28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Eighteen, The London Cosplay Otaku
In which Willard gets out of his nerd-depth.
So, for Date 18, I was back in the realm of normal dating sites, and for this one, I decided to use Lovestruck.com. It's a trendy, hip, young dating site for beautiful, stylish urban professionals, or so the adverts on the tube seem to suggest. And no-one would lie in an advert on the tube, right?
The site is unashamedly London-centric, and a huge part of its appeal comes from the raft of events they organise. Lovestruck is very much the whole package dating business, rather than just a website. It's very slick Groupon-meets-dating type affair, and as much as the faux-cheery post-modern copywriting occasionally rubbed me up the wrong way, I was pretty impressed with the breadth of activities on offer.
They offered dating comedy nights, dating quiz nights, dating museum visits, a dating film festival, even a dating holiday to somewhere near the North Pole to watch the Northern Lights, if you thought dropping a grand on the world's coldest speed dating night, risking being devoured by Polar bears, was a good idea.
Maybe that would be good if you had a thing for being cuddled by men in bobble hats & wooly jumpers, or were unaccountably aroused by women wrapped up in scarves. That said, giving the seemingly endless winter we're currently having, the knitwear fetishist is probably well served enough in London already.
So, yes, not just lots of people, but also lots to do. I don't know how good a dating site it would be in say, Hull, but for a Londoner, it's excellent. And let's face it, if you live in Hull, you probably don't want to date someone else in Hull anyway. That's how catastrophes like raising a family in Hull happen.
Anyway, so after a bit of tooling around on the site, before I could book a ticket to the North Pole, or indeed even send a message of my own, a lovely lady from West London got in touch. She described herself as a "bit of a nerd", liked my profile, and wondered if I fancied going for a drink. As a bloke, I must say, I do find being asked out very flattering indeed, so I said yes, and pottered along to a mutually convenient bar for a drink.
So, we walked in, got talking, and I soon realised I was out of my nerd-depth. Yes, despite the late night screenings of Robot Jox, despite the legion of model soldiers, despite the Warcraft account, despite the general love of sci-fi & fantasy. Normally, in the "date between two London stylish urban professionals" context, I'm comfortably the nerdier one of the two of us. Not today.
There's a wonderful bit in Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch - a novel all about loving someone despite their all-consuming obsession - where the main character explains how people justify their lives revolving around football. The man who goes to every game at the pub knows a guy who goes to every game at the ground; that guy knows a guy who goes to every away game; the guy who goes to every away game knows a guy who goes to every youth team gain, and so on. You know people deeper down the rabbit hole than yourself, so you reassure yourself you must be the normal one.
It's fair to say this lady was deeper down than I was. There's a Japanese word - Otaku - which describes someone who is devoted to a particular interest. Now, I like science fiction & fantasy; she had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the entire genre, especially in terms of anime. I'd been to comic conventions; she regularly cosplayed at them. I like J-pop & K-pop, had seen wacky bands shouting Korean lyrics & throwing bananas into the crowd at Glasto way before Gangnam style was a thing, but she'd been to Japan to see her favourite band. She'd actually met the band's mum, at one point. I think describing me as a mere nerd, and her as Otaku is fair.
Oh, by the way, Cosplay is sort of like competitive fancy dress, often with an anime theme, where you dress as your favourite science fiction, fantasy or anime character. It's big in Japan, and occasionally when Westerners do it, it's incredibly embarrassing.
I filmed a pilot for a doc on it once, which memorably led to a moment in an edit suite where a highly respected TV Exec stared closely at the rushes and said "Is that...is that...some kind of paedophile Catwoman?!"
However, it's incredibly impressive at its best, and she was clearly very gifted at it. There were pictures of her in costume, on her phone, which were firmly in the category of "my goodness that's amazing" rather than "my goodness that's embarrassing". That skill I suspect partly stemmed from her interesting day job, which partly involved far east related academia; she spoke what sounded like impressive Japanese, and told me the difference between katakana and hiragana; and partly involved adapting racing swimsuits for paralympians.
So yeah, she was more nerdy than me; or maybe just nerdy in different ways to me; or maybe she was just bold enough to wear her fandom on her sleeve and not care what society thought. She wasn't in any way terrifying, or odd as a date - there was no devil-possession, no biting, no obsession with Lizards. She was very easy to talk to, and we did share plenty of interests, even if I was to all intents and purposes worse at doing them than she was.
As well as covering vital topics like favourite Dr.Who episodes (her: Stuff with creaky sets from the 1970s, me: the more modern David Tennant/Matt Smith era), and our favourite Manga (hers something she pronounced exquisitely in Japanese, mine a Giant Robot Film Noir called Big O), we chatted about growing up with unusual hobbies. For me, doing nerdy things had always been a social thing - it was a way to get people together & talk, to bring socially awkward friends out of their shells. For her, it had been more like a solitary refuge, growing up in a small rural town with a devoutly religious family.
I suppose it gave me a window into the world of what it's like for a perfectly normal girl going on a date with me; meeting someone who is fun, charming, but a bit on the edges of your experience. It's a little nerve wracking, but fascinating - exploring, pushing your limits, finding out what you can or can't tolerate. Or, at least, what the other person can say without you laughing at them and saying "Yes, but you're an adult now, surely". All in all, it was a fun evening. We went our separate ways, and I was looking forward to seeing her again, but a couple of days after our date, I got the following email:
I have to let you know that I have since met up again with the other Lovestrucker that I told you about and we've had a Serious Talk, the upshot of which is that we are now properly dating. So unfortunately I'm off the market for now. That said, I really did have a lovely time with you and I'd love to stay in contact as friends - I swear there was so much more stuff we could and should have chatted about if only time hadn't run away with us. Best of luck with the rest of your dating adventures - I hope you do find someone amazing, you're a great guy and you deserve someone equally great! I look forward to reading about it all :)
Curses. Just as I was about to tighten my grip, she'd slipped through my fingers. If only I'd been a few days earlier. Still, we're meeting up as friends, and she has a wonderful handle on where to find Japanese food and rare manga comics, so it's not all bad.
Thus, a friend gained, a lesson learned, and back to the wasteland...