Photographs: Jill Mead/Muir Vidler/The Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

Elle and Ben

Do you ever meet those people who manage to bring every conversation back round to them? Of course you do, we all do – perhaps some of us are those people. You see it a lot more now because of social media; previously you would have been able to walk away from these terminal dullards at work or parties or whatever, but now they’re leaving huge screeds below your every thought, that little avatar of theirs twinkling away, reminding you that they’re there, and a real person. Witness any parent you know on Facebook posting something fairly innocuous about their offspring – it could be the briefest of comments, it doesn’t matter. Within minutes, the swarms will descend. It’s like an alarm goes off somewhere – maybe they get an alert on their phone – but hordes of them will soon gather underneath, posting their own completely unrelated anecdotes about their own child. Often – especially if the kids have names like Iago, or Jasper, or Guevara – it’s a way of showing off, be it sporting or academic prowess, or the child’s inevitable future as a standup comedian and precocious use of the subjunctive. If your baby has grown a tooth, their little one will have sprouted werewolf fangs and eaten a bloody sirloin by 9am. Not that the childless are any better – they also love to pop in to remind everyone that they love not having children and are just on their way out to a power yoga class or off on a three-week holiday, with no need to organise childcare or clean up baby sick thankyouverymuch. Exhausting.

Being an author, as I am now (second book out May 28, buy it or you’re a hater) is especially uncomfortable for me as, in the name of self-promotion, you have to act like you think you’re the most fascinating person in the world. I’m at an event, come! I am revealing my cover, look! Read this thing I wrote! Here is my protagonist’s motivation! In a way it is a shame I am not like the Facebook commenters, who would no doubt manage to talk their way into a five-book deal and have a building named after them by teatime. Thankfully, though, one thing that is definitely about me, and which I feel very comfortable talking about myself in, is this blog, which is 10 years old this year. And in this week’s Blind Date, it gets a mention, which means lots of new readers and goodness knows what else. (This is around the fourth or fifth time I have had a shoutout in the column, so yay me. Me me me. Have I introduced you to… me?)

Let’s crack on and see who’s talking about me, shall we? Elle is 28 and a journalist – full disclosure, I met Elle at a friend’s book launch and she was very nice, but I don’t play favourites, I’m afraid – and Ben, a 27-year-old press officer, who I have never met. A press officer and a journo. An exhausting, “Fw: Fw: Just checking in…” email chain, but in human form. But will we manage to get our story placed, or will this be nothing but a sharp reply with “not my beat, sorry xx”? Here are Elle and Ben:

 

Photographs: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Read what happened on their date on the Guardian website, before I head in there and subedit the pair of them to within an inch of their lives.

Elle on BenBen on Elle
What were you hoping for?
A great date, a great anecdote, or both.

Dating anecdotes are the new small-talk, especially for people who haven’t yet reached “loft conversion by September, then we’re astroturfing the patio and extending the kitchen out for New Year” levels of income/boredom. Our dating stories are our currency, they can instantly bond us to one another. We have all sat in that pub with the guy who collected and catalogued umbrellas (black and blue only) or the woman who said she often let her dog lick peanut butter off her fingers. In the absence of scouting trips and campfires to frighten each other round, dating anecdotes are our ghost stories.

What were you hoping for?
To find a connection with someone beyond a first date.

Making it to date two is harder than it looks. And I should know. This is usually because when we select someone for a first date, we’re not thinking ahead and are considering only superficial things like whether they meet our (often strict and delusional) criteria about looks and job and money and – ugh – music tastes, and not what they would look like with a hangover or their ability to build flatpack furniture.

First impressions?
Oops, should have dressed up more…

He should’ve, or you should’ve?! I’m guessing the latter. I’m hoping Ben turned up in a dinner jacket and spats, while Elle shuffled in wearing a Cookie Monster onesie and green Skechers.

First impressions?
Wow… Elle is beautiful in a classically English way, like Emma Watson. She comes across as intelligent and engaging.

Guys I think he likes her.

Anyway, who wouldn’t be thrilled by a “wow” first impression. The Wow Moment – which I have written about before on a mildly sordid date I had when there was still room in my 30″ waist jeans for someone to stick a courgette down the back – can stop you in your tracks. Well, usually, unless it’s “wow, he looks like a dropped pie”, or “wow, someone ate garlic – and nothing else – for the last 100 years”.

What did you talk about?
The Blind Date meta-commentary: how was your photoshoot? What will the Guyliner say? Peep Show, and whether we were Marks or Jeremys. Personal finance (but in a fun way).
Niche dog breeds, the Antipodes, the joys of Camberwell.

What WILL The Guyliner say? (The Guardian always cap down the “The” on my name – it’s really annoying, but what a problem to have, eh?)

I imagine that deciding which Peep Show character you are is much like deciding which This Life character you are. “Oh I’m such an Anna,” say 10,000 Millys. Whichever one you think you are, you’re the one less cool than them.

The joys of Camberwell. I spent my single days in Camberwell, having a series of half-hearted sex shockers in my tiny one-bed flat that I wouldn’t be able to afford now, a decade later. I don’t know what to say about Camberwell other than it has a very large Nando’s, all buses seem to go there – and indeed crash outside my house – and I have a certain affection for it. All of it. I once saw Erin O’Connor in Morrisons. Knightsbridge WHO?

Any awkward moments?
I feel like he was maybe taken aback when I went for the amaro shot (there was biscotti!) and he ordered a proper dessert.
When she went for a formal handshake but I’d gone in for a hug. Despite knowing my date’s name was Elle, I thought she said hers was Zoë – and that I might be on the wrong date. 

I can imagine Eddie Redmayne and Emilia Davies recounting this story in an adaptation of a Cecelia Ahern novel, can’t you? All that’s missing is the comforting whir of the engine of an Ocado van waiting outside.

Good table manners?
If the rule is that you only notice them if they’re bad, I didn’t notice his.
Excellent. She sliced her ravioli elegantly.

joanne whalley extends hand

This is all very polite and signs of two people who are what my grandmother might call “well brought up”. It is… maybe lacking something though.

Best thing about Ben?
He is obviously super smart, but wears it lightly. He is a big Love Island fan – my favourite people go high and low.

Wendy Richard as Miss Brahms

My best friend – the one who died last year, still hurts, yes – was a lawyer and liked nothing better than sitting down after a long, hard day at work and watching ghost programmes and Love Island. I don’t necessarily believe in things being “high” or “low” – “excluding and dull” vs “join in, it’s fun!” might be more apt – but I do feel the same as Elle. People who can’t mix up their culture tend to be hard to get on with. I can’t think of anything worse than watching Love Island – I mean, seriously, why do they all look like that – but I do know that I love The Masked Singer and would lay down my life for Zoe Lucker.

Best thing about Elle?
I’m not sure if I’ve ever met someone quite as eloquent – not really surprising given her job, I guess.

This is nice! Eloquent is good, right? It’s a compliment, it’s not shallow, it’s… what you would expect to read on a school report, maybe, but it’s good!

Would you introduce him to your friends?
He’d slot right in.

“My friends are also made of Lego.”

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Definitely.

Describe Ben in three words
Engaged, warm, insightful.

Engaged, like those two people who started going out at school STILL are – no wedding yet, though, they’re saving up for a canalside apartment in a new development called something like The Granary or Sewage Outlet Pipe Vale.
Warm, like a shearling slipper. Hang on, why is it wet? And why does the dog look so guilty?
Insightful, like my REVIEWS. Oh I couldn’t think of anything else, let me live.

Describe Elle in three words
Charming, lively, impassioned.

Charming, like a painting brought home for you by a child – your third one, perhaps, who you’re struggling to bond with but who can, at least, draw.
Lively, like a firework, or Madonna when she hears the word “curfew”.
Impassioned, like someone leaving 20+ comments on MailOnline about how their problem with Meghan is because she’s not “princess material” and not for any other reason oh no definitely not.

Did you go on somewhere?
The bus, for the hour-long journey home – just as well we got on.
Does sharing the front seat on the 42 bus home count?

No, of course it doesn’t – unless the 42 now has a bar and a jukebox. Oh I miss the number 42 bus. It goes over Tower Bridge, which is one of the most exciting things to do in London, more exciting, even, than doing coke in the loos at Chinawhites in 2001. There is something about having to cross the river every day to get to work that makes you feel like you’re really a part of London somehow. That you can be anyone, for as long as time, money, and the ceaseless stamp of the oppressive boot will allow.

And… did you kiss?
No.
No… perhaps her handshake was a sign of things to come.

Well, no, Ben, probably just an indication she wanted to shake your hand as you were a literal stranger. Perhaps Ben’s dates usually greet him like this:

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I actually had a brilliant time, and the best conversation I’d had in ages. But I felt that the connection was more of interests and sensibility than romantic.

In an earlier answer I couldn’t be bothered analysing, Ben says the same, so we’re at least on a consensual journey to the Friend Zone. Seems a shame, really, doesn’t it, that there are no romantic sparks flying but… is it really? Perhaps it’s better to seek out platonic relationships these days, then you can meet up for lovely dinners, bang back a few cocktails and then, during any lulls in conversation, swipe your way through Tinder and arrange a hook-up with someone dumb, but hot. Oh, come on! You might as well.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Order more wine.

I would have at least grabbed a couple of travel-size Merlots for the number 42 home, guys, yes.

Marks out of 10?
8.
8.

Jake gyllenhaal mildly embarrassed

A double-ocho. Like the date, this is a fairly polite, arms-length score, like they know somebody’s watching. Which of course we all are, some more intently than others. An 8 is not exactly ice water on a raging inferno, it’s more of a damp tea towel over a smouldering sauté pan. It says, we like each other, but no funny business, don’t go getting any ideas, I have the back of a Corn Flakes packet and a mortgage application to read through before bedtime. Ach well.

Would you meet again?
I know everyone says this and doesn’t mean it, but I would genuinely like to be friends.
I’d be keen to, as friends.

George Clooney side eye

I want to believe you, I really do. But I’ve been stung like this before. Onward.


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About the review and the daters: The comments I make are based on the answers given by the participants. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits answers to make the column work better on the page. Most of the things I say are merely riffing on the answers given and not judgements about the daters themselves, so please be kind to them in comments or replies. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll happily publish whatever you say. If you do indeed meet up as friends, let me know. I’ll be waiting.

Elle and Ben ate at Emilia’s Pasta, London E1. Fancy a blind date? Email blind.date@theguardian.com. If you’re looking to meet someone like‑minded, visit soulmates.theguardian.com

3 Comments

  1. I very much doubt that Ben or Elle are at all like either Jeremy or Mark. Jeremy is an overgrown teenager and Mark is a misanthropic master of self-sabotage. One is defined by his crushing sense of failure and the other by his refusal to acknowledge failure under any circumstances, and fate has seen fit to tie them up together as they hobble through life.

    Ben and Elle, on the other hand, are a press officer and a journalist going on a blind date in the pages of the Guardian, having some nice pasta and a pleasant conversation.
    Ben and Elle’s date has not been scripted by Armstrong and Bain, it’s from the pen of Richard Curtis.

    So, OK, sparks didn’t fly on the first date, but where’s the fun in that? Maybe Ben’s earnest charm wins Elle over in the end. Or maybe that’s a bit old hat and the two of them become matchmakers for all their other lovely friends, meeting up over more pasta to open their little black books and debrief on the dates they’ve set up.

    I can see it now, ‘Better as Friends’, with Chris O’Dowd as Ben and Rosamund Pike as Elle, the two of them aged up because twentysomething don’t go the cinema any more.

    Back in the real world, I do hope that Ben and Elle can indeed be friends. My parents’ generation never had their own friends of the opposite sex and I think the fact that we now can be friends is a genuine social advance.

    You do get a slight sense that Ben is cheerfully resigning himself to being friends and taking it on the chin because he is, as you say, well brought up, rather than this being a truly mutual ‘they’re great, but not for me’, but never mind. Enjoy the good conversation, Ben, all too rare these days, and maybe Elle will introduce you to someone nice.

  2. Oh, I was SO full of hope for them – but I think you’re right: Better a super friendship than a luke-warm affair. Had ‘this’ conversation this week with a woman who’s married 30yrs in her 3rd marriage and the theme was how very important friendship, real friendship is.
    Lovely and kind dissection. Great Gifs.

  3. Every romance novel – there are no exceptions – starts with the main characters keeping each other warily at arms’ length. They know there is an underlying chemistry, but they spend the next 250 pages finding reasons to resist temptation, only in the end admitting to each other that there really is no one in this world more wonderful.
    For Ben, that’s how this would end. For Elle… well, I’m guessing her opinion of romance novels is that they are somewhere below the “low” she tolerates in her friends.
    On the bright side, Ben’s future will look like one of those rom-com films where the guy lives well past middle age, having listened for decades to the love of his life’s tales of relationships that foundered on the rocks of incompatibility, and only in their dotage (beyond the reach of Viagra!) do they admit that they got it wrong way back in 2020 and oh, where the devil did the years go?

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