IT’S the rite of passage all Australians moving to London must go through. The cross-continental introduction by a mutual friend, followed by the awkward first meet up arranged through super-polite texts until you discover a shared love of tequila shots and you’re to be found at 3am the next morning bonding over the finale of Offspring you had to stream on the internet (awwww, Nina + Patrick = 4ever).
Normally, it’s just the friend of a friend, and a vital part of establishing your network when you first move to a new city. Usually, because you have a friend in common, you inevitably will be able to fill the conversation space of one coffee, if only because you can gossip about your mutual friend. If you’re lucky and that goes well, you might be able to turn that coffee into a beautiful friendship, where you skip gaily through Regents Park together, tinkly laughing and tossing your hair in the afternoon sun.
However, sometimes the introduction is a trans-Atlantic version of the show ‘Date My Son’. A well-meaning attempt by extended relatives concerned by your long shelf-life and shriveling ovaries which they take it upon themselves to address by running their own informal international dating service. “Oh, you’re moving to London?” a good family friend might mention casually. “Well, you must look up my bosses nephew. He’s about your age.” Or your Aunt might mention her drycleaners son has just moved to the UK. Or your Mum helpfully identifies that the chemist’s daughter’s ex-boyfriend lives just one stop from you on the Underground. And, wouldn’t you know it, now single!
Or, as has recently happened to my friend — her Italian Grandma’s bingo partners great nephew. True story. Never mind that she’s already well established in London. Never mind she’s never met her grandma’s bingo partner, or has any interest in going out with her great-nephew. No, it should be enough that Nonna has established he’s a banker. With his own apartment in Fulham. “And did I tell you he cooks for himself?” Though should we really be so impressed by a grown man who lives alone occasionally demonstrating an ability to bake his own cannelloni instead of having his Nonna internationally ship over some frozen lasagnas (like his women?).
But, you can’t say no to your Grandma, can you? Which is why my friend found herself agreeing to a blind date with someone she had already pre-stalked on Facebook and already decided was not for her (don’t judge — you’ve all done it).
And which is why I found myself accidently also on the date as buffer.
Imagine his surprise when, expecting to turn up for an intimate tete-a-tete with a sophisticated, charming, pretty young lady of fellow Italian origin, he instead turned up for an intimate tete-a-tete with the former….…. And me.
I may as well have popped out from behind my friend, Brady Bunch style, and yelled: “Romantic dinner for two? Not bloody likely! And keep your hands where I can see them…’
Needless to say, the date did not go well.
To be fair to him, I was a bad date. I took charge of the menu. I over-ordered the sharing dishes (without establishing first that yes, in fact, he didn’t mind sharing). I ate everything. I spilt food on myself (yes that happened). I didn’t engage in conversation or ask any questions about him, and I played with my phone. Just short of ordering a bottle of Krug on his tab, sculling it all and then making out with a waiter, I don’t think I could have demonstrated worse table manners.
To be fair to me, it wasn’t my date. Also, to his credit, he behaved impeccably. He asked my friend pertinent questions about herself, he nodded politely. He enquired about her family and complimented her outfit. However, it’s hard to create the appropriate atmosphere of romance and intimate banter when there’s a third person sitting opposite you, silently assessing your first date skills whilst chewing crispy duck with their mouth open and trying to get mushu pork sauce out of their shirt with their diet coke.
And, after all that, he paid for us both. To him, thanks for the free dinner, and my sincerest apologies. Better luck on the next episode of Date My Son. And to my mother’s chemist’s daughter’s ex-boyfriend, I promise to behave better should she ever prove successful at forcing contact…