Tom and Emily

There are very few times you will turn up to a date and instinctively know that things are going to work out fine. Attraction likes to keep your guessing right until the very end – your own personal “will they or won’t they?” storyline.

Repulsion, though, doesn’t hang about, and your gut seldom lies when it’s telling you the date will be a non-starter. Oh, sure, you can grow to like someone over the course of the evening – alcohol helps – but you will be harder to persuade if, for example, they haven’t brushed their hair, or are late, or are too young or old, too stylish, too smiley or too glum. And, yes, there is such a thing as “too smiley”.

But when you know, you know. “Oh, they’re exactly my type,” you say to yourself as, miracle upon miracle, your very narrow and, at times, restrictive attraction criteria have been met. How lovely it must be to go through life with zero surprises, every moment so prescriptive and useful, because you refuse to stray from your own stringent regulations, dismissing people because of their immediately evident physical or character traits. How nice for you indeed. Nice.

Hoping to meet their match this week are Emily, 28, who works in PR and 29-year-old Tom, yet another web editor.

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I have that sweatshirt too, Tom, so congratulations on that.

I don’t know about you, but I can already picture them arguing about aubergine and blocking the aisle in the Fulham branch of Waitrose, but do read the date to see how they got on, before I arrive with an unexpected item in the bagging area.

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I can’t imagine how much of a disappointment your 20s must’ve been so far to aim as low as this.

The answers to this question are getting worse aren’t they? They all hope for nice food. They’re going to one of those satellite restaurants The Ivy has started doing, so it’s probably a given the food is going to be more than OK.

“A good chat.” Reach for the fucking moon. I bet these two never wanted to be pirates or astronauts or spies when they were children.
“What would you like to be when you grow up, Emily?”
“I’d like to be the owner of a wardrobe filled with immaculately ironed and folded cardigans.”
“And you, Tom?”
“I’d like to have a 2 for 1 discount card for Vue Cinemas.”

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Whenever they say things like this, I always imagine their date getting out an old-fashioned pocket watch and swinging it before their transfixed face, or slamming them down onto a massage table and invigorating their chakras.

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This is an overall first impression, not a very first impression. I will die on this hill if I must.

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I bet they said Waitrose. Look at them. Of course they did. Waitrose has quite a sinister hold over white, relatively young and vaguely middle-class people. They see it as a status symbol, a sign they’ve “made it”, not only financially, but as an adult. You don’t get sulky teens wandering branches of Waitrose trying to shoplift – it’s all perfumed grannies, friendly vicars, and digital basics floating around flinging products that cost half as much everywhere else into their trolley which, naturally, does not have a wonky wheel.

Yes, you’re still buying a ready meal for one and, correct, you’ll never finish all those olives before they go off and, agreed, Coke Zero tastes just the same no matter where you buy it, but this is Waitrose – you’re in the John Lewis-approved version of grasping food retail consumerism. It’s different. You’re not like the others, the great unwashed wrestling one another for the last can of pilchards in the Old Kent Road branch of Asda, or the beleaguered couples on the brink of divorce buying organic in Surbiton Tesco – you are a Waitrose person.

However.

It’s just a fucking supermarket. Get over yourself.

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They both went to the same university, so I’m calling it right here and now that these two will end up together, for the joy with which they can tell the origin story alone.

“So, for all those years,” their dinner-party guests will say, in around five to seven years’ time, swirling amaretto round their glass, “you were at the same university and never met? Incredible!” And Tom and Emily will laugh – perhaps they’ll pause at this point to pat the head of the angelic toddler that’s just wandered in trailing its comfort blanket behind it – and say, “Yes! Meant to be together in the end, though”, and the value of their house in East Dulwich will immediately rise by 17%.

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I reckon you could take a look at Emily from across the aisle at your favourite Waitrose and guess she was called Emily, but we’ll let you off Tom because you are at least a kind of endearing nervous and awkward, rather than the usual self-help book swallowing egomaniacs we’ve been getting in recent weeks. I bet you wouldn’t ever ask a woman to take off her headphones to talk to you, even if she was standing on your foot.

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Right, we can either immediately assume Emily is going to magically transform into Hyacinth Bucket on the eve of her 48th birthday, or we can have a think about this and agree that, well, it is a little awkward to go for a kiss on the cheek when you greet a stranger. Unless you live in Belgium.

An awkward shake of the hand, accompanied by slightly goofy smile and borderline shrug of the shoulders is the ideal hello on a date.

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I have made my feelings perfectly clear on this in Impeccables passim so I shan’t be trolled. Next!

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james franco WHUT

I mean, there’s good table manners and there’s basically being Country Mouse who offers to sit in a different restaurant so you don’t disturb the other diners.

I understand sorting out your hunger can lead to a more pleasant date overall, but you’re not here to eat, you’re here to get it on. I hope Emily said no to this kind, and totally weird, offer.

If you want “a silent first course” go back and eat it in your flat. I’ll wait right here for you, drinking your share of the wine and playing “fuck me eyes” with every single member of the waiting staff.

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Tom gets it. Of course they would.

Sometimes that fact is actually more of a worry than the prospect they might not get on.

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I’m only joking here, as it is great she’d introduce him to her pals, but, y’know, I refuse to believe Emily’s friends are anything other than perfectly pleasant, harmless and about as “mad” as a dinner plate.

I bet at least one of them says they’re “really OCD” because they alphabetise their books.

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FUN like telling someone about Harambe for the first time and trying to laugh off their concerned stare.
INTERESTING like interest that is accruing on the savings account you took out when you were 7 but still refuse to touch.
INQUISITIVE like someone who’s asking a lot of questions and showing an interest in you and yet somehow you want to convey that you found this intrusive and nosey even though you’re on a date and asking questions is totally fine.

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FRIENDLY like a ghost that just wants to sit at the end of your bed crying, rather than chase you down the hallway.
INTERESTING like the people at the next table may well have been.
LAID-BACK like someone who’s acting a little too nonchalant for your liking even though he’s probably just trying to sit on a hot, vibrating can of nerves.

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You aced it Tom; she either didn’t notice the nervousness or she’s actually a stealth Mean Girl and the “laid-back” she gave you above was a spectacularly sarcastic diss.

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At the risk of repeating myself – and I have said this so many times before, because the straight women who go on the dates almost always say this – it makes me massively sad that women in this column think the overall impression of them was that they talk too much.

Why don’t we value the ability to hold a conversation more? It’s what both daters said they were hoping for in their first answer – “good chat”.

The most harmful thing about this toxic old trope is that women not only think the world wants them to shut up, they also feel guilt when they don’t comply. It also reinforces the idea that a man’s ideal partner is someone who won’t talk to them too much and will merely glide in and out of rooms silently, picking up socks and newspapers as she goes.

For some men, perhaps, that is the optimum, and maybe there are women out there who are only too happy to fall into line. But let’s be clear: nobody in their right mind should date either of them.

Talk, talk, talk. Speak until your throat is raw and you’ve exhausted every conversation topic possible. Read out pages of the internet to each other if you must. A relationship where nobody’s talking is one that isn’t working. Don’t ever let anyone shut you up.

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See? Went to the same university, live down the road from each other? This is a silver-wedding anniversary anecdote waiting to happen. I can practically hear the light thud of grandchildren plonking themselves down into an overstuffed armchair to hear this story.

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No, it doesn’t.

But this is very sweet; they are both very sweet. I think I’m having one of those days where I’ll cry at Strictly.

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In the movie based on my own novelisation of this date, these two cosmetic disasters will be told in a montage form, with Tom being played by Theo James or Douglas Booth and Emily portrayed by Carey Mullligan or Laura Carmichael. The soundtrack? Clean Bandit’s Rather Be.

You’ll go see it. Yeah, you will.

Scores, now, and today’s Guardian Weekend magazine has this letter from a reader: img_1444img_1445

Pity poor Jacqui, readers, who can only see what is presented in front of her. Perhaps she doesn’t have the free time that we enjoy, that enables us to look further and make wild, inconclusive guesses and interpretations on what the scores actually mean.

Nobody wants to open that page and see people scoring honestly, Jacqui. We want to work it all out for ourselves. While I’m glad Jacqui has given the Blind Date feature the attention it deserves, if future daters start getting liberal with the 2s and 4s, I’m coming to Cardiff and we’ll be arm-wrestling.

Observe, Jacqui:

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This seems… low. Cautious. It sounds like we should all be slinking off home, dejectedly putting on our coats as the very last light in your local BHS flickers and splutters to its death.

Read everything again, Tom. Either your 8 is a spot of face-saving, because you couldn’t work out whether Emily fancied you, or it’s a depressing sign that, once you’re married, you’ll never notice when Emily gets her hair done.

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Wow. Even worse. Seven point five. You have to wonder why Emily knocked off half a mark. Shoes not quite so shiny? Spinach in his teeth? Tried to picture them doing it but all she could see was someone flicking quickly through the pages of a Jamie Oliver cookbook? We’ll never know, but that missing half a mark is brutal. Everybody deserves a round number, Emily, even it is a pitiful and polite 8.

And finally…

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Photograph: James Drew Turner; 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 love these two and hope they’ll both be very happy together, although I’d prepare for a couple of rocky patches if things don’t get a little more exciting. 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. 

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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Absolutely. No. Comment.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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Says “Max”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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“My Friends Are Awful: a Novella.”

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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The absolute state of the modern man in 2016.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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. ⬇️

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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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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

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’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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Spark.

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

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

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Scores are in.

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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…

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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.