The Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - BELLE TAY­LOR

SHAKE­SPEARE said the road to true love never did run smooth, but has the high­way to love ever been as rocky as it is to­day? Once upon a time, courtship was din­ner and drinks; now it’s nav­i­gat­ing Net­flix and chill. As for grand ro­man­tic ges­tures, it used to be that your big­gest risk was a bruised ego, now you could find your­self at the eye of a so­cial me­dia storm while peo­ple across the coun­try de­bate the depth of your creepi­ness.

At least, that’s the sit­u­a­tion Bris­tol man Luke Howard has found him­self in af­ter his bid to win back his ex-girl­friend’s heart back­fired spec­tac­u­larly.

The 34-year-old made head­lines last week when he set up a piano in the city’s Col­lege Green and in­sisted he would play, as the BBC put it, through “rain, snow and po­lice ar­rest” (which are ac­tu­ally the three main weather con­di­tions in the UK) un­til the ob­ject of his af­fec­tion agreed to be re­united with him.

Un­for­tu­nately, rain, snow and po­lice ar­rest doesn’t cover get­ting punched in the head at 4am, which hap­pened in the early hours of Mon­day morn­ing.

“Yes­ter­day, at around 4am, as I sat in the cen­tre of Bris­tol play­ing the piano, I was punched in the head while, as it would not ap­pear, turn­ing my­self into the largest fool in the West Coun­try,” Howard told lo­cal me­dia.

“I stopped play­ing yes­ter­day be­cause I re­alised that what I had wanted to do had spec­tac­u­larly failed.

“The so­cial me­dia re­ac­tion turned it very quickly into some­thing that would cause the one per­son I didn’t want (to) hurt, em­bar­rass­ment and pain.

“That was the last thing in the world I had wanted to hap­pen, so I left.”

Poor bloke, not only did he fail to win his ex-girl­friend back, half the coun­try thinks he’s a com­plete drop­kick.

A UK YouGov poll ask­ing the coun­try their opin­ion of Howard’s ac­tions came back with only 22 per cent think­ing his piano play­ing was a ro­man­tic ges­ture, 50 per cent think he’s creepy and 28 per cent were un­sure. The Guardian said he was a stalker, The New States­man said he was fol­low­ing a “well-worn stalker ro­mance script”, and even The New

York Post de­scribed his ac­tions as “the creepi­est”. At least The Tele­graph called him a “hope­less ro­man­tic”.

Howard’s ac­tions were out of line. He was at­tempt­ing a weird sort of emo­tional black­mail of this girl. He should have just done what ev­ery­one else does when they get dumped: have a few stiff drinks, lis­ten to some de­press­ing mu­sic, mope a bit and then get over it.

But I can’t help but feel a lit­tle sorry for him. In a world where rom-coms feed us sto­ries of de­ranged be­hav­iour dressed up as ro­man­tic ges­tures, it can be hard to nav­i­gate the line between swoon-wor­thy and stalker.

In While You Were Sleep­ing, San­dra Bul­lock pre­tends to be a stranger’s fi­ancee, in­gra­ti­at­ing her­self into his fam­ily while he is in a coma. In Sleep­less in Seat­tle, a woman hears a man on talk­back ra­dio so she ditches her fi­ance to in­vite him on a date at the Em­pire State build­ing. If some­one you knew did ei­ther of those things in real life, you’d have them com­mit­ted.

What about Love, Ac­tu­ally, where An­drew Lin­coln’s char­ac­ter Mark, turns up on his best mate’s doorstep at Christ­mas and when his wife an­swers, tells her to pre­tend it’s carol singers and pro­fesses his love to her via cue cards. C-c-c-c-creeeeepy!

Don’t get me started on Pretty Woman.

So what’s a bloke to do? If movies are no sort of guide, how does a loved-up young man make a ro­man­tic ges­ture with­out com­ing across as a com­plete creep?

So I have writ­ten a few sim­ple guide­lines I like to call “Ro­mance, not re­strain­ing or­ders!”

1) Will your ac­tions cause the ob­ject of your af­fec­tion awk­ward­ness or em­bar­rass­ment if they are not well re­ceived? Is parachut­ing into her end-of-year uni ex­ams dressed as a gi­ant love heart go­ing to sweep her off her feet or just dis­rupt her stud­ies?

2) Is what you’re do­ing a lit­tle scary? Read her body lan­guage and ask your­self if wait­ing out­side her front door with a sin­gle red rose ev­ery day for a month is ro­man­tic or just mak­ing her in­creas­ingly con­cerned that you keep body parts in your freezer.

3) Has she said no to you be­fore? Here’s a hot tip. De­spite what rom-coms tell you, women don’t usu­ally play “hard to get” with blokes they like.

If you ask a girl out and she likes you, she will say “yes”, and if she’s not in­ter­ested she will say “no”, or some vari­a­tion of, “um, I’m re­ally busy for the next . . . for­ever”, be­cause she’s try­ing to be po­lite and doesn’t want to hurt your feel­ings but trust me, it’s a “no”. Never has a girl said “no” be­cause she’s hop­ing you’ll sit out­side her bed­room win­dow with a gui­tar play­ing love songs un­til she changes her mind. That’s in­sane.

4) Is she go­ing trav­el­ling/mov­ing abroad for a job op­por­tu­nity? Un­der ab­so­lutely no cir­cum­stances should you ac­cost her at the de­par­ture gate and yell “don’t get on that plane! I love you!”

That is be­hav­iour purely for cheesy Amer­i­can movies and she’ll prob­a­bly never get a full re­fund on those flights.

If you play the piano then writ­ing her a ditty on her birth­day is ro­man­tic (as long as she has not pre­vi­ously said “no” to go­ing out with you: see above).

Play­ing in a park un­til she un-dumps your sorry self, not so much. Take a tip from Howard, when it comes to grand ro­man­tic ges­tures, you want to make sure you’re set­ting hearts aflut­ter, not turn­ing your­self into a nut­ter.

Love song: Luke Howard plays piano in the park, hop­ing to win back his ex-girl­friend — it didn’t work.

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