We’ve talked for hours online. Now we’re going to meet …

The Guardian

I have met Peter. We spent an afternoon and evening together and there’s a lot to tell. First, I must own up to the ratcheting. In the days before meeting, we ratcheted up the communications to an unprecedented, addictive level. I’d get a text saying “I’ve been thinking about you all day” and could reply that I’d been the same, because it was true: thinking, and composing emails and questions, and answers to questions. We were spending every evening talking on screen. But we still hadn’t spoken.

Two days before the date he texted that he wanted to hear my voice. I’d avoided the phone, feeling that it was an extra audition that I might fail, and was nervous all day, watching the clock, but needn’t have been. We talked for over two hours, and afterwards he texted that he seemed to be falling in love, though how was that possible? It couldn’t be real, this attachment, he said, but it felt real, and this was all new territory and he didn’t quite know how to navigate it. I confessed that I felt just the same.

Now, in the cold light of day, it’s easy to diagnose at least some of the trouble (though other bits remain mysterious). Things accelerated way too fast; we were both accelerators, and it got seriously out of hand. Not sexually. We didn’t talk about sex, not once, but we were both madly romantic and fervent. Some days I got 20 messages, many of them beginning “Hey beautiful”. This bothered me because I’m not beautiful. “Striking” is the best compliment I’ve ever had, from someone other than an idiot online. (Once, devastatingly, someone called me “a handsome woman”, an incident best forgotten).

Here’s all you need to know about how crazily out of hand things got before the date. (And I know, I know, before you harangue me on Twitter – I’m admitting to crazy). When he didn’t reply to a text one afternoon and then didn’t react to a follow-up one asking if all was well, I messaged saying “It’s been four hours since I heard from you and I’m getting withdrawal symptoms. Is that weird?”

Of course it was weird. It was more than that. It was mentally dysfunctional. I’d sit at the computer, trying to work, and really I’d be waiting. I’d smile at the mobile when another of the questions arrived that we continued to ask one another. “Do you like Victorian novels?” “Do you ever make bread?” “Do you have any phobias?”
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In two short weeks, my whole life had become Peter-oriented. All the usual things – house chores, phone calls, admin, arrangements, seeing friends, the ordinary obligations, and yes, doing work I was contracted to do – began to feel difficult, even unimportant. I put things off. A period of romantic mania had taken hold of me. I was actually in an altered state. It was all-consuming. I was constantly, tiresomely upbeat and full of energy. This is it, I thought, this is all it takes to be happy: a constant flow of love and attention, given and received. I told myself it didn’t have to come to an end, this flow. I found myself wondering if we’d always text each other these little endearments, even when we lived together. But this was somebody I hadn’t even met yet.

I joined him after his meeting, outside a bistro, and our eyes met as I was threading my way through other pedestrians. I’d gone to a lot of effort; a mid-calf black dress with fat-clamping panels had been purchased and new black boots, and I’d had my hair done. But his face registered disappointment that he struggled to hide. His appearance surprised me too. He was broader, greyer and looked older than I was expecting. He looked weary and anxious. I’d assumed there’d be a romantic first contact, a kiss that would set the tone for the day – it felt like we’d already had a lengthy build-up to that – but the hug he offered was formal. I stepped back and looked into his eyes. His cool blue eyes looked back. I looped an arm around his neck and kissed him on the mouth, a closed-lip kiss, though not a great-aunt-at-Christmas kiss.

He seemed surprised; he pulled away. We were five minutes into an itinerary, involving lunch, strolling, drinks, theatre and dinner, and it already felt like a disaster.

It was a disaster. Things were going to get worse.