The Reluctant Mean Girl

Midweek. Another bar. Another pint with a stranger. I sit and wonder where I’ll be in five hours. Will I be back in my flat ignoring the ironing or will I be tangled in Egyptian cotton and kisses with tonight’s contestant?  You just never know.

My date tonight bristles with efficiency. He was on time, buying drinks and sitting opposite me with a rictus grin on his face, in his pristine baby pink polo, before I knew what was happening.

“It seems weird going on a date on a Wednesday, no?” he says.
“Wednesdays are perfect, I think,” I reply. “And you wore pink!”
I nod at his polo shirt, knowingly. “Perfect shirt for tonight!”

He narrows his eyes. “I don’t follow.”
“Oh, errr,” I stumble awkwardly. “It’s from Mean Girls. They say ‘On Wednesdays we wear pink’. Yes?”

His face is blanker than a blank thing on a blank day in a town called Blankton.

I probe further: “Do you know Mean Girls?”

He leans back in his chair and his face changes to a look of bemusement tinged with disgust and a dash of weariness.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he sighs.

I gulp, feeling dumb and shallow. “It’s a film. Written by Tina Fey. Lindsay Lohan was in it? It’s quite old.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of it. I mean…” he shakes his head dismissively. “I just wouldn’t even want to watch it. I’m not into trashy movies.”

I shrug. “It’s not trashy, really. It’s quite a clever, knowing kind of comedy. Not as good as Heathers, but in the same ballpark.”
“I don’t really like the kind of films that gay men usually like,” he replies.

Oh, I see! BINGO! We have the new gay stereotype – the gay man who refuses to conform to a stereotype! How lucky for me to have snared this rarest of beasts. And barely halfway through our first drink.

I have two options. I could just let this go, or I could take a tin-opener to that can of worms he’s waving in front of me. Egyptian cotton, or home alone? I imagine the pristine sheets. Lovely. Then I think of him in them, beckoning me to a world where sex means never watching a popular movie again. Decision made.

“I don’t like it because I’m gay, you total snob. I like it because it’s funny.”
“Yeah, right,” he replies, folding his arms. A drawbridge goes up with great speed. “But you think it’s a  funny film because of the bitchy dialogue and the pretty, evil girls being all ‘fabulous’, right? It’s just a bit… obvious.” He unfolds his arms for a brief second and waves them dramatically in the air.

“So you have seen it, then?” I smirk.
“Uh.” A pause so long you could actually use it to nip off to watch Mean Girls. And then: “I might have done actually.”

He so can’t sit with us. I’m back in my own kitchen – alone – within the hour.

Stats: 5’10″, 31, mousy brown/brown, Devon
Pre-date rating: 7/10
Post-date rating: 3.5/10
Date in one sentence: Gay guy thinks pretending popular culture isn’t a thing makes him less gay.

A truncated version of this post originally appeared in the monthly dating column I used to do in Gay Times magazine. I now answer GT readers’ dilemmas and dole out relationship advice. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.

X offender – the minefield of kisses on text messages

There are so many social minefields these days, and endless faux pas just waiting to happen, it is surprising we bother going out at all, or ever communicate with anyone. If it weren’t for our thick skins and ability to recover from public mortification, we’d be better off living all alone, rocking back and forth in our world where nothing ever really happens, but we are all safe.

Few things are as mind-numbingly political, stupid and awkward than the simple ‘x’. Not the one that marks the spot on a treasure map, or the one that ends the words box and fox, but the little mark of appreciation you put at the end of a text or an email to denote a kiss.

Whether it’s a friendly peck, a dramatic European cheek-grazing quartet or full-on Frenchie with tongues ahoy is never really clear, and depends on who’s doing the x-ing.

There aren’t really any right or wrong ways to do it. What one person sees as a perfectly acceptable stream of xxxxxx to signify “nice to talk to you”, another views it as a marriage proposal and is looking at ‘venues’ before you can blink.

All you can do is to decide on your own set of rules and pray everyone you meet is on the same wavelength, – or at least understands why you do what you do. Here are mine.

The capital X
Oh, this is a no. Definitely not. Closing a text with a capital X for a kiss doesn’t say you really care – it is just a default. If you end your texts with full stops – and you really, really should – then most phones will cap that baby right back up.

And defaults are rarely sexy or deep in meaning – they come into play when nothing else happens, a fall-back. If you don’t take the time to change case when typing your x, or beginning to type a slew of the blighters if you’re feeing super-frisky, you just don’t care.

You’ve done it without thinking. The X kiss is a nothing, a natural function. It’s a fart at the end of the text. And don’t get me started on tall X out with his kids for a walk – the Xxxx – that’s just awful. You’re just pressing keys on the bus until it’s your stop.

How many kisses should you put on a text?
So now we’ve established the kisses have to be in lowercase – nobody wants a shouty, default kiss. But the number you place at the end of your missive is another minefield.

How affectionate are you feeling today? What does it say if you send two one day and just the one the next? Do you love or like them less?

My tip: pick a number for a person and stick to it. My boyfriend gets one. My mother gets two. Three for my sister and most female friends – for some reason a trio of text snogs tends to be the number they start off with, especially if you’re a gay.

Outbursts of affection may see this increase every now and again, but I never fall below the lower limit – and it’s a good idea to start as low as you dare. If you need more, and sometimes you do, you need somewhere to go. Do this xxxxxxxxxxxx straight off and it loses all meaning.

Another good tip is to mirror whoever is texting you, unless it’s someone who works in PR and you don’t know them – they tend to be very liberal with their x-ing.

Who gets the x?
Leave them off work emails unless whoever is emailing you does it repeatedly and it would be very awkward if you didn’t. A survey a couple of years ago suggested that the innocent old x on the end of an email was a huge factor in starting an office affair, but I wouldn’t read too much into Valerie from Accounts’ friendly ‘xx’ when she asks you to clear your items out of the work fridge, if I were you.

Someone you have not been on a date with yet: no, best not. Because we all have these mental ideas about what is and what isn’t appropriate, just leave it until you have actually met and the date has gone well. And then wait for them to do it first.

If you’re dumping somebody by text, probably best to leave it at one. They don’t come in halves, really, unless you do a > or a < – and that’s cruel.

A few common pitfalls:

xoxo

nono.

The hanging x
The most painful x minefield of all – you sent one but didn’t get one back. How do you reclaim your pride? Do you miss out the x on your next text?

What if they left it off by mistake? Maybe you should try again, right? In all honesty: I’ve no idea. Just try not to get too worked up about it and over-compensate.

What’s even more confusing is when historically you have been having a non-x conversation and suddenly there it is: an x, maybe two, on the end of the incoming message. You respond, only to find the next text is missing its closing smooch. I mean, it’s like nobody wants us to have good mental health, isn’t it? We can’t win.

c
Oh how many times have I done this? Jabbed with my sausage fingers – carefully going into lowercase – only to press send before I realise that x is actually a c and now I look stupid, with doughy digits to boot.

I have a friend called Catherine who dreads this the most – she’s worried anyone reading the text will think a) she’s signing off with her initial and NOT a kiss and b) she’s too dim or ‘cutesy’ to bother spelling her name with a capital C.

zzz
This is supposed to be xxx, right? But some phones assume you’re bound to be tired after all that frantic tapping and correct you to a virtual snooze.

It’s almost always followed up by another text explaining you weren’t calling the other person boring, but simply can’t be trusted with a keyboard smaller than the Hadron Collider.

Good luck. x

Sorry, I mean: xxx

Bit familiar. Maybe xx. Hmm, no, that’s for Mum.

Let’s just agree to leave it at none and say more about it. c

Shit.

Things I have pretended to like in order to get sex

Football
I remember a very miserable afternoon – a rainy Saturday – spent in a pub that smelled of cauliflower and dog, staring with great concentration at a TV up on the wall. I didn’t really dare look away in case I looked like I was bored and I couldn’t have given two bronze fucks about what was happening on the screen so I fixed my gaze on a spider at the corner of the TV. The spider span a web and then fell onto a table and crawled into a crisp packet. Spider, 1. Man eating crisps, 0.

Opera
Luckily, he didn’t take me to the opera, just played me one on his speakers that were bigger than Kensington and made the floor throb. I recognised a bit in the middle from an advert. He told me what it was but I was too busy wondering when I was going to get to play a concerto of my very own all over his alabaster rack. It turned out to be a very staccato experience.

Radio comedies
When asked whether you’ve heard of something, you should be honest lest you embarrass yourself and get a fact wrong. When my date asked me if I had heard of a particular comedy on Radio 4, I lied through my shiny white teeth and said “Why, yeeeess, it’s brilliant”. He used to play it to me before and after sex – never during, because “that would be weird” apparently – and when we got to the end of the first series I decided I would not be recommissioning him for another go.

A terrible food blog
Never have I pretended to like Instagrammed croissants and love hearts drawn in lattes so fiercely in my entire life.

Aaron
Aaron had very, very pert nipples and I was absolutely dying to see what they were like in the ‘flesh’, so I ignored his boring politics chat, the way he looked at every waiter’s arse as they walked by our table and his penchant for telling me how tired I looked and, when it came down to it, bit those tiny pink beauties very, very hard.

What have you faked so you could get more bang for your buck? Tell me on Twitter.

The Attachment

I’ve been chatting online to Graham – a 35-year-old ‘scientist’ – for a day or two and still can’t quite work him out. And I’m not sure I want to. It’s like there is something he isn’t saying; the unwritten words hanging in the air like hours-old fag smoke.

He talks me through the minutiae of his day like he’s writing a report for his parole officer. There is no humour, no flirtation – just fact after fact after fact. Wikipedia has become sentient and decided to explore the niche of being a very boring man in his thirties. At first I try to reply more spiritedly in the hope it will inspire him to jazz things up a little.

I am a one-man crash team trying to revive a fillet steak. His replies come back, still monotonous, but now longer. More information. How has this happened?

Desperate for a diversion from all this typing he’s sending me, I look again at his photos. His hair, receding, is an uneventful brown. His eyes, a dull blue and too close together, seem troubled. In all his photos, he’s staring straight into the camera wearing all manner of polo shirts, each one buttoned right up to the very top. Fashion bloggers would call it an ‘air tie’. Graham doesn’t look like he’s ever read a fashion blog. His mouth is a dull pink smear across his face – he doesn’t smile, or frown.

I am a one-man crash team trying to revive a fillet steak.

I scroll through mugshot after mugshot. I don’t know where any of the pictures have been taken. Sometimes I get a tantalising sliver of brick wall at the corner of the pic or perhaps… is that…? Is it the sky? Or a blue curtain? No idea. Every picture is cropped into the face as much as possible. He’s certainly got plenty of spare pics should he lose his travelcard.

He badgers me about a date but I decide I’m not going to meet him. I’m not attracted to him, after all, and I don’t see any point in leading him on. I’ve had a busy week and am not that desperate for a night out. I don’t want to just stop replying – somehow my warped sense of propriety prevents me from telling him to bore off. I resolve to wind things down by making my gap between replies longer, and my emails shorter and impersonal. The ultimate diss – being phased out before you’ve even met.

Incredibly, Graham is undeterred. In fact, my lack of interest seems to excite him and enrage him in equal measure. Finally, the tone of his missives changes. It’s not an upgrade, however.

“Off out later, are you?” he says when I tell him I’m busy. “Meeting somebody off Grindr for a SHAG?”
I don’t know what to say, so I decide to say nothing

The next day: “I bet you chase after all the boys, don’t you? I know what guys like you get up to.”
I get the feeling that he’s typing one-handed, so decide now’s as good a time as any to go into silent mode.
He gives it one final go.
“I shaved today,” he says.

I see the email has an attachment: a photo, which I open. Yes, he’s shaved all right. Everywhere. Instead of a smooth chin or chest, I see gleaming genitalia – Spam-pink with sensitivity and not a hair to be seen.
I somehow manage to retain my lunch and delete the photo, closing the email and marking it as – what else? – spam, to match his angry little pecker.

A truncated version of this post originally appeared in the monthly dating column I used to do in Gay Times magazine. I now answer GT readers’ dilemmas and dole out relationship advice. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.

Say no to searching for a soulmate

When you’re dating you hear a lot of talk about ‘soulmates’, ‘the one’ or the perfect match. Even the singles website where I met most of perfectly willing – but not always able – victims was called Soulmates, as if everybody on it were hopeless romantics staring at the sky with mooncalf eyes, waiting for Mr Right to swing off a star and drop into their arms.

Quizzes, algorithms and your own ridiculous preconceptions help you decide who this person is likely to be, this ‘other half’ of you, and anybody who doesn’t fit your narrow criteria is disposed of, thrown to the wayside.

But in search of this soulmate, aren’t we really just setting ourselves up for disappointment after disappointment, and banishing fun – and perhaps some really interesting, educational sex – to the back of the class for flinging spitballs?

He watches Hollyoaks – you think it’s Satan playing with his dollies. How could you possibly go out with somebody who didn’t match you perfectly?

For such a drearily romantic notion, hunting for a soulmate is a fairly clinical process. You think about the things you will need, whether it’s shared interests, a certain hair colour or the ability to put up shelves. You dismiss any suitor that doesn’t fit into your narrow field of requirements. He was a bit too fat, you tell yourself. He said he didn’t like Rufus Wainwright. He’s never listened to Radio 4. He watches Hollyoaks – you think it’s Satan playing with his dollies. How could you possibly go out with somebody who didn’t match you perfectly?

If there is one thing I realised, rejection after rejection, it’s that it is almost impossible for anyone to live up to their date’s idea of what they should be. Humans disillusion and surprise almost every minute we’re awake; we can’t really be programmed like a Sky+ box. If you approach dating like you’re shopping for a fitted kitchen, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

I never looked for a soulmate when I was dating, mainly because I could never really understand what one was supposed to be. A perfect 10 who instantly ‘gets’ you? A drongo in a matching cardigan who finishes your sentences? Someone you know so well, inside out, that you never have to spend any time working them out or discovering more about them? A hug from a mirror?

The problem with ‘the one’ is, well, there’s only one of them. How many times have we told ourselves at the beginning of a relationship that this guy or girl is the absolute, the very end, the first prize, that ‘ideal match’, only to find three years later that you’re shackled to someone who wears the same socks for five days straight – and with Crocs in summer?

In your next relationship, is this one the ‘the one’ one or should you have hung on to the last ‘the one’ one? Do you decide not to venture into another relationship lest the actual ‘the one’ one is out there looking for you somewhere? Confused? I know, right?

What if you are with someone for ten years, etching tattoos on your buttocks, making public declarations about soulmates, and then they sod off and have sex with somebody else? They were your soulmate, right? Does that mean you weren’t theirs? Isn’t it a two-way thing?

If soulmates do actually exist, and I am doubtful of this, they don’t just appear in front of you, having ticked off every box on your checklist. You grow into them. If you start off with Mr Perfect, where do you go next? Another 30 years of never being pushed or challenged, of agreeable comfort? Endless Valentine’s Days in the same restaurant?

The fastest way to working out what’s good for you is trying a little bit of the bad.

Clear all your filters, chuck out your checklist and widen those parameters. Take a risk. Never mind the perfect match, fuck the barista with a threadbare bank account – he might own the place one day. The fastest way to working out what’s good for you is trying a little bit of the bad. Who are you missing out on while waiting for that star to fall?

If you can find someone who’s a good kisser, smells nice, has an intelligent thought in his head and a sense of humour and – crucially – doesn’t make you want to kill, you’re already onto a winner.

Anyway, your soulmate probably doesn’t exist. Either that, or they’re married to someone else.

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5 reasons you should never go on a running date

Dating used to be very simple: you meet a series of near-strangers for an awkward drink in a pub that’s always too noisy/busy/rough/far away from a Tube station, decide whether you like them or not and if so do it all over again in a nicer venue and perhaps with food. And then you get married.

Now that everybody has the attention span of a gnat and is swiping left and right on their iPhones without so much as a thought for the kingdoms of emotions they’re quashing, dating has decided it needs a donk on it.

“Let’s go potholing/on a cocktail-making class/sketching/knitting/swing dancing/ice skating” trills this person you have NEVER met before, in an effort to look exciting.

Suggest a drink in a pub to a suitor now and they will think you incredibly old-hat and old-fashioned – unless your chosen watering hole used to be a toilet or an astronaut’s helmet or a nuclear bunker. “Let’s go potholing/on a cocktail-making class/sketching/knitting/swing dancing/ice skating” trills this person you have NEVER met before, in an effort to look exciting. And that’s fine.

But one date you shouldn’t go on? Running. Or any fitness. But especially running. And it is a thing. A guy once asked me out for a running date and I read an execrable magazine column where one of the guys on a date wanted to go running. So it’s officially a thing. And here’s why you shouldn’t do it.

1. Breath
I don’t know much about anything, but I do know that a good date has to have good conversation. Topics to talk about can be hard enough to come up with as it is.

Should you veer into political debate or keep the intellectual level at ‘Heat reader coming round after mild head trauma’? Should you talk a lot or spend most of your time nodding and listening enigmatically, like the Mona Lisa dangling from a set of deelyboppers?

Throw into the mix the breathlessness, huffing and puffing and gasping you’re likely to encounter while running and you may as well try to give a thank you speech midway through an asthma attack.

You won’t be able to talk to each other about anything, because you will be concentrating so hard on not seeming too out of breath so you won’t look perilously unfit and unattractive.

2. Sweat
There’s something to be said for the attractiveness of perspiration. In its mildest incarnation, taking centre-stage in a Diet Coke ad or an Eric Prydz video, sweating can be sexy, true. But some people sweat more than others.

What if some of your running date’s sweat gets on you? How hot for them will you feel as you watch them wring out that wristband at a pedestrian crossing for the fourth time?

Save your sweating for between the sheets.

Congratulations: you’re a towel that someone left in the changing room at the public swimming pool.

3. Red
When I run, something happens to me. And I don’t mean the gentle erosion of my pot-belly and firming of my thighs. It’s my face. It goes red. And not just a gentle faint glow of a red, but full-on grilled tomato, “oh my goodness have you just scalded your entire head”, bright huge beacon of ROUGE that can be seen from space.

And then all the muscles in your face kind of fall to the floor and you look like a roasted pepper that someone forgot to stuff. And don’t forget that you’re sweating. Red and wet. Congratulations: you’re a towel that someone left in the changing room at the public swimming pool.

4. Attire
Getting ready for a date can be a trial when it comes to deciding what to wear. I usually opt for a kind of borderline dull or ‘sexy-boring’ – clothes that won’t shout too much but also won’t make me fade away like a cotton-clad chameleon. Fitness gear though, well, that is a whole different area.

Do you dress like a ‘don’t care’ runner, in baggy old T-shirt and ‘whatever’ shorts with rugby socks and battered old trainers? (The ‘don’t care’ look is always the most calculated of all, but don’t tell anybody that you know this because we’re all just pretending to be someone else really, aren’t we?)

Do you buy all the latest gear and step out in sparkling spandex, a taut and fun-free love letter to neon? Maybe you plump for polished retro and relieve American Apparel of everything on their shelves so you look like an extra from Napoleon Dynamite?

Thinking about this for too long will make your head fall off and there is nothing you can do that is right. Whatever you choose to wear running will be wrong. Guaranteed.

5. Fitness
Either:
Your date will have more energy and be fitter than you.
Or:
Your date will resent you for being fitter and having more energy and will embarrass themselves by trying to keep up or outdo you. You are basically reserving yourself quite a few angrily scrawled pages in their diary or furiously typed entries on their dreary dating blog.

So, no, don’t. Say no to running dates. Unless you’re running to a pub.

I have a new column in GT where I very carefully go through all the men you should never date. I also try to help with readers’ dilemmas and dole out relationship advice. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.

Image: Andrew Head on Flickr.

672_the wow moment 3

The Wow Moment

Everybody should have their Wow Moment – that one moment in time where you look and feel fantastic and are at your absolute pinnacle of excellence, confidence and desirability. Most people aren’t aware of theirs when it’s happening – which can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it – but if I’m ever going to have mine, it’s now, as I walk into the bar precisely 33 seconds late for my date with a man ten years my junior.

The wow is all over my date’s face as I approach him. I don’t see that look too often, sadly. I am nothing if not realistic; I know the only way I’m ever likely to grace the cover of a magazine is if I become a famous serial killer. But whether his expectations were low, or my pictures were bad, or he’s just really desperate, I have no idea – all I know is that his eyes widened when he saw me. And not in horror. It’s delight. I’ve seen it just about enough times to know the difference.

He’s wearing a blue button-down shirt which looks like it was ironed by a depressed cat and chinos the shade of every unlovely hotel room you’ve ever stayed in.

He is 25, “a musician” and has a name that sounds like a countryside railway station – Clark Deeping or Brent Malling or something like that – and he is tall and sturdy and looks just the right side of sexy-boring. He definitely collects things, I can tell; I just hope it’s not scalps of hapless middle-aged midgets he goes on dates with. He tells me he’s glad I gave up my Saturday night to meet him. Yes, a first date on a Saturday! Very unlike me, but there was something in his jolly-masquerading-as-confident texts that told me it wouldn’t be a miserable evening. He’s wearing a blue button-down shirt which looks like it was ironed by a depressed cat and chinos the shade of every unlovely hotel room you’ve ever stayed in. I have always had a soft spot for sartorial awkwardness, so I am not remotely deterred. Clothes come off, after all.

We have been together for precisely two hours. He has touched my hand eight times. We have had four drinks. Not that I’m counting.

For someone so youthful, he seems a serious soul. There is much knitting of brows and thinking before he speaks. I, of course, am in this ridiculous Wow Moment mode, so am doing lots of what I’m assuming are enigmatic smiles peppered with sparkling conversation. To the outsider I probably look like someone having a stroke while they read out a shopping list. Whatever it is, it is working. We have been together for precisely two hours. He has touched my hand eight times. We have had four drinks. Not that I’m counting.

He asks me how many dates I’ve been on, and I pretend to mull this over in my head, staring into middle distance, as one would expect a person thinking about something to do. After a few seconds, my acting master class moves on to a lying one, and I throw out a number that shows I have experience, but doesn’t make me look like a miserable slut who uses dating as an excuse to go the pub and stare at men’s nipples through their shirt. He tells me he is fairly new to dating – I have no idea whether this is true but he trembles a bit as he picks up his pint so it may well be – and then says he often ends up going home with his dates.
“What an odd thing to tell someone you’re actually on a date with,” I say.
“I am a bit odd,” he replies.
“How odd?”
“Odd enough.”

An excellent reply. Barman, drink number five, please.

He suggests moving on somewhere else. Given that he has done everything but write “You are going to see me naked later” on a Post-it note and pass it to me, I pretty much know it’s a sure thing, but am intrigued by how much effort he’s going to put in. I play as dumb as I dare, letting him decide where we go. Which direction will he take?

He suggests a place that I happen to know isn’t too far from where he lives. I’d congratulate him for being so smooth if it weren’t for the fact that I’ve played this game so many times before. And with more subtlety. But for a near-novice, he’s doing pretty well. I reward him by pretending I haven’t caught on to his ruse.

Getting off in the middle of the club like the teenager I’m glad I never was.

We arrive at a club that sounds very loud from the outside. I wince, but we queue behind lots of fashionable people who are talking about haircuts and DJing and chlamydia. To my surprise, the girl on the door smiles widely at us and we are waved into the club. I have no idea why: he’s dressed like a member of the Oxford rowing team having Sunday lunch with his parents and I’m sporting what I call my ‘date-boring’ look – a simple polo and slim fitting cords.

My threads are dull to make my personality – and my eyes – stand out more. It’s a boring old tactic, but a well-tried one. And what do you know, within minutes of our arrival, it becomes apparent it’s doing the trick.

Without so much as a warning, his face is on mine and I stand awkwardly – although enjoying myself immensely – spilling my beer all over the floor while we go to town on each other. Getting off in the middle of the club like the teenager I’m glad I never was. The Wow continues.

We break apart and sit down at a table occupied only by one very drunk girl who is trying to do cocaine off her hand, but spilling it everywhere every time she exaggeratedly hiccups. Ignoring her, my date leans in and whispers: “I just want to rip your clothes off right here.”

I can’t help but laugh. First of all, what he’s just said is totally fucking preposterous; we’re in the middle of a club, music is banging and drinks sloshing left, right and centre. Also, I am not the kind of guy that men want to tear the trousers off. In a way, I’m flattered, but it rings hollow. See? My Wow Moment is happening in front of my very eyes and I don’t want to believe it’s true. Perhaps his confession that he takes a lot of his dates home make me feel less special.

However, if this young buck thinks that clumsy line will work on me, who am I to knock his confidence? I’m going to leave life’s harsh lessons for another time – tonight I’m going to have some fun.

“Probably best not to do it right here,” I smile, idly playing with the open neck of his shirt. “How long will it take to get back to yours?”
“About 15 minutes.”
I break into my last enigmatic smile of the evening. And then: “Let’s try to make it 10.”

Stats: 6’3″, 25, brown/brown, Gloucestershire
Pre-date rating: 6.5/10
Post-date rating: 9/10
If the date were a song: Betcha by golly wow

A truncated version of this post originally appeared in the monthly dating column I used to do in Gay Times magazine. I now answer GT readers’ dilemmas and dole out relationship advice. Take a look at the Gay Times website to see when the next issue is out.

Image: johnwennerberg on Flickr

The Hogmanay Kiss

Have you ever been to Edinburgh for New Year? You really should, even if you don’t have tickets for the execrable street party on Princes Street, which is usually avoided by the locals. I have spent many years in Edinburgh for Hogmanay, and only once have I had to endure the street festival, penned in with other ‘revellers’ (great word – such a shame we usually only hear it at New Year). Edinburgh is beautiful.

The year I go to Edinburgh’s annual street party is 1997. I am 22. I have just broken up with my girlfriend. Yes, girlfriend. We weren’t together very long and my tears were dry before I had time to get my handkerchief. My friend and I don’t have tickets for the street party, but we are not-very-reliably informed it is the ‘place to go’, so we buy lots of beer and make sure we are within the boundaries before they are roped off to ticketholders. It is ludicrously easy. But now it is 7.30pm, it’s freezing and I am going to be here for at least five hours.

I light a cigarette in the absence of absolutely anything else to do (this is a very long time ago – I haven’t smoked for over a decade) and as I take a drag, a group of people my age appear before me, one guy and two girls. They are what my grandmother would call “merry”. They ask for a light and we chat for a while.

Alex laughs longest and loudest of everyone.

My friend is very sociable and boisterous, so we soon develop a kind of camaraderie. The guy is warm and friendly and introduces himself as Alex. I’m sorry, girls, but your names escape me. We get chatting to another group of guys and soon we have a little posse all of our own, swaying as the beers take hold, lighting each other’s cigarettes and talking utter rubbish – each of us pretending it isn’t absolutely freezing. Everybody laughs at all my jokes, even the ones that aren’t funny. Alex laughs longest and loudest of everyone.

The hours crawl by and eventually we resort to the game you can only comfortably play with strangers – Truth or Dare. Various dull revelations are uncovered during the first couple of rounds: weirdest place you’ve had sex, weird celebrity crushes etc. One of the guys we have met, who is freezing his balls off in a kilt, asks Alex if he is gay. Alex says he is, and looks straight at me.

One of the girls, who has been feeling my backside on and off for about half an hour with absolutely zero response from me, dares the man in the kilt to kiss Alex for ten seconds.

Something happens to me that I don’t quite understand. I want to back away from them all, to run. I’m not homophobic – or at least I don’t think I am – but I don’t want that question to come my way. I shuffle from foot to foot and feign blowing into my hands to keep them warm. They are not cold – my gloves are thicker than axminster. I feel nervous and excited. And yet I drip with dread.

The game continues. A dare. One of the girls, who has been feeling my backside on and off for about half an hour with absolutely zero response from me, dares the man in the kilt to kiss Alex for ten seconds. My stomach churns; I feel sick. Mr Kilt reluctantly accepts this challenge. We all watch and cheer. I play along and exclaim “Urrrrgh” loudly as they kiss, noticing that Alex tries to slip the other guy his tongue. For the last second, he looks me right in the eye.

Then, it is my turn to be asked. I pick “truth” – I don’t want to be dared the same.
The other girl tries to focus on me and asks my question: “Do you fancy Alex?”
I try not to glare back. I think what reaction should be. I pull what I think is my best puzzled face. “Me? No, no.” I laugh nervously. And then I look at Alex and pat his shoulder with a pathetic ‘matey’ stroke. “Sorry, man. You’re just not my type. Wrong sex and all that.”
Alex smiles back at me without even a hint of snide. “Haha, no problem!”
And then it is over. For the moment.

The game fizzles out once everybody else has snogged each other – it is fairly obvious the man in the kilt will be going home with almost every female within a 10-mile radius – and I drain my can of beer and excuse myself to go to the loo. I’m glad to be away from them, but I am not alone for long. I hear my name being called and turn to see Alex bounding up behind me.
“I need the loo too so thought I’d chum you,” he says.
My stomach lurches and I start to feel light-headed. He chats to me as we queue for a portable loo but I feel awkward and can’t really process what he’s saying. Suddenly, he produces a cigarette for me and lights it. I look at him.
“I thought you didn’t have a light?” I ask.
He looks from my face to the lighter and back again.
“Ah,” he says. If his cheeks weren’t already rosy from the cold, he’d blush. “That was just a ruse.”
“A ruse?”
“Yeah, to get to talk to you.”
“What?” I ask. “One of the girls wanted to talk to me?”
“No,” says Alex gently. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh, why?” I reply, not being deliberately stupid, I promise. I am 22, remember.
He takes a really long drag of his cigarette. “I thought you and your friend were together, a couple,” he chuckles. “I just wanted to check.”
“Why?”
“Because…” he begins, but then a loo becomes free and a man further back in the queue tells me to “get a fucking move on”, so I leap into it and have a very shaky piss.

“I want to talk to you,” says Alex, gulping.
“What about?”
“You. You’re gay, aren’t you? I mean–” he scratches his head. “I hope you are. Are you?”

When I come back out, there’s no sign of Alex, so I assume he has gone back to the group. I then feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s him.
“I want to talk to you,” he says, gulping.
“What about?”
“You. You’re gay, aren’t you? I mean–” he scratches his head. “I hope you are. Are you?”
I pull my mouth in tight and attempt to shrug. “No, I’m not.”
Alex leans in closer. “Are you sure?”
I look around to see if anybody from the group is near us. They’re miles away, but I have to make sure. I run my hands over my face and try to think.
I pull Alex away further down the street.
“What are you doing?” he smiles drunkenly. I don’t reply. I don’t know what to say.

We end up on a narrow, dark street, free of Hogmanay drunks. There is an even smaller close just off it, and we scoot down it. It is drizzling. There is just one light, glowing orange but far from warm. There is a metal fire escape staircase. It’s almost like I know I will never forget this.

Alex clears his throat. “I want to kiss you. But I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to do.”
My mind explodes over and over again. A supernova of confusion, curiosity and fear. I have been cautious all my life, risk-averse. Tonight, something feels different.
I put my hand round his waist and pull him to me. I feel the damp chill of the fire escape on my back. I am surprised by the feel of the stubble and the forcefulness of his mouth. Somewhere on another planet, a crowd starts to count backward from ten. Everything melts away.

When we break apart, it is 1998. And nothing will ever be the same again.

The Iceman Skateth

On dates, for a while, you are someone else. You nod at gaps in conversation that would be better served by an eye roll, you agree where disagreement is more apt, you smile – always the smile. Usually, if you are well matched, these pretences fall away. The veil drops. The mask slips. And because you like each other so much, it doesn’t matter. Other times, it takes a little bit longer. Maybe you’re having to work harder to find a common ground or having to play along a little longer to snare your man. It’s this kind of insecurity that sees you agreeing to go ice skating at Christmas with a man you’re really not sure about.

I have been on four dates with Richard and we have got on well. He is erudite and kind of handsome and very nearly on the cusp of being funny. Our courtship has been virtuous to say the least – I have brushed up against his stubble but our bodies have always been separated by layers of cotton. And there are plenty of layers – it’s a cold winter. We are two priests short of a baptism. Our dates have been wintry – a mulled cider and bratwurst here, a festive concert there. Little more.

I am not expecting to see Richard again until after Christmas, as he is busy with work and I, well, I am keeping my options open. I am giving dating more than one man at a time a go. I’m not very good at it – I’m terrified I’ll get a name wrong or attempt to bond reminiscing events that happened with the other. But at least I am keeping my underwear on with both; this is not a delayed threesome.

My phone rings. It is Richard.
“Hi!” He is always enthusiastic. For now, I am playing along, so I respond as if a winning lottery ticket has just fallen into my hands.
“Hello Richard, how are you?”
“Yes, great, fine,” he gasps. “Look, I’ve got tickets for tomorrow night and wondered if you are free.”
I don’t ask what the tickets are for. I have a window that must be filled, a curiosity to be satisfied, an itch that I’m hoping to be scratched and a mind I need to make up. I blunder on. “Let me just check.” I don’t move a muscle. “Free.”
“Great! We’re going ice skating ice skating at [place]. You like ice skating, right?”
I have never been ice skating. It was true then and it is still true now. I don’t lie.
“I’ve never been.”
“You’ll love it. See you at 6.30.”

After he rings off, I sit for a while and mull this over. I have never ice-skated. I am old. I have avoided trying it for a variety of reasons: it looks like falling over would hurt; I don’t want to look stupid; I am not confident on anything other than my Converse. And, if I’m honest, I just don’t want to. But I am not at the stage where I can say there are things I don’t want to do – I have to appear up for everything, a keen bean, an enthusiast. If all else fails, I’ll get drunk and attempt some kind of charm. Wish me luck.

On the phone to my mother that day, I casually mention I’ll be going ice skating for the first time that evening, and that I’m nervous.
“Why?” she asks.
“Because I’ve never done it before.”
“Well you were all right on the roller skates; it’s just like that.”
“I never had roller skates,” I reply.
A pause. “You sure?”
“Yes.”
“Oh no, it was your sister. You had… Oh, what was it?” There is another pause and then a choking sound. She is laughing. “Oh, yes, the skateboard. Absolutely no sense of balance. Never on it for more than a second.”
“Yes, I remember.” I cringe.
“Well, you were OK until you actually started moving.” She begins cackling again. “But then sure enough, you’d be off it before you could even say ‘skateboard’. Terrible.”
“This is why I’m nervous,” I say.
“I should have got you some roller skates.”
“How would that have helped?” I ask, incredulous.
“It wouldn’t,” she replies drily. “I’d just have loved to have seen you give it a go.” And then she laughs again, like a drain. For too long.
I glance at the clock and lose half a stone thanks to sheer anxiety.

I arrive early and pace up and down clutching a Starbucks. (Red cup! Yaaaay! Or whatever.) I’ve decided what I’m going to do is tell him, when he gets here, that I don’t want to do it. He’ll laugh about it, call me silly – maybe even ruffle my hair – and we’ll go for a drink. I’ll feel a bit dumb for a bit, sure, but at least I’ll be honest; the transition into myself can finally begin.

And then he turns up. With his very own pair of ice skates slung casually over his shoulder. Shit.

As I change into my regulation dead-dog-coloured skates, he fastens up his own with superior skill, in about 10 seconds flat. I am dreading standing up so much. I try to think of ways to cause a diversion, but his eyes are fixed on my skates.
“Need a hand?”
“Um, no.”
“Oh, it’s fine. Let me.”
I breathe deeply. “Richard,” I say, my face reddening with both the extreme cold and embarrassment. “I…I don’t want to do this. I really don’t.”
“I don’t understand.” His forehead crinkles with bewilderment.
“I just don’t want to. I’ve never done it before and have no desire to.”
“You could just try.”
I look at the ice rink. The buildings surrounding it are beautiful, floodlit and, right now, oppressive. The arena itself is packed with middle-class people in patterned pea coats laughing uproariously and doing perfect figures-of-eight. There are no clumsy elephants; everyone is perfect, chiselled and graceful. I may as well throw a lump of shit on the ice as clamber on it myself.
I speak again. “I don’t want to sound like…like I’m going to sound, but… I really can’t.”
He folds his arms. “These tickets are fucking impossible to get.”
“I know.”
“I could’ve taken anyone with me tonight.” Okaaaay. “But I chose you.”
I nod and smile. “I know. But I… I know it’s stupid.”
“It is,” he barks, standing up and outstretching his hand. “Get up, we’re doing it.”
“But…” I splutter.
“Come on,” he says. “It’ll be romantic.”
I grab onto his hand, feeling as romantic as Marie Antoinette hitching her brocade skirts up to the guillotine.
“I’ve heard it’s really hard to get off the ice,” I whimper.
“You’re not even on it yet.”
“I think I need a bit longer.”
He attempts to hoist me up, chuckling. My body is unresponsive. I am frozen with fear of looking stupid. Soon, his chuckles subside, and my humiliation is so great it is sentient and writing into Points Of View.

Eventually, he acknowledges my anguish and suggests we try again in a short while. He emphasises “short” like it’s a threat.
I itch to unclip my skates, my slippery jailers.

“Oh, hey, Alan!” says my date, in an excited voice I haven’t heard before. A clean-cut guy comes over to Richard, engages in what seems like hours of air-kissing, and looks over to me. We are introduced.
“We’re just taking a break,” says Richard. “I think [my name] is a bit tired,” he beams, glancing over at me with eyes no bigger than a pinprick in a bedsheet.
“Ooh, that’s a shame,” grins ‘Alan’. “I’m just about to hit the ice.”
I spy my parole.
“Why don’t you two go ahead?” I smile, my mouth lop-sided with the cold. They don’t need telling twice. Before you can even say “Torvill and Dean”, they are off across the ice, hand in hand. Alan has a fat, boring arse. I clench my own in satisfaction.

I sit dejectedly for around 15 seconds, before pulling off my skates. My eyes idly wander over to the rink, and see Alan and Richard guffawing as they pirouette. They are graceful, synchronised. Two swans.
Yet my feathers aren’t ruffled. I hug my coat around me and wait for my winter wonderland to thaw. They’ll tire of their routine eventually, and then I can go home. I know this is my fault; I know I was difficult and irrational. I’m willing to take the bullet. At least I’ll never have to skate again. Not with Richard, anyway.

Thank fuck.

All the men you should never date: The Christmas Fanatic

Yesterday, I warned you against the man you should never date at Christmas: The Christmas Refusenik. Today, meet his bauble-loving evil twin.

It’s July. You awake to a sound that seems at odds with the sun blazing through your window. Is that…? No. Hang on, it is. It’s sleigh bells. You pad through to the lounge to find your other half very carefully adding the 1,000th bauble to a seven-foot Christmas tree. “This one is just to do us until we can get a real one in December,” he’ll say, licking mulled cider from his excited lips. Congratulations: you’re boning Father Christmas’s keenest son.

As the song goes, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year”, but as far as you can see, it belongs in the last couple of weeks of December and exists purely as an excuse to get drunk in a horrible jumper and open loads of presents that you’ll be queuing up with in Customer Services in a couple of days. It’s about disappointing Christmas bonuses, getting flashed by Stacey in Accounts (or sometimes, sadly, Keith in IT) at the office party, forcing down one more roast spud, arguing with your siblings about who Mum likes the best and that’s it. You spend most of December fending off mince pies and endlessly clicking through Amazon desperately trying to finish off your Christmas shopping, because town is like a deleted scene from Soylent Green.

Dating Mr Christmas, however, changes this for ever. Every stage of Christmas is an event in itself, a milestone to be marked, a perfect Instagram moment. Christmas doesn’t just happen to him, it’s a series of experiences he feels he has to have, otherwise he’s failed. At first this will seem romantic and exciting, before your brain slowly starts to dribble right out of your head. And when it does, it’s got tinsel running through it.

Prepare for: outdoor ice skating, hog roasts, mulled everything, German markets, Pret Christmas sandwiches, “red cups, yaaaaaay!”, antlers, Christmas jumpers, chestnuts, ersatz frost fairs, buying stocking fillers, advent calendars, Christmas movie channels, cookery programmes, trudging around Boots buying 3 for 2 “smellies” for his overbearing mother, designing your own baubles, endless carol services, midnight mass, a secondary tree in the garden, Christmas playlists starting in August, circling everything in the Radio Times, demanding only “Christmassy” TV or music or games or food or clothes or chat or books or magazines or sex. While you’re kissing, look up – yes, that’s mistletoe above the bed.

By December 10th – “How the HELL is it only the 10th?!” you will ask, wild-eyed – you’re over it, under it and all around it. Christmas is inside you, the branches of its tree scratching against your vital organs. You can’t move without knocking a ceramic Santa off a cramped surface and every time you flop onto the sofam you end up with holly stuck your unmentionables. Your senses are done in from ‘Winter Spice’ air fresheners and scented candles and room sprays and now he is trying to mull your corn flakes. As he takes yet another batch of mince pies out of the oven and hands you a spoon to stir his Christmas cake mix for 2017, he casually mentions he’s thinking of changing his name by deed poll – what do you think of going out with Kris Kringle?

The solution
You could just go with it, you know. Share in his joy and see Christmas through his eyes – but those fairy lights are blinding. If Mr Christmas is taking it all a bit too far, you don’t want spoil all his fun. Introduce other events that can help keep Christmas to its rightful time of the year. Embrace Halloween, Bonfire Night and Easter. Maybe try to build his excitement by suggesting you wait until 1 December before dragging the tree out of the loft. Alternatively, attempt aversion therapy: give him an unpleasant, toothy serving of fellatio while wearing a Santa hat. That should extinguish a few bulbs on his tree.

I have a new column in the wonderful Gay Times magazine, detailing all the men you should never date, along with a page attempting to solve readers’ life dilemmas (I know, I know). The first is available now. Head to GT’s website to find out how to download or where to buy a print edition.

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