Great Expectations

Death By Video Game. This is what online dating feels like sometimes.
Death By Video Game.
This is what online dating feels like sometimes.

Match and Tinder have taught me a lot about expectations. So far, on every first date I have been on the guy has made some comment about how he expected me to be nervous and shy and was surprised that I wasn’t. This has never not surprised me.

As a small child I was very shy and nervous. I didn’t have many friends at primary school and was forever inadvertently doing or saying something mortifying and failing to style it out. I was good at school, so always had my hand up to answer questions, but would also be crippled with shyness and wouldn’t want the teacher to actually call on me. Even now, when I’m at work seminars and have to say something in front of a group, I will be desperate to give an answer, yet terrified at the same time – even if it’s just the “My name is X and I work for Y” ice-breaker.

At university I knew a lot of shy people. Shy, clever, lovely, funny people who were a bit difficult socially. Once upon a time someone I respected told me that it’s fine to be shy, but it’s unacceptable to make the other people in a conversation feel uncomfortable and do the heavy lifting. That stayed with me. So, while I find it tricky to start a conversation with strangers, if someone asks me a question, I will do my damndest to answer them and hold up my end of the conversational bargain. Yes, I will make a fool out of myself (like that time I told a friend’s ex-boyfriend that his new haircut looked like a French pastry. I meant it as a compliment! It was not taken as such! This has been remarked upon many many times since then!) but at least it’s something to work with. At least I’m enthusiastic.

Somewhere along the line I began to appear more outgoing. I think living in Germany and working with Germans did it. Operating in a second language forces you to melt down your sentences to their bare meaning so you can switch the language and communicate your message. Talking with non-native English speakers requires you to be clear and concise so as to avoid confusion. When I first started at my company I would ask people “if you could possibly do this whenever you get a chance” and then be furiously mortified when they didn’t carry out the task because they believed it was optional from all those optional conditionals I’d used. The cultural subtext, for a native English speaker in the UK, is “please do this quite soon, as it’s important” but that’s not actually obvious from the words.

I’ve worked with Germans for eight years and as a result I’ve become quite direct. I’m still nervous and shy, but I’m better (if that’s the right word) at saying what I mean. I have also probably shot myself in the foot, because I now listen for subtext and actual text. When someone says they like my lunch looks interesting, I hear the European “I am interested in your lunch” but also the British “oooh, your lunch is WEIRD” and then flipflop between different emotions about what I see as judgements.

I don’t know what to do when people (men persons) say that they are surprised I’m not (outwardly) shy and nervous. What does it mean? Am I too direct? Am I too pushy? Should I tone “it” down? I don’t know how to do “that” whatever it would entail. I don’t know the acceptable level of pushiness. I have yet to find an infogram to demonstrate that. One of the chaps I dated remarked on a second date that I “don’t play by the rules” because at the end of the first date I’d said I’d like to see him again. “Other girls would have kept me guessing and made me worry about it for three days” apparently.

I don’t know whether that level of directness is based in language or whether I’m older and a little more secure in what I want or think I want. Let’s be fair, I don’t exactly know what I want and often want things that I know I shouldn’t, but that’s all part and parcel of life, I’m guessing.

The other element of online (or offline) dating is dealing with other people’s expectations. I am extremely lucky to have girlfriends who truly want the best for me and are in my corner no matter what. I love them dearly and know how lucky I am to have them for support and wise counsel. They’ve watched me make mistakes, picked me off the floor and laughed when I spun them into funny stories.

And yet.

I make choices they wouldn’t make for me and I find their reactions interesting. Interesting in the British sense.

Occasionally I would send friends screenshots of the options on Match. They would suggest one or two of the chaps on offer. I would be horrified because I was trying to express the sheer lack of options available to me.

I haven’t quite worked out what I think about “leagues” and “settling”. It’s a disgraceful concept to think that one person isn’t good enough for another based on their attractiveness or intelligence or whathaveyou. You see stunning women with conventionally unattractive men all the time. You see smart chaps with women who are not on the same level intellectually. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. There’s a lid for every pot. The heart wants what it wants. Etc etc. But perhaps I do believe in leagues of some sort. I want someone at least as attractive and intelligent as me.

On the surface, here’s what I want: a man my age; about my height (ideally 5 foot 9 to 6 foot); conventionally attractive; goes to the gym and does some sort of sport (but not excessively so and does not require me to participate at all ever); has arm muscles; eats properly but will also go for a cheeky McDonalds (I do not understand Nando’s, so he can go on his own); doesn’t have a beard but can grow one; is broader than me, but not too broad; is handy and good with computers; is close to his family; has a good set of man friends; is not afraid of women; is a feminist and will identify as one; reads fiction books; watches some of the same kind of tv as I do; watches some, but not an excessive amount of, sport; has a ‘good’ job; has good teeth; has no chest, ear or nose hair; is mildly visually impaired (ideally slightly worse vision than mine, but not much worse); likes animals; owns a decent suit and scrubs up well; uses moisturiser; has some chat and is funny.

My friends are picking out beardy men. Very very broad men. Very sporty men. Men with terrible teeth. Men with poor choice of clothes (based on a few photos!). Very short men. Very very tall men. Then they get cross that I’m not giving these chaps, who I haven’t met yet, a try. The chaps I’m already giving a try are given short shrift. “I don’t see you with him.” “Oh, no. Not him. Ditch him. I don’t like the sound of that at all.” “Well, I didn’t expect more from that one, I told you!”

Watching my women friends (and, mortifyingly at a work night out, colleagues) swipe through Tinder I notice that they choose men for me who look like their boyfriends or husbands. Not the famous men they claim to fancy (no one ever chooses a blonde gym bunny for me, even when they look like Zac Efron), but the beardy, academics with a Dad bod. Asking them why they don’t pick the hot shirtless blond, they say that they don’t see me with someone like that (and my protestations that I’d at least like to have a go fall on deaf ears). Why can’t I “marry up” with Mr Efron? They see me with someone homelier. Someone who looks a bit more normal. Someone who looks like they have a personality. Someone safe. A bit more suitable.

My friends have known me a long time and so when I wheel out a funny story about a date, I’ll ask them for advice or for feedback. What shouldn’t I have done? Why do we think he said that? What does that mean? But the problem lies in the gap between what I’m telling and what actually happened, what two strangers felt, the atmosphere that can’t be explained with words. I can’t take a team of twenty women on a date with me, but that’s the only way they’d get a proper sense of what occurred.  Of why I’m putting up with the guy who sends questionable messages, the guy who’s into things I could never be into, or the guy who messages back so seldom I assume he’s trapped in an avalanche somewhere (he skis). It also explains that when something ends, I’m a bit more cut up about it than I can let on and a bit taken aback by their brusque “Well, he was terrible. NEXT!” response.

When you meet someone, they stop being a screenshot. They become real rounded people, who may or may not be sociopaths, but I’m meeting them because we have a connection. When it comes to a conclusion then, it feels odd to sever that connection. It’s hard to explain that to someone who’s been married for so long they don’t remember being single. They’re focused on the end goal (me being happy with a husband) and this chap isn’t it, so can easily move on to the next one. I’m a little bit crushed for a while – not necessarily because of the guy in question, but because I’d put some energy and hopes into This One and they’ve been dashed. Dashed for good reason and better to know now, etc etc, but still. Being dashed stings.

I’ve always overshared. I’m quick to turn a disaster and painful mortification into a short stand-up bit. I’m a fairly open book, for good or for ill. It’s hard when your life isn’t so interesting and you’re trying to get that embarrassing tale out there before someone else tells it. There is a rich seam here in the comedy mine. But I’d like to stop feeling like Miranda with her houseplant line, so I might have to scale back the funny stories and keep some things closer to my chest. My expectations are low, but I still have some, plus I want my friends to still have some hope for me and in me.

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