Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but what really gets the heart pumping to the point of explosion is never meeting at all. Imagine all the relationships that are absolutely perfect over phone, text, IM, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Twitter and the like, only to be spoiled for ever when you do the unthinkable – meet them in person.
During my dating ‘career’ – and let’s be honest here, that’s what it was, and indeed is, even though I am no longer on the hunt – I managed to go out with a healthy century of suitors. Online, with my fingers never touching even a millimetre of their skin, I wooed them with what I suppose, if you were being generous, you would call my charm and wit. Well, it certainly wasn’t my photos, my bank balance or intimate snapshots of my middle-aged wang.
But as soon as we met, at least 50% of the time: disaster. Charm succeeds where flesh cannot. I often wonder if this is what has kept the Guardian Blind Date – which I love with every beat of my putrid, nut-sized heart – going all these years. Its readers like the idea of getting a nice meal, a lovely photoshoot, being in the paper so their friends can see etc. All sounds pretty good so far. But then there is the crushing reality: you actually have to go on the date, meet a stranger who will probably get too drunk or be really weird or bring a hedgehog or will suddenly, mid-Merlot, turn out to be a colossal racist or, worse, work in PR.
Braving the glossy pages of disappointment in the name of romance this week are Maverick – yes, that’s right – a 43-year-old independent film-maker, job and Sandra, 57, a wedding photographer. Read what happened on the date between these two camera-wielding romantic hopefuls before I walk into shot and ruin everything.
Maverick kicks us off and is in blue. Sandra’s all pinky-purple.
18 years. I used to shake like a shitting dog before dates after a gap of only 2 days, so Maverick must’ve been borderline hysterical waiting for Sandra to rock up.
A spark. There are good sparks and there are bad sparks. There are coup de foudres; there are nights where you feel like you’ve known each other for years, even though you’re barely past the starter; there are instant lustful thoughts.
And then there are the sparks you get from two acrylic cardigans rubbing up against each other in a bus stop.
Sandra is very pretty. She looks a bit like Cherie Lunghi (actress who had to endure being called “the thinking-man’s crumpet” every time she was mentioned in TV Times in the ’80s) or a fashion sketch of the woman from Supernanny.
Stavros. Hmmm. I am assuming she’s referring to Stavros Flatley, the comedy act from Britain’s Got Talent, featuring two tubby guys of Greek origin whose whole shtick was doing wonky Irish dancing with no tops on. Yes, really, this was a thing. That’s the UK for you.
Anyway, I’m guessing Maverick doesn’t dress that way because he’s desperately shy, so not to comment on it would be weird. Stavros, though. I’m watching you.
EDIT: Quite a few people messaged me to say they’d assumed she’d meant Harry Enfield’s ’80s comedy character Stavros, a stereotypical Greek kebab shop owner. I remember thei character and, beyond the moustache, didn’t see much of a resemblance. That’s what I meant by “I’m watching you” – was she trying to say Maverick was Greek? It’s dodgy, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. FWIW, I thought he looked a bit like a less cartoonish version of Patrick Marber playing Spiros – Pauline Calf’s dodgy lover in Three Fights, Two Weddings and a Funeral.
A kind reader had another suggestion, leaving this in the comments:
Anyway, I’m glad we could clear that one up. Onward:
Maverick sounds almost wistful here. This is what dates do sometimes, when we’re least expecting it. You get a peek into someone else’s experiences and can, once you compare them against your own, feel inadequate, that you haven’t quite lived the life you should’ve done. Should I have done more? Should I have taken chances? But would that have brought me here, to this moment? Who could I have been?
However, you can also sit there thinking, “Shut the fuck up about your fab, crazy, zany life and let me tell you about my obsession with closed London Underground stations, you humblebragging bore”. I mean, Gaaaaaawd, write an autobiography or get a blog or something.
Gambling doesn’t come up much on these dates, does it? An addiction to scratchcards, maybe? Swapping bingo stories? We’ll never know.
Moustaches. Maverick has a moustache, everyone. Did you know?
“It wasn’t really awkward, but when you ask me a question about something awkward, I’ll mention it. But it wasn’t awkward, not at all.”
Someone putting their hands near your foodstuffs – even if they’re merely decoration on your cocktail –without your permission is awkward, Sandra. Let’s not stay polite just for the sake of it.
Hot take: Maverick fancies Sandra.
Hotter take: Sandra could well be reading out the dating profile of a Labradoodle.
Why does everything Maverick say, even when it’s perfectly upbeat, break my heart?
I ❤️ that they both use eccentric, especially Maverick. He’s, like, yes, that’s right, I can turn up dressed like a fancy dress shop owner whose family made him get a Gok Wan makeover and still call you eccentric. Yes, you can, Maverick.
Not sure about the “passionate” and “full of love” – it does sound a bit like he’s just watched her sculpt a tall vase on a potter’s wheel – but at least he’s being nice.
I refuse to believe that Sandra’s notched up 57 years on Earth and the oddest man she’s ever met is some guy with a moustache. Has she never nipped into the McDonald’s next to Charing Cross station after 4 in the morning?
I’m very impressed with Sandra’s recall for compliments. Maybe she was recording him on her phone. “For the benefit of the tape, can you just repeat the second compliment – it was ‘intelligent’, right?”
Good-looking older lady who lives on a houseboat? Iconic.
I’m starting to think Sandra might have an unusual variant of Tourettes that compels her to say the word ‘moustache’ every other sentence.
Be warned, beard-cultivators: not everyone loves your face fur. It could be getting in the way of a passionate snog.
See? She can’t help herself. But, no, Sandra, you were right not to brave it if it wasn’t for you.
Kisses: they’re not automatic. They are not a right.
It’s the scores. Oh God. How do you think this one is going to go?
This 10 is like when you’re eating something in the same room as a dog, and it pads over to you to see what it is, and even though it doesn’t like what you’re eating, it will nudge you and start to make those big eyes at you in the hope that whatever you’re eating will magically change into something it does like, and that once that transformation has occurred, you’ll give it some.
But what Sandra’s eating is immune to magic tricks.
This 9 is the smile you give a stranger on a train when you hand them the umbrella they almost left behind on the seat next to you. It’s warm, it’s sympathetic – it is brief.
Have these two eccentrics found common ground? Will they set sail on Sandra’s houseboat? Is Maverick’s walrus moustache about to come into close contact with the blades of a Gillette?
I’ll come see Anomalisa with you, Maverick. And you can keep the moustache. Just keep your hands out of my popcorn.
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. 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 or comments you might have.
Photograph: Graeme Robertson, Linda Nylind, both for the Guardian