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:

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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:

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“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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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. 

😬

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“As we left to go home…”

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You mean together, right? You went home TOGETHER?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

No.

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Oh, whatever.

emma-first

“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.

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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.

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dying-dying

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Table manners!

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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.

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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.

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using-me

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respectable

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.

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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.

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

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Oh dear.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.”
“Bow-legged.”
“Smiley, with a face only a mother could love.”
“Funereal.”
“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?

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abdre-talk

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.

andre-awks

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

gary-oldman-dracula

dan-awks

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.

andrew-table

“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.”
“…”

dan-table

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.

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my-so-called-life

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.

dan-best

hyacinth-smaller

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.

andre-three

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.

dan-threee

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.

dan-go-on

michael-j-willett

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?

andre-go-on

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Ouch. No sauce in Andre’s pitta tonight.

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dan-kiss

The state of homosexuality in 2016.

andre-change

But ya did, Andre.

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dan-change

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.

andre-score

dan-score

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?

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woman-throat-action

dan-meet

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.

gay-love

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. 

Susan and Phil

Susan and Phil 750

The thing with getting older is you’re less predisposed to flannel. You want people to cut to the chase, because you’ve heard it all before; your ability to be delighted or surprised diminishes with every crashing bore you date. You listen, as faux-intently as your poker face will allow, to all their tall tales about travelling, and one-sided jabs at exes, and dizzyingly dull trivia about their work and wonder when you’ll get to the nub, when you’ll see what this person is actually all about, rather than what they want you to think they’re all about.

When you’re younger, you think you have to sit and listen to all this, because if you do, you’ll then get to talk lengthily about yourself, and when you’re young that is all you want to do because you’re so unused to being asked. But when you’re old, it’s just getting in the way of everything else. There isn’t time.  Just as you perfected clearing the first part of the Green Hill Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog in 0:58 when you should’ve been revising, so too can you see every chat-up lines, clumsy flirt, straight-out lie that’s meant to impress you, cliché, ill-timed joke and bad opinion coming your way. You idly wonder how much longer you can stand it, but down inside, you know you’ll sit and listen – as you did 10 years ago, as you will 10 years hence – because we never tell people to shut up and get on with it. We’re too polite.

Patiently hoping the other will stop talking about their issues with HR this week are Susan, a 54-year-old development consultant (What does that mean? What industry is it, even?) and Phil, 50, a digital artworker. Read what happened on the date which, excitingly, happened in Manchester, before I throw myself between them with a big red pen.

Susan kicks us off.

susan hoping

You can say it, you know. Nobody will judge. “Somebody who didn’t bore me to death, in a restaurant that has at least a four-star rating for hygiene.”

Phil hoping

I feel sorry for this first question because it does attract the most beige of answers. I mean, what are you supposed to say? The truth?
“I was hoping for a big pair of tits attached to a lolly stick that didn’t say too much and would pay for my cocktails after.”
“I was hoping for a man who had the body of Arnold with a Denzel face, a bulging bank account and a dicky ticker.”

Susan first

Phil first

I like these. These are good first impressions, literally the first thing you think when you see each other.

Let the “nicely ironed shirt” be a lesson to all you straight men who grab clothes out of the laundry basket, sniff them, nod appreciatively and put them back on – it really, really matters. A man who’ll iron a shirt when he’s coming to meet you means he’ll be considerate in other ways too, that he cares about the impression he’s going to make. That “just got out of bed” look really only works if the person has already been to bed with you. Get the iron out if you want to get them in there in the first place.

Susan talk

Phil talk

You’ll notice how these conversation topics match up almost exactly – a rare feat in the Blind Date column. The only deviations are the referendum and Phil’s son’s hair dryer – can you IMAGINE how much stomping up and down and “Oh Dad, for GOD’S sake why were you talking about that?!” Phil’s son is doing right now? Perhaps Susan has blanked out the referendum, as there really doesn’t seem to be anything left to say about it that hasn’t already been said, sliced in half, deep fried, and served up lukewarm to a weary audience.

Football. God. I will never forget the brief period one year when I had to pretend to like football, because it was a prerequisite for having sex with a man I met on Guardian Soulmates. When he said he was “straight-acting”, I merely rolled my eyes and thought, “We’ll see”, assuming he meant he only had one pink T-shirt slashed to the waist and would take a bit more persuading to dance to a Kylie song at a wedding. But, no, what he meant was sitting in some of London’s most unlovely pubs watching football, among loud men who’d never made anybody orgasm and couldn’t cry at funerals, but would have emotional breakdowns if a man they’d never met missed a penalty. I tried to play along for a while, briefly enjoying my sojourn into the straight world, but I soon came to my senses and was honest with myself, and reclaimed my Saturdays and Sundays (and Wednesday nights FFS) by ditching him. Football is not for me; I have always loathed it. Footballs were something that were kicked at me, not to me, by boys who knew I wouldn’t and couldn’t stop them.

So, in short: fuck football.

Susan awks

Phil awks

Isn’t it interesting they both thought this was an awkward situation? I think it’s something to do with their age. Someone 20 or 30 years younger, perhaps, would shrug this off and say “small world”, but people in their 50s know how this stuff works.

Two worlds have collided, and whichever version of themselves they had decided to be tonight would have to be adapted, or cancelled altogether, because now they knew, with absolute certainty, that the events of the date would be talked about in common company. What they don’t realise is that it’s a good thing this came out early on – imagine blundering on, blissfully unaware, and saying something incriminating. Mind you, they are in a bloody magazine, so it does seem slightly odd to worry that they know the same people – everyone will know you today, won’t they?

Susan table

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Do you think he actually fed it to her?

Phil table

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Susan best

There are worse compliments, I guess, but I’m not exactly throwing my head back in euphoric laughter and thinking about my bottom drawer.

Phil best

follow your dreams 2

The thing with following your dreams is they don’t have a map, so have no idea where they’re going, and they can lead to you some dark, miserable places. Follow your dreams if you must, but make sure you’ve got the reassuring satnav of a regular reality check to keep you on track.

Susan friends

Why I Live in London: A Novella.

(This means no, doesn’t it?)

Phil friends

As was pointed out to me last week, “Sure” is a very common answer to the friends question. On first glance, it seems like a nonchalant, easygoing, “hey daddio, I’m totes cool with the way we’re vining”, almost horizontal answer. But “sure” is not an “of course” or a “yes” – it does mean yes, but it’s yes in the same way that you’d say yes to sleeping with someone for a million pounds. Yes, you would do it, but the likelihood of this possibility ever presenting itself to you is so small, it’s doubtful it’s a question you would ever need to answer. So it is, in fact, a no.

Phil made

esteem

I’d like to aim a little higher than “OK”. OK is not awful, OK is pleasant, OK is nice. If I thought that was the best impression I could ever hope to make on somebody, I wouldn’t show up. What’s the point of anything if you can’t make somebody never want to forget you?

Mind you, Phil is remarkably perceptive, because:

ssusan three

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Shit.

Susan made

Again, as is now becoming normal with this question, this is about what Susan thinks of herself. She’s worried she went on too much about saying nice things about each other in the column. She thinks she’s old. You are not old, Susan. The problem is we are our own worst enemy, and there is no escape from ourselves. How nice it would be to switch off the part of us that worries what people would think, that plays on our insecurities, for just one evening. That we could be ourselves – something I don’t think any of us truly are until we’ve had seven flaming Sambucas and confessed our deepest, darkest sins and madnesses – and walk away from the evening genuinely having no idea what someone made of us, but hoping it was positive, and seeing no reason why it shouldn’t be. Whatever pill it was that would take this away, even temporarily, I would queue for happily. We spend too much time staring into mirrors, zooming in on selfies, searching for clues, and worrying we’re getting it all wrong. We all are, and that’s why it’s OK.

Anyway, Susan, he didn’t say any of that, he said this:

phil three

So that’s nice.

susan go on

I-fancy-you-klaus-and-caroline-33544446-500-281

FINALLY, a date happens on a Saturday night! Anything is possible now.

Susan change

Or perhaps not, eh?

Typical, isn’t it, that whenever it’s two hopeless millennials staggering their way through the date, the final lament is always that it was a “school night” and they had to go home early so they could be up in the morning to go that job they won’t even remember having in five years’ time. You wonder what they could’ve got up to had the lights not been turned down prematurely. And then, here we are, with two people in their 50s and literally zero to lose, one of whom wishes they could’ve gone to a Morrissey concert instead.

I mean, Morrissey, somewhere in Manchester, on a Saturday – surely that’s a weekly occurrence? If you want to pay money to watch a bitter old vegan wang on about race, feminism and homophobia with all the grace of a hippo skateboarding through the glassware department at Selfridges, come to London and wait around Bethnal Green – one will be along soon enough.

phil change

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REALLY? That’s it? OK.

Susan marks

Phil marks

The problem, you see, with resolving to say only nice things about each other in this rundown is that you end up saying nothing at all. You’ve tossed out a few pleasantries, but it’s all strangely without emotion or enthusiasm – like you’re writing out Christmas cards, or cleaning out a cupboard, or replacing a shower curtain. It has become a mildly diverting task, something you’ve agreed to do but need to get out of the way. That kind of works when you’re on a Grindr hookup, but not when you’re having dinner together with a view to taking it further. You’ve scored each other an 8 and a 9, but I simply can’t tell how you’ve got there or why. I woke up, got up, and was sitting here bang on time waiting for all you could throw at me. But nothing.

Just like I said at the top of the page, with age comes the desire to cut through the bullshit, to get to the meat – but the will still eludes us. Shame.

So, are they going to do this again? Does another three-hour session of politely nodding across a table await, on a weeknight, perhaps, just in case Morrissey’s back in town soon?

Phil meet

harry styles cry

susan meet

katharine hepburn 2

Photograph: Christopher Thomond 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. 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. Please, pray for some actual spice next week – I have never been fond of chicken korma.