We all think we’d love to know what people say about us once we leave the room, but we really don’t. It’s unusual for compliments to be kept hidden from you for too long – especially from someone who wants something for you, or to be on you – so conversations that happen behind your back are usually, sadly, pretty negative. You think you can handle it, that it might be useful to hear the criticisms, that you might learn from them, but you won’t. Instead you will go running to the nearest reflective surface and stare into it, winded and bleary-eyed with confusion and sadness. Is that what they really think of me, you ask yourself? Am I so terrible? Have I not tried to be a good person? Wasn’t I lovely? And you go back and remember your conversations and actions and flinch at the memory of the moment you know you’d lost them, that you’d helped them make up their mind. Mistakes you know you will make again. You forget, in your anguish, that people say horrible things about you for more than one reason. It may be to make themselves look good, bolster them in their own narrative, maybe they’re envious of you, or want your attention but never get it, or perhaps they’re insecure. But it’s worth remembering that sometimes the horrible things are true.
This is why the Guardian Blind Date is not for the faint-hearted. You have left the room, the conversation about you has begun, and while you get to listen in, you cannot interject or correct or explain – you must merely watch, stunned and helpless, as it’s printed in a national newspaper for all to see. And then someone texts you and tells you about this blog. Lionhearts, each and every one of them. I salute you.
Nervously lifting the headphones to their ear and gulping at the cold. hard truth this week are 25-year-old journalist Andre, on the left in the pink shirt, and Dan, 26, a designer, who is in the plain T. Doesn’t he know all designers have to wear nothing but T-shirts from Threadless? Perhaps he hasn’t been one very long.
They’re gay and have perfect names to be a portmanteau couple – Dandre, anyone? – but will they rub each other the right way? Read what happened on the date before I go in on them with all the precision of a man old enough to be their much older brother, who’s not been awake long and isn’t feeling very well.
Andre kicks us off, and is in yellow. Dan’s in the blue.
Imagine being gay and in your mid 20s and your loftiest expectations of a date with a stranger related to WINE. You’re not supposed to care about wine until you’re at least 37 and some of us don’t even manage that. Wine is fetishised to such a degree in the answers to this question that I’m now going to assume, from this week onward, that it’s a metaphor for dick. “I was hoping for good company and endless dick.” There you go, fixed it for you.
This is a very first impression, which, as the question comes so early in the set, is what we’re looking for. 10 points.
This is an overall first impression, isn’t it? So not what we’re after. 6 points.
Actual first impressions:
“He looked like a horse on the phone to his dentist.”
“Smiley, with a face only a mother could love.”
“Smart-casual boner killer in supermarket-brand chinos and frayed boat shoes.”
“Imagine Olive from On The Buses if she won on the scratchcards. That.”
Can we start getting this right?
Don’t cycle when drunk. It’s really stupid. I cycled drunk for the very last time in 1996, when I borrowed a friend’s racing bike and zig-zagged my way across Southampton (where I went to uni) back home after a bottle of Smirnoff, mixed with orange juice because 1996, followed by four pints of something. Southampton locals may know the wide, treacherous road known as The Avenue, which I attempted to cycle across, on a bike I didn’t know, with no lights, and was clipped by a speeding car. I actually flew in the air for a while, before landing, on my arse, in somebody’s garden, my back cut to ribbons. The driver did not stop. I did not die. I learned my lesson. Do not cycle drunk; you will ruin somebody’s life.
I don’t know why you’d be talking about Saabs on a date. I see football is mentioned there too. Were they having a masculinity contest? The only thing I know about Saabs is that a fantastic woman I worked with decades ago had a huge white one, and it was called the Wimbledon edition or something, and I used to love driving in it with her because she was fantastically, almost impossibly glamorous, like Honor Blackman, and she smoked Vogue cigarettes way before anyone did it ironically, and had a gravelly voice and the worldly wisdom of someone who has seen it all, done it all and never had to ask anyone for a lighter. And she was called Margot. Perfection.
Oh, I don’t know what to say. Is it too early for a GIF? Let’s have a GIF:
Where do you stand on food switching plates during a meal? Any meal, let alone a romantic one? I did, briefly, date a guy who once got quite upset when I picked an uneaten sausage off his plate once he’d finished eating everything else. “It’s disgusting,” he would say, “not hygienic”. I mean, fine, but there isn’t one part of me you haven’t had in your mouth at some point, and yet somehow this SAUSAGE is disgusting. Needless to say, there were no further helping of sausage on offer for this precious baby – on or off his plate.
I don’t think I’d like my own plate to be invaded by someone else’s food, however. If you’ve ordered too much, you’re just going to have to tough it out, I’m afraid. And steak is such a weird thing to order on a date. It gets stuck in your teeth, needs a lot of chewing and it kind of smells, lingering in your mouth long after you’ve eaten it. Perhaps this steak is acting as a friendzoning tool. You’d really have to fancy someone pretty hard to watch them gnaw their way through a huge steak and still want to kiss them.
“It’s the size of my face!”
“And it’s the size of my face too!”
“We should probably each go for a different exaggerated unit of measurement if we want to keep things interesting in the column.”
“Totally. I really want to say it was as big as someone’s face, though.”
First they’re stanning hard for wine like Lady Gaga’s battalion of fake soccer moms, now it’s whiskey’s turn. You can bet your ass I went to the venue’s website to look at their menu to check they served whisky and whiskey – this is not my first time at the rodeo and I do love to be right. Anyway, this is all sounding great, but it isn’t really what I was expecting from two gay men in their mid 20s. If this column has taught me anything, it’s that gay guys love acting like they’re 45 – until they actually are. What’s great about increased equality and social mobility is that the stunning mediocrity of being middle-aged, middle-class and insufferably dull is now available to most of us.
A good vibe. Like a function room hired out for a launch – for a new range of tea towels, perhaps – where you don’t know anybody, but, hey, at least there’s free champagne! (It’s cava.)
Vibes. They’re almost never good are they? You get serial-killer vibes off someone. Bad vibes. But never good.
This is going well. A date so astonishingly sexless, it’s like watching two HR managers flirt using only quotes from the first series of My Family and EU directives as chat-up lines, in the bar of a Travelodge that doesn’t open for another 15 minutes.
INTELLIGENT like Rachel off Countdown.
CHILLED like the bottle of Highland Spring in my backpack.
CONFIDENT like someone who you realise would do your head in if you went to Ikea with them.
ELOQUENT like that precocious schoolboy who sits behind you on the bus and reads out his spellings.
WITTY like a panel show on BBC4 that you watch to stave off the unnerving dread that you’re single and all alone.
DRIVEN like a Ford Focus, into the sea, with you at the wheel.
Ooh. Could there have been a frisson of something, after all? It’s like when you make some underwhelming chicken for dinner – a last minute dash of Nando’s sauce can rescue the whole thing and really give your mouth something to think about. Andre?
Ouch. No sauce in Andre’s pitta tonight.
The state of homosexuality in 2016.
But ya did, Andre.
Ugh. Yuk. Put your phone away. Aside from the fact that Andre shouldn’t have been looking at his phone at all during the date, as there is zero excuse for doing so, what’s the deal with his friends? Haven’t they got anything better to do, any storylines of their own to star in, that they have to spend their evening quizzing Andre about how the date was going?
The trouble with telling your story “as it happens” is that it plays differently because you’re having to pause to tell it. The eagerness to keep your audience with you at all times, rather than waiting for you once it’s over, means the narrative shifts from being about you in that very moment of how fulfilled you are from the experience, to focusing on the reaction you’ll get from others. This is the difference between the people who stand at gigs, trail round museums or attend events with their phones outstretched, filming it all for posterity, and people who just take it in with their actual eyes, to process it themselves. You’re not looking at it properly, or thinking about it – you’re just filming it. The memory of it, the ability to look back and say “I was there and this was happening to me” becomes more important than experiencing it first-hand. Your present is being shaped by how you want to remember it, not how you feel about it now. The best stories are told when they’re over, when you have an ending to work toward.
With dating, especially, we all like to dissect what happened with people who can’t possibly know whether you’re being entirely faithful to actual events or not. As useful and fun as livetweeting and liveblogging can be, to give that sense of community, that we’re all there with you, there’s a danger it can interfere. As any liveblogger will tell you, you can’t truly watch a TV show if you’re reporting on it live; there are things you might miss, stuff that has to be pointed out to you. How can you ever hope to get to know a person properly, to work out what you feel about them, if you’re pausing every five minutes to report back to your eager audience? You can’t. You’re not giving your brain room to work things out, and so you can never go any deeper – it’s the difference between the cheap shock and instant gratification of a rolling news ticker with typos, and a lovingly crafted report, leather-bound and brilliant and devastating.
Dates with chaperones don’t work, whether they’re sitting beside you in the restaurant picking at their napkin or hanging on your every word on a WhatsApp group.
Anyway, I’m sick of you. Scores.
Two polite no thank yous. Great.
So will they do this again? Will Andre’s sad-act coterie of WhatsApp dullards get a second season of Dandre to plug the gaping hole that Making A Murderer has left in their lives? Will Dan’s whiskey mouth ever connect with Andre’s steak-sized face?
There used to be a man who would go to Horse Meat Disco and wear absolutely nothing – he would just wander around with no clothes on, his MDMA-shrivelled winky waggling for all to see. Is he still there? Halcyon days. Oh well, there may be as much passion between these two as a queue for a cash machine outside a Tesco Express, but at least the music will be good.
But not today. Pity poor Dandre – it was never meant to be.
Photograph: Alicia Canter 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. And if you’re two gay men going on a date, at least have the decency to get off with each other – it’s what your ancestors fought for. 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.