Venetia Thompson says that if you don’t mind slumming it for a bit, you can snap up an out-of-work banker or trader whose stock is sure to rise soon
I’m back behind enemy lines in the Square Mile, thankfully nowhere near the trading floor I used to inhabit, but in a place nearly as terrifying: Coq d’Argent, the City restaurant synonymous with suicide attempts. Perfect backdrop then for a first date who, within five minutes, utters the immortal words: ‘You know, there is an upside to unemployment. Since being made redundant, I have finally been able to get around to focusing on my love life. This is my first date in years!’
CreditCrunched69 is 32, a former trader looking for love, like the thousands of other displaced City boys who are flocking to online dating sites such as match.com in an effort finally to secure a wife now that they are jobless and have nothing better to do. While their headhunters — or dole officers — frantically scour for suitable vacancies, CreditCrunched69 and his cronies have become professional romancers redirecting their pursuit of profit into a determination to find the elusive ‘one’.
I came across my date’s profile while sifting through the ‘thousands of single, hot, intelligent men’ that most dating websites boast they possess. His interests were: galleries, the theatre, classical music and long walks in the country. Pre-recession it was all cocaine, cars, strippers and Spurs. What a difference redundancy can make.
Dig a little deeper and you will find plenty of credit crunch casualties now dating online, with seemingly every profile containing the words ‘in finance’ under ‘occupation’. For anyone wondering what happened to most of Lehman’s (RIP) credit swaption desk, look no further than mysinglefriend.com, one of the many seemingly recession-proof dating sites. This is Sarah Beeney’s brainchild, based on the premise that ‘everyone has fabulous single friends and it’s time they heard about each other’. What happens is that a friend nominates and describes you and your various characteristics (perhaps to prove that you do, in fact, have friends). Thus we have Ben, a derivatives trader, 35, nominated by his buddy Paul, a financial analyst who has in turn been described by Chris, another trader, and before you know it, you’ve got a full house: an entire defunct trading team to choose from.
But prepare yourself, girlfriend: recession romance is no one’s idea of fun.
There was once a time when dating a banker was a blast. You waited for the doorbell to ring, tottered out in five-inch heels (safe in the knowledge that you wouldn’t be expected to walk any further than a few feet all evening) and into a low-slung car, being careful not to chip the paintwork with the chain of your Chanel handbag. Once it was possible to block out the endless flow of tedious City talk by diving headfirst into a plate of unethical o-toro tuna (RIP) and frantically knocking back pink champagne — before ending the evening face down in a chocolate bento box. Even the most mind-numbingly dull bankers seemed special after a trough of Krug.
But now that City boys are all technically ‘in between jobs’ or ‘taking time out to finally get that MBA’, it’s a brave new world full of prix-fixe menus and Dutch treats, where having the freedom to roam à la carte is nothing but a distant memory.
Over the last few weeks, I have navigated my way around most of London’s set menus courtesy of various ex-traders, ex-bankers and even the odd unemployed lawyer. I have smiled sweetly when the words ‘prix fixe’ are uttered, and the waiter has removed the beautifully constructed full menu from my manicured grasp and replaced it with a flimsy sheet of paper. I have pretended to be excited by the prospect of whatever uninspiring chicken dish the chef has scraped together, and the countless inedible experimental desserts. I have even drunk Zinfandel.
My prix-fixe lunch with CreditCrunched69 was swiftly followed by pre-theatre dinner with GoldmanMax. But it is wise to remember that if you’re not actually going to the theatre, you’re just eating unnaturally early with the rest of the evening wide open to enjoy one of Time Out’s recommended ‘free things to do in London’. Who would have thought that there were so many free, fun and exciting ways to spend an evening in London? Free theatre, free music, free art, free comedy. It’s free because it’s bad.
Only someone who has never ventured to a free concert on the South Bank or the dreaded Trafalgar Square fourth plinth could possibly suggest taking a date there. Antony Gormley has a lot to answer for.
And if you are actually handed a Royal Opera House envelope following your pre-theatre culinary adventure — don’t immediately feel smug. Check that you won’t be standing for the duration of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung in stilettos — as I recently found myself courtesy of OperaLover48, who, thanks to Morgan Stanley’s latest round of ‘re-organising’, is now free to finally see all those lengthy operas with 4 p.m. start times — but there is nothing romantic about fainting before you’ve even made it to the first interval.
Gone are the days of venturing on a date with a banker, watching as he romantically rips up the receipt at the end of dinner to prove he isn’t going to expense it, then not hearing from him for at least a couple of weeks while he closes a deal or placates his wife. Now, without the demands of their 100-hour working week to think about, your ex-banker will have nothing better to do than bombard you with calls, emails and texts. GavinGekko23, a former FRN trader, now ‘between jobs’, had already texted, emailed, and finally left me a stuttering voicemail before I even made it home after our first date. Sadly, the only thing reminiscent of Gordon Gekko about him now was his username. Who would have thought that high-flying traders could turn into low-life stalkers so easily?
But what of the lucky few still in full-time employment? Aren’t they worth meeting for a quick lunch at the Royal Exchange? Sadly, the removal of a City boy’s bonus has the same effect as castrating a spaniel — he loses his shiny coat and boisterous personality in one fell swoop. But be patient — watch lovingly as he morosely pushes around a plate of salad mumbling about the next round of redundancies, and be careful not to ask him which bank he works for (it’ll be Nomura — or one you haven’t even heard of). You must avoid all mention of the word ‘bonus’ and don’t even consider Sunday lunch at any gastropubs that require him to carve a pheasant. It brings back too many painful memories of glorious weekends away blasting birds from the sky. He may even need you to cut up his food for him.
So my advice is this: don’t go sharking in Canary Wharf on a Thursday evening; instead, kick off your stilettos, get online and brace yourself for a bit of recession dating. Take advantage of the glut of swooning men and keep your cool when he whips out his wad of two-for-one vouchers pre-plinth. Remember it’s not often that the market is flooded with single City boys with time on their hands and they probably won’t be out of work for long. Like houses, they’ll soon increase in value and then you’ll regret not having snapped one up when you still could and when nobody else really wanted one.