Chris and Ariana
Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian/The Guyliner
Impeccable Table Manners

Chris and Ariana

Hello. For the first time in months, Blind Daters can feel the wind in their hair – and hopefully their sails – as they glance at one another over a glass of ‘second cheapest red on the menu’. Yes, the GBD is back to being up close and personal – well, as close as social distancing guidelines and people taking angsty photos for their ‘SELFISH REVELLERS COVIDGEDDON’ tweets will allow.

First note, yesterday I was involved in a terrifying (but thankfully not physically violent) homophobic incident so I am not really feeling like being funny today, and I didn’t sleep well, so we are going to breeze through each answer in two lines or less. Think of it as an experiment, or a sly cast or set change on a long-running sitcom that leaves you really disoriented at the end. I am fine, just a bit pissed off and anxious, and there have been lots of very kind messages (and also quite a few horrible ones but whatever). Remember, I am not special or extraordinary in this regard, and there are far more marginalised groups of people and communities who have it much worse time much more often, and a much smaller voice, so my thoughts are with them, not myself. Consider donating to one of the LGBTQ inclusive organisations on this list.

Second note, yay. It’s good to be back.

Braving the particles and hoping for a little more from the evening than a poking up the nose with a lateral flow test cotton bud are Chris, 29, a digital experience consultant, and 31-year-old Ariana, a graduate student. I wonder how long it will take Chris to make an Ariana Grande joke. Here they are resplendent before brickwork dans le magazine. Yes, LEGS and SHOES and AWKWARD HANDS IN POCKETS are back! It’s like Mutya, Keisha, and Siobhan getting back together – except Chris and Ariana’s album will probably come out sooner.

Chris and Ariana full length

Read the date on the Guardian Blind Date then return here for pithy two-liners or whatever we rustle up.

Chris on Ariana | Ariana on Chris

What were you hoping for?
When I heard I had a date with a girl called Ariana from America, I was hoping it would be Ariana Grande.

Okay, so who had 0.5 seconds?

What were you hoping for?
I moved to London recently so I was looking to meet new people. Also a fun night out, especially given this was the first week out of lockdown.

I suppose after lockdown you would be looking to meet anyone, any new person at all, who wasn’t bringing you a takeaway, handing you a parcel, or wasn’t a self checkout telling you there was an unexplained item in your bagging area. However I am not sure a blind date would’ve been my first post-lockdown night out, given most people have forgotten how to greet someone unless they’re posting a comment on Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Instagram live.

First impressions?
It’s not Ariana Grande.

I suppose the one benefit of dating Ariana Grande would be that she absolutely refuses to wear specs – one of my favourite traits of hers – and is clearly in need of a 3.0 prescription, so you could probably get away with looking a bit rough on the date.

Ariana Grande squinting at a teleprompter

‘You look great, baby!’

‘Ari, that’s not our table and that’s not me.’

First impressions?
Off the bat, Chris was super friendly. We initially bonded over our awkward photoshoots.

Whenever I’ve had photoshoots – quite a few now, even excluding my pouting desk selfies – I’m aways amazed by how my stance is best described as ‘penguin guarding egg while mother is off fishing’ and my head appears to be ten times bigger than my body. And then someone adds makeup, nice clothes, lighting, and presses three buttons in Photoshop and I look like a movie star. (Bela Lugosi.)

What did you talk about?
What we’ve been doing to keep sane during lockdown, such as Ariana’s quest to find the best pizza in London.

The best pizza in London is one you find in the morning still in the box, that your flatmate passed out drunk before they could eat the night before.

What did you talk about?
The British lingo I picked up from binge-watching Love Island, his trips to adult summer camp in California, and how I haven’t lived because I’ve never tried an espresso martini.

Something about the word ‘lingo’ conjures up images of a leathery-skinned flag-banging couple on holiday in the early ’80s who keep tapping their watch and saying things like ‘caliente’ and ‘pronto’ because the waiter can’t understand why they’re ordering a full English breakfast in a seafood restaurant at 7pm. Espresso martinis – you may as well throw up into a jar of Mellow Birds yourself and knock it back.

Any awkward moments?
Two lactose-intolerant people on a date where everything is made with dairy could have been awkward, but luckily I had some pills that fixed it.

Medication, I assume, rather than ecstasy. I quite like this flirtation with very light, slightly uncomfortable danger – like shagging in a field with bad hay fever and no antihistamines to hand, or poking a long-dormant wasps’ nest with the right-hand finger of a Twix.

Any awkward moments?
When we both realised we were lactose intolerant.

This feels like more of a bonding thing than an awkward moment – or did this realisation come halfway through chewing through a ten-tonne burrata like you were locked in an escape room, each of them suddenly doubling over in agony as their intestines gummed up like the lid of an ancient lip balm tin?

Good table manners?
Yes, we cheers’d the lactose pills before each course.

What’s a better word than “cheers’d” here to describe what they did? Toasted, maybe, or clinked, or… I mean, I don’t know, this isn’t exactly Paris Hilton and LiLo banging together two gold-plated sacks of Party Daz and saying ‘Santé, bitch!’ in an LA nightclub circa 2002, is it?

Good table manners?
Yes, surely better than mine! He even ate his pizza with a knife and fork.

I know people get really bent out of shape with someone using cutlery to eat things like burgers, or pizzas, or steak bakes, or slug ‘n’ anemone flavoured Monster Munch, but I’m into it. Let’s face it, a man who daintily cuts up his pizza with his cutlery is much more likely to wash his balls.

Best thing about Ariana?
Very easy to talk to. We ended up staying at the restaurant till it closed and the time flew by.

This is lovely, I have no snark here.

Best thing about Chris?
As the Brits say… “great bants”.

Only horrible Brits on bad reality shows, Ariana! Please stop watching ITVBe!

Describe Ariana in three words?
London pizza connoisseur.

London, like where they are now,.
Pizza, like what they’re eating now.
Connoisseur, like I bet Chris double-checked on his Dell notebook’s inbuilt dictionary before he typed it.

Ad break!
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My second novel THE MAGNIFICENT SONS is out on paperback now! Buy by clicking on the pic or find your favourite retailer here. It’s an unashamedly LGBTQ story about coming out and dealing with family and friends and prejudice but in a very light, yet SHARP, way. I’m proud to be a gay author writing commercial fiction about LGBTQ lives. Thanks, babe.

Describe Chris in three words?
Laid-back, funny, dairy-free.

Laid-back, like a chaise-longue made of Xanax.
Funny, like a smell in a cupboard.
Dairy-free, like a long vodka.

What do you think she made of you?
I presume she was expecting someone from Downton Abbey. I shattered this English stereotype.

She was expecting Michelle Dockery, or someone dead, or someone with a cabin ticket for the Titanic? I remember an ex-fling (who was not British) telling me, during his breakup text, that I had been like his very own Hugh Grant – I mean, have you seriously never heard of any other English people? Elizabeth Hurley or Joan Collins, at least, Christ. (This was before High Grant’s reinvention and Paddington 2, so I was less pleased with the comparison than I might be now.)

What do you think he made of you?
We decided to order a second bottle of wine, so I hope that was a sign I was decent company.
Moira Dingle in Emmerdale pouring a large glass of wine

Second bottle of wine, ‘lads’. (Let’s never use ‘lads’ in that context again, eh? We’re not reviewing a new Wotsits-based restaurant for Vice in 2009.)

If it weren’t for social distancing, would you have kissed?
The entrance to the underground is no place for a goodbye kiss.

Of course it fucking is – in normal times, have you never hung around Piccadilly Cirus tube at pub chucking-out time? It’s like Secret Cinema doing Eyes Wide Shut round there.

If it weren’t for social distancing, would you have kissed?
I guess we’ll never know!


Colin Firth flirting with eyes

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
The temperature: it was absolutely freezing sitting outside. We were under a blanket for most of the date, which in normal circumstances would indicate it was going extremely well.
Is it cliche to say warmer weather?

I’ve got ‘Cilla nipping down to Markses for a snazzy trilby’ vibes here, guys.

Marks out of 10?
7. Going for food isn’t my preferred first date as there’s too much multitasking: eating, listening and trying to act normally. One of those is always going to go wrong.

Geri and Victoria thinking what

SEVEN. And if you don’t like to eat on a first date (I mean, same) then what the holy bollocking hell are you doing on a Guardian Blind Date, where the premise has been – since the dawn of time – that you go our for dinner? It isn’t a surprise! You can’t mark your date down for… also being on a Guardian Blind Date!!

Marks out of 10?
Great first date, solid 9.

I would like to know how many points Ariana has since deducted while reading this.

Would you meet again?
We joked about a second date. So, maybe.

Can you imagine coming out of a 14-month sexless lockdown and deciding to play it this cool?

Would you meet again?
For sure.

Chris is lucky that this Ariana isn’t closing off with ‘thank u, next’. Make sure the next date is a 10, man!


Did you love it? Like, really. Like, OMG! You can send me a one-off tip on Ko-fi. No subscription or obligation, the blog remains free – this just helps pay for hosting and my Photoshop subscription and the decaf tea I drink while writing it. (I would rather you bought the book, though, if you can, or rated it on Amazon if you already have.)

About the review and the daters: The comments I make are based on answers given by participants. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits answers to make the column work better on the page. Most things I say are riffing on the answers given and not judgements about the daters themselves, they seem very nice, so please be kind to them in comments, replies, and generally on social mediaI will not approve nasty below-the-line comments. If you reply to my tweets about the date, please don’t embarrass yourself. Sometimes daters contact me upset not by what I have written here, but things people have said on Twitter. Come on, guys. Daters are under no obligation to get along for our benefit, or explain why they do, or don’t, want to see each other again, so please try not to speculate. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story. Just promise me you’ll stay off the hard stuff – by which I mean Ski yoghurts.

Ariana and Chris ate at Crazy Pizza, London SW1.

Fancy a blind date? Email


  1. Long time reader first time commentor… Thank you for reviewing even when you’re feeling shit. I love your reviews and am thrilled GBD is back live!

  2. My son and I had a talk about bullying, sexual harassment a few weeks ago. He was bullied at school by a small minority of dickheads for being gay (they’re still dickheads) and has had a few incidents along the way. I worry as a mum about him getting badly hurt, so it always hurts when I hear of somebody else suffering homophobic abuse, and sorry it’s happened to you. Even so, the column was great reading as usual. Take care x

  3. Justin, what happened to you and your boyfriend is so so so so so so shit and completely unacceptable and wrong. I’m so angry and sad and dismayed and frustrated and yes, tired. I don’t know if it will ever end either.

    Thank you for being an LGBTQI+ activist and for all you give us and do. You’re amazing. On a personal note you’ve supported me so much.

    I’m not sure how easy it was to share about what happened because as you say your safety felt threatened and it’s not a safe world for us and because as you say you can’t know how people are going to respond- and especially in this world. I don’t know if you felt brave or if it took courage for you to speak out but I want to honour your courage if you felt it.

    It’s absolutely not your fault that those people commuted an abhorrent act of abuse and homophobia. The responsibility lies with them and them alone. I know you know this. But. Just saying that nice and loud. I also want to say that people who experience abuse and trauma will often blame themselves and this is a normal response to abuse and trauma.

    But. It’s not your fault. You and your boyfriend did not do anything wrong at all. You do not deserve to be treated with anything other than love and respect and acceptance and to be left alone while you mind your own business and go about your day.

    Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and experience with me and us. I am touched to be with you. I hear so many parts of you with me and us today and I really appreciate you for all you give to us. This is so much more than a review of a dating column. And, this one is also hilarious and sparkling too- like the (original 80’s) Dynasty theme tune. There’s so much stuff going on here on this date!!!! It’s joyful to me to see the awkward hands in pockets back again after so long. I too wonder if Ariana did wish she’d given less points after reading Chris’s comments…plus the Ariana Grande joke is super weak and he shouldn’t be selling it… that would be a first strike offence for me. If someone thinks you’re a joke at the start that’s a huge red flag to me- in my experience they’re not going to suddenly “start” respecting you down the road. In my mind if you want a comedian- go see one and of you want to be one- write a sitcom or get up onstage. Partners – sexual, life or just for one date – are for laughing with, not at the expense of.

    I hope that you and your boyfriend are doing whatever you need to bring your bodies, minds, souls and hearts into recovery and power again. I know that you’ll know best how to do this for you.

    Sending you love.

    1. Can I just say, ‘seconded’ or ‘hear, hear’ as you have basically wrote everything I think much more articulately than I could?

  4. Hi Justin, it’s terrible to hear you and your boyfriend got treated that way. Surely that should be illegal by now, since some people clearly don’t have basic manners. Everyone should feel safe. I haven’t read what happened to you yet, but if other people were around, I would have hoped they would stand up for you. If more bystanders called people out on their unacceptable behaviour, and people knew they would get in trouble for saying illegal things, then the world would be a happier and safer place for everyone.
    Loved seeing the dates back, and your review! Not sure she’s going to be happy with a 7, and the Ariana jokes would be something I imagine she would be pretty sick of. But maybe they will meet again, and have a nice time again! Loved the Mr Darcy picture (now I want to go watch it!)
    Hoping you are surround by love, Justin, and feeling better soon.

  5. So sorry about what happened to you. Every time I hear platitudes about progress I think of how far we are everywhere in the world.

    As always your writing is as sharp as a blade.

  6. I don’t think anyone will miss reading about futzy Zoom connections, the drama of food arriving at different times (someone’s aways a good sport about it!), the realising the potential love of one’s life lives 900 miles away.

    Back in, hopefully!: Actual first impressions, mistaken identities, late and early arrivals, waiters who are deadly snarky or really sexy. Going for that last bottle of vino and closing the joint down. Possibly losing your underwear at a crashed house party. Who knows, bring it on!

    My very best to you, Justin <3

  7. I’m so very sorry about what happened to you, Justin; truly horrible. Sadly, I’ve yet to meet a gay man who can’t empathise.

    Commenting on the date seems flippant given the circumstances but I’ll say just one thing:

    Who in their right minds chooses a pizzeria for a first date? There are so many traps to fall into: controversial toppings which prompt snap judgements about the other party’s character, strong flavours which deter kissing (anchovies, anyone?), the fork/hands question…

    Pizza is for old friends and lazy Saturday nights three years in.

    1. Thank you. Btw, the daters don’t choose the restaurant. The Guardian invites restaurants to take part in exchange for promotion in the column.

      1. Yes, I know how it works, and if anything, that makes it an even odder decision.

        I can just about imagine inviting someone I already knew fairly well as a friend to a date at a pizzeria, if I knew they really liked pizza and that we would both be so relaxed in each other’s company that fork/hands etc. wouldn’t matter, but the idea that a professional Cupid would set up two total strangers at a pizza place baffles me.

        In this case they don’t even seem to have asked about lactose intolerance; at least the daters found it funny. There must surely have been other options? What next? Ramen first dates? Burritos? I enjoy all those foods (and pizza) but there are few things less romantic than worrying about the state of your hands/face/clothes. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but a first date, if you’re eating, which I agree is already high stakes, should be somewhere quiet enough for you to be able to hear each other, and with food which isn’t easily slopped or spilled. Rant over…

  8. Well first up, big love for doing this despite what happened xx

    Also… Am I the only one thinking they seem well matched? He did a deal Ariana Grande joke but she’s been peppering her answers with Love Island lingo.

    They seem well suited to me

  9. Ariana here, found your article and absolutely made my day! I really do watch way too much iTV- it’s just too addicting. I won’t ever say the word bants again I promise 🙂

    Will have to tune in for future posts!

    1. Arianna! Welcome to the Guyliner, it’s the best place, guaranteed smiles and thought-provoking comments from Justin. I am just wondering (not compulsory to reply at all!) but did you deduct points after readingChris’ comments, and did you get a nice second date in warmer lactose-free surrounds? It might be a bit weird that I (44 years old in Australia) am so invested, but I do so love the Guardian Blind Date, and this Impeccable column by Justin! Yep. Sorry, it is weird. Never mind! Best wishes, all!

      1. Hi! Nah no points deducted 🙂 However I will say I very much agree with Justin’s reaction to his rating of the date, haha! A second warmer + lactose-free date did happen but just as friends in the end! But all in all was a good experience, I’m glad I did it!

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