THIS WEEK: on date night

Failing to belong

This week, I spent half an hour in the children’s book section in the big Waterstones off Piccadilly Circus (oof, it’s lovely in there) choosing presents for a new baby. I gravitated towards the books that I’d loved as a child (though looking at them through a 2019 lens, some of the gender stereotypes… but I digress).

A few days later, on my own Friday (platonic) date night with my friend Sam, I was reminded of one of my old favourites – stay with me here. The book is set at a bus stop, where a family (no father, he’s probably at work – you see what I mean) waits for a bus to the park. ‘Could this be the bus for us?’ the kids ask as each bus pulls up, only to find – when you lift the flaps – that each bus is full of animals on their way to the zoo, the aquarium, the dog show. 

Sam and I were looking for a nice pub for a drink in Soho. I don’t mean boujie nice – I just mean normal, and filled with normal people and perhaps even some cute-ish guys. You see, our date night doubles as a find-a-date night: surely an IRL meeting is better than more Hinge swiping, right? 

Our choice of pub, then, was an important one. We vetoed the first few that we walked past without going in.

‘Could this be the pub for us?’

Um, no, this seems to be the pub for people who work in recruitment, drink Jägerbombs and have virulent chlamydia. 

‘Could this be the pub for us?’ 

God no, this is the pub for people on keto diets who drink twelve vodka lime and sodas on Friday night and then sweat them out of their pores in a Barry’s Bootcamp double on Saturday morning. 

‘Could this be the pub for us?’ 

Clearly not, everyone is about 11 and wearing more makeup than a YouTuber with a Mac habit. In this context, our faces seem to lack all definition: where are the shadows, the highlights? We are uncontoured dinner plates. 

By this point we were so weary that we settled on the next pub we spotted, despite the group at the bar singing along with the Now That’s What I Call ’80s soundtrack. We lasted one drink before trying another pub with only one white wine on offer (probably not the pub for us). Here, a Canadian man with a lightning bolt shaved into his neck/skull – there was no way to discern where one finished and the other began – posed for a photo for his dating profile; now not only must I swipe through men who look like thumbs, gradually losing hope and developing RSI, I must breathe them in. 

Is there a pub for us?’ 

Maybe there isn’t. Maybe there is no pub that doesn’t smell of red bull, arse and desperation on a Friday night. Is this what it is to be single in London? 

So we gave up on the pubs. We went for dinner at Duck Soup instead, and sat among the couples on date night, and shared a pudding. At least this way I know I’ll want to see my date again.

Smugly coupled

“Wow, you look nice.”

I’d just walked into the living room where Ben was watching telly. 

“Thanks. Don’t sound too surprised.”

“Have you changed your hair?”

No, I hadn’t changed my hair but I had washed it and done a few wavy bits with the tongs. I’d also done something smoky with some eyeshadow and was wearing the slinkiest dress I owned (black silk with a split to the thigh). I did look nice. It was date night. 

Couples date night. I know, pass me a bucket. The cringiest of the cringe, I’ve always regarded date night as something reserved for Bridget Jones’ ‘smug married couples’ and those who use pet names in public. I have long rolled my eyes internally (and possibly externally) at those who partake in date night, considering it a deeply unnecessary activity carried out with the sole intention of reminding the rest of the world how utterly loved up they are; “sorry can’t come for drinks with you sad single sacks, we’re doing date night.” Bleurgh. The worst! So why am I all dolled up and about to go on one? One word: groutfit. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar, a groutfit is a head-to-toe grey outfit comprising of tracksuit bottoms and a matching jumper – tea stains optional. It’s highly unsexy, delightfully comfortable and the thing I wear 100% of the time that I’m at home. Ben too –  we are a groutfit couple. Pop round ours any given evening and you will find us sat on the sofa, groutfits donned, eschewing conversation in favour of mindless scrolling on our respective phones (I’m looking at Instagram, he’s Googling seed strips – don’t ask). 

It hasn’t always been this way. When we first started dating efforts were made on both sides to look nice for each other, even if it was just for a swift half in our local. Shirts were ironed, perfume was spritzed, I even wore matching underwear (though that didn’t last much past the three month mark, obvs). But then, as the first flushes of romance gave way to four years of routine relationship, the groutfits crept in and took hold.

Of course there’s something very lovely about being in the groutfit stage of coupledom; it’s familiar, easy, comforting. It’s weekly shops and each other’s families. It’s inside jokes and pre-planning holidays. It’s going to sleep and waking up next to each other every day and I wouldn’t switch it for the world. But my God, every now and again that groutfit can become a bit too comfortable (lazy, even) and an occasion is needed to remind yourselves that you are still the sexy, interesting people you both fell in love with. And thus date night.

Ben and I have been date-nighting for the last few months; since getting engaged we decided we’d try to keep the honeymoon period going until, well, the actually honeymoon. And yes, it’s as smug as hell but getting dressed up and having a proper conversation over a table for two really does remind you of what you both fell for in the first place. And the best bit? We get to go home and put our groutfits back on after. Bliss.