They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but dating is a huge library and sometimes you have to admit there simply isn’t time to read all those Catherine Cooksons all the way through. Knowing this, the people we date try to make a good impression – hair is shiny and clean, wardrobes are agonised over, sales of chewing gum on a Friday night reach record highs. We want to look good, we want to be fancied. I’m cool, but respectable, we want them to think. You can trust me. I shower. I have never knowingly killed twice.
It’s like getting ready for your school photo: you know this is the one that will be on the mantelpiece for ever. You really don’t want any spots, coldsores or wayward hairs ruining it for you.
And yet there are some who use the first impression to challenge us. They don’t want to conform to societal norms like brushing their hair or arriving at dates sober, because they want to ‘test’ us. “This is who I am!” they exclaim, as they pit an olive while still smoking a cigarette. “Take me or leave me!” As shallow as it may sound, you should probably leave them. Anyone who wants to “make you think” or “challenge perceptions” on a first date is either an undercover reporter or the kind of person who would throw themselves down a flight of stairs at their own birthday party for a bit of extra attention.
Challenging our perceptions this week are Kat, a 27-year-old digital marketing manager who is holding a hedgehog because KOOKY, and Nick, 35, an animal welfare student. I don’t know what this means. Read what happened on the date, which is a rollercoaster ride through every evening you’ve never wanted to have, before I try to find something to say after each disastrous turn of events.
Kat is up first and is in green. Nick’s answers are in orange.
Very often, I slate the daters’ answers for being too boring – we are reading this in a magazine, after all. So I have to hand it to Kat that she is at least, from the very off, having a good go at being entertaining. And this is what we all hope for from a date, isn’t it? Sod “good food and good company” – what we all want is Mr Right or the potential ride of our life.
Hahaha, yes, the Guardian Blind Date pages are often dripping with Salma Hayek lookalikes who can’t wait to meet the man of their dreams in one of the most renowned romantic wastelands on the planet.
I am suspicious of men who go on about women being “petite” – if you want a woman you can pick up and carry, join the fire brigade or buy a matryoshka.
Yes, you’re zany. Congratulations. When are we going to get to the fact you’re holding a hedgehog? I know you’ll be mortified that I’ve noticed, but I have.
“Don’t really remember much.” I wonder how many times Kat’s parents have said to ashen-faced dinner party companions: “Just ignore Katherine – she’s merely showing off because we have guests”.
Threesomes, tattoos, a hedgehog – conversation topics guaranteed to make you move seats on the bus, yet here you are on a date expected to listen to this.
“A bit of x-rated talk.” I think even the kindly vicar out of Miss Marple could’ve run to using the word “sex”, Nick.
Who are we rooting for here? The man-baby who blanches at a bit of swearing, or the plastic rebel who mistakes an affection for the word “cunt” for having a personality?
Is this being filmed? Are we part of some dreadful candid camera experiment? How much worse can it get? Is an aeroplane going to crash into their table? And can we honestly say that would be a bad thing?
Table manners next. I’ll be watching through my fingers.
“No, no, just carry on with your starter. She’ll get bored eventually. We’re not looking at you Katherine. We’re not interested.”
I can’t use chopsticks. Oh, I’ve tried. I’ve endured disappointed looks from potential dates as I gamely stab at noodles with them, before giving up and asking for a fork. But that’s the thing: I always did, at least, ask for a fork.
Whether or not it’s bad to use hands when eating a starter rather depends on what it is. I mean, spring rolls, that’s fine, right? Mind you, if the person whose hands are getting all up close and personal with your starter has just told you she regularly pets a hedgehog, you’re probably right to be hesitant.
“Tonight the streets are full of actors; I don’t know why.”
Does admitting he finds Kat scary – probably because she’s not a pocket-sized Salma Hayek he can feed Milk Tray to – means he’s passed the test or failed it?
Kat is probably looking for someone who can handle her. But why would anyone want to be “handled”? Endured, tolerated, managed, like osteoarthritis or a dodgy lock on the bathroom door you’ve been meaning to fix. Having a personality and a few quirks to talk about over dinner is fine, but when you go out of your way for people to eventually confess, as you toss aside your chopsticks, that you’re scary – what’s the point of that? At least someone’s entertained, I guess.
Exceptionally diplomatic, but this is someone desperately searching for a positive in a vat filled with faeces. “Well, yes, my house is on fire, but at least I won’t have to put the heating on!”
Once I went to a the birthday party of one of my friend’s children. I got there about 3 minutes after they’d emptied the very last funsize packet of Skittles into their tiny, psychotic mouths and the weapons-grade weariness I felt then is what I’m feeling now. Come, sweet nervous exhaustion, and take me away from all this.
It doesn’t help, of course, that Nick’s answers have all the va-va-voom of a bank manager telling you he’s not going to be writing off that unauthorised overdraft penalty again this month, and could you please keep your voice down, because you’re disturbing the other customers, as you have, inexplicably, actually visited a bank branch in 2016.
As electric and crazy and edge-of-your-seat this entire thing is, I am bored. And I am a dangerous creature when bored. This is humdrum am-dram with an extra shot. I wish I’d stayed in bed.
I’d have given them both a fourth word, and it would’ve been the same one. Predictable.
Zany. I mean, COME ON. Conventional.
Seriously, these two:
Stranger pairings have worked, I guess. Sometimes, in a couple, what makes you different can actually bring you closer together. Perhaps what Nick secretly longs for is a lifetime of wincing at someone saying the c-word and stepping over a hedgehog on his way to the front door. And maybe all Kat really needs is an eternity having cricket scores and touching paragraphs from charity pamphlets read aloud to her while a Radio 4 panel show thunders along in the background.
Say what you want about Kat – and people probably do, while they back away from her on public transport – but she has not been dull. And, hedgehog ownership and eating with hands aside, we’ve all been a bit Kat on a date. Well, unless we’ve been a bit Nick. I think, despite everything, I’d rather be a bit Kat.
Give us five drinks and someone to show off in front of, and nine times out of ten, we will.
I don’t think even Geri Halliwell would try this hard to come across as interesting in a magazine.
Nick. You had all this material to work with. And this is the best you can do? Not “I’d have taken methadone between courses” or “I should have told her she was about as zany and daring as a peanut allergy”, but “Ooh, I really wish I’d eaten something else”.
So, believe it or not, we reached the end, despite everyone’s best efforts. So will these two meet again? Perhaps round 2 with the totally real and not invented guy she met on the Tube? Does anyone care?
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 lovely and not at all attention-seeking weirdos. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally. If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal.
Photograph: Sarah Lee; James Drew Turner, both for the Guardian