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“I just ran”: The New Statesman team share their bad, awkward and embarrassing date stories

Behold, people, the New Dates-man.

Wet Wet Wet lied to you: love isn’t all around. But you know what’s all around? Dates. Especially bad ones. Especially the many soul-crushingly horrible, awkward, weird, stressful dates you have to go through to find the handful of ones that aren't. We’ve all got stories, at least everyone on the New Statesman team does. To spare our blushes we've kept them anonymous, but here they are to provide a timely reminder that bad dates happen all the time, to everyone. 

Happy Valentine’s Day from the New Datesman!

It was a social experiment – conducted in the interests of science.

My worst date wasn’t a date, as I repeatedly told my friends at the time. They didn’t believe me, but it wasn’t; it was a social experiment – conducted in the interests of science – that just happened to necessitate a stranger from Tinder. There was no romance involved, other than the fact we spent five hours asking one another American psychologist Arthur Aaron’s 36 Questions To Fall In Love. The premise is that opening up to one another (and I did tell him things about my life that some of my closest friends don’t know – it was intense), fosters a mutual sense of vulnerability and trust, and that these things are the basis of love.

I took part because I wanted to write an article about the experience, but, was ultimately – predictably – so awkward and nervous that I drank a lot of wine, which meant the whole thing was not particularly profound. (Unsurprising spoiler: I did not fall in love. I have since realised that love cannot blossom while you and a stranger are tightly wedged between four other strangers in a very busy Franco Manca pizza restaurant; particularly when all four of the other strangers aren’t even being subtle about listening in on the weird exchanges of life stories happening next to them).

I think the highlight was one of the many, many questions that forces you to compliment the other person (it really is very hard work repeatedly being asked to compliment a stranger) when he told me that I have “a face that really grows on people”*. Luckily I can recognise that this is obviously a hilarious thing to say to somebody, and as such is possibly my favourite compliment ever received, but when I later told my mum she was pretty offended on my behalf.

*By this point in the night, he may as well have just said “I did not fancy you before becoming heavily intoxicated by all the wine we have drunk”.

He spent the next week sending me graphic WhatsApps about his oral sex technique.

Sometimes, you have to accept you’re the villain in someone else’s story. Other times, you have to accept you’re the villain in quite a few people’s stories.

These people are my two (and only two) Tinder dates. The first, with a young man who told me to “Hurry up” whilst I ate my fried chicken and chips and also – shockingly, disturbingly – called the barman “bud”. These faux pas were so great that I forced my friend to ring me and pretend he was my housemate locked out of my flat so I could run away from the date. Unfortunately, I was very drunk and therefore unconvincing, screaming “OH NO! YOU’RE LOCKED OUT!” in my worst am-dram voice.

I also ran away from my second Tinder date. He went to the toilet and I just ran, ran, ran from the O’Neills from whence I came. He spent the next week sending me graphic WhatsApps about his oral sex technique, until I blocked him.

These are undeniably powerful stories about female agency – except for all the parts that are just me being a dick.

This guy was fun, handsome and by his own admission not a Tory.

He was my first date from a dating app, and actually the only one from the apps I ended up somewhat hooking up with. I am actively bad at dates and even worse on dating apps (my profile photo on Tinder was for a while just me wearing a Labour leader face mask, and I once responded with a single “no” to a poor lad’s “hi” on OkCupid).

By any dating app standard, this guy was quite great: he looked the same IRL as on his photo, was fun and had similar political views to mine (something that you can pretend isn’t important but really is if you don’t want, two years in, to be told you’re “too feminist” by someone you thought was a Blairite but is really a Tory). But this guy was fun, handsome and by his own admission not a Tory, and altogether the date wasn’t BAD.

I did, however, find myself wearing his FC Barcelona jersey after a failed attempt at sex – there was apparently no condom in his Islington condo, which he owned as well about 45 cars he showed me on his phone, and how Tory is that, eh – and we watched the Peep Show episode where Mark gets very unwillingly married to Sophie and Jeremy pees in the church. It was “quite an unsuitable thing to watch on a date”, and he profusely apologised.

He texted me a few days later to say we wouldn’t meet again because he wanted to try to get his ex back, which, you know: bad idea, but you do you. I didn’t mind that much – I had just moved to London, started using dating apps, and he did introduce me to Peep Show, so I’ll forgive the poor taste in sports teams and cars.

One date quite literally ran away at the evening’s end.

The more I like someone, the more I seem to mess the date up. There should be some kind of fancy, mathematical terminology for that, like “singles' inverse function”.

I kid myself that I’m in control by only meeting up with people whose work intrigues me in some way; I figure that I’ll then at least learn something new about beekeeping, or Google DeepMind, or the next financial crisis. This strategy has led to many enjoyable first outings, including one which started by getting undressed (to swim in the Hampstead Heath pond).

But nothing seems to stave off the inevitable. When I finally meet someone I think I could care about in the long run, my inner demons are unleashed. I’ll become overly defensive and combative, and even end up criticising the unwitting object of my affection. One date quite literally ran away at the evening’s end (ostensibly to “catch a bus”). In sum: my own worst date is me.

I found out later that he’d done a line before our date.

We had met on a dating app but had mutual friends in common from university. He seemed fairly easy going over text but we both had really different schedules so it started to become very difficult to find time to even meet for a drink. Eventually, we both found ourselves around the same area, so we decided to grab a drink (we both had plans later).

We meet, and he seems very nice but a bit agitated and kind of nervous – I put it down to the usual nerves and brushed it off.

About half an hour into our drink, he starts checking his phone every other minute and seems even more nervous, and then disappears into the bathroom. Half an hour later, some of his friends show up because they’d made plans to go out… and decide to do their pre-drinks there...with me in tow.

I left soon after and found out later that he’d done a line before our date, topped up mid-date and then had invited his friends to come hang out. Never again.

First, I realised that I didn’t actually know how to pronounce his name.

After a few weeks of merry workplace flirtation with a temp in my old job, he left and I forgot all about him – until I received a text asking to meet up. What followed was a catalogue of awkwardness that makes me cringe at my former self.

First, I realised that I didn’t actually know how to pronounce his name. It was a Welsh name with Ws and Ys where you’d least expect, and I’d only ever used it written down. But it turned out this was the least of my worries.

When I agreed to meet up, he wanted to go for dinner, which I thought was too much for a first date – so I suggested a wine bar. He forlornly mentioned a few restaurants he’d like to try but I insisted. When we arrived (“hello…you”, I think I said, avoiding the name), he bought us drinks – wine for me, an orange juice for him.

“Why are you drinking orange juice, are you hungover?” I asked, like an absolute idiot. It turned out alcohol had ruined his life for 17 years – something I didn’t know, which also revealed that he was about 20 years older than I thought when I put the timelines together.

It was a car crash from then on: he spilt his orange juice on my laptop, started mansplaining about my ethnic background (even though he had to ask me where the country was), and I basically ran to get on the Tube afterwards. The lesson? Never question why someone isn’t drinking, and never lecture someone about their own minority status. Even if you are Welsh.

PHOTO: ROBERTO RICCIUTI/GETTY IMAGES
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“I want the state to think like an anarchist”: Dutch historian Rutger Bregman on why the left must reclaim utopianism

The Dutch thinker advocates global open borders, a universal basic income and a 15-hour working week. 

History consists of the impossible becoming the inevitable. Universal suffrage, the abolition of slavery and the welfare state were all once dismissed as fantastical dreams. But in the Western world, politics today often feels devoid of the idealism and ambition of previous generations. As the mainstream left has struggled to define its purpose, the right has offered superficially seductive solutions (from Brexit to border walls).

One of those seeking to resolve what he calls a “crisis of imagination” is the Dutch historian and journalist Rutger Bregman. His book Utopia for Realists advocates policies including a universal basic income (a guaranteed minimum salary for all citizens), a 15-hour working week and global open borders. Since its publication last year, Bregman’s manifesto has been translated into more than 20 languages, establishing him as one of Europe’s pre-eminent young thinkers.

“I was born in 1988, one year before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and people of my generation were taught that utopian dreams are dangerous,” Bregman recalled when we met for coffee at the London office of his publisher Bloomsbury. A softly-spoken but forceful character, dressed casually in a light blue jacket, jeans and Nike Air trainers, Bregman continued: “It seemed that the age of big ideas was over. Politics had just become technocracy and politicians just managers.”

Bregman’s imagination was fired by anarchist thinkers such as the Russian philosopher Peter Kropotkin. He identifies with the left libertarian tradition, which emphasises individual freedom from both market and state domination. Another formative influence was Russell Jacoby, Bregman’s history professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose book The Last Intellectuals (2000) lamented the decline of the polymath in an era of academic specialisation. Utopia for Realists, a rigorously argued and lucidly written work, fuses insights from history, politics, philosophy and economics. Bregman echoes Oscar Wilde’s sentiment: “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.”

Such romanticism partly filled the void left by Bregman’s loss of religious faith at the age of 18 (his father was a Protestant minister in the church opposite the family home in Zoetermeer, western Netherlands). “Maybe utopianism is my form of religion in a world without God,” Bregman mused.

For him, utopia is not a dogma to be ruthlessly imposed but a liberating and inclusive vision. It would be “completely ludicrous”, Bregman remarked, for a Western politician to suddenly propose global open borders. Rather, such ideals should animate progressive reforms: one could call it incremental utopianism.

“History will tell you that borders are not inevitable, they hardly existed at the end of the 19th century,” Bregman observed. “And the data is behind me.” Economists liken the present system to leaving “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” and estimate that allowing migrants to move to any country they choose would increase global GDP by between 67 and 147 per cent.

The thoughtful Conservative MP Nick Boles recently objected to a universal basic income on the grounds that “mankind is hard-wired to work. We gain satisfaction from it. It gives us a sense of identity, purpose and belonging”.

Bregman did not dispute this but argued for a radical redefinition of work. “A YouGov poll in 2015 found that 37 per cent of British workers think their own job is absolutely meaningless,” he noted. Rather than such “bullshit jobs” (to use the anthropologist David Graeber’s phrase), work should be defined as “doing something of value, making this world a little more interesting, richer, beautiful – whether that’s paid or unpaid doesn’t really matter.”

In Utopia for Realists, Bregman decries “underdog socialism”: a left that is defined by what it is against (austerity, privatisation, racism), rather than what it is for. How does he view the ascent of Jeremy Corbyn? “Most of the ideas are sensible but they’re a bit old-fashioned, it felt like stepping into a time machine,” Bregman said of the 2017 Labour manifesto (which majored on renationalisation). Yet he recognised that Corbyn had expanded the limits of the possible. “All this time, people were saying that Labour shouldn’t become too radical or it will lose votes. The election showed that, in fact, Labour wasn’t radical enough.”

“We need a completely different kind of democracy, a society where you don’t think purely in terms of representation,” Bregman explained, citing the Brazilian city Porto Alegre’s pioneering experiments in participatory democracy (citizens’ assemblies, for instance, determine public spending priorities). “I call it the anarchist state. The anarchists want to abolish the state; what I want to do is to make the state think like an anarchist.”

Rutger Bregman has a fundamentally optimistic view of human nature: “People are pretty nice” (his next book will challenge “the long intellectual history in the West that says, deep down, we’re all animals, we’re all beasts”).

He dismissed those who cite the 20th century – the age of Stalinism and fascism – as proof of the ruinous consequences of utopian thought. “People are always yearning for a bigger story to be part of, it’s not enough to live our own private lives. If you don’t give them [people] hope, they’ll go for something else.” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist