When working in a pub as I did over the summer, you become privy to all kinds of conversations, ranging from the profound to the downright reprehensible (I recall one anecdote about a group of men being kicked out of a restaurant for trying to snort baked beans). Whilst many of these conversations provide humour, intrigue or indeed nausea, there was always one exchange of words like no other: first date small talk.
You can see an inchoate relationship from a mile off: the couple are sat opposite, not next to each other and both making more eye contact with their beverages than their supposed date. Body language is awkward, grins are perpetual and they never really know what to do with their hands.
Naturally, I wasn’t able to listen in on the conversations in their entirety as there are only so many vaguely job related tasks I can perform within earshot, but by and large, what I was able to pick out was cliché, inappropriate or almost offensively boring. (Also chaps, although it seems obvious, do not spend the duration of the date talking about past failed relationships. You’d be amazed the amount of men that think this suitable first date material and I think it is safe to assume that this will not get you on underwear terms with the lucky lady any time soon.)
What my shameless eavesdropping illustrated however, was how these often painfully awkward situations served to represent the stress and personal anguish men go through when trying to attract a female.
Now, I write this on good authority. Although this may well shock many of my readers to hear, I’m not actually the suave, sophisticated, silver-tongued Lothario that you all may think. I snore, swear and scratch, and put me in front of a woman and it gets even worse. I become a bumbling mess of malapropisms and slightly too personal jokes, and I genuinely believe that drinking solves any awkward situation (an ethos I will then try hard to push on any date). Fortunately for me, I actually stumbled across someone who found these particular traits vaguely attractive and after enough harassment to merit a court case, I was faced with the peril of the fearsome first date.
It is biologically imperative that as men, we are able to attract women, but science, logic and reason all go well out the window as soon as a female becomes involved. A huge amount of weight rests on the man as, by and large, we are still expected to organise the initial meeting, when a great deal of consideration is required.
Do we go to dinner? Drinks? Bowling? (no, yes and dear God no, respectively). Further to this, even if we are able to navigate the minefield of appropriate locations, attire and punctuality (I generally like to be about 5–10 minutes late to add to my “bad-ass” image), we still then have to proceed with the actual date. This is where the problems truly begin. A woman can get away with doing pretty much nothing, so long as she looks attractive and abstains from any outrageous drinking habits. Men, however, have an absolute mountain to climb. We have to be witty, charming, well dressed, attentive and insightful if we’re to avoid the encounter potentially drawing to an early close. No one wants to see their date receive a highly suspicious phone call urging them to return home as quickly as possible because best friend has fallen down a well or their hamster has been diagnosed with depression.
Ask anyone born before the fifties for dating advice and they will whittle off that horrendously useless adage “just be yourself”. Utter crap. If they wanted a sweating, flatulent, Neanderthal of a man, they’d follow up on one of those disconcerting classified ads about a “single male that seeks a double-jointed supermodel with an open-minded sister”*. The man that women meet on a date tends to be a refined version of their true self. An enhancement of Biblical proportions. She does not want to see the guy that will happily down a “balls pint” on a rugby social (I don’t feel I need to explain) or the one that will wear his pyjamas under his trousers when he runs out of clean underwear. If you like this girl enough and she wants you to open doors for her, tuck in your shirt and nod convincingly when she prattles on incessantly about curling tongs then you do it. Let’s face it, any girl you attract with arse scratching and belching is not likely to be one to take home to the parents.
I’m not suggesting that a man should change himself completely for the sake of a woman, but rather he should, in the early stages at least, emphasise (or create) his finer qualities. Think of it as a job application: you’re pretty sure you can figure it all out once you’re sat behind the desk, but you’re not going to convince them to employ you by necking a pint with your trousers around your ankles.
* M. Herbert, Hatfield College if there are any takers