It was Valentine’s Day 2012. I was single and had no plans.
(I should give you a moment to recover from the shock).
The idea was that I’d head straight home after work. Dinner, maybe some TV and an early night. Then, the next day it all be over. No more. For another year at least. At about midday however, I received a text. It was from my friend Andy, who I met at University.
HEY JAMES, HOW’S IT GOING? YOU PROBABLY HAVE PLANS TONIGHT BUT IF NOT I’M IN EDINBURGH AND MEETING SOME FRIENDS THIS EVENING FOR DRINKS IF YOU WANT TO JOIN? LET ME KNOW.
You see, Andy’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day. Perfect I thought! I get to be sociable and not be completely alone and miserable on Valentine’s Day, yet be in a non-pressured environment. I thought I’d swing by, have a a quick beer, say happy birthday and head on home. Lovely.
6pm. I’m finishing up at work and looking forward a pint with a good crowd. My phone goes.
HEY THAT’S ME OUTSIDE YOUR WORK. YOU DONE?
A little odd, I thought. But maybe he was meeting his friends later and had time go kill.
YEAH JUST HEADING OUT NOW. WHERE ARE WE MEETING YOUR FRIENDS?
THEY’VE ALL GONE. JUST US! THOUGHT WE COULD STILL GRAB A COUPLE DRINKS THOUGH?
Oh. Now this was a little awkward.
You see, another thing about Andy is that he’s gay. But not just gay. Camp, too. Very, very camp. Suddenly the fact that it was Valentine’s Day could not be more prominent in my mind. It’s fine, though, I thought. A quick drink in a quiet place, before everywhere gets busy. It’ll be fine. We met, and started walking.
‘Have you eaten?’, said Andy knowing fine well I’d just stepped out of the office. ‘I’m starving. Do you want to go for a meal somewhere?’
A meal? With another man? On Valentine’s Day? Truthfully, no. No I didn’t. I really didn’t. As we continued to walk, I’d glance in to the various restaurant windows to see them all full already. Full of couples. Fairy lights, candles, roses, couples. But I couldn’t say no. It was his main meal on his birthday. He’s been nice enough to ask me to share it with him. He kept pointing at fancy looking Italian restaurants and making a ‘this one?’ face.
Absolutely not. Definitely not. If we were going to eat, it have to be somewhere completely unromantic, quiet and served manly food like burgers.
‘What about there?’ I said through gritted teeth pointing to a branch of TGI Friday’s. Surely the most unromantic eatery tonight would be TGI’s and their macho Jack Daniels sauce? (I couldn’t very well suggest McDonalds. It was his birthday dinner after all. Although the thought did cross my mind).
We had to wait for the table, and as with TGI custom, you wait at the bar. I looked around. Couple, couple, couple, couple, couple. Two things ran through my mind. 1) that it couldn’t look more like that we were on a date and 2) who the hell brings their girlfriend to TGI Friday’s for their Valentine’s Day meal?
We sat, we ate, we caught up, reminisced and had a very nice time. I got use to the people giving us double takes and then whispering to each other. It was awkward but I did find it all quite funny too. I never mentioned the ‘situation’ to Andy. He’s nice, but he’s also a little naive and because of that I had no idea if he was at all aware of how this looked.
The meal ended and we waited for the rather attractive waitress to bring us our bill. I had been trying all night to give her a ‘this isn’t how it looks and I’m actually straight’ look but admittedly it’s quite a difficult look to pull off.
The waitress arrived, bill in hand. Almost home and dry, I thought. Nearly there.
But then, as she handed us the bill, Andy looked at her and reached for his inside jacket pocket.
‘Would you mind taking a picture of us please? It’s a special night.’, said Andy, pulling out a digital camera.
Andy beamed. I was stunned. The waitress looked a little taken aback too. Neither my newly perfected ‘this isn’t how it looks and I’m actually straight’ look, or manly Jack Daniels sauce, was going to save me now.
‘Aw, sure no worries!’ replied the not-so-cute-anymore waitress. ‘Thanks!’ Andy enthused, handing her the camera. ‘Okay, now get in nice and close you guys!’
I begrudgingly leaned forward and put my arm around Andy. She took the picture.
‘Its a good one’, she said, handing the camera back to Andy. And then came the kicker. The moment that made me go home and re-asses my life:
‘You guys make such a nice couple’.
Rock. Bottom. Here I was, a 25 year old single man, supposedly in my prime and in a great city like Edinburgh, and I’ve ended up accidentally on a date. With a man. Who was gay. On Valentine’s Day.
A Valentine’s Day, that at the very, very least, is not one I’m likely to forget anytime soon.
And, in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t get a goodnight kiss.