Earlier this year for the very briefest moment in time I was the number one piece of liberal totty in England. Prior to this I’d been listening to a friend of mine going on about a date he’d just been on with Miss India.
“Miss India?” I said, “as in the competition?”
“Yep. She’s steaming hot.”
“Can I just point out we’re all standing in a comic shop. Two minutes ago we were having a serious debate over whether or not custard creams are the anaemic cousins of bourbons. With all due respect how on earth did you get to go on a date with Miss India?”
“Internet dating! I found her on Guardian Soulmates.”
“You too? Everyone’s on that thing now.”
“Yeah! It’s brilliant, that’s why.”
“No, really! Go have a look.”
So I googled it, the very process of which involved me having to type the vomworthy term soulmates; that fey, starry-eyed drip of a cliché. In the world of Soulmates everyone’s fun-loving and outgoing, they all like to get comfy with a glass of wine and a DVD but are not averse to a night out on the town. Their usernames are things like MrNicheGuy, Wanderess, and OptimisticMe, and beneath their carefully selected titles sit the compulsory affable taglines: “Looking for a partner in crime”, “Click here to add to basket”, “The thinking girl’s cupcake”. Their sanguine self-descriptions and ideal matches range broadly from someone with a warm heart who can find the good in others to someone with a passion for life and long afternoons in the museum. Their passport-sized photographs vary from the pasty, overweight lonely-hearts-column stereotype that I had expected grimacing forlornly at a webcam – DitkoHands (Looking for love outside the panels) – to the downright ridiculously stunning creatures that had hooked my friend a week earlier. The further I prodded and poked the clearer it became that Soulmates was, for the most part, populated with intelligent, attractive and sociable adults who bore not even the remotest similarity to the bemulleted sociopaths you would find on YouTube were you the kind of person to search for 1980s dating videos in those sleepless hours between 1 and 4am, which I am. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed by how polite and respectable it all seemed. And then this happened:
“Popular Profiles: The most popular people currently on Soulmates based on the rate other members are adding them to their favourites list.”
The cream of the crop. The cream of this particular crop being SeaboundJon (I Am The Wind Beneath My Wings) gazing wistfully across the deck of a yacht, with his counterpart in the women’s Top 20 ButterfliesOnMyNose (I cried when my hampy died) peeking sideways at me in sepia. And then I saw him. Between FirehoseReel (Have you ever danced in the rain?) and DanQuixote (Tilting at windmills) staring out with big blue eyes and a breezy look of longing: my friend, or rather, ILikeYourHair (Love now, please).
“What?! How are you number 11? You live with your parents! You eat chocolate biscuits for breakfast!”
“Miss India’s number 8. We’re like a Hollywood power couple!” He grinned.
“Okay, I’ll beat you. I’ll get to number 1,” I said, in a fit of competitive bravado.
He pulls the face a plumber pulls just before he says Oof, it’s gonna cost you, and says: “The ladies rank is pretty hardcore. Have you SEEN ButterfliesOnMyNose?”
“Fine. I’ll aim for 6. 6 is good. But technically speaking if I get to 10 I’ve beaten you.”
Within minutes I, Hayley Campbell, had become Moontan (I eat more houmous than you do.)
By the next night when I meet my pals in the pub I’m more than pleasantly surprised to find myself already at number 19, one up on SeeksTallMan (Single girl seeks tall man) who clung desperately to the bottom rung like a dangling cat on a poster. As the minutes wore on my fans went up by the dozens. I pipped UniqueMe (If you like unique that’s me) to 18. Minty Fresh (Mint Leaf seeking rum for perfect mojito) was frozen out at 17 and we were only two pints in. It was my round and I missed it, too busy clicking refresh, refresh, refresh. I had nine offers of dinner at Houmous Brothers (Give Peas a Chance) by the time I beat Mouse (I’m not actually a mouse) to 12. My madness was increasing at such a rate that if my phone had been confiscated “for my own good” it is not inconceivable that I might have busted someone’s nose and run off howling into the night like some demented werewolf.
By teatime the next day I was at 6 and our challenger ILikeYourHair (Love now, please) conceded defeat.
The race was now technically won but I was still on the rise. Somewhere between 6 and 4 something happened to my head – it went wrong. In the long run ILikeYourHair (Love now, please) was the lucky one; he could go on with his life, content with his strong though decidedly less impressive ranking. Moontan (I eat more houmous than you do) was drunk on statistics and would not rest until the ridiculous crown was hers.
By this point I’m not the only one keeping an eye on The Race. Friends in offices around town are watching the final lap with baited breath. Cartoonists are distractedly leaving the caps off their ink. I’m warned of a deliberately sultry photo coming up on the inside. “Keep an eye on littleteacup (Likes adventures and cake). She’s closing on you.”
48 hours after peaking at 2 beaten only by InfiniteChest (love to laugh) I plateau; I’m still there boasting about my ability to pack away copious amounts of a certain beige Middle Eastern slop. My fans have fallen from 264 to 248 and there has been a barrage of backlash emails regarding my failure to reply. “I thought you looked nice but obviously you’re just like all the other bitches,” says ShyGuy233 (Diagonally parked in a parallel universe).
In the Rocky montage of this exercise, this is that point at which I lose faith. “Get a grip!” says my friend Andy (urban cowboy). “Number 2 on Guardian Soulmates is superb. You are one of the hottest two pieces of liberal talent in the UK. Now go and meet some!” I tell him he is completely missing the point of this exercise and gallop on, a quivering sweat bead of determination dripping down my moontanned mug.
Finally, exactly a week after joining the game I hit gold:
Congratulated anonymously on twitter, I bow to a crowd of no one.
My friends think my madness will stop here, that I will unglue my eyes from the chart and move on with my life. One suggests that now I’ve achieved whatever it was I’d hoped to achieve I must go on at least one date with someone who helped me get there. My inflated ego considers it: a night out on the houmous with one of my “fans”. But which one? l go with someone outside the charts, someone beyond the madness who’ll see me for who I am: an eater of houmous and not just the highest scoring Top Trump in town.
Unfortunately, all of two minutes into the date, I came clean about The Race. I can’t help it. It has been my entire pathetic life for the last week.
“Oh, I’ve been watching your progress!” says Fernandez (I’m not even Mexican) over a bowl of you can probably guess what. “I didn’t think you were going to make it! Especially when littleteacup arrived.”
Later I tell him that was nice but no thank you. Having already fallen to number 2 my battered pride and I make him promise us one thing: Do not date my successor, NurseRatched (Blossomest blossom), out of spite.