Here's the deal. I've been single since time immemorial. So, in an attempt to remedy my eternal singledom, and to get over my nauseatingly pathological fear of dates, I've decided to challenge myself. The challenge? To go on one first date a week for a year! So in 52 weeks time, I will have either found my Mr Right, or I'll stay forever Miss Write. This is what happens...


The Rules

Here are the rules to the 52 First Dates challenge...

1. A first date must be had once a week, EVERY week, for 52 weeks.

2. Taking someone home after a drunken night on the cider does NOT count, otherwise this challenge would just be slutty, and none of us want that do we?!?

3. Second and third dates are allowed, I must continue first dates unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances. For example, God forbid, the start of a relationship.

4. Each date must be blogged.

08 July 2011

Dating Update

***12/07/13 - since this update was originally written, we have since identified those who had their photos used without permission, and I have removed the majority of them out of courtesy to those pictured***

Dear blog readers. Hello. I am sorry I have not fulfilled my promises this week with documenting date #5 and I owe you an explanation. One of the rules of Fifty Two First Dates is that if we meet someone worth seeing, we put the other dates on hold. Well, let me re-introduce you to Mr #2. Remember him? The one that stood me up because he ended up in hospital? You can catch his write up here.

Well, he has been taking up the last few weeks of my life in epic style. I would like you to meet Sebastian P-J, known as Seb, or affectionately known as the boy with the disabled eyes and the Sticklebrick hair:

Seb is 35 years old, has an older brother and sister, lives alone in his own 4 bedroomed house in Marylebone, and works as a primary school teacher in Westminster. His ex girlfriend used to work in A&E and tragically died of breast cancer a few years ago. Since then, he has been on his own with the exception of an alleged affair with a daytime television presenter. He likes to paint, makes excellent roast potatoes, adores his 3 year old niece Tilly, used to play the drums in a band and last year did a photographic challenge during which he had to photograph himself doing something new every day. Seb is sweet, sensitive, the life and soul of the party, and on paper he is quite possibly the perfect boyfriend. And reading all of this back now the same warning bells I had at the time are ringing again.

One thing that did concern me about Seb was from an early stage, his flirting technique needed work. He could be seedy. So each time he crossed one of these tasteless lines, I would tell him to stop being a sex pest, and to be-fucking-have. And, like any sensitive man would, he'd get back behind the line he had crossed. So, in typical 52 First Dates style, I agreed to meet him for a date, these reservations aside, because I had to meet my quota, and you can only judge a person properly when you're sat across a table for them. So, a few weeks ago, we arranged to meet on a Monday in a pub in Soho. And this is where is all began...



 Monday afternoon rolled around, and an hour before we were due to meet, he texted to cancel on the grounds that he had had a disclosure at school. One of his pupils had told him that she was being abused by her father, and he had spent the afternoon involved with the police and social services. All in all, that sounds like a pretty rubbish day at work, so we decided to reschedule for Thursday that week. If you've read my previous blog entry, you'll know that I actually went on the date, but he hadn't turned up. And later it emerged that he had snapped a cruciate ligament during football training and had ended up in hospital. Wow, this boy really is unlucky.

The following week we started speaking on the phone. He would text me throughout the day and ring me every night. He would send me photos of himself, some doing kooky things, some of him on holiday, a couple of him lying in bed. He obviously wanted me to fancy him, and as you can tell from the photos, he's rather lovely on the eye. I was going to turn a blind eye to the borderline narcissism until I'd at least met the bugger. We'd chat for hours at a time, getting to know each other, finding common ground, taking the piss, developing our own in jokes and getting all the more closer. I won't lie, I was starting, in part, to fall for him. He had a story for everything, which with the benefit of my retrospectrometer bears all the hallmarks of a pathological fantasist. But for every sweet comment, funny photo, sensitive anecdote there was always a little question mark and yet another subtle little attempt to get me to give him a little sleazy titillation.

Over the space of about 2 weeks, I must've spent over 20 hours talking to this man. He told me about the death of his ex girlfriend, his best friend who was brain-damaged, an alleged affair he had with a poopular daytime television presenter, the practical jokes played between him and his brother, I felt I knew everything about this man. And in return he knew about my job, my hobbies, my previous relationships, skeletons in my closet. And looking back over our conversations now, for every hours on the phone, there was always one little seedy undertone. I can remember him casually slipping things like bra size, anal sex, contraception and even menstrual cycles into conversation. But because they were all anecdotal, or heavily embedded in the in jokes or the sensitive side of things, the alarm bells tinkled a little, but it was nothing I felt I couldn't handle. These are topics that come up with friends, and after all this time, were were becoming friends, friends under a sort of pressure cooker intensity. But every time he tried to eek out something personal from me, my bra size, my views on contraception, my personal cycle, I would bat them away out of the park and he'd be left with nothing. Reading this back now, I feel sick to my stomach.  With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that all this investment in me was for those tiny little seedy snippets.


But by now I still wanted to meet the man behind the smooth Welsh tones. I needed to check that Seb in real life was who I thought he was, and any such salaciousness could be spotted in person, and nipped in the bud. By this time my curiosity had already got the better of me, and I'd tried to find him online. But to pour fuel to my already-increasing suspicions, I could find no trace of him. Not even using journalistic tools used to verify identities. And I am, if I do say my self, pretty fucking good at finding people online. Everyone's on there somewhere, whether it'd for an old school photo, a Just Giving donation, or a vox pop in the local press. But nevertheless, we arranged to meet on the following Friday night and I was determined to get the the bottom of this. However, come Friday afternoon, he cancelled again, this time with the best reason yet: his brother, a policeman, had been having an affair with a colleague's wife. The colleague then found out, a fight broke out, the colleague winds up in hospital and the brother ends up in custody. Oh, and her baby might well have been his brother's. So Seb goes home to look after his devastated family, and once again I'm left high and dry and wondering what sort of a dramatic life this guy has. 

Anyway back to the story. I am still hearing daily warning bells like tinnitus, but to honour my blog, and because I was gradually being more and more charmed by this man in a shameful way, I was determined to meet him to find out once and for all what was going on. 

Then, out of the blue on Tuesday, came some rather sinister messages one night from a strange number. The conversation went as follows:

07507 *** ***: New number peeps (20.32)
Me: Who is this? x (20.42)
07507 *** ***: You were great xx (21.01)
Me: Who is this??? x (21.12)
07507 *** ***: You know (21.24)
CTS: No I don't...this is your new number (21.43)
07507 *** ***:  I hear you are seeing somebody (21.51)
Me: Who is this? (21.52)
07507 *** ***:You fukin no who. Lets start where we left off xx (22.47)
Me: No I have no idea who you are. You either tell me who this is or stop messaging (23.04)
07507 *** ***:Don't mess with me Claire. Played hard to get b4 (23.08)
Me: Who is this? (23.08)
07507 *** ***:You know who so let us stop fucking around with the other geezer (23.10)
Me: No I do not know who this is. I don't have your number and I have no idea what you are talking about. Leave me alone. (23.10)
07507 *** ***:I will find out who he is. If I can't have youre nor can he (23.12)
Me: Who the fuck are you? (23.13)
07507 *** ***:Small the world but it pays to be street wise (23.14)
Me: Tell me who the fuck you are and how you have my number or I'm going to the police (23.17)

At no point had I ever told anyone I was 'seeing' someone, and my first instinct was that Seb had bought another phone to try and frighten me. This was all very wrong. During these messages, Seb called me and caught me in some distress that these messages, and the first thing I did was to check that it wasn't him. I just knew he had something to do with it. I just knew. He was mortified at the accusation, denied it fervently, and then offered to help by sending the number to his brother-in-law, another policeman on duty. He also queried whether this could be one of my skeletons come back to get me, something I knew was an impossible option. But then he offered to send a cab to collect me and I could stay in his spare room if I was frightened. Ding-a-ling-a-fucking-ling. Not on your life sunshine. I tried calling the strange number back and it rang and rang but no answer and no voicemail. The next day I tried the same and the phone was off. This bore all the markings of a PAYG phone, and one I suspected had been bought for purpose. And the more I thought about it, I suspected he had used something I told him in trust to scare me, and then he could sweep in and look after me.

The next few days were pretty horrific, he was still calling and messaging, one minute offering to look after me and the other expressing such horror that I was still questioning who he was. I knew I had to find out the answer to draw a line under everything. Everything I knew about him was just so intangible, nothing I could use to verify his identity. I was driving myself mad. Here was this handsome man who had been increasingly adoring of me, and yet the alarms were still clanging all over the shop. So today I finally asked where he worked. If he had nothing to hide, he would have told me. But because of these messages that had apparently spooked him too, he refused. This cemented my thoughts that he was to blame for the strange messages and that he wasn't who he said he was. I confronted him, and I said he either had to give me some proof of who he was or to leave me alone. I mentioned all of the failed date attempts, all at his behest, and said he had no intention of ever meeting me. The photo I then received told me everything I needed to know.


Why on earth would you buy someone some expensive perfume when you have never met them? Why? But even more bizarrely, look at the reflection in the bottle. Just look. That, my friends, is not the tall, dark, handsome Welsh stranger that had been messaging and calling me constantly for a month. Oh no. That is a total stranger. I have been joking all along about the film Catfish, and it turns out I have just been living it myself. I confronted Seb straight away only to be told I was being paranoid, and then I got a number of messages telling me what a fuck up I was, how I was wrong in the head and how he wished he'd never messaged me. His change of tone confirmed everything I needed to know. I now have more than enough reason to believe I had been being groomed all along. I won't lie, when I thought I was potentially fucking up something with someone I loved the sound of, I felt terrible. But now, I feel relieved. I am trying not to dwell over the hours of chats we have had over the last few weeks because I do feel incredibly violated, despite my constant vigilence of holding things back. I hate that I have given so much of myself to someone who, if we're being honest, I did have some reservations about from the very start before he started to win me over. Even as I type now, he has just messaged me, 6 hours on, telling me how he was falling in love with me, trying to get me back into open conversation. I will be having him blocked.


So now I have reason to believe that nothing he has told me over the weeks has been true. And I would like to make explicitly clear that every photo on this blog of an attractive thirty-something man with glasses I genuinely believe were used and abused without the subject's permission. Not only do I feel that my trust has been violated, but I feel desperately sad that there is someone out there whose photos are being used to lure and groom unsuspecting women. I should know, I've had over 80 of them. So if you recognise the man in the photos, please let him know that I in no way hold him responsible for this callous and calculating behaviour, but if you recognise the person reflected in the perfume bottle, please be very, very careful. 

As for me, well I guess I need to get back in the dating game and not let this affect me too much. I always heard horror stories that shit like this happened online, but I never expected it to happen to me. And now it has, and I am oddly grateful to have been able to resolve it and move on. So #5 here I come...and this time, I'm ready for pretty much anything. Don't underestimate Miss Mini-Marple...


Read some of the emails that didn't make it to the real life date stage...