Simon and Hannah

It’s terrible being single in autumn. Summer is the carefree season of flirting, showing skin and getting amiably drunk with people you’d never even consider speaking to in January. Summer is open and free; it’s OK to have no ties. Autumn, however, is for couples. Romantic walks, photographing  leaves, excitedly shopping for baubles, pointing in wonder at sunsets like a toddler picking out his favourite chocolate bar in the corner shop. Everything about autumn says “together” – some basic couples probably write the word in the foam of their matching pumpkin spice lattes while they plan their coordinated fancy dress outfits for Halloween.

Hoping to find a Robin for their Batman and another face for their Instagram this week are Hannah, a 33-year-old content editor (the only thing worse than being a 33-year-old content editor is being a 40-year-old one, according to eyewitness reports) and Simon, 36, who is a research manager. Not sure what kind of research he manages but I hope it’s the sort where you get to stop people in the street and ask them about mayonnaise or Gogglebox or the Iraq war.


Read what happened on the date before I storm in, accuse everyone of stealing my jacket, and make the evening very awkward.



Hannah, the lovable turbo-realist we have all become in the absolute rain-shower of Satan’s jizz that has been 2016.


I have a feeling Simon watches cult movies and blurts out well-known quotations from them around 0.33 seconds before they are performed on screen.


Attractive. Mmmm. I like that word. It’s more than saying someone is “good-looking”, isn’t it? It’s indicating that not only are they… dare we say handsome? Let’s say handsome. Not only that, but it says you are , in some way, attracted to them. They are drawing you in. I like it. Well-dressed is also a good one, although, y’know, relative, but tall is such a weird thing to say.

I sometimes wonder how these people who marvel at height get through life. How do they cope when they see skyscrapers or mobile phone masts or trees? It must take ages to get anything done if you’re gazing up in wonder at the fact something exists that is taller than you. Yes, he’s tall – I’m all out of crackers for you, though.



Is “nice” back? Are we cool with this now? Is this what normcore and dullness as a leisure pursuit has brought us? The return of “nice”.

I used to have an amazing English teacher called Mrs St Ruth and whenever anyone used the word “nice” in a piece of writing she would recoil in horror and pull a face like Margo Leadbetter from The Good Life eating a bag of Haribo Tangfastics.

“Nice.” Simon has just painted Hannah magnolia.


Don’t kiss anyone who uses Quizteama Aguilera, Quiz McDonald, Quiz Hurley or Quizzy McQuizface, or similar, for their quiz team names.

Festivals. I don’t go to festivals that often but here’s a tip if you find yourself on a date with someone who does. Do not, under any circumstances, mention how hard it is to get tickets for them because they will then bore you absolutely rigid with their strategy for their annual purchase of Glastonbury tickets. It involves a lot of sitting on hold on a phone, apparently, or staring into a progress bar on a browser and having some kind of tag team… I mean, I can’t remember because I kept nodding off.

The “poster boy” thing – I assume they’re talking about when the staff at Soulmates, bored on a Friday, pick the new “featured profile” that will inhabit the little promotional box for Guardian Soulmates across the entire Guardian website. It is not, I’m afraid, likely to give David Gandy anything to worry about. I was picked for this once – I had always assumed it was done randomly because Jamie Dornan I am most certainly not – and I greatly enjoyed the increased attention from men I wouldn’t have crossed a parking space to go and talk to. Random men on dating sites who send you three-line messages and expect you to unbutton your shirt all the way down in delight are quite literally the worst people you’re ever going to have to endure – keep your “poster”, darling.


Simon, you’re on a date. The auditions for the new grimly unamusing comedy for Radio 4 are in the next room.


Ah, hence the “explosive diarrhoea”. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but if you’re talking about changing a nappy on your first date, I’m going to throw it out there and suggest the rest of the conversation was overly loud and the kind you’d be really disappointed to overhear.


I would maybe embellish this a little, Simon, before you settle the grandchildren around you on a rug and hand them each a Werther’s Original.




Food sharing. My bête-noire. I wonder whether Simon means Hannah took food from his plate (unforgivable) or merely offered him some of hers (slightly less criminal)? I wonder why I hate it so much? What happened in my past to make me so violently against it? I have an idea. Let me “share” it with you.

My siblings are 20 years my junior, so essentially I grew up an only child. It was quite unusual then – as I guess it is now, now everyone is determined to wring every last gene out of their fertility before it sails off into the sunset – not to have any brothers and sisters, and it makes people react very strangely to you. You are painted as a loner, purely because of the very physical reality that there is nobody else around you quite a lot of the time, and you may also be thought of as weird. My mother was harangued almost continually both by  family members and complete acquaintances to “have another one” citing that it would be “nice” – that fucking word again – for me to have some “company”, like I was desperately sad having no other human who looked a bit like me interfere with my possessions and my daily life. My mum, who claimed her body had been all but destroyed at the age of 20 when she was pregnant with and gave birth to me, was reluctant to go through this again just so I’d have somebody else to play Connect 4 with, and refused to subject her uterus to the will of the public. The resentment by others could be quite astonishing at times. And this is where we get to the food sharing.

One of the most common accusations levelled at me since I was small was that I was selfish and didn’t “know how to share”. Seriously, it was constant. I had an aunt who vaguely liked me, but was particularly obsessed by exposing me as insolent and self-centred, and would regularly attempt to “teach me how to share”, usually by taking things off me and giving them to my cousin, who was literally one of the most horrible, bossy children on Earth. I hate to say things are character-building, but it did make me very determined to be polite and well-behaved and not give adults an excuse to dislike me which – as a bookish, effeminate, short child who sassed like a 45-year-old world-weary secretary called Janice – was no mean feat. It also taught me how to share, but also keep a close eye on other sharers. While I’m happy to share almost anything, in my experience there’s always one person who likes to share a little bit less, or likes a bigger “share”, or uses this supposed fondness for sharing as a smokescreen for taking your stuff off you – and it happens all the time with food. World exclusive: people who like to share are out for YOUR share. Don’t let them have it. Also: get your filthy hands out of my dinner.

Never fuck with an only child: we’re not scared to be alone.



The thing about being on a date with someone who is very dry is that you very quickly begin to long for something wet. It can be exhausting. I am quite dry, to be honest, and I can always tell when I’m sucking all the moisture out of the room because my friends’ eyes glaze over or they give a slight roll of them as if to say “Oh, you!”

You are in danger, when you are too dry, of people not wanting to talk to you about stuff or worrying you don’t take them seriously because you simply cannot help yourself. It’s like a blessing and a curse. You can reel people in with your dry sense of humour – and, honestly, people will fuck you just because of it – but it’s keeping them there that becomes difficult. What starts off as “the thing I like most about you” becomes the thing they shout back at you as they close the door for the last time.

You should never be drier than the wine you’re drinking.


So is the woman on the checkout at the Tesco Express on Uxbridge Road. And I’m sure that’s not even her best quality – she looks like she’d be good at karaoke.

All that dry wit, Simon, and you couldn’t run to anything juicy here.





Absolutely. No. Comment.


FUNNY like when people ask “funny haha or funny peculiar?” and you think it might be neither but you don’t know what to say, so you reply “haha” because it sounds kinder than “peculiar”.
FRIENDLY like a gorilla who just drank 5 litres of undiluted Ribena and wants to get to know you.
CHATTY like a French cat.


FRIENDLY like that gorilla again, but this time he’s a in tutu and wants you to look over a script he’s been working on with a view to casting Josh Widdecombe or one of those famous Russells in the lead.
SARCASTIC like something that I’m sure was really amazing where you had a great time and weren’t at all bored out of your brain because, yeah, fantastic.
INTELLIGENT like the show-offs who go for THREE big numbers on Countdown.



I hear you, chuck.

I would never say to anyone not to be themselves, but on a date, you need to be a version of yourself that is at least palatable. Save some jokes for the speech at your wedding. If your date feels like they are having to keep up with you, or match your humour, they’ll get tired. It can become an effort. I get that people want to step it up and, like I said, your sense of humour can get you an amazing amount of cock if you target it well, but it is NOT a competition.




Non-Londoners may not be aware of this, but every Monday, it is once again 1947 in the capital. They bring back rationing and everything.

Some of the best nights of my life have been on a Monday.




See what I mean? Hannah’s just spent two hours+ at the romantic equivalent of a struggling Edinburgh Fringe show and yet she still wants more.

Anyway, you can’t go for a drink, Hannah. It’s MONDAY. You have a PIE to bake. And they lock the door at the nursing home at 10:30pm so you’d have to knock for Matron and that wouldn’t do at all.

Your 30s absolutely whizz by, guys – use them or lose them.



Scores. Thank every fucking hair follicle on Christ’s holy bonce for that.



Two eights. The post-fact, Brexit-obsessed, Bake Off-watching, Trump-voting, Theresa May’s shoes’ score we truly deserve in 2016. I want to get rabidly drunk and it is 10:03am.

One more question and then we can all sink into a large vodka.





Photograph: Sarah Lee, Alicia Canter, both for the Guardian

Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. I would love to listen to Simon’s relentless badinage and taste Hannah’s pie. If you want to give your side of the story,  get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. 


Max and Tamara

There are so many things we don’t say, when we really should. Call it our British reserve or a stiff upper lip, or whatever, but there is something that prevents most of us telling it like it is, storing it up for later. Unless you go on a confessional TV show like Jeremy Kyle – itself usually the last resort for people who’d never accept or afford therapy and can’t have things out in person, and tend to be exception, not the rule –  most of these things go left unsaid forever, swirling around in our heads, or blurted out alone, in a desperate replay of events, a version where you do get to say your piece, when the red button is pressed with no danger of nuclear fallout.

My Irish nana was the queen of this. She held her tongue and pursed her lips in silent mortification most of her life, only letting loose when she was at the kitchen sink. All the arguments she’d never won, every bon mot she’d ever stumbled over, every passive-aggressive snipe over the fence with a harridan neighbour she’d never managed to get the better of was hung out to dry while she washed up. You could tell she was having one of her run-throughs because the plates and cups would be clattering extra loudly and she would be nodding or shaking her head vigorously, and  saying her piece in hushed tones. I wonder if she ever found it satisfying, letting rip on her crockery and issuing threats and challenges in aggressive, staccato whispers. We criticise ourselves and others for oversharing and trolling and hating, and while the power to walk away from an argument is the strongest one, I don’t ever want to find myself standing at the kitchen sink, complaining into the ether. And yet, as I load my dishwasher –progress! – I find myself replaying scenes, some of them from long ago, and adding notes to my script. Lines that will never be read out loud.

Hoping to build up their part, get plenty of time on stage and be heard at the back of the theatre this week are 34-year-old Max, a recruitment consultant (it says here) and Tamara, 32, who works in human rights. Read what happened on the date before I wade in and say all the things they never say.




“A mutual chemical match.” I know humans are full of chemicals and we hear about sexual chemistry all the time, with pheromones etc, but there is something about admitting that it’s all science and not romance that’s very cold and clinical. That’s why I always ignored dating websites that would tell you what percentage a match you were for someone, or dating agencies that offered special algorithms to hook you up with the right person – it seemed so  purpose-built, leaving nothing to chance, ignoring bright eyes, or beaming smiles or charming conversation.

“Someone who’d grow vines with me in Italy.” I bet Max’s bedside table is stacked with autobiographies.


The One. Fuck The One.  When you think about The One, you should really ask yourself what it is about them that makes them The One, and how this fits into your idea of what The One actually is. If, for you, The One is the person you want to marry, buy a house or live with, have babies with, spend 30 or 40 years ago avoiding divorce with, then The One could be anyone – you just need to find someone else willing to go along with this devastatingly pedestrian plan you have mapped out for yourself.

The issue with The One isn’t just that they’re difficult for you to find, it’s that you too have to be The One for someone else. Looking for The One is really looking out for Number One, for you. The One is someone who will share and endure whatever life throws at you both. But what happens the day they don’t? If things start to change? If they want more than you, or less? Were they never The One in the first place, or are the simply no longer The One now, because they don’t bend to your will any more? Could they be The One again, and what would that involve? A few sacrifices, perhaps. Then are they truly The One. Forget The One, just look for The Next One and hope for the best. The true One is you, and you already have you.


Says “Max”.


What’s in a name, eh? Plenty.

I grew up with what you might describe as a posh, slightly unusual, name in a distinctly non-posh family and area and, let me tell you, it is character-building stuff. I grew to hate the sound of it, the way other people at school would say it with a flourish of their hand or a wrinkle of their nose – all the Marks and Peters and Davids and Simons and Sarahs and Samanthas and Claires would find it very amusing, especially when it became apparent that I was, you know, on the gay side. I was desperate to change my name as a child, to something like Aaron, or Zac – still unusual and aspirational but unmistakably solid, boyish, invisible too bullies – but apparently you had to wait until you were 18, and by the time I made it to 18 I was who I was, and there was no getting away from my name by then.

Oh, and there was a Tamara in my class and she was NOT posh either; let me assure you, Max, names aren’t everything.


Dunno. Came in wearing a bowler hat? Laid his coat down over a puddle for her to step over? Offered her some snuff? Held a door open? In a world of lads, bants and the normalisation of sending a picture of your penis to a woman before saying hello, the bar for being a gentleman these days is so close to the lino, this compliment could mean anything.



My nana used to say that people who talked a lot about the past had nothing going on in the present.

Travel. Sigh. I’ve been about a bit, but I do find talking about where I’ve travelled is like a dull dick-swinging contest with five guys in polyester suits who are staying at the hotel next door for a conference. I guess you can work out a lot about someone from where they choose to travel and how, but, for me, spouting forth about your past and perfect holiday destinations is the 21st century version of working out whether someone went to a “good school”. It’s like being at dinner with Hyacinth Bucket.



I guess Max must be a gentleman, because he doesn’t say whose stray hand it was. Tamara, however, confesses.

The pair of them went to a super-snoot restaurant on the Strand, so I imagine they were spared the inane “Waaaaaaaaaaaay!” people in pubs bellow when someone breaks a glass.






The best thing about her is that she’s sensible? It’s been a long time since I’ve had to court the affections of a straight woman, and I know times have changed and we’re all either sinking back into sexless virginity or becoming wank-hungry sexmonsters with the social skills of a phishing email selling you Viagra, but sensible? That the best you can do? I don’t know another woman in the world who’d like to hear sensible in a romantic setting.

Sensible is what you want teachers to think you are at school, it’s for grandmothers to admire, as they hand over a shiny pound from their leatherette purse and pull a hanky out of the cuff of their blouse to wipe your face. It is not, under any cirumstances, what you want to hear someone say about you after a first date, especially if you’ve said…


I don’t know what cheeky comments Max was making – oh we do love a man who makes us laugh, don’t we, my fellow basics? – but I’m sure they were very droll and charming. That his eyes get a mention too is a dead giveaway. The eyes have it, and the mouth wants it. Compare and contrast Max’s reply, in which he could be describing his second-favourite sister or a the manager of his local takeaway, and you will see that we appear to have a slight problem here.


“My Friends Are Awful: a Novella.”


RESILIENT like last year’s poinsettia that is somehow still alive, even though you never water it and all the red leaves have dropped off.
SENSITIVE like sunburn or the mood of a room after you tell a sexist joke.
SINCERE like MJ Cole.


KIND like a selfish giant who realise the error of his ways seven-eights into a fairy-tale that ends badly for him.
HANDSOME like all the men who never want you and all the men you’ll never be.
FUNNY like that one episode of Girls On Top you remember, probably from the first series when Tracey Ullman was still in it.



OK, so I’m a little puzzled here, because when Max says “interested” does he mean he was actually interested in Tamara, or merely that she seemed to think he was interested? These are two very different propositions and one of them is good and the other is bad.

Perhaps this is where the “frightfully British” comes in, whatever the hell that means. Maybe, out of politeness, Max acted like he was interested in Tamara for the sake of the date, and the fact it would be in a magazine. Perhaps he really wanted to say something else. Maybe he’s just saying he appeared interested in what she had to say, which always sounds like it’s actually a lie, and that he wasn’t really, but managed to put up a decent performance.

Who knew a throwaway use of “interested” could throw up such a dilemma? I’m stumped.

When someone says things like “frightfully British”, I imagine they mean posh, boorish, with a myopic worldview and an unhealthy obsession with gin as a personality replacement – I wouldn’t go chasing after it round the room as a compliment



Not. This. Again.

Why are women obsessed by straight men thinking they talk too much? What is this twisted world we live in, where a man gets to sit there, say three things and grunt the way through the rest of his life while women, anxious to fill the gaps left by this “strong silent type” feel they must apologise for doing what any normal human would do – talk?

I don’t know where the magic, safe area is between not saying enough and talking too much. I either say too little and come across as unsociable or throw myself into it and gabble on, until I notice, among the people I’m talking to, eyes meeting each other as if to say “When is he going to shut up?” The amount we talk and the level of guilt we feel about it is such a ridiculous stick to beat ourselves with. Sometimes, we get round this by blaming the other person. “I couldn’t get a word in,” we’ll say when we made no effort, or “He just sat there and said nothing,” we claim, when talked on and on and on about ourselves. Usually, however, we pin it on ourselves. “He must’ve thought I was a total idiot; I didn’t shut up all night.”

There’s nothing wrong with being a “chatterbox”. Talking a lot, having things to say, well it’s better than keeping it all in. Because saying nothing instead of talking regularly leads to resentment, and it can only simmer for a while. And then, once the floodgates open… well. You get Brexit, basically. Silent majorities, however, are usually anything but.

As Ronan Keating bleated, “You say it best, when you say nothing at all” – perhaps we should all just stop talking altogether.



The absolute state of the modern man in 2016.


Oh, Tamara. So we see Max was right, she did think he was interested. Did she get that feeling from things Max did – “he was attentive” – or just her own wishful thinking? I think we know, don’t we?

First dates are tricky because if you’re not into them, you don’t want to ruin the evening for them, unless you are a garbage person, but you don’t want to lead them on either. Maybe he was just being a gentleman. I don’t know. I am finding it difficult to get inside their heads this week.

I suppose if he weren’t into her and had kissed her and given her false hope, it would’ve been worse, no? But for heaven’s sake – just kiss the girl!

I’m a big fan of going in for the kiss if you feel it would be reciprocated, whatever your feelings about them, because a kiss is a kiss and kissing is hot. But not everyone is me, and this is why my kissing scorechart was only ever averaging a 75% hit rate. 100% if I had Tom Ford fragrance on, FYI.

Using a boxing workout as an excuse, though, will I ever recover?


You know why? Because you talked about a load of boring old shit.

I can see it all up there. Loch Ness Monster, travelling, grandmothers. We talk like this on dates because we are worried about giving ourselves away, of shining an unflattering light on ourselves. What we do for fun, to “let our hair down”, is so personal, and revelatory, that we rarely divulge it easily. How we get our kicks, be it take loads of drugs and dance on speakers, ride a pony, watch boxsets, go to swingers’ clubs or whatever, are usually the most niche, or quirky things about us. We know they can be a turn-off, that’s why we like doing them, because they’re about indulging ourselves, our own pleasures, not – for ONCE in our fucking miserable, servile lives – for the gratification of others.

I have a feeling here Max is looking for that mythical “cool girl“, all boyfriend jeans and sun blushed hair, excellent at playing pool and laughing at all his jokes and never asking why he hasn’t texted. The cool girl is a fantasy, but if she did exist, she’d be off on the back of some other guy’s motorbike, not making eyes at recruitment consultants. I’m sorry, but it’s true.


Max. A gentleman indeed. 7. This 7 is the bullet that killed Bambi’s mother. It’s Diana meeting Dodi Fayed, Madonna marrying Guy Ritchie, Anna not winning Big Brother. This is a text returned without a kiss at the end.


Damn fucking right it doesn’t, Tamara. Not on this date anyway. This is sad because while Max hasn’t done anything explicitly wrong that I can see, there’s an undercurrent that I feel quite unsettling and disappointing. It’s OK not to like someone as much as they like you. I would maybe have nudged that 7 up to an 8, though, and saved the “just friends” for a text later – especially if you knew she was interested in you, and that you’d given off that impression. That’s a real gentleman.

It’s the final question. Mourning clothes at the ready. Prepare your best stuff upper lip.





Photograph: Linda Nylind, Alicia Canter, both for the Guardian

Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. I imagine Max was charming and Tamara couldn’t give a shit whether he liked her or not. If you want to give your side of the story,  get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. 

Claire and Steve

People in their 30s are weird. It’s an unusual time. It’s that last battle between being a kidult and still getting away with looking like one and the weary resignation that, as your hair is turning grey, you suppose you might as well start pretending you’re a grownup. And even though there are people in their 40s and 50s queueing up to tell them that this isn’t necessary at all, that the fun doesn’t have to stop, that life is just beginning – and other dull, fridge-magnet clichés – the people in their 30s don’t listen to them, because they’re  still young, and whoever cared what an old person thought? People in their 30s still have that particular luxury at least.

So they buy houses, get married, idly imagine divorce, have their first affair, get rid of their first banger, have anxious fertility dreams. But they don’t tend to all grow up at the same time, so it can be quite common to find yourself at a party sandwiched between a couple composed of two dreary, repressed 31-year-old drongoes with collars buttoned right up, who’ve spent the last 17 Sundays tiling the bathroom of their Zone 7 flat they just bought, and a matching set of “mature, but still up for it” 38-year-olds who pretend not to worry they’re dressing too young and are raging against the dying of the light – and yet still don’t want you to use the flash on your camera.

Dancing round the abyss that is middle-age and desperately untagging themselves from Facebook pics this week are 32-year-old teacher Claire and TV researcher Steve, 37. ⬇️


Read what happened on the date before I flick through my GIF collection and wonder whether this is finally the week I’ll get to use the one of Joan Collins spilling Cinzano down her front.

Claire kicks us off in yellow, Steve is close behind in blue.


I don’t know where I stand on conversation, good or otherwise. I’ve had so many over the years, it’s hard to remember which ones I’ve enjoyed – if any. Even a bad one, with zero laughs and canyon-sized silences, can be memorable. The thing with conversations is that if you’re having a mediocre one with someone you really fancy, this can elevate it to the most engrossing chat you’ve ever had. And who’s to say tedious conversation can’t be a good basis to build a future upon? Chris and Gwyneth managed it for long enough – I imagine their dinner-table musings to be light on LOLs and fairly free of “bants”.


When you think of “life changing for ever”, you generally think in terms of lottery wins or whichever plot device the new producer of Emmerdale employs to clear out the cast – plane crashes, helicopter crashes, rogue combine harvesters carving up Home Farm – but life can change for ever in mere seconds without you realising. Whether it’s the dull thud of your richest relative’s last heartbeat, a stray cat turning up on your doorstep, or hearing the Kylie Christmas album for the first time, there are life-changing events happening all over, right in front of you, every time you blink. Who knows what awaits us at the end of this post? Breakfast, at least, I hope.


As Cher said repeatedly, to Christina Aguilera, on the set of Burlesque: ” BE ON TIME”. It just helps, generally, that people don’t view you as a garbage person.

I know there are lots of people who say they’re scatty and “always late and that’s just the way I am” and that’s great, because we all need to live our best lives and “you do you” and all that. And yet. There is something so disrespectful about continued, habitual lateness, and the readiness to write it off as a quirk rather than a very subtle form of control. Because that’s what it is, you’re calling the shots. I am here waiting. For you. The day people who are always late realise that being waited for is one of the greatest honours you’ll ever receive will be a great one indeed. However, it will probably happen on the exact same day that those who wait realise most people aren’t worth waiting for and walk away. Because that is 2016 for you.


Bright and smiley are good, if a little “and now here’s the weather with Ulrika” – but it’s a start.




’90s pop. Any excuse for a Louise Nurding gif.

The only conversation topic we have a Blankety Blank match on here is the “favourite Tube line”. This is a question I’d love as I could talk for hours at a time about how much the Underground does my head in, but I do realise it’s not fascinating for everyone, and Claire does seem to be communicating this with her comment that she was “asked”, rather than willingly talked about it.

I’m often asked what you should talk about on first dates but I can usually only tell you what you shouldn’t. I think talking about the Tube is fine, but I’m a gay man forward-rolling into my 40s with an encyclopaedic memory of Victoria Wood scripts, including stage directions – I am not to be trusted with scintillating, sexy, non-geeky conversation.



There’s something quite unsettling about discovering you’ve been a topic of conversation before the date kicks off. Your first date should be Year Zero – hearing that you’ve been discussed prior with pals does feel a little like someone’s been spying on you in the shower. We know it happens – you’re always going to show a friend a pic of someone you’re going on a date with, for example – but it’s an unspoken rule that this remains… well, unspoken.

I also believe your social media presence shouldn’t be discussed or revealed on a first date. If your date has anything about them, they’ll have run a full social check on you anyway, and will have spent a good hour scrolling back through your Instagram, right back to before you stopped taking pictures of your lunch and started gurning, shirtless, into motorway service station bathroom mirrors for selfie thirst. Your social media following is either your dirty little shame, your secret weapon, or your pride and joy, but it never, ever comes on your first date.

Never livetweet a date either – it’s vulgar. What’s that you say? That I’ve done it? Do as I say, not as I do.



Usually this kind of response is the domain of the women daters but Steve has bravely stepped up to admit he’s got his awkward side. This may well be face-saving in case Claire skewers him about his Tube chat, but it’s more than likely sincere. And at least it’s not something really lame like “she poured my wine after hers” or something.






A silence is only awkward if you make it awkward. Don’t underestimate the power of silence, what it can do you for you, and how much you need it. There is so much noise, everywhere; sometimes a moment or two of nobody talking, nobody demanding, the world simply waiting, is just what you need.

Sometimes silences are a sign that there’s nothing left to say, that the evening can’t possibly be bettered with any more chitchat – that it’s time to go home, in a taxi, together, and get acquainted with each other’s buttons.

Not tonight, though.


Well, this is a really lovely thing to say about someone, isn’t it, but I can’t help but wonder how Steve arrived at this conclusion. Do you talk about your friends on dates? I suppose you do, sometimes. I wonder whether Claire has some pals who are absolute disasters – perhaps they arrive late to things or always forget  to bring their own bags at the supermarket – and she’s the one who always bails them out, listens to them, waits for them.



Tube lines. Good to take to a quiz. Ran some polls. Steve’s being geek-zoned. Well, at least she didn’t say “sure” or “I think they might be too wild for him” – replies that should be punished by being fired into the sun, with all of your horrible friends.

No shame in being good to take to a quiz – we are a rare beast, if most pub quiz scores are anything to go by.


OK, so did the shirt come up in conversation earlier because of this, or because it was a bit loud? I had assumed it was a subtle hint Steve’s shirt was a bit zany, but I’m now starting to think he may have run a couple more opinion polls.



Shit. OK. This isn’t how you play the game. I know the modern way is to “live your truth” but this doesn’t apply here. On a date, you should be yourself, but you need to keep your truths, especially ones like this, locked all the way inside your head, releasing them only by text, several days later, when declining their invitation to a second date.

If someone asks whether they’re your type – which they shouldn’t be doing, really, why do you hate yourself, don’t ask this – and they are not, merely smile, as enigmatically as you can muster, and lie that you don’t have a type at all. Think Mona Lisa, or Princess Diana looking like she’d just caught a faint whiff of Camilla’s Ma Griffe, right as Martin Bashir asked her if she’d ever be queen.


Bizarrely, Claire was not asked this question. So well never know. Get in touch Claire; what would you have said?



I can’t help but think the real star of this date is the Tube. Holborn station, in this particular instance, it would seem.

Holborn is one of the most awful stations, I think, with possibly two of the worst Tube lines oozing through it. The Piccadilly line, filled with the kind of people who pose for pictures with the living statues at Covent Garden and sociopathic holidaymakers heading to Heathrow with suitcases the size of Zanzibar, and the Central line, London’s thickening, sluggish artery, packed with sharp-edged shopping bags and people dressed like messed-up sock drawers on their way to work in fashion retail.

I was once knocked down the escalators at Holborn by some drunk garbage fire lawyer in a suit who banged into me – a regular reader, perhaps – so maybe I still hold a grudge. Sorry, Holborn station.


Just an aside, “cuddle” is one of those words that makes my skin crawl – like the same way some people hate “moist”. It’s creepy, it involves my icy, unloving skin being touched, and someone enveloping me in a situation I can’t wait to remove myself from. When men on Grindr – usually those ones who think promiscuity is bad and that there’s more to life than sex, which is fine, but OK – used to say they just wanted “cuddles”, I’d send them the URL for Hamley’s. This is Grindr, not a lunchtime nap at nursery – go buy a fucking Teddy bear.



zippolighter-copy 10211261 quickfire-firelighters

Remind me, Claire, are you on a date, or trying to get a barbecue going?


Steve is 37. See what I mean about people in their 30s? It’s mad.

chrissy teigen hold head 2

Scores are in.



I always think there are different methods of scoring – some do it based on the evening itself, others on future potential. While there’s been some subtle hints Claire wasn’t exactly having the time of her life, with the Tube chat, for example, there’s nothing that leads me to believe her evening was an actual 6. Because, as we all know, a 6 is a zero. It’s “the old man’s friend”, the pneumonia of scores. So I’m assuming Claire’s weighing up the future and is thinking, without so much as a Twitter poll to guide her, that it’s a no.

Steve’s 8, I feel, is about the evening. He doesn’t seem too bothered about seeing Claire again – maybe she said her favourite Tube line was the dungeon shuttle of bad taste that is the Waterloo & City line – but is gentleman enough, and a regular reader of this blog to boot, to know that an 8 is a safe way of saying, “You were nice, I didn’t hate you, we’re going to be in a magazine and I don’t want to hurl you under the bus”. A fair 8.

So after three hours or so of mediocre chitchat in a fairly nice restaurant and a trudge back to Holborn Tube station, have they loved it enough to do an encore? It’s that question…




Photograph: Alicia Canter; James Drew Turner, both for the Guardian

Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. I’m sure Steve’s shirt was charming and that the two of them will tweet happily ever after If you want to give your side of the story,  get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. 

Paul and Jim

It is a tingle, definitely. A cautiously euphoric pins-and-needles feeling, that you don’t dare take notice of until you’re on your own, where nobody can see. It’s the feeling when you know a first date had gone well. Or when you think it has, anyway. Immediate sensations after a date can range from relief to revulsion via a two-hour stopover in shame and depravity, but the best one of all is that slightly jittery, sugar-rush tingle you get when you have met someone new and you want to see them again. You want every time to feel like the first time. It rarely does, by the way – so savour that tingle. Just in case.

Hoping that the tingle they’re feeling is post-date excitement and not the early warning signs of a stroke are 27-year-old web developer Paul, on the left and Jim, 26, an innovation consultant. Right. I’ve had a quick Google and looked at three job ads on LinkedIn and I have no idea what an innovation consultant is, but it does sound like it involves an awful lot of fiddling with PowerPoint decks, and sticking your head round a meeting-room door and shouting “synergy” at bewildered clients. See for yourself.

Read what happened on the date between these two men before I do what anyone sane would do when handed lemons – throw them at someone.

Paul starts us off:


Something to tell the grandchildren, perhaps. Of course what we really mean by a story to tell the grandchildren is a story we can tell to our open-mouthed mates, doing loads of funny voices, pulling faces, and widening our hands as a form of measurement until our pals’ eyes actually pop clean out of their head with envy. “Decent food and conversation” – aim higher, baby.

Over to you, Jim, in the pink:




“Better than I imagined.”

And they do, they do imagine what you’re like before you get there. In my experience, the ones I was most excited about tended to look like Plug from the Bash Street Kids when they turned up, while the ones I couldn’t care less about usually ended up being the ones you can’t get enough of.

Well-dressed is also good. I mean, sure, these things don’t really matter, because clothes come off after all. But a shop with dreadful windows probably isn’t going to have too much to offer on the inside. People who say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover usually a) have terrible taste in literature and b) dress like they fell face first into the bins behind the big Primark near Tottenham Court Road.



“He looks appealing yet slightly bland and I’ll probably give him a dunk because, let’s face it, I’m a gay man, I’ve come all this way and (spoiler) it’s the weekend.”



A complete non-match of conversation topics today. We are being spoiled. Just so you know, I would immediately shut down any conversation involving Jeremy Clarkson. There is nothing to say about him. He’s on that list, the one full of people for whom there is just nothing further useful to add, no jokes left to wring from their hopelessness, zero colour to enliven their dreary, blank grey. I am almost sure you can guess who else is on it. The key is not to end up on it yourself.



Well, I don’t know about you – literally, I don’t, but hello – but I simply had to know where these two had been sent on this date, because it sounded like an absolute trash carnival. And here it is.

Restaurants in hotels are always dodgy – especially hotels like this one, in the place where it is – because they tend to be full of hotel guests. People staying in hotels are not themselves. They’re away from home, for a treat, perhaps, or to fuck someone they met in a board meeting four hours ago. They are loud and vulgar and coarse and intrusive. They lean over to gay men on a date and goad them into getting off with each other; they try to recruit the whole place into being just like them, having their very specific, cliquey kind of fun that they know their mother wouldn’t approve of. And this is fine, in a way, if you’re in the mood for it. If you’re feeling drunk, philanthropic and mischievous, and are also safe in the knowledge that the bed you’re sleeping in is merely an elevator away, then helping a drunk lesbian turn her straight friend might seem appealing. If you’re on a date, however, you’d probably rather just concentrate on what you need to do and say to get your own end away.

Anyway, this place sounds like a fucking hellmouth, and an expensive one at that. Let’s never go.

EDIT: Paul got in touch to say that the incident with the drunk lesbian happened in a nearby pub, and he’s no recollection of the other. My general point about hotel restaurants still stands. I’m sure this one is a delight, however. 






Do you ever stop to think about what your best feature might be? Like, if someone did a survey about you, anonymously, and asked 20 or so people who knew you what you best feature was, what do you think they’d say?

It’s the kind of question you can’t ask anyone yourself, isn’t it, because you’d look super vain. But I actually think we should be asking it, because sometimes we really need to know what it is that makes people like us, so we can focus on that, and celebrate the positive. Too often we walk around not knowing what anyone is thinking, merely guessing, and driving ourselves mad with worry in case we’re getting it all wrong. So we should ask. What do you like about me? What’s my best feature? And build upon it, do more. Really curate that personal brand we’re always hearing about, but do it live, in person, rather than gonzo shots of your brunch or tweeting memes you nicked off Reddit.

Making someone laugh. Yes, that’s a good one. Job done.


And then maybe you shouldn’t. Keep it all to yourself, perhaps. I don’t know, but if I got that imaginary survey back and it said the best thing about me was that I talked a lot, I’d have a lot to unpack there. I don’t think I’d feel too super. Maybe he means it was great how he kept the conversation going. Or maybe he means he couldn’t get a word in. if I were Paul, I’d probably be sending a text round about now, asking Jim what the hell he means. You’d need to know.

But still: ask. Just make sure you have a stiff vodka to hand in case the truth is… inconvenient.



I have sat blankly in front of these two answers for 7 minutes and can’t think of anything to say that isn’t just a big shrug, so here’s a GIF to tide you over until the next set.



INTRIGUING like a secret, spiral staircase.
FUN like a night with Moira from Accounts in a trashy hotel room three floors above this snoozefest.
CHARMING like Charmin toilet paper with a G.


CHATTY like someone who talks too much out of sheer nerves because someone once told you that leaving long silences makes you sexy,  enigmatic and intriguing when in fact it makes you look… oh no, hang on, he said intriguing; it totally worked.
OPEN like a car door into the hard shoulder of the motorway.
FUN like what he said in his answer too.


You seem quite decent to me, Paul. Decent is good, isn’t it? Decency – it’s dying out. I’d quite like to be described as decent. I mean, I’d like it, but I’d also want it to be fairly low down on a long, long list of plaudits – long enough to make the Bible look like a Janet & John – below things like fuckable, handsome, slender, not Milo, sophisticated, stylish, alive.


If my grandma were here now, she would adjust her bifocals, dramatically flick her smouldering Benson and Hedges into the ashtray, and say, “Ooh, that Jim, eh? If he were chocolate, he’d eat himself, wouldn’t he?”

And she’d be right.



It’s a weekend, by the way. If we don’t get to see it go in and out, these two have to be closet straights.


“As we left to go home…”


You mean together, right? You went home TOGETHER?


Oh. Look. It’s one of Generation Cheeky, hiding in plain sight in the pages of the Weekend magazine.

“A cheeky smooch” – did you actually snog or did you just read out the labels off bottles of Innocent smoothies to each other? Language is rich and it evolves and I get all that, but the cheekification of every single thing we do, in an effort to make it more trivial, less permanent, really gets on my nerves.

Things that are allowed to be cheeky: buttocks; children; the Cheeky Girls; half an ecstasy tablet in 1997; Vimto; cheeks.

Things that are not supposed to be cheeky: kisses; overpriced chicken you have to queue up to pay for; gin and tonics; bottles of vodka; naps; snacks; shags; waiters.





What? What the fuck are you doing? That isn’t… that’s not what they’re asking you. Are you saying you’d undo the kiss? Do you mean you made romantic pretensions and now, in the cold light of day, as you tap your answers into your Gmail and prepare to fire them back to the Guardian, you want to make absolute clear that it was only ever going to be lightning-fast friendzoning once your Tube started to pull out of the station and his face blurred into the platform? Why is an event that hasn’t actually happened yet something you’d like to change? Are you a time traveller?

Whatever your methods or your reasons, you’ve just walked into a packed cinema auditorium in 1995 and told everyone that Kevin Spacey shows up three-quarters of the way in and, yes, it’s Gwyneth’s head in the box. Is there even any point carrying on?


This is a 9.

Paul, don’t make any sudden moves; just make your way slowly to the door, because something very horrible is about to happen to you and it looks like the call is coming from inside the house.



You can’t award a 7 to someone you’ve kissed – it’s… it’s… disrespectful. Sevens are for OK guys who were a bit dull, but enthusiastic and gave a limp handshake as you left, separately. Sevens are for the man who you’d love to go to the pub with, but don’t think you’d survive a trip to Ikea with. Sevens are 1s. They are kind 1s. They are 1s with tickets to Dignitas.

Oh, Jim. How could you?

Anyway, it’s now time to find out whether they’re up for meeting again. I WONDER what Jim has to say – very curious to see the answer of this famously mysterious and intriguing dude who plays his cards close to his chest. Let’s keep ourselves dangling a while longer, and go over to Paul first.





Photograph: Linda Nylind; Alicia Canter, both for the Guardian

Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. I am sure Jim is great and Paul couldn’t give two bronze fucks either way. If you want to give your side of the story,  get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. 

Emma and Jack

What brings you together can tear you apart in the end, and what attracts you to people does usually turn out to be the first thing you want to change about them once the honeymoon period is over. All those charming innocent quirks they had when you first met, which used to make you giggle or go all heart-eyes-emoji, gradually morph into malignant bête-noires that metastasise into every part of your soul and choke you. That “cute” grunt at the end of every laugh, the way they dump their towels on the bathroom floor, the fact they can’t tie a tie, the way they wink at bartenders. Everything you laughed at and dismissed with a “What are you like?” when your love was still fresh salad will become the very things you scream at each other about and want to destroy, once everything’s gone limp and soggy.

Hoping things are going to stay sweet and crunchy for at least the duration of the date are 26-year-old Jack, a PR executive (is paid to send out emails which start “Hey, hope your well!!” and are signed off with “Best! x”) and Emma, 23, a school evaluation coordinator (no idea, but it looks good on LinkedIn I’m sure).  And here they are. So summery. So cazh.


Read what happened on the date before I get all forensic and unnecessary.

Emma kicks us off and is in pink. Jack’s in yellow/green/whatever that is. Don’t bother writing in to tell me; it doesn’t matter.


Regular readers, even those who’ve only popped their head round the door every so often, will know I do not hold with eating on a first date at all. It’s a mistake people make so often. Whenever a man would say to me “I’ll take you out for dinner”, I’d sigh so deeply, trees would bend back in the breeze as I exhaled.

What going out for dinner means, usually, is you have to pretend wherever they’ve chosen is fine, or risk looking a picky bitch if you suggest somewhere else, or you have to choose a place to eat yourself and worry about what this choice says about you. Are you coming over too flash, too common, too rough, too uppity, too cultured, too fat too thin etc etc. You then have to watch your date EAT. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never watched anyone eat and thought “Phwoar”. I mean, I’m sure we’d all pay good money to watch Joe Jonas and Zac Efron feed each other bananas and raspberry Magnums topless, while Jake Gyllenhaal filmed it on his Samsung, but the sad fact is that most of us have the grace and charm of a Staffordshire bull terrier trying to chew a club sandwich when we eat. There are noises, spluttering as you try to answer a question before you’ve quite finished chewing, spillages, slobbering, grunts.

Plus, if you’re out for a meal and  decide you absolutely hate them by the end of the first course, you can’t actually “do a runner” as Emma suggests, you have to sit there, with no escape from the eating habits of Uncle Disgusting, for another round of food at least. And don’t get me started on chopsticks, shelling prawns, slurping pasta, soup splashes,  trying to eat your leftovers, asking if you “want to try some” of theirs, sharing platters, “excuse fingers”, faux-embarrassed giggling at suppressed belches, exclaiming “aaaah” and sitting back in their chair after devouring a belly-busting steak, picking their teeth, complaining about perfectly clean cutlery, being overly familiar or imperious with the waiting staff, filling your wine glass for you and giving you less than he gives himself, ordering on your behalf, proposing to share a dessert, whispering that puddings are “naughty” and that you “mustn’t” before ordering their biggest dessert on the list and, worst of all, leaning in for a kiss –and, yes, that is spinach between their teeth – and leaving you with a mouth that tastes of onions.



Oh, whatever.


“He was there” is not a first impression. It’s, like, a statement of fact.

I like being on time too. I have a rule, and it is a rule I tend not to say out loud to people too often because it makes them look at me in a slightly curious and horrified way, like they’ve just discovered something very inappropriate under my floorboards. If you arrive bang on time, at the time you have arranged to be somewhere, you are in fact late.

I do have another rule, however, which is beautifully contradictory but hey it’s my party and attendance is not compulsory, that you should arrive around three to five minutes late for a date for OPTIMUM effect. This means they’ll be there to see you make an entrance and you’d better make it good because first impressions are bought and sold on the way you own that swing of the pub door, baby.


Easy-going seems to be one of those phrases that’s losing all meaning. Are easy-going and relaxed the same thing? Does it mean you don’t care? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Spoiler: nobody has ever accused me of being easy-going in my life, but I insisted on opening my own savings account at 4, read dictionaries for fun and didn’t laugh at a joke until my mid-teens so maybe it’s just me.



You are 23. You’re not supposed to know anything about wine except that it comes in three “colours” and is priced according to how guilty you should feel after drinking an entire bottle of it in half an hour. Out of the actual bottle.
Under £4.99 = guilt-free.
£5.00 – £9.99 = steady on, Ivana Trump.
Over £9.99 = shit, sorry Dad, I swear I’ll replace it, I swear, no I did sip it and enjoy it, I really did, you were right, it had an amazing vintage.



There simply isn’t enough time for us all left on Earth for me to even start on steak-splaining and how majestically unfuckable it makes you, so let’s move on to the cocktails out of coconuts instead.

The only people I can think of who’d like cocktails in coconuts are those really awful posh people that even Tatler won’t write about, who wear smoking jackets from the age of 14, went to “the school” – to say where is terribly common – actually know someone in real life called Algernon, and have rosy cheeks and straw-like blond hair. They frequent tiki bars with their braying pals, wear racially inappropriate outfits at “colonial” fancy-dress parties, fall in love with people who look exactly like their parents and, sadly, probably own the very ground on which you’re standing. Or are Prince Harry.

And well lookee here, just like magic, here comes an awkward moment.


Nobody gives a toss about your virtue signalling for the much maligned brave souls who toil at the frontline of recruitment, Emma; those mercenaries can look after themselves.

There is something quite disturbing, really odd, about someone mentioning which school they went to, or that they went to school at all, on a date, when they’re 26. Is it supposed be impressive? How should you react? So your parents transferred some money into a school’s bank account and all of a sudden your uniforms got a lot more ridiculous and a lot less itchy? Is it an attempt to identify any links with your alma mater? Was he hoping for a secret handshake? That said, why does this make her feel uncomfortable?

Bragging about education on a date is more common than you’d think. For people who have nothing else – and think how gloomy the last 8 years must have been for Jack if he’s still banging on about his school at 26 – their education, the last time they didn’t really have to think much for themselves, takes on an almost mythical quality. I once sat on a date with a guy, who wasn’t as pretty as he thought he was and really should’ve tried harder, while he explained, in minute detail, his entrance exam and interview for drama school. A decade previously.


“Usually after everything I said.” Oh, Jack.


Table manners!


I have to back this. Good manners cost nothing. If someone is doing something for you, you need to say thank you.

You can sound a bit like a stuck record after a while, however, especially if they say “you’re welcome” back every time you thank them. Perhaps there should be an agreed limit on the number of thank you, to save awkwardness all round, or a contract you sign on being seated at the table which says: “I promise to feel gratitude for everything you do for me this evening and, to save time and breaking up the conversation, will say thank you only AFTER you pour the wine and not when you offer, and when you place anything else on the table or take it away. You do not need to say I am welcome”. That’s still quite a lot of thank you, though.

I once went out for a dinner with a man who said, halfway through the meal, “Do you know how many times you’ve said thank you during this meal? It’s loads. It’s a bit much.” Reader, I said it only one more time that evening, and it followed the word “no” and meant a cold shower for him and a hearty chuckle on the bus home, alone, for me.


Jack was taught how to use cutlery properly at his Academy de Snoot for le Terminally Posh school, I imagine. I wonder what she did with the butter-knife. Dropped it? Used it to eat soup with? Forgot to mention her pony and childhood skiing holidays as she lavished her sourdough with Vitalite? We’ll never know.





I’ve only room for one respectable in my life, and it’s Mel and Kim’s.

I’m starting to think Jack is actually 47. Or maybe, just maybe, he doesn’t know what else to say. I go in quite hard on straight guys who take part in this column sometimes – and it does seem here that Jack is only interested in things she’s achieved, rather than what she was like as a person, which I usually detest – but I wonder here whether Jack simply can’t find the words to be anything other than polite.


Wouldn’t you, Emma? Not even for a chance to see their eyes widen in horror and watch them lightly rip the piss out of him as they threw another Sauv Blanc or pint of craft beer down their necks? Sometimes the best way to put someone off you is to introduce them to your friends; it can be a more effective repellant than your own BO or UKIP-voting tendencies.

If you’re dating someone and aren’t sure about them, the temptation  is to hide them from friends until you’ve made up your mind about them. This isn’t always a good idea. Why not throw them to the lions and see how they manage? Sometimes there’s no greater thrill than feeling the pinch on your arm by a friend who “wants a word” and trying not to laugh as they very earnestly ask you what the hell you think you’re doing with this guy.


Well, good for Jack. This is great. A nice thing to say. I wonder what Jinty, Tressolea and Pongo will make of her?



Oh dear.


No. None of this, sadly. What’s worse? Being oblivious or being fully aware you’re in a car crash?


Oh, not this again. “He probably thought I was scatty.” “He probably thought I was crazy and talked too much.”

Even when asked to imagine the opinion of a man who she’ll never see again, has no interest in and has roundly savaged on the pages of a national newspaper, Emma still goes for self-deprecation. It makes me wonder whether the vibe she got from Jack was that he didn’t like her at all and was going to skewer her here. If this is the case, does it mean her answers are authentic, and it really was like going on a date with a leather cigarette case? Or did Jack merely sit there in mild amusement, doing that impenetrable face that men who are mildly amused do, and it spooked her a bit? I’ll never know, unless they email in.

Anyway, you’re not a lunatic for just talking. I’m a bit disappointed, if the date was as bad as is suggested, that Emma didn’t say “I don’t care what he made of me”, but she’s the one answering the questions, not me.


Yeaaaaaah, I’m going to go with my original assumption that the date really was that bad. Not even a nightcap, no awkward farewell drink in a noisy, about to close, All Bar One round the corner? Yep, it’s a certified stinker.


Or any occasion, Jack. This wasn’t a dress rehearsal. Oh, Jack. I long to understand, to read between the lines, but I can’t seem to work it out. Were you taught, at this very posh school of yours, to soldier on, to never complain? Because, this date sounds like agony – I’ve had to get up from the sofa three times to go and wring out a tea towel just to get some release – and yet you have, either valiantly or dimwittedly, revealed nothing of this.


Mate. Maaaate. My man. I reckon you’d have been better off arriving four hours late and asking one of the waiting staff what time they finished, Jack.



Time of death for this date: 30 seconds after Emma pressed SEND on the email back to the Guardian journalist.


You see? That’s a gentleman’s zero at least. There’s more to this than meets the eye.



FIVE. I can’t remember the last time this happened. 5 is a minus. It’s outside. It didn’t get a ticket, it doesn’t have a seat. 5 missed out, 5 has to read all about it on Facebook the next day. 5 cries at Timehop, 5 doesn’t get tagged in nice photos, 5 is a loser. 5. Never be 5. Give me my zero, my 6, or give me death. FIVE.

So we crawl on our bellies, gasping for air, starved of joy and love and romance, to the very end of the date. With our dying breaths, the faces of family members, fucks we shouldn’t have given and drinks we should have tried flashing before our eyes, we ask the final question, the words landing with a croak in our stony, constricted throats:

Will. You. Do. This. Horror. Again? jack-meet




I need a lie down.

Photograph: James Drew Turner; Linda Nylind, both for the Guardian

Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. Once you recover from the burning, I swear it’ll all be OK. If you want to give your side of the story,  get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. 


Andre and Dan

We all think we’d love to know what people say about us once we leave the room, but we really don’t. It’s unusual for compliments to be kept hidden from you for too long – especially from someone who wants something for you, or to be on you – so conversations that happen behind your back are usually, sadly, pretty negative. You think you can handle it, that it might be useful to hear the criticisms, that you might learn from them, but you won’t. Instead you will go running to the nearest reflective surface and stare into it, winded and bleary-eyed with confusion and sadness. Is that what they really think of me, you ask yourself? Am I so terrible? Have I not tried to be a good person? Wasn’t I lovely? And you go back and remember your  conversations and actions and flinch at the memory of the moment you know you’d lost them, that you’d helped them make up their mind. Mistakes you know you will make again. You forget, in your anguish, that people say horrible things about you for more than one reason. It may be to make themselves look good, bolster them in their own narrative, maybe they’re envious of you, or want your attention but never get it, or perhaps they’re insecure. But it’s worth remembering that sometimes the horrible things are true.

This is why the Guardian Blind Date is not for the faint-hearted. You have left the room, the conversation about you has begun, and while you get to listen in, you cannot interject or correct or explain – you must merely watch, stunned and helpless, as it’s printed in a national newspaper for all to see. And then someone texts you and tells you about this blog. Lionhearts, each and every one of them. I salute you.

Nervously lifting the headphones to their ear and gulping at the cold. hard truth this week are 25-year-old journalist Andre, on the left in the pink shirt, and Dan, 26, a designer, who is in the plain T. Doesn’t he know all designers have to wear nothing but T-shirts from Threadless? Perhaps he hasn’t been one very long.


They’re gay and have perfect names to be a portmanteau couple – Dandre, anyone? – but will they rub each other the right way? Read what happened on the date before I go in on them with all the precision of a man old enough to be their much older brother, who’s not been awake long and isn’t feeling very well.

Andre kicks us off, and is in yellow. Dan’s in the blue.



Imagine being gay and in your mid 20s and your loftiest expectations of a date with a stranger related to WINE. You’re not supposed to care about wine until you’re at least 37 and some of us don’t even manage that. Wine is fetishised to such a degree in the answers to this question that I’m now going to assume, from this week onward, that it’s a metaphor for dick. “I was hoping for good company and endless dick.” There you go, fixed it for you.


This is a very first impression, which, as the question comes so early in the set, is what we’re looking for. 10 points.


This is an overall first impression, isn’t it? So not what we’re after. 6 points.

Actual first impressions:
“He looked like a horse on the phone to his dentist.”
“Smiley, with a face only a mother could love.”
“Smart-casual boner killer in supermarket-brand chinos and frayed boat shoes.”
“Imagine Olive from On The Buses if she won on the scratchcards. That.”

Can we start getting this right?



Don’t cycle when drunk. It’s really stupid. I cycled drunk for the very last time in 1996, when I borrowed a friend’s racing bike and zig-zagged my way across Southampton (where I went to uni) back home after a bottle of Smirnoff, mixed with orange juice because 1996, followed by four pints of something. Southampton locals may know the wide, treacherous road known as The Avenue, which I attempted to cycle across, on a bike I didn’t know, with no lights, and was clipped by a speeding car. I actually flew in the air for a while, before landing, on my arse, in somebody’s garden, my back cut to ribbons. The driver did not stop. I did not die. I learned my lesson.  Do not cycle drunk; you will ruin somebody’s life.

I don’t know why you’d be talking about Saabs on a date. I see football is mentioned there too. Were they having a masculinity contest? The only thing I know about Saabs is that a fantastic woman I worked with decades ago had a huge white one, and it was called the Wimbledon edition or something, and I used to love driving in it with her because she was fantastically, almost impossibly glamorous, like Honor Blackman, and she smoked Vogue cigarettes way before anyone did it ironically, and had a gravelly voice and the worldly wisdom of someone who has seen it all, done it all and never had to ask anyone for a lighter. And she was called Margot. Perfection.


Oh, I don’t know what to say. Is it too early for a GIF? Let’s have a GIF:



Where do you stand on food switching plates during a meal? Any meal, let alone a romantic one? I did, briefly, date a guy who once got quite upset when I picked an uneaten sausage off his plate once he’d finished eating everything else. “It’s disgusting,” he would say, “not hygienic”. I mean, fine, but there isn’t one part of me you haven’t had in your mouth at some point, and yet somehow this SAUSAGE is disgusting. Needless to say, there were no further helping of sausage on offer for this precious baby – on or off his plate.

I don’t think I’d like my own plate to be invaded by someone else’s food, however. If you’ve ordered too much, you’re just going to have to tough it out, I’m afraid. And steak is such a weird thing to order on a date. It gets stuck in your teeth, needs a lot of chewing and it kind of smells, lingering in your mouth long after you’ve eaten it. Perhaps this steak is acting as a friendzoning tool. You’d really have to fancy someone pretty hard to watch them gnaw their way through a huge steak and still want to kiss them.


“It’s the size of my face!”
“And it’s the size of my face too!”
“We should probably each go for a different exaggerated unit of measurement if we want to keep things interesting in the column.”
“Totally. I really want to say it was as big as someone’s face, though.”


First they’re stanning hard for wine like Lady Gaga’s battalion of fake soccer moms, now it’s whiskey’s turn. You can bet your ass I went to the venue’s website to look at their menu to check they served whisky and whiskey – this is not my first time at the rodeo and I do love to be right. Anyway, this is all sounding great, but it isn’t really what I was expecting from two gay men in their mid 20s. If this column has taught me anything, it’s that gay guys love acting like they’re 45 – until they actually are. What’s great about increased equality and social mobility is that the stunning mediocrity of being middle-aged, middle-class and insufferably dull is now available to most of us.



A good vibe. Like a function room hired out for a launch – for a new range of tea towels, perhaps – where you don’t know anybody, but, hey, at least there’s free champagne! (It’s cava.)

Vibes. They’re almost never good are they? You get serial-killer vibes off someone. Bad vibes. But never good.



This is going well. A date so astonishingly sexless, it’s like watching two HR managers flirt using only quotes from the first series of My Family and EU directives as chat-up lines, in the bar of a Travelodge that doesn’t open for another 15 minutes.


INTELLIGENT like Rachel off Countdown.
CHILLED like the bottle of Highland Spring in my backpack.
CONFIDENT like someone who you realise would do your head in if you went to Ikea with them.


ELOQUENT like that precocious schoolboy who sits behind you on the bus and reads out his spellings.
WITTY like a panel show on BBC4 that you watch to stave off the unnerving dread that you’re single and all alone.
DRIVEN like a Ford Focus, into the sea, with you at the wheel.



Ooh. Could there have been a frisson of something, after all? It’s like when you make some underwhelming chicken for dinner – a last minute dash of Nando’s sauce can rescue the whole thing and really give your mouth something to think about. Andre?



Ouch. No sauce in Andre’s pitta tonight.



The state of homosexuality in 2016.


But ya did, Andre.



Ugh. Yuk. Put your phone away. Aside from the fact that Andre shouldn’t have been looking at his phone at all during the date, as there is zero excuse for doing so, what’s the deal with his friends? Haven’t they got anything better to do, any storylines of their own to star in, that they have to spend their evening quizzing Andre about how the date was going?

The trouble with telling your story “as it happens” is that it plays differently because you’re having to pause to tell it. The eagerness to keep your audience with you at all times, rather than waiting for you once it’s over, means the narrative shifts from being about you in that very moment of how fulfilled you are from the experience, to focusing on the reaction you’ll get from others. This is the difference between the people who stand at gigs, trail round museums or attend events with their phones outstretched, filming it all for posterity, and people who just take it in with their actual eyes, to process it themselves. You’re not looking at it properly,  or thinking about it – you’re just filming it. The memory of it, the ability to look back and say “I was there and this was happening to me” becomes more important than experiencing it first-hand. Your present is being shaped by how you want to remember it, not how you feel about it now. The best stories are told when they’re over, when you have an ending to work toward.

With dating, especially, we all like to dissect what happened with people who can’t possibly know whether you’re being entirely faithful to actual events or not. As useful and fun as livetweeting and liveblogging can be, to give that sense of community, that we’re all there with you, there’s a danger it can interfere. As any liveblogger will tell you, you can’t truly watch a TV show if you’re reporting on it live; there are things you might miss, stuff that has to be pointed out to you. How can you ever hope to get to know a person properly, to work out what you feel about them, if you’re pausing every five minutes to report back to your eager audience? You can’t. You’re not giving your brain room to work things out, and so you can never go any deeper – it’s the difference between the cheap shock and instant gratification of a rolling news ticker with typos, and a lovingly crafted report, leather-bound and brilliant and devastating.

Dates with chaperones don’t work, whether they’re sitting beside you in the restaurant picking at their napkin or hanging on your every word on a WhatsApp group.

Anyway, I’m sick of you. Scores.



Two polite no thank yous. Great.

So will they do this again? Will Andre’s sad-act coterie of WhatsApp dullards get a second season of Dandre to plug the gaping hole that Making A Murderer has left in their lives? Will Dan’s whiskey mouth ever connect with Andre’s steak-sized face?




There used to be a man who would go to Horse Meat Disco and wear absolutely nothing – he would just wander around with no clothes on, his MDMA-shrivelled winky waggling for all to see. Is he still there? Halcyon days. Oh well, there may be as much passion between these two as a queue for a cash machine outside a Tesco Express, but at least the music will be good.


But not today. Pity poor Dandre – it was never meant to be.

Photograph: Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Note: All the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena.  This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. And if you’re two gay men going on a date, at least have the decency to get off with each other – it’s what your ancestors fought for. If you want to give your side of the story,  get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. 

A weekly roast of the splendid, stupid or sexless things said by participants in the Guardian Blind Date column.

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