I will begin by setting the concept of a “blind date” apart from a date arranged through an online dating site. Blind dates proper involve an intermediary – usually a mutual friend of the two – who facilitates the introduction and communicates bilateral interest in meeting. Having someone you know “vet” the date in this way serves as a form of a safeguard here (unless you suspect any of your friends could knowingly set you up with a serial killer, of course). On the contrary, online dates are arranged without any assistance besides the internet.
Before the age of social networking sites and smartphones, it was almost guaranteed that one would have no idea of their blind date’s appearance and personal information prior to the physical meeting. The mutual friend chiefly responsible for the introduction could sometimes produce a photo or two ahead of the date, but, even as recently as a few years ago, such photos were unlikely to be particularly representative.
Things have changed dramatically with the arrival of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and little devices that help us to post instantaneously to such sites. Running a virtual background check on someone you are being set up with is all too easy now: knowing as little as their name enables you to locate them swiftly and even to become “connected” on social networking sites before meeting in person. The sudden overload of personal information can then fuel the fantasy on both sides, building up great suspense and a whole string of expectations.
“Single and ready to mingle”
Three years ago, I was what I described as “happily single”: not particularly interested in dating for the sake of it but willing to consider an odd worthy candidate. After reading one of the more popular relationship rants this blog was once well known for, an acquaintance of mine (let’s call her Chardonnay) suggested I met one of her good mates. According to her, he was “single and ready to mingle” and we would most certainly “hit it off”, if for reason no other than the gentleman in question being Norwegian.
I will pause for a while to remind the readers that, at the time, I was publicly suffering from a severe obsession with Norway. I had already travelled to Norway on six different occasions that year alone, altogether spending a full month in Norway out of barely 10. To make the matters worse, my obsession had taken an even graver form as I was attending Norwegian lessons and making attempts to speak the language to living witnesses.
To have a native Norwegian speaker in my life was therefore rather tempting. If nothing else, we could join forces in conquering the fjords and red-eyeing it through those long Midsummer nights. Or we could watch the Northern Lights together in the winters. Or listen to Edvard Grieg’s immortal classics for hours on repeat. Call my view of Norwegian men somewhat romanticised but it worked – and, after some mandatory (but feeble) resistance, I eventually agreed to a blind date.
Meanwhile Chardonnay was not wasting any time and wrote to the Viking in question (let’s call him Sverre) about me. Heaven only knows what this introduction looked like but, within a weekend, Sverre sent me a Facebook friend request with a short note that we should “get to know each other better”. I thought his wording was sweet and accepted.
Love is in the air
I spent the next few days exchanging multiple emails with Sverre and studying, in detail, his Facebook page. My overall impression was very positive. He had typical Scandinavian looks which, at the time, I quite liked: eyes the colour of a cloudless sky, spikey blond hair and a broad smile. Pictured either with happy-looking friends in London or in the backdrop of Norway’s stunning nature, Sverre genuinely looked like a nice personality.
Our emails only confirmed the visual impression. He was as fascinated with the Latino culture as I was with Norway and we always seemed to have something to discuss. I tried my amateur Norwegian on him, and he happily played along, even volunteering to point out an odd mistake. Our communication was adorably sweet and interspersed with a generous number of smiley faces. Being a woman of rich imagination, I was already marrying myself off to Sverre in the backdrop of the fjords to the sound of Grieg’s tear-inducing “Morgenstemning”. I had even started toying with the idea of adopting his last name, despite always having been passionately attached to keeping my own.
It was then that one of us suggested meeting. Knowing my general impatience and lack of tolerance towards beating around a bush, I strongly suspect it was me. I have never really had the need to initiate dates but Sverre already felt like an old mate rather than a stranger. As much as I enjoyed the sweet chats and the idyllic thoughts, I felt the budding online relationship could run out of steam quickly if not fuelled by real-life reference. Besides, I had several trips planned imminently, including a 5-day escapade to Oman, and was used to men disliking my desire to leave the country at every opportunity. Part of me just wanted to meet Sverre before he realised what he’d got himself into.
One more dawn, one more day
The night before the blind date was restless and the day – awash with excitement. I sat through the office hours forcing my thoughts to stay grounded and listening to energetic music as nothing else around kept up with my level of excitement.
Time did not seem to move but, after an excruciatingly long day at work (despite it actually being 9 to 5), I finally cycled to my Norwegian class in Central London. For the next two hours my brain may have been declining verbs and doing role play, but my mind was a few hundred yards down the road – in a small Moroccan restaurant where Sverre and I had agreed to meet after my lesson.
At last I waved my teacher goodbye, stopped in the ladies’ bathroom to redo my fading make-up and mounted my bicycle to make the short trip down to the restaurant. My heart was pounding so loud I could barely hear the busy traffic around. Needless to say I failed to follow the directions properly and initially took a wrong turn, but eventually found the tiny Moroccan place in the corner of a square.
There was no sight of Sverre around. Still nearly deaf with my overpowering heartbeat, I clumsily parked the bicycle by the racks next to the outdoor dining tables. I was taking out my phone to check the time – I could have wasted plenty of it with my wrong turn – when a human silhouette suddenly rose in front of me, as if by magic.
A male voice followed. “Anna?” my muffled ears heard through what felt like a thick layer of cotton wool as I blinked perplexedly. “Nice to meet you. I am Sverre.”
It was Sverre indeed.
Hey little sister, who’s your superman
There he was in front of me, his cheeks flushed with the chill of the imminent winter, his spikey blond hair gleaming under the light droplets of rain and his smile as broad as in the many photos I have seen. He looked like Sverre but my mind was refusing to recognise him.
Suddenly my heart tumbled down painfully; I felt it hitting all of my internal organs on the way, each responding with agonising pain. Blood abandoned my face, rushing back almost instantly; the noise in my ears became unbearable. I felt dizzy and nauseous. The rosy picture I had painted – the tent by the fjords, the wedding bells and the new surname – had been ruthlessly scraped off the wall and thrown into fire, leaving nothing but zipping emptiness behind. My dream was over with one look. Sverre was not going to be the love of my life.
For starters, he was an inch shorter than me. His voice echoed unpleasantly in my ears: it did not agree with me at all. He was much skinnier than I thought, making me look like an athletic superhero in comparison. And, if that wasn’t enough, he looked visibly embarrassed, making it obvious that he had expected something else, too.
Mentally flogging myself into normality, I introduced myself as cheerfully as I could and we sat down to dinner. To defuse the situation a little, I suggested we spoke some Norwegian, “for a laugh”. Unfortunately, this, too, led to a disappointment. Norway has literally thousands of local dialects, some of them barely intelligible even to native speakers. The diversity of dialects in Norway is something I am endlessly fascinated about. However, Sverre’s dialect of the Østfold region had elements of Swedish in it and was therefore perfectly understandable, or equivalent to boring, to the dozing linguist inside me.
Black holes and revelations
The dinner went on. Our initial awkwardness soon dissipated and we could joke almost like a pair of old friends catching up over a meal. Being in each other’s company was not exactly unpleasant and Sverre and I must have spent a good couple of hours at the restaurant. Finally he walked me to the nearest bridge over the Thames, from where on we went our respective ways.
As my feet pushed the pedals, my brain went into a tired lull. The emotions of the long day were taking their toll. I knew I was definitely not seeing Sverre for a date again. He was a nice guy and certainly “single and ready to mingle” but he was too far a cry from what I had expected. He wasn’t right for me.
But perhaps our meeting could have turned out differently had I not been exposed to an overwhelming amount of information about Sverre before meeting him in person. His short height would not have been a problem had I not already been expecting a tall Viking. His voice and dialect would have been of little relevance had I not already fast-forwarded us to a happily married couple, expecting everything else to fall into place. The blind date could have gone much more positively had I kept my imagination at bay and my expectations low.
Waking up the next morning without my Norwegian dream felt strange. I looked at my phone. “How was it? What did you think?” – the loyal friend I had told about the date was dying to find out. After a moment’s hesitation, I slowly typed: “I was only joking. There was never a Norwegian guy”.
And added, with a little sigh: “It was a product of my wild imagination”.