Everything was going well so far. The lights were dimmed, the candles were lit, the table was manicured. I’d put on my best shirt, styled my hair, even used the posh shower gel I got for Christmas. Finally, after seemingly endless hours of tense expectation and anticipation, there sat my date, right across from me – silken hair, deep brown eyes, and beautifully groomed paws.
I’m playing Hot Date, and the hot date in question is a pug named Wednesday. She looks identical to every other pug I’ve spoken to in this nightmarish speed dating simulation that poses more questions than it answers. Why are they all pugs? Am I a pug? Why are all these pugs so god damn horrible?
Driven by some sort of deep-seated masochism, I’m playing Hot Date at the same time as dragging myself through a series of increasingly depressing Tinder encounters in a potentially vain attempt to get over my ex and ‘move on’ with my life. Well, that’s not entirely true – some of them are from Tinder. Some are from Happn. Others I meet through OkCupid. Or Hinge. Or Coffee Meets Bagel. Or Hitch. When I online date, I online date hard.
Back to Hot Date. Right now I’m sitting across from a cute little bitch named Wednesday. This obviously immediately brings to mind Wednesday Addams, which is no bad thing – I can appreciate the whole ‘dark and moody’ vibe. A goth pug? I’m down for that.
Smooth talker that I am, I go straight for a compliment, but I really should have known better.
True to her namesake, Wednesday isn’t taken in by such simple attempts to charm her. She’s the kind of girl (pug) that scowls at a compliment, looking for the ulterior motive lurking behind the innocent words. We’re not off to a great start, but I’ve been on enough mediocre dates to know how to turn this one around.
One of the most important things in a partner is pop culture compatibility, that essential, ineffable quality in a partner that sees them willing to stay up until 3 a.m. watching old episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race with you because they understand that it’s just that damn good. In the past, I’ve occasionally adopted the trial by fire approach here, subjecting one unsuspecting girl to a gig by none-more-camp Swedish electropop duo Sound of Arrows to test her worth. That was an unmitigated disaster, so I’ve hewn closer to the mainstream with Wednesday, testing the water with the sort of hip hop that even someone as white as myself is allowed to enjoy ‘in da club’.
It didn’t go so well.
Clearly, I went too mainstream for edgy pug Wednesday. She doesn’t ‘turn down for what’, she’s probably too busy listening to The Smiths B-sides on vinyl while reflecting on how essentially unfair the world is. I’m now uncomfortably aware that the detailed persona I’ve created for Wednesday is essentially my ex-girlfriend. I’m not sure what it says about me that I’m projecting my ex into my new love life, not least when that love life is entirely imaginary and involves dogs. Fingers crossed she never reads this, or it’s going to be really fucking uncomfortable when I give her back the last of her stuff.
Honestly, I’m getting a little desperate at this point. I don’t even have a denim jacket collection, I made that up entirely. I’ve got one denim jacket, it’s two sizes too small, and I only bought it for the sake of a Marty McFly costume on Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, it made for a pretty fucking good Back to the Future look, but a collection it is not.
I’ve fucked up. Bad. But luckily, I’m saved from the embarrassment of owning up to my lie by Wednesday’s unrelenting viciousness. Let’s put it this way: “Ughh,” was, by quite a long way, the nicest thing she had to say about the prospecting of checking out my sweet stable of imaginary denim.
I remember that my ex had a denim jacket collection. I try not to think too hard about what that means. But at least Wednesday and her have started to pull apart, which is making playing Hot Date feel a bit less like working through some sort of fucked up breakup therapy exercise.
With one sweet “Ughh,” Wednesday has saved me from being trapped in the sort of lie usually reserved for high concept rom-coms, but I have a bigger problem. I’m no closer to winning her heart and I’m running out of time. This is speed dating, and judging by the clock hovering ominously behind her head, I’ve already used up more than half my time without managing much more than to piss her off. If I’m going to salvage this in time to leave Wednesday with her tail wagging, I’ve got to bring out the big guns: Pokémon.
Finally, we’re getting somewhere. Like all right-thinking people, Wednesday knows that Charmander is the only starting Pokémon worth half a damn. C’mon people, he’s a fire-breathing lizard. This is basic stuff. I quickly rush to make sure she knows I’m a fire-type too, stumbling over my words in the excitement of finally finding common ground, a mutual interest I can mercilessly mine for conversation in the minutes, hours, weeks, months and even years to come.
Whenever conversation dries up, I’ll always have trusty Pokémon to fall back on, a small reminder that we once shared something in common, that we had one magical, ineffable moment. The seed from which a relationship might blossom. Except seeds are for Bulbasaur, and Bulbasaur sucks and is plainly the wrong starting Pokémon. So it’s a spark, or some other sort of fire shit.
My ex never played Pokémon. She never really played any games. Suddenly I seem to have more in common with a fictional pug than I did my ex. I honestly don’t know whether that’s good or bad, but judging by how uncomfortable it suddenly makes me feel, I’m guessing it’s not great.
Still, at least I’m getting somewhere with Wednesday. But time is running out, so I’ve got to press the advantage.
I’m the sort of irritating, semi-employed, faintly trendy bastard who calls East London home, and I fancy that moody, too-cool-for-Lil-Jon Wednesday might be the same. I need to know if she’s the type to join me among Hackney’s coffee shops serving artisan, hand-ground brew from Afghanistan and cocktail bars serving drinks out of old boots, or if she’s one of those sniffy West London types reserving their custom only for shops that come with their own family crest.
My hunch paid off, and not only does my darling Wednesday say she would live in Hackney, she admits that she already had done! Maybe.
I’ll admit, I’m not sure exactly how to take the news that she worries she may have dreamt eleven years of her life. I mean, we’ve all been there before with the occasional hallucinatory hungover morning, and at most I might have lost a weekend or two, but eleven years is some next-level shit. What kind of drugs has she been taking? Is she still taking them? Can I get some?
These questions, and more, are weighing heavy on my mind. Is this good or bad news for Wednesday and me? Can I really see a future with–
And with the bell go my answers. Time’s up. Wednesday’s moving on, ready to be replaced by the next in a line of seemingly identikit, scowling pugs waiting for the chance to mock my music taste and chastise my character.
I reflect on our brief time together. It wasn’t the worst date I’ve ever been on, and nobody lost any limbs or anything, but it was hardly proof positive of looming love. Still, there was the flicker of something, a momentary connection, the hope of something to come – more than I’ve found over awkward cocktails on countless nights before with other girls. OK, so at least part of that came from consistently projecting memories of my ex onto her, but there are probably worse foundations for relationships. (Right?)
Heart in my mouth, I take a chance – I ask to see her again.
Still, at least we’ll always have Charmander.