Photographs: Jill Mead, Sara Lee/The Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

Fiye and Shaun

Two men! What a treat for a very cold Saturday morning. But here I am in my Bugs Bunny onesie – mock all you want, haterz, but it’s very warm and my central heating is about as effectual as a cigarette would be in warming up the Albert Hall – and ready to meet the stars of our show.

Today we have Fiye, a 24-year-old account executive (For what? Where? I still don’t understand the insistence on using out of context job titles) and Shaun, 30 – so basically 100 in gay years – who is a charity director. But will Shaun be making (or accepting, of course) a considerable donation to Fiye this evening? Well we shall have to see. First, let’s see them in full and make silent, snap judgements about them based on what they have deemed acceptable to wear to a photoshoot.

 

Photographs: Jill Mead, Sara Lee/The Guardian

Fiye is on the left btw. Read what happened in full on the date on the Guardian website (I may skip some of the more boring answers you see) and then return, wide-eyed and breathless to see which one I have decided to take against.

Fiye on ShaunShaun on Fiye
What were you hoping for?
To connect with someone, have a laugh and not spill any food down my white T.

It’s a source of great sadness to me that white T-shirts have been back in vogue for a while now. Why? Well, I am convinced that I look OK in them right until the very minute I leave the house and catch my reflection in the window of a parked Volvo. I wear them only to the gym now, as white T-shirts make me look wider than I actually feel – like I’m looking at a different map projection of my body – and also, to mirror Fiye’s anxiety here, I cannot go three seconds near food without getting some of it down myself. I am always very well turned-out but if you meet me after lunchtime then look closely and you will no doubt see whatever I had for lunch clinging onto the front of my top. This is why I live in navy.

As for “connect with someone” – if you want to do that, sit on LinkedIn for an hour.

What were you hoping for?
Good chat and lots of drinks.

The “lots of drinks” seems a really odd thing to say but it is in fact plot signposting that, once you read on, is about as subtle as a Carry On.

First impressions?
Nice hair, very warm and engaging.

Did we scroll back up to check out the hair? Yes we did. It seems in good condition. Hair is important, isn’t it? If I lost my hair I’d… well, I’d wear hats a lot more probably, but I know my life would be ruined. Also, the hair styling industry may well collapse given the amount of product I get through in a year. If my hair can’t withstand a force-12 tornado, then I feel I have failed.

“Very warm” – Shaun is three oil-filled radiators standing on top of one another under a raincoat.

First impressions?
Friendly and frazzled.

Frazzled? Frazzled? FRAZZLED? What does this mean? That Fiye looked tired/sounded tired/was generally tired/smelled faintly of bacon and artificial flavourings/was sitting underneath a GRILL when Shaun arrived? I don’t understand. But I’ll tell you: if someone went in a national newspaper and suggested I looked TIRED, I would suddenly feel VERY energised. Seriously I will think about this for ever.

What did you talk about?
Work, how sweaty and hot we both get, Twitter, gym routines, being “woke” and the countryside.
Our shared inability to return clothes, being a good ally, favourite pop icons, our different Uber etiquette, the pros and cons of different ages.

No direct matches, which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
“How sweaty and hot we both get” – there’s a joke in there somewhere but I’m too FRAZZLED (see?) to make it.

“Being ‘woke’/being a good ally” – similar energy, I guess. Someone was saying online the other day about how all these words (like “woke”) which start off meaning one thing – and usually are the language of either a minority or someone whose voice isn’t usually heard – are quickly adopted by people mocking these sensibilities, and become to mean something else entirely. Like “virtue signalling”, or “triggering”. There are loads of examples – hell, even the whole “shitposting” row from this week is the same kind of problem. (Good explainer on that here.) And it always goes the same way, it is always people who cannot be bothered listening, or understanding, so decide, often with little consultation, that this word, must be weaponised against those who use it correctly in an attempt to diminish its power. Nine times out of ten, you will now see “woke” used ironically, disparagingly, with air-quotes, and waggly eyebrows by someone who has never had to think up new words for their sense of being because – shock and surprise – the world already belongs to them, and thus, as a default, so does the entire dictionary. “Woke” used to be a positive thing but now it has been co-opted by frothing gammons or arch, supercilious commentators eager for some??? reason???? to dismiss the very movements that could, one day, topple them. Weird, huh?

“Different Uber etiquette” – what the fuck does this mean? I am guessing whether or not to talk to the driver (beyond the usual hellos, only if they speak to you first); whether to take over their radio with your Spotify (God, no, don’t; you’re not in a limo); how much to tip (depends on how annoying you/they were); what you should rate them (5⭐️ unless they were bigots, went the wrong way, or killed someone); and, perhaps, whether you should take them at all, given something so cheap has to be disadvantaging someone, somewhere, doesn’t it?

“The pros and cons of different ages” – Elizabethan vs Edwardian? Ice Age vs Stone Age? Shaun is 30 and Fiye is 24 so I am guessing that once that was established, the tone of conversation went in an entirely new direction. I would, if I could, ban all talk of age – the actual number itself. Not because I am ashamed of being older or anything like that, but because it immediately colliers our perception of one another. I’m not looking too hot at the moment but, for a while, I guess I looked a good few years younger than you would expect someone my age to look (how? where do we get this from?). On finding out my real age (44 next month, fuck me I am going to spend all day deep-throating a bottle of champagne and have an IV of sedatives in each arm), people would act differently. “Oh,” they seemed to say with their eyes, body language, and everything else, “you are not the person we thought you were”. We attach a great deal of importance to this arbitrary, yet immovable, date we came into the world and it honestly sucks for everyone. “30 under 30” lists; “What not to wear once you’re over 40”; fawning over Keanu Reeves for not dating a teenager, like he just discovered uranium; “you look good for your age”; the eternal, epically dull battle between boomers and millennials; the joke I made at the top of the page about Shaun being “100 in gay years”; the condescension once someone finds out your date of birth – in both directions. Beyond legalities and protecting minors etc, age should not matter, nor be a barrier to doing or being anything that you want to be. But it is, a huge one, especially for women. We talk a lot about comparison culture and imposter syndrome but so much anxiety stems from the very existence of people both younger and older than you and the assertion that, somehow, they have it better than you do, whoever they are. And do they? Probably.

Any awkward moments?
None that I can remember.

Well, thankfully Fiye, Shaun either has a photographic memory or was scribbling notes under the table on his pocket-size, page-a-day Moleskine journal, so buckle in.

Any awkward moments?
He had a bit of tissue stuck to his face and I didn’t know how to tell him. I was surprised when he told me he read the Daily Mail sometimes. When he ordered a shandy. I didn’t know how to explain Karl Marx when Fiye said he hadn’t heard of him.

“Fiye, you have a bit of tissue… just… there.” *gestures at own face in hope Fiye will pick the correct side of his face and not just mirror what I have done (why do people do that?)*
There, that was really easy Shaun. If you need scripts for anything else utterly simple – asking for a bag in Tesco, not laughing at a toddler falling over, for example – just let me know.

I don’t read the DM at all but I’m not going to destroy someone just for getting sidebarred by a juicy Kardashian story. The Karl Marx thing – I’m afraid I can’t write you a script for that one but maybe you could’ve sent him a Wikipedia link and then moved the conversation onward. Am willing to bet that even if you “didn’t know how”, you certainly had a go. If he didn’t know, he didn’t know, so what? Why is it awkward? Better than pretending to know. I always find it a shame that knowledge – a great thing to have – is used to lord it over other people. I know it can be exciting to share something new with someone, but there is a fine line between sharing knowledge, and beating someone over the head with it. I know who Karl Marx is, more or less, but beyond the fact he’s buried in Highgate Cemetery, I couldn’t tell you much else. Does this mean I am a bad person? Or stupid, or uneducated? Maybe, I don’t know, I don’t care. But there is a very real danger that the incessant crowing that comes with knowing something others don’t can extinguish their curiosity about the world.

As for “ordered a shandy”, well, I have already typed quite a lot today so I’m afraid my 1,000-word screed on why this country’s attitude to alcohol is massively screwed up, intimidating, and BORING will have to wait for another time. Alcohol, and your indulgence or avoidance of it, is not a personality. During the year or so I stopped drinking, it was like having every film in existence spoilered for me over and over – I truly saw booze culture for what it actually is, even though I had known all along but pretended I couldn’t see. I do have periods off it entirely every so often as I am much more productive sober, but the worst part is first of all having to EXPLAIN that you’re not drinking and then have this choice questioned again and again. Fact: drunk people are boring, to an almost nuclear level.

Good table manners?
Yes. Although we used our hands for certain dishes.
Great. He always let me go first at the sharing plates.

Best thing about them?
Shaun is very comfortable in his own skin and beams positivity.
Funny. We had lots of laughs.

And yet after all that horrible we had above, you get down here and it seems like the date was…OK?

Would you introduce him to your friends?
My pals are lovely, and I’m sure they would get on if it ever came up.

“which it won’t”

Describe Shaun in three words
Passionate, confident, friendly.

“He banged on about Karl Marx for a good hour, but smiled while he did it.”

Describe Fiye in three words
Innocent, animated, inquisitive.

Shaun, it says find three words to describe Fiye, not Bambi.

What do you think he made of you?
Very smiley and talkative.
Probably a big drinker.

Shall we start the review again, and do a shot every time someone mentions alcohol?

Did you go on somewhere?
To a local pub for a couple.
We went to a cocktail bar. Fiye got a lemonade.

 

Thing is, I love it when the daters get boozy, throw caution to the wind and just have FUN, and I’m often to be found willing them to get drunk BUT when one of them obviously doesn’t drink, and their date seems to find that the most fascinating thing about them, or keeps referring to it as a kind of flaw, or that the date’s abstemiousness in some way reflects on them, then… well, it doesn’t seem as much fun, does it? I don’t know.

And… did you kiss?
No.
Nope.

You don’t say.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I would change the seats, as they were uncomfortable for a long period of time.

Haha I love Fiye going FULL TripAdvisor on the restaurant (which I have heard is really nice but I’ve never been and probably won’t if a 24-year-old finds the seating uncomfortable because, let’s face it, someone two decades farther down the track is not going to last twenty minutes in a bad chair).

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
A date who I fancied.

 

The “obnoxious Uber passenger” jumped out.

Marks out of 10?
7.
5.

Seven is low enough for a date that didn’t end up in punches being thrown, but five is epically low for what seemed to be a relatively pleasant date, Karl Marx aside. This is why I have always, always said never to talk politics on a first date. It is very exposing – in every sense of the word. If I were being charitable, I would say Shaun’s five here is an assessment of the romantic potential and how the result has performed against his expectations, rather than a slight against Fiye. I can’t guarantee the thousands reading the paper will take the same view but, hey, you take your chances.

Would you meet again?
Sure, as friends. We exchanged numbers.
I would stop for a chat if we ran into each other.

Enough.

 

Shaun and Fiye ate at Angelina, London E8. 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. 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 and not making 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. I refuse to believe it was THAT bad.

OTHER WORK: Second novel THE MAGNIFICENT SONS is out May 2020. It’s great! And it’s available on the websites of most major book chains, including Amazon, Waterstones, Foyle’s, Book Depository and loads of others. Debut novel THE LAST ROMEO still refuses to be out of print. Find it everywhere, including Amazon. If you don’t fancy the books but liked the post, share it – it might get me some work. Thanks.

QUESTION: Things being the way they are, I am thinking of setting up a Ko-fi account or similar for anyone who wanted to randomly, with no obligation, show small, one-off appreciation for the blog. I will never hide the blog behind a paywall or whatever, for lots of reasons, and I do it because I love it, but, tbh, something’s got to give. Let me know in comments or a DM, or whatever, whether, were I to set one up, this is something that would put you off reading my work. I’d rather be read than anything else so this is why I am asking your opinion. I won’t publish any comments or disclose anything you choose to say, whatever you say.

Thank you to Philip Ellis for alerting me to the Big Bird gif.

3 Comments

  1. Another week, another young man with a superiority complex. Wonderful!
    I don’t get the to-do re Keanu Reeves, considering she’s still 10 years younger. Imagine an 18 year old with an 8 year old. Or a 28 year old with an 18 year old. Not such a thing to celebrate now is it?!

  2. If you don’t know how to explain something, it means you don’t really have a solid understanding of the subject yourself.

  3. Hi Lucie,

    I’d say there’s a huge difference re the respective differences, at different ages. E.g. a 26 year old, going out with a technically legal 16 year old, is very different from a, for example, 39 year old going out with a 77 year old. Even though the age gap is far greater, in the latter version, both parties are reassuringly mature enough for it not to feel manipulative, on either side. I would fear for the 16/18 year old, in a way I would’t for somebody in their 30s. Also, who wouldn’t want to go out with Captain Picard, whatever his age? 😀

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