I arrived at bar number two, forgetting that the barman had also observed my strangely upbeat dating persona two months ago when me and another woman had spent an evening drowning our dignity in gin and tonic. "Gin and tonic?" he asked me, with wry amusement. By this point I was in no mood to meet anyone – particularly not some stranger off the internet – and as she walked in my strangely upbeat dating persona became totally inaccessible. She was aggressively attractive; I was miserable. It was like a Woody Allen film, but without the laughs. You know, like Match Point.
"Hi, how are you?" I said. "Hi, how are you?" she replied. I looked at the floor. "Are you OK?" she asked – at which point I made one of the worst mistakes you can make on a first date: I answered that question honestly. I could have said: "I'm fine," but what came out of my mouth was: "No, not really." She asked what was wrong. I said I didn't know. There was then a pause of such blistering awkwardness that the barman put some music on.
I apologised and said that I'd go to the loo, come back and by that point I'd be magically transformed into a marginally better man. I cobbled together approximately one quarter of my strangely upbeat dating persona, and returned for an hour of inconsequential chat.
As we talked, I pondered why we put ourselves through this kind of thing. The answer, of course, is hope. And optimism. But both these emotions had evaporated and the situation wasn't helped when the barman sidled over and placed something on the table, presumably imagining that it would help. A bowl of crisps. My mid-life crisps.