What A Bad Date Taught Me

I met Mal on a Friday night, during my birthday week where I went to Amsterdam and London with my brother Harry and my best friend Will. He showed up twenty minutes late as I sat by myself in Edge Bar in Soho, where the typical questions that run through your mind when you’ve met somebody on a dating app occupy you. Do I look like my picture? What if he’s a psycho killer? What if we have nothing to talk about and it’s really awkward?


The date with Mal (not his real name) proved to be amazing. We chatted about out hopes and dreams, our lives, interests, likes and dislikes. He was a great kisser. He dressed well, and had an awesome job in the video game industry. He wanted to settle down with a guy and start a family. We messaged each other non-stop for the next three weeks, and I decided to travel from Harrogate to London to see him again to continue whatever it was that there was between us, for there was something but I’m not sure what. Then whatever it was all fell apart.


The perfect spot for holding hands and feeling warm fuzzies.


We met at King’s Cross station. We drank some wine, took in the view at Parliament Hill, and walked holding hands. We ate some great street food from around the world that we discovered at a market that we stumbled across at the South Bank. Curried goat from the Seychelles, chicken stew from Ethiopia, cod, chicken and potatoes from Portugal. A drink out in Soho. He introduced me to the TV show Archer when we went back to his. It was a perfect day. Mal was charming, funny, handsome, and genuinely nice. Yet there was something at the back of my mind telling me that this exact same situation had happened a few years earlier, when I broke up with my first ever boyfriend. It was a rebound. I knew it, but didn’t want to admit it. I slept on it.


I need a replica of this jug in my life. Not want, NEED.


Mal went to church the next day, leaving me to explore the British Museum for a little while by myself. Terracotta siren jugs, ivory chess boards and intricate ancient Persian jewellery kept me occupied as I waited for the service to be done. We went to the Natural History Museum, where I ogled the likes of Albertosaurus and Tuojiangosaurus in their most naked forms. My heart both swelled and sank as we walked around an exhibition dedicated to British World War Two hero Alan Turing at the Science Museum. We chatted a lot at Mal’s favourite sushi place as we devoured tuna sashimi and pork cutlet. A drink at Circa, then we headed to Edge, where we’d met a few short weeks earlier.


The conversation turned uncomfortable.


“So, what do you like to do in your free time? Like, your hobbies?”

“Well….I like to watch movies, listen to music, travelling to new places…sometimes I read. I go to the gym,” I snorted as I said that, “I really enjoy writing.”

“Yeah but like, what do you like to do? What other things? Like, do you paint? Like walking? You know, actual things you do.”

“Well, I guess writing.”

Mal conceded that writing was in the same league as the likes of painting. It was creative. Still, I felt uneasy. What was wrong with my liking to watch movies? He’d asked me if I knew a lot about movies. I replied that I didn’t have a lot of knowledge of any particular area of cinema, I just liked watching movies. He looked unimpressed, and I noticed him glance around the bar. His eyes settled on a group of five or six guys in front of us. “They look fun,” he commented. His gaze would keep going back to a blond muscular guy in a t-shirt for the rest of the night.


Insert vague metaphor relating to being minutely jealous of blond muscular guy as didn’t take any photos of blond muscular guy.


“So, what are you going to do about your job?” He knew that freelance writing was the only thing that I had going on, and he knew that I desperately wanted to move out of my home in Harrogate, a town of no opportunities and definitely lacking any kind of bustling feel or international flare.


“I don’t really know. I mean, I like writing. I really don’t want to keep living at home, there are no jobs in Harrogate. But moving to London, it’s just so expensive here and it’s so competitive.” I was inadvertently answering questions that I’d been asking myself since coming back to the UK, but found myself getting more irate as Mal questioned me. Probing me. Pushing me.


“It can’t be that hard to find a job,” he’d said. What did he know? He’d been offered the job he was doing on a plate. When was the last time he’d had to actually look for work? He mentioned my degree, a thing that actually makes my job prospects worse here in Harrogate as it means I’m over-qualified for most positions. He was doing the same thing that my mum had been doing for the past few weeks – assuming that it’s easy to get a job, while not actually having had to look any time recently. I was fed up at having my life questioned. He wasn’t being malicious, but he hadn’t taken the hints that my one-word responses and absence of a smile from my face had given him.


If Mal had plied me with more tuna sashimi, perhaps any awkwardness could have been avoided.


He even brought Gil Dong into the equation. He’d read my blog, and the post of which I’m now more than a little embarrassed. He kept asking if I wanted to go back to Korea, why Gil Dong and I broke up and if I wanted to get back together with him, prodding further when I told him that Gil Dong will be doing an internship in Australia, a country which I could easily obtain a working holiday visa from. I snapped.

“Look, he knows I could go there. He hasn’t suggested it. I’m not chasing him any more. The ball’s in his court.”

“OK,” was Mal’s curt reply.


The night turned into an absolute disaster. All I’d wanted in London was a fun weekend with a guy that I’d had an amazing first date with. Instead of the spark that was there on our first meeting, there was barely a flicker, and I was bombarded with questions that had been constantly thudding in my head while at home, a place that I don’t particularly feel welcome in. On reflection, I’m not mad that Mal asked questions, but the probing and judging that came with them was what I didn’t appreciate. Why was I so sensitive, anyway? Mostly because I didn’t have any real answers. The life I’d had in South Korea for four years had come crashing down, and I was clueless about what I was going to do.


Because every post about your feelings needs some kind of night scene.


My responses to Mal were juvenile and my body language said it all. The questions had struck a nerve, and I couldn’t get them out of my mind for the rest of the night. We hugged an uncomfortable goodbye in the morning, and he sent me an annoyingly diplomatic, ‘you’re-nice-but-I-don’t-want-to-date-you’ message via Whatsapp as I sat on the train from King’s Cross to Leeds. I considered responding, but ended up just deleting it instead, with the words still ringing in my head and mingling with Basement Jaxx’s Jump N Shout blasting through my earphones, not exactly a song you listen to while you’re pondering things in your head.


This be my pondering face, question marks and all.


So what did I learn from the date-gone-wrong? That I’m horribly unhappy here in the UK. I feel unwelcome, unwanted, and the country I’ve called home for the past quarter of a decade doesn’t feel like home anymore. All the signs are pointing outwards and overseas. I felt at home in Korea. I was doing a job that I loved, a job that gave me a purpose.  Will I move to Korea again? Probably not, but I’m ready for a new adventure and new experiences. I’m not ready to settle down, and don’t want to compromise and make myself by miserable by doing a job that I hate. I always hear, “well everyone does it?” but I don’t want to, and I’m sick of getting lampooned for it.


I’ve given myself a deadline of January, so it’s time to put my thinking cap on and make some decisions. All I have right now is time, and it’s time that I started using it a bit more wisely and thinking about makes me happy, rather than dwelling on what doesn’t.


So there you have it, folks! Now, I want to hear from you. Have you ever experienced anything similar before? Has a bad date taught you anything about yourself, or changed the course of where you’re going? Any recommendations on where I should go? Let us know in the comments below, or shout out on Facebook or Twitter.

53 Responses to What A Bad Date Taught Me

  1. Louise says:

    Firstly: WRITING IS DEFINITELY A CAREER. I too, am a writer. OK, so I only write online-training-courses at the moment but it’s a job and it’s step into the door of writing stuff. One day I’ll be editor of As of Yet Undetermined Craft and Sewing Magazine, but I do fear I’m gonna have to write a lot of rubbish in the meantime to get there.

    Secondly: I’ll have you if no one else wants you! I realise I live in the area you don’t want to live, but we do have a very comfy sofa if all else fails. Plus you love those Otley breakfasts – don’t pretend.

    :) xx
    Louise just posted Learning to Love the Fabric I Already OwnMy Profile

  2. Waaaah, I didn’t like reading about you being unhappy n stuff. But in my experience, dates are not really great markers for deciding things about your life as good dates can puff you up and shit ones can bring you down. But good that you have time for thinkin’ and I hope stuff gets better – you could perhaps move to the US and audition for drag race? I’m 93% sure that’s your calling.
    David @ That Gay Backpacker just posted The vegetarian’s guide to PenangMy Profile

    • Well, the bad date did teach me something – it brought me down but got me analysing why I felt so down.

      Also, my drag name is Beverley Pills. I came up with that before Monica Beverly Hillz came on the scene *shakes fist*

  3. George says:

    Incredible post and incredible courage writing it. I agree follow your dreams xx
    George just posted How To Get the Most out of TEFL in ThailandMy Profile

  4. Steven says:

    After almost 3 years of teaching in Korea, I too felt really at home there, but I wanted to start fresh. The thrill of learning a whole new country and language from scratch, discovering a culture, and finding a third home were all quite appealing at the time. I joined an American volunteer organization, which was happy to have someone of my teaching experience in their program. I miss raking in the big bucks for teaching English, but the trade-off is rewarding. Maybe you could look into a UK equivalent like British Council (or even something like Human Rights Watch if you wanted to try a new field). At the very least it’d get you to a new country for a year.
    Steven just posted Розкололось серце на дві половини.My Profile

  5. Edna says:

    Come live with me in Italy. That is all. Also, will fb you more with more than this tiny little comment…

  6. Scarlett says:

    Ahh Tom, it’s horrible being in a state of Limbo – I feel that way myself to be honest since I’ve moved back home. You need to just write down all the things that make you happy – if that’s travelling then that’s what you need to do. The rest will come xx
    Scarlett just posted Freshers Survival Guide.My Profile

  7. Steph says:

    You know, before I quit my job and went traveling I went on about a dozen dates here in the US that went pretty similar: I’d tell the guy I wanted to quit my job and go travel and write, they would look at me like I was absolutely insane and irresponsible and made them kind of uncomfortable. It was really frustrating and discouraging so I just stopped dating for awhile. Then I accidentally met Michael and for once someone actually GOT IT. It was so refreshing and probably a big part of why I fell in love with him.

    I guess my point is you can’t really know what’s in store for oyu, but it helps a whole lot to point yourself in the right direction. Going overseas to live again sounds like a really good start.
    Steph just posted I’m Off to Get Married!My Profile

    • Or maybe I should date a travel blogger? Hmmm….BUT WHO? 😉

      I’m off dating for a while now anyway. I don’t need people to judge my life decisions more than I already get them judged at home!

      • Eric says:

        What about moving to Canada? I hear a cute engineer if going to be moving there sometime in the near future!

        What you are going through right now is healthy. It is great you are looking inside yourself and can tell you are unhappy in the UK. Now the question is what kind of job will make you happy (writing maybe) and then where. You have had so many amazing experiences this year and being back home must be a let down. But maybe you can teach in a new country with many hot many and so many sausages and other meat by-products you won’t know what to do with them all!

  8. Ira says:

    Oh Tom, just consider this time as a downtime. Pretty sure things will turn out for the best, soon. And oh, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Have more sushi!!

  9. Sam says:

    I know this feeling well. I think giving yourself a deadline like that is a really good idea. Good luck!
    Sam just posted The Nazca Lines: A Mystery in the DesertMy Profile

  10. George says:

    Dear Tom!
    People like this guy exists everywhere! I don’t think that your place is the one to blame. By the way you described your conversation with him I assume that he was questioning if you were “up to his standards”. In a way I felt like he was questioning “Are you as good as I am? Or do you have any intention of becoming someone like me?”. Which is rather sad, right? What I find it funny is that this happened after spending quite some quality time together. But I am pretty much sure that there are tons of good looking english guys out there that would make you feel more than welcome to be back home!
    I am cheering for you, whatever decision you decide to make! :)

    • Thanks George. It really did feel a bit like he was seeing if I was ‘good enough’ for him. That’s a great insight that you have there. I’m sure there are some great guys in England but honestly right now, I’m not all that interested!

  11. Frankly, I don’t give two f*cks what anyone thinks about my life choices, and I agree with you, do what you love, not what other people expect of you.
    Kristin Addis just posted The Year of a Thousand GoodbyesMy Profile

  12. Kerry says:

    Man, I was thinking “Agh, that sounds awkward, but he was probably just really bad at making conversation” and then I read “It can’t be that hard to find a job,” and my GIANT DOUCHEBAG alarm went off because HAVE YOU NOTICED THE ECONOMY LATELY, IT’S ONLY BEEN LIKE FIVE YEARS BUT W/E W/E.

    I have no helpful comments on career advice specifically but I do have to say I’m really floored by your self-awareness and graciousness, because if it were me I’d be sitting around drinking wine by myself going “man what a dick, anyway, good thing I’ve only ever made excellent life choices and everything is great, ha ha” and I really admire that you’re able to look so clearly at what’s making you unhappy and figuring out how to change it. Good luck with whatever you decide: GO TEAM TOM
    Kerry just posted Your Questions Answered! (August-September edition)My Profile

    • Thanks Kerry! You’re going to assemble a cheer squad, right? RIGHT?!

      He wasn’t bad at making conversation at all. Actually he was rather charming, apart from the whole issue of him belittling me about the job situation and what I choose to do in my spare time. Almost a holier-than-thou attitude. It’s easy to judge when you have a job, and what people don’t seem to realise is that for every decent job opening, there’s going to be a gazillion applicants, and retail and bars just throw out my CV when they see I have a degree, as apparently that makes me a retention risk. I’ve thought of dumbing my CV down, but what am I going to put about teaching in Korea for 4 years? Then that’d bring up the whole issue about having to lie re. references….agh. AGH. NO.

      Thanks for this comment, though. It has made me happy. It has also made me want to drink wine. DOUBLE THANK YOU.

  13. Sally says:

    Geez that’s a bummer, and the reason I’m only 50% excited to go home this January. People at home and their life-y questions make me real uncomfortable, too. Have you considered volunteering for a stint? That could get you out of country, not paid but accommodated and let you make a difference without too stiff of a contract if things go awry.

    Anyways, I’m sure you’ll come up with an awesome solution to your problem! Sometimes you just have to wait for the morning when you suddenly know all the answers.
    Sally just posted Photoessay: Street Signs of BerlinMy Profile

    • I got asked a lot of life-y questions last night actually, by one of my dad’s friends, but he did it in a nice, non-judgmental way, as did my step-sister. I’ve thought of volunteering, but I’d need some sort of income so that’s out of it for now. My number one choice at the mo is teaching abroad again. It makes the most sense!

  14. I know it’s not the point of your post, but I went to that Alan Turing exhibit as well.

    I think the combination of “returning home” and going on dates is probably what’s got you with your thinking cap on!
    travelsofadam just posted 10 Tourist Things To See in Central LondonMy Profile

    • It was a great exhibit, wasn’t it? I found it really interesting.

      You’re totally right about that, Adam. Sometimes I wonder if I even *should* be going on dates, if I’m thinking of moving abroad.

  15. Alyssa says:

    Alright, so I’m late to the party. But anyhow – I know what you mean about not being comfortable at home. After living abroad, I just want to be on my own again. I hate when people are like “So what do you really want to do?” Uhh…what I am doing now (for me, personally, I’d just like to be better paid for it though – ha!).

    Also, I LOVE watching movies and I joke that I have terrible taste in them. I would love to be that girl who refers to films by the director rather than the lead actor….but I actually just like turning my brain off for the most part.

    Yours in Travel,
    Alyssa just posted Artsy Fartsy Friday: Capture the Colour!My Profile

  16. This is so cliche but you know what, everything will be alright ;P
    DJ Yabis | Dream Euro Trip just posted Top 5 Colorful Fall Events in GermanyMy Profile

  17. zebrastripes says:

    Hi Tom,

    I found your blog while searching for info on Busan (near which I am now living) and read this post. Your situation was very similar to mine some months back.
    I met a guy in Toronto, a couple months after leaving Korea, and it was love at first sight for both of us, it seemed. Our second date was good but after that he suddenly was very busy with work. When I told him, after two weeks of being ignored, that I wanted to talk about what was going on, we got together and he told me he felt uncomfortable dating someone without a job (this is a couple months after I had returned to Canada!) and that he was busy with work, but he would try to make more time for me. He continued ignoring me, so I ended up taking the hint.

    I felt very sad about it because we got along so very well at first. I ran into him a couple times and was very glad he showed his true colours so quickly. It’s better to be disappointed sooner rather than later.

    I stopped looking for work in Toronto and decided to return to Korea as being bombarded by the same questions/statements about being unemployed became more than just annoying at that point. People don’t realize what comes with unemployment-depression.

    Now I’m back here. This is my first time in this area (it was Gyeonggi-do for the first three years in Korea) and I plan on staying here for two years just to save enough money to start something myself. Somewhere I want to be, doing what I’d want to do.

    If you have a plan or an idea of what you’d like to do (I haven’t read any of your other posts), but need money, working in a country like Korea is a great way of finding some stability, especially if you have a goal.

    All the best to you! Thanks for sharing your experience(s)!

    • Eurgh, that sucks and he sucks! I’m glad he showed his true colours quickly and that you weren’t hurt more. The guy I went on the lousy date with wasn’t a bad guy, but he also wasn’t very empathetic. People often assume they know everything about a situation that they’ve never been in themselves before.

      I’m not sure what I’ll continue to do. I don’t think I’ll return back to Korea, but Asia is definitely on the cards.

  18. Lilian says:

    Ugh this is so similar to how I felt when I returned home to Ireland from Australia to apply for my Canadian visa. The probing is the worst and you start to take things more personally than you should because you think everyone is judging you – at least that’s how I felt. It’s funny though that I’ve noticed so many people posting about this subject, so at least you’re not alone!
    Hopefully, wherever you travel to next brings you more happiness and fulfillment :)
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  19. I’ve been in the same sort of holding pattern as you for almost two years now. I left my year in Australia, ended my relationship, and had no idea what to do next. It’s since been a series of temp jobs in addition to writing. I want writing to be full time, but it just isn’t yet, so I’m still living at home. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not being sure of what’s next.
    Caroline Eubanks just posted Staying in Istanbul’s BeyogluMy Profile

    • I think you’re right for sure, Caroline. I’ve come to realise that it’s OK not to have a grand plan. I’ve been making a lot of decisions lately though, so things are progressing along the right path.

  20. Leo says:

    Hey Tom, just a few things to cheer you up

    1. Not all goodbyes are sad. Example: “goodbye, class.” – I can’t argue with that :)

    2. See more of your friends while your family is driving you nuts. Here’s what they say about friends: Friends are like condoms, they are always there to protect you when things get hard! – So true! :)

    In all seriousness, I have just recently relocated back to Vietnam after a decade living abroad in Australia and New Zealand. While I was stunned and baffled why it happened to me, I’ve learned that eventually all the pieces fall into place. Until then, laugh at the confusion. Live for the moment and know that everything happens for a reason.

    Chin up, Tom! Everything will be alright

    • Now, goodbye class was sad, when I had to say goodbye to my adorable students for the last time! My middle schoolers *nearly* caused me to shed a tear when they all came into the teachers’ room and hugged me.

      The thing is…I don’t have any friends in my hometown! Everyone has moved away, and public transport between cities in the UK is crazy expensive. That’s what’s driving me nuts.

      I’m moving in January anyway, so the bad date kinda worked in kicking my butt into gear. I can look back and laugh at it now that it’s a month or two later, but it was pretty difficult at the time. Thanks for your support :)

  21. Priya says:

    I’ve had people constantly judge me for a) not having a job b) looking for a job c) expecting me to do things that everyone else does. Everyone from relatives ( especially relatives), and “friends” to random strangers have judged me. Though the strangers seem to be the easiest to talk to and seem to understand. I think how you make an income and how you feel about it are related. I’ve constantly been job hopping since I graduated in 2010, and most of the jobs I haven’t been happy with. And after awhile, you just have to take a stand and know you have a choice. You can do something you hate or work for something you could possibly fall in love with. Good for you for setting a deadline! Stick with it!
    Priya just posted A Letter To My Deceased MomMy Profile

    • Hey Priya! Oh yes, I know what you mean about judgement. People making judgments about everything, eurgh! I’m happy with what I’m doing right now – freelance content writing – and I’m sure I’ll be happy with what I’ll be doing from January.

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