Good news! In my day job as a designer, a piece of work what I done has been nominated for a prestigious award. I won’t bore you with the details, since you certainly didn’t come here to read about my successes, because success isn’t funny. The ceremony is about a month away, and will be proper good. My invite is in email form and arrive in my inbox with a cheery ‘ping.’ A quick scan-read displays a warm note of congratulations and – hang on…
Everyone will be able to bring a plus one with them to enjoy the evening. We will need to know the name of your guest as soon as possible and also if either of you have any dietary requirements.
Ah, the plus-one. Cruelest of the social customs, continuously darkening the days of any single person lucky enough to receive one. Nothing else has the same duality of meanings; combining a reminder of your inevitable solitude whilst chiding you about what ideals you should be conforming to.
What to do? Do I resign myself to the disdain of the inviter by telling the truth? Or do I tell a white lie, leaving the option open for me to meet someone and to bring them along? (And I’m well aware this forms the plot of an one of the two episodes of How I Met Your Mother that I’ve seen.)
Also, let’s just take that sentence in isolation for a second; ‘Everyone will be able to bring a plus one with them to enjoy the evening’. What does this imply? That I will be unable to enjoy the evening if I don’t have a plus one? Am I to infer that a plus one is expected of me, and that everybody else there will have a beau-in-tow, everyone in comfortable company, save for me and the staff? Is this how the night will end? Alone, skulking in the shadows, weeping into the vol-au-vents?
The invite is genderless, leaving room for the possibility that I might be homosexual, (I’m not, no matter what the graffiti in the toilet says) but perhaps I could wilfully misinterpret it and bring a friend? ‘Good evening, thank you for this honour, I wouldn’t be here tonight without my friend Dave, who is as repulsively single as I am. He didn’t do anything towards the work, but I did have a plus one, and he was the only person whom I could guarantee wouldn’t be busy necking. I literally wouldn’t be here without him because he drove. Cheers.’ I won’t invite a friend, that would be social death. And if there are any single young ladies there, whichever friend I bring will inevitably be more attractive to them.
I could possibly appease the expectant hosts whilst simultaneously avoiding an awkward romantic experience by being accompanied by a lady-friend. Almost all my female friends are in relationships, mainly with my male friends.1 It would be very uncomfortable to invite a lady-mate and not her beau, simply because a female companion is expected of me. I imagine the evening with the beautiful Jemma, an artist, and long-term girlfriend to my very good friend Adam. She’d get something out of the night as well, making connections within the industry and advancing her own career, but the night would inevitably end with;
‘Well that went well, thanks for coming, Jem.’
‘That’s alright, I’ve hopefully got a few commissions out of it. What happens now?’
‘I don’t know, what do you and Adam normally do?’
‘Go back to the hotel and snuggle.’
‘We aren’t going to do that are we?’
‘[Long pause]… We totally aren’t friends any more.’
And thus I lose both Jem and Adam.
I spoke to another two of my friends about this dilemma; Martin and Joe. They both agreed that this was the ideal opportunity to invite a pretty stranger to a posh do.
‘How the hell do I go about that, Joe?’ I scoffed.
‘Well’, he replied, ‘you start talking to a girl you like in a bar, get to know her over the course of a few weeks, then casually slip in that you have this cool thing to go to and ask her if she’d like to come with.’
Martin has sadly recently come out of his second two-year relationship, and has a knack for attracting incredibly suitable women. (That doesn’t sound like a compliment but it is; Martin gets it so right it’s almost suspicious.) Joe’s relationship is nearing it’s one-year mark, but prior to his current girlfriend, the lovely Bethy, a five-year relationship became an engagement. These two gentlemen seem to know what they’re doing. Regardless, they piss all over anything I’ve done, and are well placed to offer advice.
That said, Joe is talking out of his arse. If I’m bothered enough to write a blog by an email simply assuming that by my age I would be in some kind of relationship, then I’m certainly not the sort of person to chat a lady up in a bar.
I don’t really go to bars, and when I do, I go with friends and rarely talk to strangers. I find it difficult to believe that relationships spark in bars at the rate they seem to in films, as (1) This is real life, not a sitcom, (2) This is Britain, where such contact is actively discouraged and punishable by a £10 fine and (3) Considering how loud you have to shout to get your order in, it’s impossible for the subtleties of flirty conversation to be heard. If the entertainment industry was true-to-life, all fledgeling romances would be punctuated every other line with people shouting ‘WHAT!?’ into each others ears.
At what point during the conversation do I mention that I’m an award winner? My career choice is important to me; I studied and worked hard to get where I am and I’m very lucky to have as good a job as I do, and this is quite likely to be a key conversational point. Should I bring it up early, and be honest about it, or keep it modestly in reserve? Is there a chance that she’ll be impressed only by the award, and tag along to be able to hobnob with the (design) elite? Should I not mention it at all in favour of establishing a genuine connection? Why doesn’t this paragraph have a joke in it yet? Monkey bollocks.
The ceremony is about four weeks away, even assuming I meet someone I like, four weeks is a short time to get to know someone enough to know if they’re worth inviting. It is however, just long enough for a girl to get to know me enough to learn that no amount of award ceremonies are worth being romantically associated with me.
Also; what if choose wrongly and get chatting to someone with the personality of a flannel, or worse, a rhino? By affirming a plus-one I’m essentially jamming my romantic future into a four-week quest to find someone – the last thing I need is a deadline. What if the search comes to naught and it boils down to ‘you’ll do!’ and what will happen afterwards? Will I have to maintain a rushed relationship? How long before she discovers I can’t realistically keep her in awards ceremonies, posh frocks and all the canapés she can eat?
We are having this conversation over a pub lunch. I glance around to see if there are any candidates. There are two pensioners enjoying a cooked breakfast, a businessman treating himself to a surf & turf and numerous rough looking men with the glazed eyes and enlarged capillaries that suggest they’ve been reserving their seats for lunch all day, every day, so to speak, and that if I asked them to dress up all fancy-like and accompany me to an awards do I’d get exactly the kind of beating I deserve.
I ask my friends how they managed it. ‘Outrageous flirting in a library’, says Martin. ‘Just slimed my way into her bed’ says Joe. ‘She was up for it, and I was in the bedroom anyway,’ he hastily adds. ‘I am not a sex criminal.’ It’s true, he isn’t, and I know it’s true ‘coz he said so.
I consider following their examples, but Joe’s seems very dangerous. I’ll either come out of it with a romantic liaison or – much more likely in anyone’s case – a court summons for breaking and entering and at least sexual harassment. That, and I’d probably have to abseil in, and the nearest I have to a grappling hook is a paperclip chain, which won’t hold even my weight. To recap; Joe’s methods results in: success/criminal record/broken stationary and/or legs.
Martin’s method seems a safer alternative, but I’m not sure how one flirts outrageously in a library, notoriously a place of absolute silence. I assume it’s all suggestive walks, furtive glances, come-to-bed eyes and obscene hand gestures. This seems manageable, and resolve to give it a try the next time I am in a library, hoping that it coincides with that of a pretty young lady, rather than a typical librarian. However badly it goes, the worst that can come of this endeavour is a library card.
They are right, however, that I could invite a lady friend to the ceremony, impressing her and treating her well, showing her off to my contemporaries, and coming away several steps closer to a relationship. This will not work because I do not know any ladies.
Anyway, a week has now passed since the invite cheerfully pinged it’s cheery way into my life, cheerfully reminding me of my failings and cheerfully causing more stress than it was to actually do the damn work that won the award in the first place. Another cheerful ping sounds; a second email from the committee, containing (among others) these sentences:
I’m really sorry to chase you, but would you be able to let me know your guest’s name? And if either of you have any dietary requirements?
Anus! Look what my dithering has achieved! I have already let down the hosts by failing to respond quickly! I flick open a reply and type out my acceptance and dietary needs, and then stumble… What to say?2
I type and re-type my reply, searching for the right words to show a smooth nonchalance, or more accurately trying not to sound as chronically single as I actually am.
‘I don’t have a guest to bring.’
Too matter of fact, sounds a bit emotionless, or worse, someone begging for pity.
‘I’ll be attending alone.’
Contrary to what I think, this does not make me sound like a spy.
It makes me sound like an indefensible bellend.
‘It’ll just be me attending, thanks.
Too informal. A job could be at stake here.
‘I won’t be bringing a guest, thanks. (She can’t make it).’
No. No white lies. Rather the withering gaze at my lack-of-companion than endless questions about a fictitious lady-friend.
‘I used to go out with a vegetarian, but we broke up so she’s not coming.’
This is not funny enough to bother with, and is also out of date by three years. Irrelevant and not funny, a two-nil defeat.
‘I have no dietary requirements but my fictional girlfriend only eats bees.’
For God’s sake don’t send this. No one wants to be ‘that guy’.
‘What are you doing that evening?’
God no. Wacky and/or presumptuous and TOTALLY unprofessional. And really not my style, as there’s no irony in text form. As we all know, my ‘style’ involves admiring from afar, then writing a snotty blog, or, should I stumble blindly into a relationship, panicking like a graceless trellis. Anyway, the email is from a ‘Zoe’ and a ‘Bob’. I will no doubt end up chaperoned by Bob. And they’ll both be there because they’re the hosts. Fuckwit.
In the end I type;
‘I will not be requiring a plus one, thank you.’
and press send.
Maybe I will meet someone there…
I will definitely not meet someone there.
1 Parties are fun – couples invariably get the beds whilst singletons shiver under a coat on the floor in the hall. You’d think there’d be some sort of compensation – ‘Well we can at least share body warmth, and as you have so little to be happy about you can have the bed. Maybe if you cry into the pillow enough the duvet will feel like a hug. Anyway, goodnight.’
2 Not literally stumble, if my fingers literally stumbled the email would read like this. ‘I’d love to come, and have no dietary requirementsnsnfklawef gregmfsdklg;.sdfg.’