I'm getting married next year, and one thing nobody warns you about is the odd conversations you'll be required to have.
This realisation struck me as my fiancee, Kate, and I hit the half-hour mark in a debate about whether or not we should have linen napkins at the wedding. (We should, in charcoal).
Following this was a bizarre back-and-forth about the need for bridal lingerie, my mother-in-law-to-be explaining it was an important tradition. I for one am on board, believing it to be the perfect accompaniment to my Groom-themed Gimp Suit.
Perhaps the biggest curveball came in the form of a suggestion. At a recent dinner with Kate's friends (all lovely ladies, all under 27), someone floated that it would be a 'cute idea' to recreate our first date before the wedding.
Sensing this may be problematic, I rushed to change the subject – "Have you guys ever heard a Groom Gimp Suit?" – but Kate was too quick.
"Well, we didn't have a proper first date, so that might be tough. Thomas took me to see a Batman movie."
Cue a chorus of groans and me biting my tongue – it was Man of Steel. I laughed this off and conceded that the first date I'd offered up was poor — time to do the right thing.
"OK, why don't we have a second first date and do it properly. I'll book a nice dinner."
Cue a chorus of ... silence. I was expecting something; a small cheer or a token Awww. Instead, one of Kate's friends stepped in with a comment that instantly transformed me into everyone's dad.
"No one goes to dinner on a first date anymore; it's lame and way too intense."
This was followed by a lot of supportive nodding and muttering. I was blown away - when had the rules changed and why had no one called me?
I'd already felt my finger slipping from the pulse when I had to google an acronym last week – SMH = Shake My Head - so further evidence I was out of touch was unwelcome at best, terrifying at worst.
And so, like any proud octogenarian, I refused to believe what I was hearing and went in search of further evidence. Texting two of my single friends – one male, one female – I hoped they would dispel this myth at once.
Thomas: Hey is dinner on a first date still normal?
Amy: Not really, it's a bit full on.
Adam: Dinner too much. But where are you taking me ;)
There was a real recurring theme here - too intense, too full on, too much. In the five years I've been out of the game, when did a meal become such a big deal?
The conversation resumed around me, and the consensus was that drinks must be the first encounter, anything else was a red flag. I blame the anti-meal movement on the digitalisation of dating – all this swiping makes us thirsty (gulp), without working up a proper appetite. But skipping dinner seems like such a missed opportunity for a whole generation of daters.
While a drink is solid, there's something about the delicate routine of a dinner date that can't be replaced. It's like a slow dance with snacks: arriving at the restaurant, taking each other in, reading the menu, revealing layers of one another between courses.
These people will never know the charge of adrenalin that comes with ordering the same dish. "You were going to get the lamb; I was just looking at the lamb!"
Booze can make you chatty, but food finds a way to open people up properly.
Ultimately, these days my life is more linen napkins than "let's get to know each other" and yet, I fear for the future of dating. We've already found so many ways to avoid interacting – if you wear AirPods you're part of the problem – must we add 'eating with strangers' to the list of things that make us feel uncomfortable.
So while Kate and I haven't been out for our second first date yet, I look forward to it. It'll be a fancy dinner, decent (ish) wine and strong chat. Afterwards, we'll go home, and I'll put a movie on ... Man Of Steel, maybe.
"Oh, I've never seen that," Kate will say. Memorable first date indeed.