Hasn’t it been the longest week of what feels like the very worst year? I am always very reluctant to say things like “I can’t wait for 2016 to be over”, as if it’s the digits making up the year that are the problem, because it gives us false hope that things will magically change once the last firework on New Year’s Eve has dive-bombed pathetically to the ground. Maybe things aren’t terrible because it’s 2016 – perhaps this is just the way things are now.
But has the rain ever felt so hard? Has it really been as cold as this before? Was your milk ever so sour as it was in 2016? Has the news really been so relentless and depressing before – how some of us must long for a slow news day. In 2016, if a cat were to get stuck up a tree, it would likely have a suicide vest strapped to it and reveal it voted for Trump, before falling on its owner’s head and killing them. 2016. I’m not saying it’s all your fault, but at least have a day or two off in your final weeks.
The last thing we need now, then, is two doughnuts whinging about school nights, too many glasses of wine and dying for a “lovely chat and a tasty meal”. Hope arrives in the form of 31-year-old lawyer Abolade and Sam, 30, a senior merchandiser.
Yes, that’s right – we have escaped the media bubble, which means we get a break this week from the usual tryhard Olympics. Read what happened on the date before I walk in and say “2016” over and over again until someone starts crying.
Fun? A night out? What, no “good food and good company”? Did we… wish hard enough? Have your dreams come true? Will this week’s couple actually NOT be two bores who were looking for the Made in Chelsea auditions but got into the wrong lift? Hold on.
No, you’re not seeing double – they really did say exactly the same things as each other. A complete match.
Smiling. I don’t do it often. I don’t have a natural smile. Smiling makes my face look rounder, and I have dimples, so I kind of look like a Shar Pei – and that’s before you even get to the other lines and wrinkles and potholes I acquired at a knockdown price throughout my advancing years.
It’s one of the very few times I feel for Victoria Beckham, when she tries to smile. She looks like she just killed somebody, hid them under the floorboards and is trying to “act natural”.
While it’s a bit meta, I too have often wondered how they put people together for the Blind Date column. Is it an age thing? Do they match by job, or background? Do you get to say the type of person you’re after? Who can say?
They do tend to throw the media wanks together in this column – and we get a load of those, don’t we? If Narcissus were up and about in 2016, he’d own a start-up that didn’t pay its interns and would be applying for Blind Date. Oh yes.
Really? Nothing for us? Awkward-free. Cool. I mean, I am glad, I know I should be glad. It’s not like I’m sitting here, shivering under a fleecy throw while my central heating plays its usual mind games, waiting for you to say something I can latch upon. You had an evening totally devoid of awkwardness, which, for you, is perfect. I am glad. Good.
What’s it got to do with you? If he wants to order lamb then… let him? Unless… no. Oh, no. Were you going to share? On reading this I dashed over to the website of the restaurant they ate in pursued the menu. The prices for “plates” – nobody says “mains” any more because it doesn’t sound like it can afford a second car and a dishwasher – seem to be quite cheap (for Soho, anyway; I have lived here 14 years and am ridiculously assimilated) so I’ll assume they were getting “a few things to share”. And this is what happens when you have to share. It causes potential conflict in a night that so far has been so uneventful, it makes after-school detention sound like the last days of Studio 54.
A Post-it note with “let’s share a starter” written on it could start a fight in an empty room – it is food-sharing that will bring down civilisation, I’m sure of it.
Don’t like the look of the lamb, Sam? The entire meal is free; push the fucking boat out, get a “plate” all to yourself. Christ.
It’s been one of those weeks where you could quite easily have expected the Blind Date column to end with one of the daters running over the other, so perhaps we should be grateful that this week we have two perfectly nice people enjoying an evening that’s neither awkward or dogged by terrible table manners. “Impeccable”, even!
Perhaps we should spend the rest of the column politely tittering at everything they say, like workers in a community centre would do should Princess Anne come to visit. How odd it must be for the Royals – everywhere they go, all they have to do is say anything, literally anything, and even if it has the faintest whiff of being amusing, everyone around them will collapse into paroxysms of mirth. Slapping their thigh and clutching their chest in hysteria, just because Princess Michael of Kent said “sausage” in a chemotherapy ward.
Let’s struggle on.
BANTER. Here we go. Banter means so many things to so many different people, and in the process, it’s kind of lost all meaning. The main strand of banter seems to be the ability to both hurl and take light insults in a joking manner, without going too far or being too weak. Quite what the sweet spot is for the perfect level of banter, I have no idea.
Whenever I think of banter, I think of men wearing white sport socks, in a locker room, over spraying with Lynx or vigorously towelling their balls and pointing into the air with every syllable. Del Boy, but on protein shakes.
I don’t like banter. I hate it in fact. Banter is the tarpaulin you throw over words; nobody says what they means. It’s even worse than repression, and saying nothing at all, because banter demands to be heard, even though you know it’s empty, and shallow. Banter is what we do when we’re too frightened to say who we really are. Show yourself.
“It’s just banter.” OK.
I love it when people get on and have a good time, but I tell you what I don’t like – I’m not talking about Abolade and Sam in particular, here, btw – and that’s someone three tables away from me in a Soho restaurant screaming laughing at each other while I can’t hear a word my boyfriend is saying. I don’t know how people do it, or why they want to be so obnoxious. Why MUST the world hear you?
Not exactly dripping with enthusiasm, but I’ll take it this is meant sincerely.
FUN like this has not been to write. ADVENTUROUS like literally zero answers in this column. OPEN like the fire I want to throw myself into.
HOT like a burn, which I’ve been unable to produce this week. HILARIOUS like nothing on this page. SOPHISTICATED like a cat that chews with its mouth closed.
Here it is. Regular as clockwork. Tale as old as time. It’s the weekly “woman assumes anything other than perfect poise or borderline mute behaviour will mean a guy thinks she’s too talkative or insane”.
To Abolade’s credit, he doesn’t appear to sign up to bullshit, remarking on Sam’s laugh and how fun she was, but even then Sam still worries she hasn’t come across well. I don’t know where the change in mindset is going to come from; it seem to be so ingrained. We all stress from time to time about whether people think we’re awful or not. Despite what some people tell you, it doesn’t simply evaporate with old age; you can still be comfortable in your own skin and yet be concerned someone thought you were a douche. In fact, if you don’t have the occasional wobble about your own behaviour, you’re probably a sociopath. But that this idea is so widely shared, especially among women, makes me feel really sad.
I’m going to assume that Sam’s “worried” here is just a mild cringe she’s laughing off and not something that’s keeping her awake at night, although I know, for a lot of people, it does exactly that. I’d never say that it doesn’t matter what people think of you, because it does, of course, but sometimes that opinion is out of your hands and, most of the time, down to their own petty prejudices. It doesn’t mean you have to change your behaviour. Let them adapt to you; there is always room for manoeuvre in the right person.
We are all a little mad at times. I pity those who aren’t – how awful for them to be so utterly composed and restrained 24/7. Cereal boxes carry a warning to avoid people being disappointed when they open them: “Contents may settle during transit”. Feel sad for the cereal box people. My contents never settle, even when I’m standing still. They shake. Who wants to be a cereal box? Let’s never stop shaking.
(Edit: to be clear, I don’t want people to think I’m genuinely mystified why the women in the column say this kind of thing. I’m not; I’m just exasperated. There are some good comments below from women readers about this. Go take a look.)
Yes, Abolade! Thursday, for the uninitiated, is the “risk it all” night for dating. Anything can happen on a Thursday. It’s so tantalisingly close to the weekend, but without all the pressure of a date on a Friday or Saturday. Friday and Saturday dates mean business, sure, but they’re pretty blatant – you’ve nowhere to be the next day except on top of one another. Thursdays have promise, but they also have doubt. Thursday dates are exciting because you might just end up with that second shot of Patrón and think “fuck it, let’s go to a club” because tomorrow is Friday and you can always sit crying at your desk with a bacon sandwich to get through it.
Thursdays, yes. Perfect. Sundays too. Days that are DTF but don’t like to tell the world about it.
A BIT FUCKING LATE NOW, SAM.
A shy 10.
Eight. Hmmm. He was “hot” three questions ago, Sam. Unless that “hot” was the sexless kind of hot my straight female friends say to me when I try on a new pair of jeans or a top that “really sets off my eyes”.
Either this is a cautious 9, or Sam didn’t think Abolade was hot at all. But why would she say it? Cautious 9, then.
It’s been nice to have another couple get on really well. After the last few weeks, it’s nice to know there are still come civil people in the world, who don’t go in for showboating or trying to dig up drama just to make themselves look cool or arrogant in a magazine. While the date has been a little dry, hasn’t it been rather refreshing to have two people meet and be genuine? We earned this one, everybody. This was the antidote to 2016’s supposed poison.
But will that 9 and that 8 translate to a second date?
Photograph: Alicia Canter; Graeme Robertson, 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 do this live on a Saturday morning. 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.
Thanks to @olenskae for the “beige high heels” tip,