I am not a romantic, I’m clinical and practical. I don’t know whether it’s genetic or simply that my heart’s been hardened from years of sitting in pubs on dates with men who accidentally spit on me whenever they say the word “scissors”, but I’ve grown to learn romance is for fairy-tales and storybooks and comedies starring Andie MacDowell.
And yet I kind of admire romantic people, even if they are idiots. I wish I could wake up one morning with a Disneyfied view of the world – maybe my eyes would be all big like Bambi’s and I’d have little tweeting birds helping me get dressed, instead of little Twitter birds in my mentions telling me I’m wrong about something. But it isn’t for me. And even a Disney story needs a Maleficent or a Cruella or an Ursula. Some of us have to be honest with ourselves: we were born to be the wicked witch.
And, yes, Andie, it is raining, of course you noticed, and do you realise you are going to die of pneumonia about three weeks after the credits roll, right?
This week we have a romantic in the shape of Michael, 28, a scriptwriter and 29-year-old campaigner Rebecca. Read what happened on the date, before I take Michael’s script, grab my red pen and cut out all the scenes where he gets to kiss her.
Michael begins and is in orange. Rebecca’s in green.
Oh come now. Surely, the worst-case scenario would be a fabulous new nemesis you could have huge battles with, or someone you could write into one of your scripts who gets killed off by something heavy early in the first act?
See? I’m just a wicked old witch.
Well, yeah, but everything going smoothly or running like clockwork isn’t exciting, is it? If you’re going to be together for ever, you want something to bore the grandchildren with. You want knickers trapped in your skirt, or his fly undone, or him spilling a carafe of red wine over your head, or, as I observed at a party last night, a woman getting her scarf trapped under the door of the ladies’ loo and trying valiantly to free it for what felt like untold millennia.
She had to get a waitress to help. It was mortifying. I’d have left it.
I think they need to be clearer about this question. Does it mean “What did you think when she walked in?” or “What was your first impression as a whole?” because the answers vary wildly. Like, you can’t tell whether someone has a fun personality when they walk into the room. Unless they’re wearing a red nose, tooting on a bugle and have a huge pair of plastic comedy breasts gaffer-taped to them. And even then, that is not a “fun” I want to be stuck in a lift with.
See? Our Michael – Mikey, I bet, to his aunties, who all adore him – is a romantic. He brought flowers to make it a proper date. This is beautiful. And also massively impractical. What are you supposed to do with the flowers on the date, but put them to one side – perhaps on the chair beside you, wet stems slowly staining the upholstery – and watch them wither and die? Rather like your romantic aspirations.
Also: “sweet”. Is Rebecca describing someone she would like to get to know intimately or merely a cute, bespectacled kid from a flyer for an after-school club? Can you “sweet” someone into bed? It’s not a conundrum I’ve ever had to unravel, I must admit.
Work work work and then death.
Writers. You get two types. The first is the kind of writer who goes on and on about things they’ve written. Every misplaced semicolon, every twee, reactionary opinion, every muddled cliché offered up to you, like your dog returning to you after galloping off in the park and dropping a used condom at your feet. The other type would rather talk about an ingrown toenail or the surprising places you find eczema when you’re on holiday than anything they’ve written. Oh and there’s a third type – the one who pretends he is neither of these people. 😇
Erotomania. Do you think this is related to the near-death experience? A stalker tale? Did Michael really bring flowers, or is Rebecca an erotomaniac who never went on a date at all, and in fact this all happened at a bus stop and Michael is a litter bin? Oh my God.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t any, Mikey babes.
Michael. You did not. You did not try the “Oh no I’ve missed the last train!” gag.
This is the real damage the 24-hour Tube will do to London. Not the Hammer Horror nightmare of being trapped in a carriage with a group of drunks singing Bitter Sweet Symphony at jet-plane decibels while they vomit kebabs over your dog-eared copy of Women In Love. Oh no. It’s the definite end of all the “well we might as well” sex that happens when your date misses the last Tube and you offer to let them kip at yours. Because once you’ve got someone back in your kitchen, and you don’t hate them – and they’re clean enough and not too scary to sleep on your couch – you might as well screw them.
No? Just me? Oh, suit yourselves. Die virgins, then.
Is Rebecca talking about a man she may well end up snogging after a few negronis or reading out the report card of her toddler’s first day at nursery? I haven’t had vibes this sexless since I first saw myself in Speedos.
Who’s Becca? Has the female role been recast halfway through the date?! Like when Pippa in Home and Away went outside to hang the washing out to dry and came back inside with a new head?
Anyway, sharp mind, which is what you’d say about a pensioner who could still remember your birthday, and a sense of humour. Great stuff.
The ability to laugh at yourself. If ever there was a second prize of compliments, it’s this. The ability to realise you are, in fact, a ridiculous human being and to smooth over this fact by laughing at yourself – when all you want to do is cry – is not top of my self-awareness goals tbh.
Hmmm, Mikey babes, if you have 12 mutual friends on Facebook and had to be introduced to her by way of a magazine column rather than social osmosis, I’d take this as a sign that, no, you’re probably not meant to be together.
Also, have you been doing a few quick post-date spot checks of her social media?! Duuuuude, don’t say that out loud. We all know that we do it; we just never admit it.
Would they? Are they LIONS? Huge GORILLAS, maybe?
Looooook, as wild and out there as I’m sure your cabal of buddies is, ask yourself this: if the prospect of introducing a guy like Michael to them is too terrifying to imagine, maybe – just maybe – you should… oh I don’t know, get some different friends?
Groups of friends who would “eat him alive” – almost always a boring puddle of one-can Dans who still can’t get over Jar Jar Binks and vote in polls on Q Magazine’s website.
Give me a break.
Engaging. Don’t describe people as engaging. Things that are engaging: plays you pretend to like, PowerPoint slides with animations, reading your flatmate’s diary. Things that aren’t engaging: people.
Smart and funny are cool compliments, I guess, but do people really say those words out loud, or do they use them in movie reviews to describe a wisecracking heroine who will be made over, dumbed down and married to some feckless hunk by the end of the film? You’re the scriptwriter, Michael; you tell me.
I don’t know about the ‘honest’ because it seems a weird thing to flag up, but I’d happily take the first two. And even though I can sense this is going absolutely nowhere – every answer Rebecca gives is like a sympathetic ruffling of the hair rather than a ‘come hither’ – I ship these two. I do. I ship them bad.
I don’t think Michael was remotely boring, but I yawn all the time. I mean, just as I typed the word ‘yawn’ there, I yawned. And again. And again there for ‘yawned’. Oh God, I have to stop typing this bloody word.
Anyway, Rebecca, teach me your wizardry when it comes to stifling yawns (yep, again) because I am ruining some of my best relationships this way.
“You are getting on that fucking train, Michael.”
I had a quick squiz at the menu. Spaghetti doesn’t appear to be on the menu – which is devastatingly straightforward; I can’t imagine why you’d need to ask the chef to help you pick the nicest thing – so I assume it was a special. A special usually means they’ve ordered too much of something and need to get rid of it. One restaurant I go to far too often has had a ‘meat platter’ as its special for so long, I dread to think how many dead animals must be cluttering up their fridge.
“I had to sit through all this sober.”
I can’t help but think how different things might’ve been for Michael and Rebecca if the wine had flowed, if he hadn’t had to drive home from the station, if he had missed the last train.
It’s the scores. Does anyone else have that sense of dread?
I. Refuse. To. Grade. People. It isn’t like Tinder, Michael – you swipe left and right, for a start – and you don’t get to come on a date that has a very strict format, which you know will end up with you having to give a score, and say, “Oh no, I don’t do that. I’m too cool for that”.
What’s really happening here is that you’re frightened she’ll score you lower than you did her because, oh I don’t know, masculinity-so-fragile or some other internet meme. There isn’t anything wrong with admitting you like someone a bit more than they did you. It doesn’t make you weaker, it makes you look confident, genuine. Don’t be that guy, like all those other guys. Be you. Or if you can’t be you, be a better version of you.
Anyway, I can see a 9 there which you say is for “the evening” so I will take that to mean you thought Rebecca was a 9, so that went well for you didn’t it?
7’s pretty low if you actually like someone, Rebecca. What aren’t you telling us?!
So we’ve come this far, but the story has to end somewhere. He brought her flowers, he took on spaghetti and won. Will they meet again and miss a train together? Will Rebecca have to persuade her pride of lions to turn vegetarian?
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. After all, this is not Tinder, and I’m sure your mates are totally 💯. 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: James Drew Turner, Linda Nylind, both for the Guardian