He ordered for both of them: "Two toast with butter and ... d'you want a coffee, Debs?" She nodded without looking up from her handbag-rummaging. "And two coffees: a latte coffee and an ordinary one."
The North Terminal of Gatwick Airport didn't exactly smack of romance, but it positively reverberated with relationships and everyday intimacies. It was awash with people who had shared many breakfasts and went on holiday together without giving it a second thought. Booked on the 7:30 a.m. to Amsterdam, I was sitting on my own, ordering my own breakfast and feeling a touch out of sorts. I hadn't started out on my Dating Odyssey yet, but I couldn't quite suppress the small voice in my head that whispered: It's not too late-you don't have to go through with this.
Like getting a tattoo, I sensed, once I began this journey there would be no turning back. I would be changed forever. The problem was that I had no idea whether the change was going to be good or bad, and that uncertainty was unnerving.
Debs and "ordinary coffee" husband were on my left. On my right, a guy my age was sitting on his own, reading Q, my favorite music magazine. I glanced at the remains on his plate: It looked like he was a vegetarian too. Did I really need to travel around the world to meet somebody? Wasn't it just possible that this man right next to me could turn out to be my Soul Mate? I sighed impatiently, disgusted with myself as I pulled on my jacket and signaled the waitress for the bill. I loathed people who relied on palmists or tea-leaf readers to "learn" what was wedged up the sleeve of Fate for them. Yet there I was, divining my future among the smears of ketchup and greasy remains of a vegetarian sausage. Exactly how desperate had I become?
Desperate enough to go around the world in eighty dates, I told myself matter-of-factly as I pushed a tip under the plate, picked up my bags, and started the long walk to flight BA8111 and Date #1.
Date #1: Henk-Amsterdam, Holland
I was staying at Amsterdam House, a comfortably quirky hotel on a quiet part of the Amstel River, in the old diamond district. You could sit in the lounge flicking through piles of magazines, drink great coffee, and watch the world go by. Well, you could, I couldn't: I was up in my tiny attic room, waiting to get the call from reception that would announce the arrival of Henk, my first date.
I met Henk through Sandrine, a third-generation DW whom I'd initially acquired through Belinda. Henk and I had emailed back and forth a couple of times, but all I really knew about him was that he was balding, sporty, and confident.
I started up my laptop to look at the photo he'd emailed, saved into a regional file along with those of all the others I was dating in that location. He looked quite cute. I wondered why he was single. And if he worried about it; he didn't look the neurotic type. I also wondered-and I know this sounds terrible-if I could go out with a bald man.
Wondered was about my level of interest and anxiety over what I was shortly to do. I didn't feel at all nervous, more detached with a sense of curiosity, an eagerness to get on with it, and a wish that I'd had time to go round the shops I'd passed on the way to the hotel.
In short, I was in denial.
Although the knowledge that I had a date with Prince Charming tomorrow, with Willem the next day, and so on, took a lot of pressure off: If the date didn't go well, there'd be another along soon enough. What I was doing was a form of speed-dating, but more far-reaching: "Today's Monday and Rome, you must be Date Number 12."
I had no idea what we were going to do on this date and, security aside-one of the reasons I set up dates through friends and carried a cell phone with me at all times-that was fine by me. I'd served my time planning thoughtful, lovely treats for boyfriends; I was really happy to have someone else in charge-and to learn to be okay with the results.
Thirty minutes had passed and Henk was late. I still wasn't nervous but I did wish he'd hurry up and get here. It was now 11:50 a.m. and I had perfected my "Henk... it is so great to finally meet you" smile; I was done with all the clothing crises my limited wardrobe allowed.