Sunday, 16 June 2013

A brush with bigotry

This blog first appeared as a column in a selection of North London magazines, including Crouch End Connection with illustrations by renowned cartoonist Neil Kerber.
I’m beginning to feel that internet dating is in fact a heady combination of desperation and admin – possibly not the most romantic starting point for a relationship.  There is an overwhelming amount of procedure to wade through before you can even countenance that first date; the rules of engagement mean that everything happens at a glacial pace.  This of course leaves plenty of time for a fertile imagination to elevate the potential relationship to a status it really doesn’t deserve.

To prepare for a phone call with the coastguard turned chemistry lecturer, I meet with one of my dearest friends.  We discuss the possible questions I could ask to evaluate his suitability as a consort.  I mention that he lives in Hampshire. Jen raises her eyebrows “You’ve already checked out access to decent primary schools and the annual cost of commuting, haven’t you?”.  I choke on my mojito and deny it completely.  I do not tell her that I’ve done both these things, salivated over a shaker kitchen and mentally decorated the guest room with Cole & Son wallpaper.  

This fantasy element is just me romanticising the situation.  Faced with a sea of gurning faces online, each with a selling proposition that would give Bill Gates a run for his money, it’s hard to believe that this process might result in true love.  I do so want to find love again but still harbour a desire to be swept off my feet.

My ex-husband seduced me so completely that the idea of farming a small-holding on the side of a mountain in the remote Balkans seemed like an offer to experience earthly paradise.  He proposed to me as we lazed in the autumn sunshine in an orchard full of walnut trees.  He spoke intensely of his dreams in an accent thick with the mystery of ancient Illyria, whilst feeding me wild honey from a spoon.  The seduction was like an opiate-induced euphoria and I was incapable of resisting.  I’ve sobered up considerably since then but in my heart I still want to be wooed, even if it’s from behind a computer screen.

So armed with a list of questions with which to gently probe my date, I await a telephone call from the creatively titled Dave65.  He actually phones. I’m a bit giddy and make a flurry of slightly playful enquiries. “Hmm, I like the way you’re being quite flirty with me” he ventures, in a worryingly nasal monotone.  “You sound like a lot of fun”  It has to be said that he does not sound like a lot of fun and very soon I can only hear his rather didactic drone and stop listening to what he is saying.  I’m flooded with disappointment and envisage scenarios where he appraises my technique for removing his trousers and gives me marks out of ten for fellatio.  And perhaps a report card with areas for improvement.  I remember what Jen has told me about pinpointing cultural references to assess compatibility.  I search blindly for my cues and ask him if he likes Doctor Who.  There is unexpected animation in his response and for a moment I renew interest. Then he says he was disappointed by the inclusion of a gay character and any connection dissolves. 

“So you’re not a supporter of gay marriage then?” I enquire mildly. “No, I believe gay marriage undermines the fabric of society. A society that is already far too permissive, in my opinion.”   I fleetingly think of my sweet, clever and compassionate sister and her brilliant and beautiful partner Holly.  I consider that if the result of them marrying could undermine the fabric of society, it would be a society that I’d want no place in.  Having now smashed up the shaker kitchen and defaced the Cole & Son wallpaper, I inform him that we really don’t have anything more to talk about.  I wonder how I would have confronted that view had we met face to face. I feel lucky that I was not forced to flounce out of a restaurant. I hate wasting food, even if it is being shared with a bigot. 

If this unfortunate turn of events has unnerved me, the explanatory email which arrives the next day leaves me reeling.  I will quickly paraphrase this as it made me feel rather queasy and I haven’t got the stomach to dig it out again and reveal its total content.  This excerpt gives you the gist.  “Dear Eve, I’m sorry you believe me to be intolerant. I have previously enjoyed an uninhibited sex life within the confines of a normal, heterosexual relationship.  Although I’m not overly religious, I do observe the tenets of Christianity and believe that only the union of man and woman is morally acceptable.”  He then goes on to say that he’s now unsure of our future as I have exposed myself to be somewhat volatile.  Well, he has me bang to rights on that last observation. 

This sorry experience has eroded my faith in the ability of the internet to yield a suitable companion.  Almost a month of daily email exchanges, all working up to a catastrophic phone call in which someone I’d all but moved in with in my mind, reveals himself to be a canvasser for Ukip.  It’s utterly deflating.  It’s clear that I need to employ a more effective filtering system.  From now on, I’m only going to entertain candidates who make references to popular culture, admit to liking box sets and can craft a profile with an element of wit and consideration.  This immediately discounts the suitor who ‘liked’ me today, whose profile states he’s very athletic and spends much time in the gym. He inexplicably goes on to share that he regularly sees a man drying his balls with two hairdryers in the changing room.  Not exactly Cyrano de Bergerac then.


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