Prior to a recent date I'd arranged with a woman, a female friend enquired what questions I was planning to ask on the night. She assumed that I, as a seasoned dater, would arrive prepared with some ready-made date posers for the girl I was meeting - tried and trusted conversation openers that would prompt banter, candour or some kind of sex.
But I had no such thing. My plan was simply to chat to the girl and see what happened. Leaving it to chance seemed a nobler option. But on reflection, I think my friend was on to something. I should prepare for dates, or at least have some get-out of-jail cards up my sleeve for those awkward lulls or silences.
This also got me thinking about the kind of annoying questions that invariably come up on dates, and how shoddy my answers to them must appear. Such as…
What music do you like?
During my first year at university, I asked this classic question to a girl I was chatting up in a club. "You'll have to do better than that," she scoffed and walked off, to my enormous despair. Even by the age of 19, this line was deemed clichéd and childish. But sometimes, it still comes up.
I haven't had a proper answer to it for about 10 years. When I was 16, the only thing I listened to was ska. So it was easy to answer. But nowadays I have quite eclectic taste - you could say I like "lots of different types of music". But you can't say that because it makes you sound like a Phil Collins fan who listens to Magic FM and likes whatever is in the charts.
When was your last relationship?
Subtler girls will allow you to volunteer this information in your own time. But at any point, you might find yourself prematurely hurtling into an unplanned conversation about relationship histories. I haven't been in a proper one for about four years, which can seem odd to people. Mainly, I imagine them thinking, 'Four years? There is obviously something wrong with him'.
[Related feature: Why online dating is so addictive]
Whereabouts do you go out?
This question has always irritated me. I'm a cosmopolitan Londoner: I'm just as likely to be found sharing a bottle of red in a Notting Hill beer garden as getting my trainers sticky at a Dalston indie night. I like Camden and Brixton and Finchley and Bow. Which all sounds reasonable, I know, but I rarely answer the question so fluently. I just mumble something about "different places" and it sounds like I never actually leave the house.
Why are you doing online dating?
This one obviously only applies if you've met the person you're on a date with online (although it could come up even if you haven't met them online). I've found that people rarely discuss this - probably because they are scared of being asked it back. But there are some people who like to tackle elephants in the room head on. So you should really have an explanation ready just in case. My one - I'm a dating blogger - is inadvisable.
Do you take drugs?
I'm surprised at how often girls ask me this. I must have that look about me. Dazed, bog-eyed, sweaty. It's a tricky one because if a girl has bothered to ask, it implies she will place some importance on the answer. I start off tentatively, suggesting I may have "tried" things, then I adapt quickly to the response. If she looks faintly horrified I'll go for a "didn't inhale" vibe. But if her face lights up, I'll start making Brian Harvey-style boasts (God, I just realised that cultural reference is 15 years old, I will change to: Charlie Sheen-style boasts).
In the coming weeks, I am going to prepare some better responses to these, and also devise some questions of my own. So if that sounds boring, don't come back for a while.