Impeccable Table Manners

Max and James

They never tell you about the morning after, these dating gurus. You had the perfect date, kissed lightly at the bus stop before you hopped on the 176 and he caught the 136, and then went home. You debated whether to send a text while you sat amid the drunks, teenagers playing indecipherable hits out of their phones, and lone divorcés clutching a box of fried chicken. You did send it. He responded, quickly, saying he had a good time too, that he couldn’t wait to do it again. And the next morning, you woke up, floating on air, a bizarre tingling throughout your body as you remembered the night before, and awaited what was to come. Had your journey to work always been this quick? Was it always so unseasonably sunny? And then, as you finally tired of scrolling through the day’s anger, the doubt crept in. He said he couldn’t wait to do it again, but when? Who would message first? And where would you go? Somewhere different? Maybe he wouldn’t like you in a brighter light, without alcohol, somewhere quieter. Were you being 100% yourself or were you acting? Which character were you playing, and how long could you keep it up? That finest of lines between having everything in your hands and watching it all slip through your fingers is the most dangerous, anxious time where you can talk yourself in or out of anything. They should warn you about that, the so-called experts, tell you it’s probably going to be OK, that you can think about something else. The world should know.

Today’s morning after belongs to Max, a 24-year-old publicist and one of only thirteen men in the UK to look good in a roll-neck, and James, 28, an account manager. What kind of accounts? Bank? Eyewitness? I demand to be told. Here they are. Look at Max’s socks. I like those. My boyfriend often says to me, “you love a contrasting sock, don’t you?” and it’s true, I do.

Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian

Read what happened on the date and then we’ll wade in and spoil everything.

Max on James | James on Max
What were you hoping for?
To get through dinner without wanting to leave. And mutual attraction.

A dinner date is a tough one. It’s like being caught in a trap that only you can see. You watch the normal world around you, people laughing, having fun, being themselves. You, however, have to sit through three courses of someone else’s opinions and questionable skincare regime. I used to refuse to meet for dinner on a first date – and second, too, if I could get away with it. The knowledge you can’t leave, that you must stay until the waiting staff deign to notice you and bring you your bill, is too much. As for mutual attraction, I think I’ve only met about ten men in my life that a bottle of wine and three martinis couldn’t fix, so I’m sure you’ll be fine, Max.

What were you hoping for?
To meet a guy I could take home to my parents.

There is a brilliant line in the book Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, in which the main character bemoans the need for younger gay to assimilate, and settle down. It certainly spoke to me, as someone teetering between the ages of James and the character in the book, but I get this. Sometimes all you want is to be like everyone else, after years of feeling like you could never be. I don’t particularly care what my parents think of who I go out with (they have each liked both of the boyfriends they have met) but if James wants someone he can take to a family roast then who am I to judge? The key to any relationship is having someone you can leave in a room with people you like or care about, while you go to the toilet, and not come back to find they’ve revealed you once got fisted in a sauna in Rotterdam, or are currently awaiting a caution for possession of glucose powder and a sliver of cocaine.

First impressions?
Relief! The restaurant had seated us out of sight from one another for half an hour, so I thought I’d been stood up. I was about to leave when the waiter came and explained.

Funnily enough, this is what kicks off the plot in my forthcoming frothy rom-com Honey, I Can Explain Everything.

First impressions?
He was cute, and I liked his silky shirt. It turns out he’d been wearing something different but had spilled his lunch on it. Which was cute.

And this is basically the first chapter of the follow-up, which is exactly the same story but told from a different character’s perspective, called The Meet-Cute.

What did you talk about?
Where we grew up, families, what we got up to over the summer, travel, my awful shirt, music and work.
Family, holidays, our jobs… My memory is a little foggy as I drank quite a bit to calm my nerves.

Families
Holidays/summer/travel/whatever/shut up I don’t care ✅
Work/our jobs
Damn these boys are good.

My awful shirt. Just to say I have never worn an awful shirt in my life but I, too, would be very self-deprecating about whichever spectacular piece of FASHION (it’s in caps because I’m gay) I was wearing because that’s what we do, isn’t it? Tell any LGBTQ person or straight woman that you like what they’re wearing, and they will break their neck to tell you how cheap it was/it doesn’t fit them/they’ll never be able to wash it because it will go misshapen/it would look better on you/it’s very flammable/they hate it/it’s old etc etc. It’s an illness; we can’t help ourselves. “It’s only Primark!!!!”
Music. Risky. I once went on a date with a man who asked if he could see the music on my phone. Yeah. There wasn’t a second date. I remember handing it over and saying, “Just to warn you, I do love a remix”.
I drank quite a bit to calm my nerves. Relatable.

Any awkward moments?
The long 28 and a half minutes when I thought I’d been stood up.
I saw him through the window as I walked in, only to then be seated on the far side of the restaurant until they worked out we were supposed to be together.

I would like someone from the restaurant to get in touch and tell me how this could’ve happened because being stood up on a date is terrifying and demoralising. It happened to me twice, the same man both times. I look back now and realise this was either some weirdo catfishing me or a guy who saw me coming and decided “no thank you”, but I will never, ever forget the sense of desolation, of being an utter failure and irrevocably unlovable that came with waiting outside Bond Street station for a date who would never turn up. Could he see me, I wondered, as the city bustled around me in typical rush-hour fashion. What had I done? Worn the wrong thing? Had the wrong face? I remember trudging to the pub on South Molton Street – which shut down and became a very expensive, tacky clothes shop, before shutting down again and becoming a very expensive, tacky café – and restarting my phone, checking for messages, certain it must’ve been some misunderstanding. It was not. He was just a piece of shit.

Good table manners?
Yeah. He was really polite to the restaurant staff.

Being nice to waiting staff is a *very* good look. Ditch anyone who isn’t – imagine how they’ll treat you.

Good table manners?
From what I remember. We had a ton of food, and he tidied up the table when we left, which was lovely.

This is adorable. Also: “from what I remember”. James was absolutely steaming, in the great gay tradition. There’s nothing like a crippling bout of insecurity to lead you to the bottom of five bottles of Merlot.

Best thing about James?
He was very inquisitive, but not in an intense way. There was strong eye contact throughout the night – and he had nice eyes.

These two are gonna bang.

Best thing about Max?
He was a gentleman and never made me feel uncomfortable.

“A considerate top.”

Describe him in three words
Handsome. Cheeky. Smart.

Handsome, like, what a word. The best word. I will never tire of being called handsome, even if it isn’t true. I got my hair cut the other day, and my boyfriend told me I looked handsome – as he often does. It’s a real compliment, not a “you look lovely babe” or “great pic” underneath a photograph of you looking like a hippo trying to get off a bike. In a world of likes, shares, and meaningless platitudes that serve only to get you a like or comment in return, to call someone handsome has depth. Handsome is not an immediate, instant quality; it has to be weighed up and considered. You don’t have to be conventionally beautiful to be handsome, you don’t have to be sexy, or smart, or good with children – you just have to be yourself, and it beams out of you.
Cheeky, like a fucking Nando’s, I dunno, what is this word? Ugh.
Smart, like a dog in a bowtie.

Describe him in three words
Tall, dark, handsome.

Tall, like the Eiffel Tower, a friendly giant, an order.
Dark, like the humour of the guy you’re on a date with but not quite sure about because he just told you he used to murder bees for fun, was he even joking, he didn’t laugh, oh my God.
Handsome, like… Max definitely is. I have to confess, Max is the kind of boy I would’ve “risked it all” for when I was a teenager. Not so much now, tbh, because I don’t like my bananas too green, but Max – and James too for that matter – would’ve caused me a lot of confusion at the school disco. I didn’t look like Max or James when I was younger, but I wished I did, imagined it would give me some kind of power or charm, that I could achieve anything. What a waste of time all that self-doubt was. Funny old world. Anyway, we have a double handsome so we are off to the fucking races. YES.

And… did you kiss?
Yeah, we did.
Many times. I have no issue with kisses on a first date.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
He ordered a cocktail that he thought I’d like. I grimaced and spat it into the glass. I should have necked it and thanked him.

No you did the right thing, Max. Don’t pretend. Don’t be that guy who tries to please by doing things you don’t enjoy. Obviously there’s always room for compromise but it’s perfectly fine to show someone what you don’t like, along with what you do. There’s a big focus on positivity and optimism and that is definitely important but we also need to make room for a little light negativity, to show who we really are and not the Instagram-filtered version of ourselves we think the world wants to see. Post the “ugly” photo, admit you’re feeling down, spit out the nasty cocktail (negroni, I bet, they are filth) and let them SEE. If they can’t handle it, or it makes them uncomfortable, then ship them out – they don’t deserve you.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I’d have been less drunk.

God, why?

Marks out of 10?
9.

This is a ten.

Marks out of 10?
8.

EIGHT?! You kissed, and it was an 8?!! Did he have a tongue like a cat? Onion breath? A tattoo on the inside of his lip saying “BREXIT MEANS BREXIT”? You can’t kiss someone at the end of a date and rate them an 8 – it’s… illegal. Unless you’re saving your nine and your ten for date two and putting it all the way in.

Would you meet again?
Date number two is in the diary next week.

Would you meet again?
Yes! Next Wednesday.

YES BOYS. Always trust the gay dudes to bring it home. Let me know how you got on. ❤️

 

Max and James ate at Little Kolkata, London WC2. 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. And congrats on the roll-neck.

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