Impeccable Table Manners

Jack and Zoe


Sometimes things that start off really well can’t help but turn out very badly. Charles and Di, French Connection doing those FCUK T-shirts, Dallas. And yet, more often than not – especially in romance and dating – catastrophes somehow evolve into things of wonder. Or so we would have each other believe. You can’t move for smug couples pretending they “hated each other on sight” or lying they never fancied each other remotely until <insert dreary romcom trope here>.

So which direction will today’s date take? Read how  25-year-old designer Jack and Zoe, 27, a health policy officer, got on on their date before I return to switch all the lights on and tell everyone it’s time to go home. For some reason they have left the comments open under the date this week and it was already moron soup when I last looked an hour or ago so goodness knows what it’ll be like now. Enjoy yourselves.

Jack | Zoe
What were you hoping for?
Open and relaxed conversation over some quality food.

25, eh? Some quality food. OK.

Not sure about “open and relaxed” conversation on a first date. How open? How relaxed? Are we talking a frank discussion of my hopes and fears after a scrotal ultrasound or just half an hour of high-rising-intonation monologue about how “awesome” Bali is?

What were you hoping for?
Someone to get excited about.

Oh yes. That’s all you want really. You want that electrifying buzz of turning up to meet a perfect stranger to become a thrill you both share, each staring into each other’s eyes, biting your lip and wondering when would be the right moment to touch their knee (start with the arm, after drink three).

First impressions?
Solid combination of confidence and calmness. She didn’t seem to mind that I had kept her waiting.

You… you were late? You kept her waiting? You didn’t turn up on time? What? How late were you? I can’t believe you left that out. I’m guessing absolutely ages.

So here we have something starting badly. I’ve had some dates never recover from an initial lateness. There are some people, though, who coast through life being late for stuff and keeping us all waiting and kind of breezing about at their own leisurely pace. They almost always look like Jack, don’t they? And there are just as many people – Zoes – out there willing to overlook it. More fool them. Be on time: you’re not Madonna.

zoe first

No mention of the lateness. She fancies him. Jack’s got away with it again.

I tell you what: if stone-cold uggos like me can’t get away with being late, then neither should anyone else. (Lateness makes me so irritable; I can’t even. I must seek out therapy or something.)

What did you talk about?
Everything from first jobs to bad high-five techniques.

Oh God, are they them? The incessant high-fivers?

There’s this weird breed of human who, for no apparent reason, needs constant high-fives to feel validated. They do it over the dinner table, in restaurants; I’ve seen them. They’ll say something – anything, like “Gee, I think tenderstem broccoli is the bomb – and when the other person agrees with them (because life is long and lonely and you might as well) they demand a high-five.

“Can I have a high-five on that?” No you fucking can’t. What’s wrong with you? Yes, I am leaving you hanging. This date is over. My Uber is here. How about a high-one?

Women very violently giving someone the finger

The date, London, work-life balance, the (great) NHS, rugby, cycling, siblings.

“The date.” What, like, you gave a running commentary of what was actually happening? Spoiler: I have some of the actual dialogue from the date right here:

Jack: Wow this is so weird.
Zoe: Yeah!
Jack: But, like, amazing, too. But really weird.
Zoe: Yeah it’s so amazing but, like a weird thing.
Jack: Amazing.
Zoe: Weird!
Jack: Hahaha.
Zoe: Amazing, though. Dating is just so weird.
Jack: Yeah it is. Amazing.
Zoe: Weird.

You get the picture.

Table manners, then. Let’s have it shall we?

Good table manners?

I’m not sure I’d take the word on dining etiquette from someone who can’t turn up to a date on time, but OK. For all we know, Zoe could’ve ordered a trough, plunged her head in and only come up for air to say “Amazing!” and Jack wouldn’t have been fazed.

Great: good chopstick skills, and he was happy to share, even though I’m a veggie.

Chopsticks! Sharing!

Are you testing me Satan?

Would you introduce them to your friends?
I think he’d get on with them.

“Possibly.” Jack playing it cool there. It’s important to play it cool, especially when you’re appearing in a magazine that thousands of people will read.

We must expect to be judged by the company we keep, of course. Perhaps Jack is worried Zoe’s inexplicable hypnosis will wear off if she’s exposed to his cabal of lager-swigging bros with their battered acoustic guitars tucked behind their wardrobes and bedroom floors littered with McDonald’s packaging, protein shakes, copies of FHM and wanking socks.

I’m not really feeling it today. Can you tell?

What do you think they made of you?
Hopefully good company and impressed with my chopstick skills.

She was! This could be going somewhere. Better get vacuuming that bedroom floor, Jack.

Not sure – at the least a friendly Brit (he’s Australian).

Martin Freeman saying oh

Did you go on somewhere?
For a cheeky gin at a nearby bar.

Jack. Children are cheeky. Posteriors are cheeky. Actual cheeks? Cheeky. Turning up late for a date? FUCKING cheeky. Sloping off to a pub on Greek Street for a gin and tonic (Gordon’s no doubt – you look the type) isn’t cheeky. Not remotely.

Just have the gin and throw it back like a normal person. Don’t act like you’re a tubby secretary in a ’70 sitcom hovering over a box of eclairs. I am willing to bet cold hard cash-money that Jack has said the phrase “cheeky Nando’s” more than he’s ever said “I love you”.

And… did you kiss?
On the cheek when we parted ways.
On the cheek at the tube.

CHEEKY. Look, at least it’s not “a gentleman would never say” or “I don’t kiss and tell” or any of that other utterly ridiculous ‘broderie anglaise’ way of saying “we boned”. On the cheek, at the Tube. Fine. Just fine. Like saying goodbye to auntie.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
For me to be punctual.

David Tennant saying aw

OK, well, I take it all back. Except I’m still going to leave it all up there because I’ve written it now. But well done or whatever.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
That it wasn’t a work night.

Oh, sorry, everyone, there must’ve been a typo in the Guardian – it seems Zoe is not actually 28, but 68.

If you’re really into someone, and the gins (cheeky ones at that!) are flowing, it doesn’t matter whether you’re performing open-heart surgery in the morning, you will stay out. All the lurid green cocktails, bumpy cab rides and undersides of duvets I’d never seen before I would’ve missed had I worried about dates being “on a work night”.

SCORES. They seem to have got on, there was a drink after, a kiss on the cheek. I dunno. Does it matter, so long as we don’t have to sit next to them in our favourite restaurant, watching them high-five each other after every forkful of shepherd’s pie?

Cracking chick – 6.5/10.

Which is worse? The louche, surfboard-speak of  “cracking chick”, the paltriness of the score, or the fact it’s a point-five of anything? Jack: do one.

Emperor gives thumbs down


How lovely to see they were almost equally enamoured of each other. Only good things to say but a low score? I’ve a hunch that this date was a little more disastrous than they’re letting on but neither wanted to give, or get, a roasting in a national magazine.

Imagine spending hours on a date and coming away with a shrug and a slight gin headache as a lasting impression.

So while Romeo and Juliet don’t have much to worry about, could this adventure on a work night result in a second date?

Would you meet again?
Who’s to say?
I think so – we exchanged numbers.

Yes, you did: a 6.5 and a 7.5. I probably wouldn’t cross the aisle in Sainsbury’s to meet someone who scored me that low but then I am a terrible one for holding grudges.

Andrew Scott raises eyebrows

Good luck! And don’t be late, Jack. Not again.

Photograph: Graham Turner; James Drew Turner, both for the Guardian

Note: I generally don’t take sides, and 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 this may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena. I am sure, in real life, they are cool people. I am critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date and want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal. 

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