Impeccable Table Manners

Fabian and Harriet

We’re not getting any younger, are we, so let’s crack on this week with 25-year-old Fabian – who is a policy research assistant and looks in this photo like someone was waving a stick of celery at him just out of shot – and Harriet, 26, a teacher. Both of them appear to have turned up to the photo shoot in their pyjamas but never mind. Read the thing and sigh along and then let’s reconvene here for light-hearted MURDER.

Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian
Fabian on Harriet | Harriet on Fabian

What were you hoping for?
My soulmate, or at least someone I’d not already been matched with on Bumble.

Guardian’s dating website is called Soulmates. When apps were still for meeting up in strangers’ flats and rutting, Soulmates was the tasteful, well-behaved version – well, until drink number four anyway. It was packed to the rafters with Radio 4 listeners and men who did evening classes in unicycling and pretended to be shy. It was not full of soulmates of any description, sad to say. Anyway, where I am going with this is the concept of a soulmate is absolute bollocks. Stop looking for one – your soulmate is probably trapped in a loveless marriage with somebody who pulled the wings off butterflies as a child. Just find someone you don’t want to hit in the face with a frying pan every time they speak and see how long you can stay together.

I have never used Bumble – that’s the one where women have to message the man first, right? Hmm.

What were you hoping for?
A fun evening – and, if not, yummy food.

I have a huge aversion to the word “yummy”; I don’t know why. It feels like something a child would say to you, seconds after it picked its nose and wiped it on your lovely blouse.

First impressions?
Have we been matched because of our taste in shirts? (We were both wearing tropical patterns.)

I know for a fact the shoots for this column happen way in advance, so… do they wear their “shirts” all the time? Tropical patterns in winter? Did this date take place in Hawaii? One of the grimmest trends of last summer was everyone walking around looking like they’d covered themselves in superglue and rolled round the bottom of a parrot’s cage  (translation: I don’t suit tropical patterns and I am mildly resentful of this) but to carry on wearing that “look” in winter is unforgivable. Put a jumper on! You’ll catch your death!

First impressions?
He was very smiley and smart, and made me feel comfortable straight away.

Fabian brought one of these with him.

What did you talk about?
South London, dating, work, mindfulness.
Our favourite parts of south London, dating, travelling, and a lot about food.

South London. A match! ✅
Dating. The worst thing you can talk about on a date! ✅
Work. OK. I guess. I mean, yeah.
Mindfulness. I have this suggested to me every now and again by “concerned pals” because I work a lot, have zero chill, sigh every seven seconds and can never find my keys/wallet/hair product/inner chi.
Travelling. I’m sorry, no do go on tell me more about the marvellous markets of Marrakech – “such wonderful colours!!!” – and how you made local children pose with Coca-Cola cans for your Facebook photo album called “Poisonous capitalism meets pure and ancient culture” or whatever.
A lot about food. Say what you see, I guess.

Any awkward moments?
She suggested we agree on what score we would give each other.

I don’t know how I feel about this. I mean, sometimes I say that out of politeness, if you’re going to appear in a magazine and you didn’t detest each other, some kind of agreement between you might be useful. That Fabian has revealed this attempt by Harriet is in itself completely against the spirit of the thing. HOWEVER if Fabian wasn’t comfortable with it, he should call it out. I guess it would be awkward, depending on when she said it. I like to think that after Harriet had said “yes please” to her first glass of wine she grabbed Fabian by the collar of his loud shirt and said, “Listen, dickface, score me any less than a 7 and I’ll be sending round my very aggressive younger sisters, who are all martial arts experts and pay their rent by pulling off violent, multimillion dollar jewel heists. On motorbikes.”

However, on reflection, it is CHEATING and I cannot be seen to condone this. Harriet, unless your next answer is that Fabian did something even WORSE than this, you are in “the bad books”.

Any awkward moments?
He kept trying to order for me. He nearly didn’t let me order the cocktail I wanted.

Oh well there we go. DA FUQ? Why do people do this? Just let them have what they want.

I remember on a date, 100 years ago, I went to a hotel bar with a man who I imagine thought it would be sophisticated but I felt like a streetwise, out of place hooker in a bad ’80s movie. He said we should get cocktails and I was, like, basic but OK. So I ordered my favourite which is a Gibson – a gin martini with cocktail onions on the stick, what of it – and honestly he went on and on and on about how that would be disgusting, shouldn’t I get something else, something more fun, or fruity perhaps? What about this one – I noticed how dirty his fingernails were as he prodded the menu like he was trying to find its G-spot – or maybe this one? Obviously you’re on a date so you don’t want to unleash all the crazy straightaway so I kind of politely shook my head and burbled off my reasons for not wanting his suggestions, having to justify the fact that all I wanted was a glass of pure alcohol with a couple of sodding onions in it. AAARGH even just thinking about it makes me want to scream. I hope he’s reading. Eat shit.

Anyway, unless you are asked for a recommendation, or someone isn’t sure what they want, or you happen to know for sure that someone actually DIED from eating what they’re about to order, mind your own bloody business and get back to your cheesy pasta.

Good table manners?
We shared all the food, which was nice.

(I actually gasped at this gif when I saw it. I hope that poor bird did a very big poo on the child’s parent as it left.)

Good table manners?
Very impressive chopstick skills.

I am terrible with chopsticks. I have documented my loathing for them may times, but here is why they ruin my life

Best thing about Harriet?
She’s open and talkative.

Like a squeaking door.

Best thing about Fabian?
He was really friendly and had lots to say.

Like the parrot in Aladdin.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
If the opportunity arose, it would be rude not to.

You are right, Fabian, it would be rude. I mean, if you were standing with her in whichever ironic south London pub you favour – “[insert name of south London suburb currently being throttled by turbo-gentrification] is really cool now; there’s a pub that does macaroni pies and whelk cocktails!” – and your friends Toby, Harry, Julian, Will, the other Will, and Hugo came in, it would be rude and frankly weird not to introduce her. Would she just stand there like a side table while you all talked about your shirts? No, of course not.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
He might find them a bit much.

MIGHT HE, Harriet? Really? I love how we all do this, instantly assume our friends are only palatable to us, that only we truly understand them, like they’re a long-lost Björk demo or the dialogue in Call Me By Your Name. We are obsessed with imagining our closest pals as an impenetrable secret society, bound together by shared history, dodgy in-jokes and a vague undercurrent of envy, resentment and gaslighting that runs through all friendships like tapeworm through your salad. However, to the casual observer, you are all just 12 clean-shirts sitting and sipping wine quietly in an All Bar One, talking about how much your got your flights to [insert travel destination] for and saying “We must do this more often; it’s so lovely to see you” over and over, like the incantation will make it true.

Describe Harriet in three words
Vibrant, amiable, easy-going.

Vibrant, like a neon tea-towel.
Amiable, like a cat who thinks you are made of tuna.
Easy-going, like whatever.

Describe Fabian in three words
Interesting, chatty and intelligent.

Interesting, like a loan, or a credit card debut, or a picture of a swan.
Chatty, like someone who says more than one word an hour and is insatiably labelled a “chatterbox”.
Intelligent, like a sex robot who learns how to have headaches.

What do you think she made of you?
Hopefully that I was an interesting and entertaining date. But I don’t think there was any spark between us.

Well, Fabes, she called you “interesting” so ✅ for that. As for the spark, I think you may have extinguished that yourself by trying to tell her what to order. I have a secret to tell you, it may have escaped your notice: women tend not to like that kind of thing. Just a pro-tip from someone who hasn’t dated a woman in 18 years, there.

What do you think he made of you?
I hope he thought I was a laugh, but I have a feeling he found me a bit forthright.

You’re a woman and you spoke, so, yeah, probably. I wonder if he went to the loo and phoned a female relative. “Auntie, she keeps doing this thing where her mouth kind of… flaps open and shout, and while it’s open noise comes out. I think she’s talking to me. Do women do that? I thought they just sat there and planned weddings?”

Did you go on somewhere?
We had planned to go for a cocktail across the road, but it was late and she had to get up early.
No – it was a school night and I had to get up very early the next day.

Strong same. I really need this date to be over.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I would have ordered dessert.

I loathe the “food excuse” answer. That’s all you would’ve changed? Not “had a better date”? Or “maybe I shouldn’t have tried to stop her ordering a Brandy Alexander”? One day someone is going to ask me what one thing I would change and I tell you what, the answer is going to sting like a thousand paper cuts.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
We’d have more in common. I don’t think he got my sense of humour. He seems like a lovely guy – just not for me.

A proper answer! Yes, fine. All of this. I’m mildly interested in how Harriet sees herself coming across. “Forthright.” Friends a bit of a nightmare. An unfathomable sense of humour. Either Harriet is a niche stand-up political comedian who is friends with a pack of wolves or maybe we tend to let people think they’re annoying just for being a bit direct and spirited. Give me forthright over fake and always “up” any day of the week.

Marks out of 10?

Two sevens. AKA a pair of 1s with an upgrade to business class because they pretended to be in love at the check-in desk. Once aboard, however, those 1s stayed to their own side of the seat, drained the drinks trolley and didn’t say a word the entire flight. Does this mean Fabian agreed to score the same or are they both as unimaginative as one another? Past caring.

Would you meet again?
Maybe as friends.

More chance of being cast in a remake of Friends I think, Fabes.

Would you meet again?
Probably not.


NOTE: The comments I make are based on the answers given by the participants. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits it to suit the column. Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story; we can work this out. You seem nice. We can play nice.

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  1. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t get past the fact that he KEPT trying to order for her. Like, not just once before realising it was a staggeringly condescending thing to do, but repeatedly. And who thinks “What I want is a woman who can’t make up her own mind and lets me control even the smallest of our interactions.” Brrrr.

  2. It doesn’t seem that hard to fathom why someone might try to steer their date away from a cocktail garnished with onions. Unless the only alternative was the Garlic Vodka Martini.

    Although, on the other hand, of course, there’s not being a controlling idiot.

    Reminds me of the dating ‘training’ in the 80s film Gregory’s Girl: “Pickled onions and dates don’t mix.”

  3. When I read this in the Graun, I did wonder whether the whole thing had been fabricated by a malicious staffer just to wind Guyliner up. It’s got it all – a woman who thought she talked too much, somebody who can’t introduce anyone to her friends because they’re all so dreadful, not being able to stay for a drink because it’s a school night, they talked about dating, the man regretted his food choices, they shared food, the word “spark” was used, they gave each other 7s. Honestly, all it was missing was the man saying “a gentleman never tells” in response to the kiss question. Where do they find these basics?

      1. I thought the same. Inwardly cringed at the original article but huge props (as always) to Justin for being able to make something out of such a non-event!

  4. She definitely decided it was a school night after the ordering diktat, but was then kind enough to stick to her story for the feedback.

    Maybe telling someone you shouldn’t have something because you are allergic and you really want to kiss them might be OK. But only if you are very, very sure they’ll be wanting to kiss you back.

  5. This one made me laugh out loud several times in public. My favourite way to spend a Saturday mid-morning, coffee in hand.
    Thanks for doing these!

  6. ‘Intelligent, like a sex robot who learns how to have headaches’- I spat my drink all over my screen and everyone in the library’s looking but I honestly don’t care because it’s a line up there with every comment you make about bikes for funniest line I’ve ever read

  7. Totally with you on “yummy”.

    I want to say: I always feel the question: “Would you introduce [them] to your friends?” is really a little too much too soon. They’ve just met [for fuck’s sake]! They might as well be asked if they’d introduced each others’ to their respective parents.

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