Impeccable Table Manners

Amber and Ellie

Same-sex dates aren’t that common on the Guardian Blind Date – despite what someone wrote in to tell me last week – and even less usual are ones involving two women. Why is that, I wonder.

Anyway, zero men in the equation can only be a good thing, right? While we wait for the low drone of male protests at this injustice to die down, let’s talk through who we have this week. Amber is a 34-year-old civil servant, which is such a wide-ranging job title, it could mean anything: from decoding foreign intelligence communiqués to hoovering the rugs in Admiralty House, it’s so shrouded in mystery that people usually don’t want to ask in case the answer is terribly boring. Whenever someone tells me they’re a civil servant, I assume they walk up and down corridors carrying folders until someone tells them it’s lunchtime. Ellie, meanwhile, is 28 and a scenic artist, which I’m guessing means she paints scenery! For theatres! See? That’s easy. No mystery there.

Here they are from bonce to boots:

Read what happened on the date before I turn this place upside down looking for a bit of snark.

Amber on Ellie | Ellie on Amber

What were you hoping for?
My future life partner and co-parent to our children. Failing that, a relaxed evening in good company.

This is one of the most “cards on the table” answers to this question I’ve ever seen. The “failing that” feels like it was delivered in a gasp – you wonder what on Earth can follow it. “Someone to go on a space walk with”? “Someone who understands that arguing in a supermarket doesn’t mean you’re a sexy, passionate couple but a couple of attention-seeking sociopaths blocking other shoppers’ access to the 2-for-1 Activia”?

What were you hoping for?
A laugh, and a bit of chemistry.

A bit of chemistry. I never know what this is. What do we define as chemistry? Being able to stand each other for a third date? A sexual frisson every time one of you glances up? Or mixing brightly coloured liquids in cocktail glasses instead of conical flasks, standing back, and waiting for the explosion?

First impressions?
I saw her walk around the side of the restaurant and hoped she was my date.

That’s not a first impression, that’s the first time you SAW her. Can they not be coached on this because it. Stresses. Me. Out.

First impressions?
She had a big smile and seemed lovely and open.

As Montell Jordan would say: this is how we do it. I am a fan of the word “lovely” in general, even though it doesn’t  mean anything more. It’s the word “nice”, but in a limo.

What did you talk about?
Our jobs, uni, travel, life in London and how challenging it can be to find the time and money to do all the things we’d like to.
Travelling, theatre, family, the gay male domination of LGBTQ+ culture.

Travel =  ✅
Jobs and theatre is kind of a match as Ellie works in the theatre. ✅
Uni = They’re 34 and 28. Get over it.
Life in London = This one comes up a lot, doesn’t it? I guess there are certain quirks about living in London that mean you could keep a conversation going for years if you had to – it doesn’t mean you should. It usually goes something like this: oh my goodness rent is terrible I can’t believe how much a cab home costs thank goodness for Uber and the pollution is terrible and Jesus the Tube is disgusting and everyone is so rude and the gay scene is full of the worst people but please please please don’t make me live anywhere else I would DIE.
Family = You can work out a lot about a person from what they say about their nearest and dearest on a first date. If when describing their relationship with their parents, they speak with enough venom to make spittle land on your face, you could be in for quite a time.

The gay male domination of LGBTQ+ culture. OK, let’s go in. There isn’t any denying this, really, is there? When huge corporations want to show how “diverse” they are, it’s usually a gay couple – perhaps of differing races if the PR department is feeling extra “daring” (or wants to tick off two boxes at once) – and this couple is usually two men, in crisp, clean shirts, in an impossibly spotless kitchen, whose bright steel surfaces reflect dazzling arcs of light off the two spokesmodels’ freshly grouted veneers. And most leisure activities, tech developments, and consumables usually favour gay men over other branches of the community. Of course, this isn’t new: gay men have always dominated LGBTQ culture, and historically were the most accessible target for animosity against it.

Sex between two men was demonised and sensationalised for decades, with gay men being the whipping boy for homosexuality all through the sixties, and the AIDS and HIV crisis of the 1980s. Vilified, despised and feared by the press, gay men were portrayed as rent boys, paedophiles, creepy shadowy figures, or hedonistic drug-fucked party-bunnies, dancing so hard and wasting away until their inevitable death from whatever STI they’d picked up along the way. Relationships between gay men on TV were rarely portrayed sensitively, often a conduit for some tragic proto-#BuryYourGays trope, or predatory guys turning hapless, innocent straight dudes while their parents weren’t looking. Lesbians obviously came under fire too – I remember the old ‘80s shtick that lesbians all had one arm which was forever grasping for a council flat to raise their turkey-baster babies with their lover, who was happily married until the butch, dungarees-loving, rampant-rabbit wielding, militant “lezzer” from the community centre got her claws in. I do think a lot of the way LGBTQ people have been and are represented in the media (for example) is down to how palatable straight people could find it. This is why there was that spate of lesbian dramas and soap storylines in the ’90s – suddenly lesbians were “cool”, probably because someone somewhere decided straight people could find it titillating. It certainly wasn’t because storyliners wanted to raise awareness, believe me; I remember the headlines. Gay men snogging on TV, however, would have to wait a few more years before the mainstream (straight people) were willing to sit through it without descending on Ofcom with a flaming torch.

Perhaps it’s partly because the image of gay men needed so much rehabilitation after that period, and also that straight people can’t be bothered even thinking about anybody else in the LGBTQ community, that gay men now dominate, and it’s a sad fact some gay men abuse this, pull the ladder up, and shove everyone else out of the way, or think that now marriage equality is law, the fight is over. This isn’t the case, and the anti-trans rhetoric currently playing out in the media all feels grossly, uncomfortably familiar. Obviously these are merely my anecdotal observations based on experiences, and I’m sure people who’ve looked into this more will be able to tell you why things are the way they are, but there is room for us all on this platform, and allowing equal space for others doesn’t mean gay men will fall off the perch and into the abyss. While as a gay man you may not feel in a position where you personally have any sway, influence, or power, there’s no excuse for us not to amplify, illuminate, and elevate those whose voices are otherwise drowned out by our cultural dominance. If you want to opt out and concentrate on yourself, that’s your right, but we are stronger together, and louder when as one, in harmony. It’s not too late.

Any awkward moments?
The moment she said she didn’t feel ready to have kids because she didn’t want her life to be over. Whereas, for me, it feels like having kids is when my life will really start.

Children cause so many problems – even ones in this case, who don’t actually exist yet – it’s lucky any of us are here at all. I’ve never understood the urge to procreate, or the desire to be a parent, but that’s probably because the impulse has (wisely) never sought me out. It’s not something I want to do. I don’t think it’s selfish to devote your brief flash of existence to yourself but nor do I think it’s stupid to alter it to include children. I think you have to be in the right place for them mentally and I am with Ellie in that, for me, it would feel like an ending. But as a 42-year-old man I have seen more resolute people than me cave into the urge, so maybe there’s time yet. (There isn’t. No, thank you.)

Any awkward moments?
The “What do we do now?” when we parted ways.

Well, you part ways, Ellie, hun.

Good table manners?
Impeccable.

Good table manners?
Very! However, I’ve never been on a dinner date before, and my eating habits are probably gross, so she might not say the same about me…

Never been on a dinner date before at 28. This can only be a good thing, really, to have avoided the horror of being glued to a perfect stranger’s grim dining rituals: that slow slur of the last noodle as it disappears into their mouth like a mouse’s tail into the skirting board; coughing into the napkin and checking the contents; the excruciating scrape of the knife along the plate even though the last scrap of food is long gone.

Best thing about Ellie?
She has a lovely, relaxed and calm quality. She also said I wasn’t evil for eating meat.

Ellie, it seems, is Windermere in a flannel shirt.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Absolutely.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Not as a date, but she’d be welcome to come hang out.

Here now begins a series of what I call “just to be clear”s (JTBC) from Ellie. Goodness knows what happened on the date, but she obviously parted company with Amber without clarifying what was going to happen next, so here she uses nuance and subtlety to spell it out.

Describe Ellie in three words
Calm, polite, engaging.

Calm, like the water in a fish tank in the doctors’ waiting room about thirty seconds before that awful toddler taps incessantly on the glass.

Polite, like a letter from your least favourite aunt informing you not to bother sending the same present you give her every Christmas because you’re not in the will anyway, and perhaps you should spend the £3.99 you blow on vanity soap on some decent toothpaste instead.

Engaging, like that couple three tables behind you in the restaurant having a guerilla marriage proposal which involves all the waiting staff doing, like, some kind of Macarena, and all you want is for one of them to come over with “the machine” so you can pay your bill because this is excruciating and love is dead.

Describe her in three words
Friendly, interesting, down-to-earth.

Friendly, like the woman on a cake stall at a Quaker bring-and-buy who hopes you don’t notice the globules of undissolved ingredients in her butterfly buns. (Note also the F word means Ellie is doing her JTBCs.)

Interesting, like when you tell someone what they just said is “interesting” but really you mean “when is it going to be my turn to talk again, I’ve got more going on than this drongo

Down-to-Earth, like someone who washes their net curtains three times a week but has never hugged their children.

What do you think she made of you?
I did tell a few stories about my past, so it depends what she made of those.

Amber, what did you do? WHO did you do?! Is this why you want children? Do you need to go into deep cover to escape a criminal past? Right after this I’m going to look up any unsolved jewel heists and see if I can link Amber to any of them. I’ll keep your secret, Amber; it will cost you only a couple of “precious gems”.

What do you think she made of you?
She suggested we exchange numbers, so at least friend-worthy.

There it is again.

And… did you kiss?
No, we had a friendly hug goodnight.

OK, so we have friendzoning coming from every angle here so perhaps the ending won’t be as catastrophic as it could have been.

And… did you kiss?
Nope. Zero chemistry.

There is something about using the word “zero” rather than “no” here, isn’t there? I like using zero in this sense, but that’s because I’m a dismissive old cow who uses words to crush my enemies. Ellie, I sense is just wheeling out another of her JTBCs, it wasn’t enough for chemistry to be somehow lacking, the entire evening had to be utterly devoid of it, a chemistry black-hole, romantic anti-matter, not even a particle of attraction, hope, or lust – just a vacuum-packed evening with only one possible result, an awkward goodbye under a streetlight to the soundtrack of a London cab impatiently growling at the kerb.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Ellie is lovely, but there was no spark and we are definitely looking for very different things.

Lovely is back for one more basic turn about the dance floor. As for “looking for very different things”, sometimes I think it’s good to take a chance on someone who might seem worlds apart from you, but I guess the children thing is non-negotiable. I do love that the mythical “spark” has been employed here, too; it cannot be argued.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Even though the meal was on the house, we still felt like we had to double check. We should have just legged it out of there like criminals! It would’ve been wild.

This is an interesting response because it sums up exactly these “different things” between Amber and Ellie. Ellie is at the stage of life where she wants excitement and, perhaps rightly, she sees motherhood as the end of that. It can be exciting in different ways I’m sure – although from my safe distance of observation the thrills look short in supply – but Ellie wants that freedom, that devil-may-care that can only come from other being single, or part of a criminal duo, and not worrying about whether Tarquin’s reading age should be higher than it is. She’s in search of the wild – I’m not sure skipping out on a meal you already know is paid for would be wild enough for me were I in search of a quick thrill, but each to their own. One thing worth remembering about excitement: too much adrenaline can make you feel sick. A lifetime of rushes and little else is also an expressway to constant nausea. Choose your own adventure wisely.

Marks out of 10?
8.
7.

I have a feeling this 8 would have been a 9 had Ellie been willing to commit herself to a decade of school runs. Ellie’s score of 7 for Amber is, I feel, exactly that, a 7 – you notice she didn’t mention the kids thing at all, barely occurred to her, perhaps.

Would you meet again?
Yes, I’d enjoy seeing Ellie’s improv skills in action, and introducing her to a friend who perhaps is looking for the same things as her.

That’s why we’re called the LGBTQ “community” guys. We don’t believe in waste. Why chuck something out if you feel it might suit a friend? Applies to clubbing tops, a last dab of MDMA, books, and dates.

Would you meet again?
Possibly as friends.

Ellie and Amber ate at Hoppers, London W1.
Fancy a blind date? Email blind.date@theguardian.com.
If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded, visit soulmates.theguardian.com

NOTE: The comments I make are based on the answers given by the participants and not what they may actually be like in real life. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits answers to make the column work better on the page. Get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll publish whatever you say, even if you want to drag gay men.

NOTE 2: I have written a novel called THE LAST ROMEO and it’s out now. This website is free and carries no advertising so if you enjoyed my writing and would like me to earn some money, please buy it. You don’t even have to read it. 

NOTE 3: The Impeccable blog is now published on Sunday mornings.

 

4 Comments

  1. The last lesbian couple I remember ended so badly one lady refused to answer the questions, and the second lady politely got through the answer with such banality it was clearly excruciating. So I think TG have been nervous.
    Mind you I know they do not overly bother with compatibility but wanting or not wanting children seems a bit of a basic one. I soon learnt to say early into a relationship my child free intentions.

  2. Even if you’ve never been on a dinner date, surely your mum has told you that your table manners are rubbish? Or don’t mothers do that any more?

  3. I have to wonder why the people who do this blind date thing seem to be willing to have the Guardian photographers place them under unforgiving lights for their photo and yet don’t prepare by washing their hair. Rough estimate: 75% of the subjects look like they showed up the day before their weekly shampoo, at maximum greasiness.

    I’m sorry, I know that’s shallow. However, one of the questions they’re asked in the post-date forensic analysis is about “first impression.” And yet they show up for their photo session dressed as above, seemingly unwashed, and make it clear that first impressions are the least of their concerns. Yes, Blind Date Participants, appearance is part of the calculus. Why start off on your back foot?

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