Photographs: Jill Mead/The Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

James and Emily

I’ll level with you, my heart didn’t exactly lift seventy storeys off the ground when I saw this headline:

“Acquired” has to be one of the least sexy words out there. You acquire companies, diseases, not feelings. And I’m not sure how many more Jameses and Emilys with job titles like these I can take. So you will forgive me if I enter this one feeling more than a little trepidation. I am not expecting this to be the ride of my life. As rollercoasters go, this one is already looking mightily rusty – let’s hope the dips, whirls, and ramps are more exciting than they first appear. Because, believe me, I am perfectly willing to scream if we don’t go faster.

Anyway, thanks to my screenshotting wizardry up there, you now know exactly who and what they are, so let’s dive straight into the… what is it? Analysis? Recap? Dissection? I was interviewed the other day and I had to explain what I do and there is something very unsettling about saying what you do out loud. There is always the danger, too, that someone will ask the most dreaded of questions: “Why?” To which there is only one answer you can ever get away with: “Why the hell not?” Onward. Here’s the Guardian original.

James on EmilyEmily on James
What were you hoping for?
I’ve never been on a blind date before, so I guess first and foremost I hoped not to embarrass myself. I wanted what everyone wants from a first date: instant chemistry and top-notch chat.

Instant chemistry? Do you? Really? No effort at all? Never underestimate the glorious feeling of a slow burn, as you sense the “chemistry” start to happen. Couples who sit smugly side by side in the pub and tell you, “We got on from the very first moment; it was like we’d known each other years” can usually be found five years later, arguing over who gets to keep the colander as they pack up the flat above an M&S Simply Food in south London that they’re about to move out of, separately.

What were you hoping for?
The fireworks you see in films. And plenty of wine.

Blimey. He wants instant chemistry, she’s after fireworks. Can’t you just go blow up a science lab together? Anyway, please stop taking romcoms seriously – they are making us all insane. The point about movies is if you behaved in real life like the characters in a romcom do you would be spending most of your days either a) friendless, because WHOA you’re annoying, b) in prison for stalking, or c) penniless, as they never seem to do any work beyond sit in their chair and halfheartedly flirt with other colleagues. That is not your job.

First impressions?
I fancied her. Nice work, Blind Date.


First impressions?
Late, tall and ginger.

Ah, Christ. Late. Shame. As regular readers will know – if indeed you exist – I am very anti-lateness but I was talking about this to someone recently who told me how anxious it makes them that some people are sticklers for punctuality, because they can’t help being late. Obviously if you have issues that make getting anywhere on time difficult – I won’t list them because I don’t want my friends reading this and then claiming they have such an issue as an excuse why they are late to meet me for a drink again – then that’s fine, nobody wants to make you feel uncomfortable. But, in my book, unless I know there are reasons preventing you, if you arrive at exactly the predetermined time, you are in fact, late. I wonder why all my friends moved away.

As for the other two things she says, I am also v v anti just listing some facts as a first impression. It’s about how you felt, Emily, not what you could see. I read Emily’s answer in the voice of a toddler who has just seen something for the very first time. Snow! Pineapple! Horse! Tall! Ginger!

What did you talk about?
We compared embarrassing date stories, our upbringings in secluded towns and how we are both cat people.
Holly Willoughby, our worst date stories, cats and Madeleine McCann.

Date stories
Secluded towns? OK, maybe I’m interested. What constitutes a secluded town? Sounds kinda spooky, a bit M. Night Shyamalan. Sadly, I am guessing that James and Emily did not grow up in tiny, primitive hamlets in which someone was hanged for being a witch every Thursday, but in fact two dreary dormitory towns with one cash machine and a post box, upon which a small graffito marks the great village crime wave of 1978.
Cats ✅ Good for you
Holly Willoughby What on Earth for? I like Holly but… why are you talking about her on a date?!
Madeleine McCann I have to leave the room if someone starts talking about that documentary. I just can’t spend any more time fascinated by this Midsomer Murders subplot when there are far more timely cases out there getting ignored and underfunded because of the country’s obsession with white middle-class people. Honestly, the Royals are more interesting than this savourless bunch of tapas-nibblers. I am sorry for their loss but no more. Please.

Any awkward moments?
Only when I instinctively said, “Oh dear, I don’t know,” just as my mum would, during the occasional moment of silence.
Only when he asked if we’d had any awkward moments… that one was entirely his fault.

Good table manners?
Yep, he was determined not to be defeated by three courses, red and white wine.

Defeated by three courses, red and white wine?! Or as most of us would call it, “Snack Wednesday”.

Best thing about Emily?
She laughed at my jokes, even though they weren’t funny.
His love for dating: he used to work for a dating column and now he has finally made it into one.

If he worked for one, could he not… just put himself in it? I wonder which one it was. Are there others? Why would you want to be in a different one from this one? Well, tbh, why would you want to be in any dating column at all, but if you’re going to be in one, this is the one. Others… are just that, others.

Describe Emily in three words
Funny, smart and confident.

Funny is so important in dating that you’d think it came naturally to most, but as anyone who’s sat desperately trying to decode the ceaseless innuendo coming at you from a near stranger as you wait for for your strozzapretti pesto rosso in the Cheltenham branch of Zizzi can tell you: it does not.
Smart is a nice thing to say if you are talking about one of the following:
– A pallbearer’s suit
– A puppy’s ability to finally climb up onto the sofa – whereupon you will ban it from doing so ever again
– A friend’s child you want to compliment in the hope it will stop the parents banging on and on about its “reading age”
Otherwise it’s just a bit empty.
Confident is good. This is an interesting thing for a man to say about a woman because it has so many layers – and we tend to misunderstand what confidence actually is – but I believe James means it genuinely here.

Describe James in three words
Funny, outgoing and chatty.

Funny. A double-funny! And, see, James, she did like your terrible jokes. Or, at least, she is willing to say so in a magazine!
Outgoing always makes me think of another word to describe someone who says things like “books are boring” or will only go to pubs where there’s no wifi so they can talk at you.
Chatty is one of my least favourite words in the English language. I’m sorry.

What do you think she made of you?
I think she found me endearingly dim.

I am a little worried about James’s confidence levels. I know self-deprecation can, in small doses, be quite charming and sexy but I’m sure you are not as dim or unfunny as you think. At least I hope you’re not.

What do you think he made of you?
That I talk and love wine too much, and am bad at directions.

Women in this column – particularly those on dates with men – almost always think they talk too much and I think that’s quite sad. As we have learned in the last couple of years especially, women haven’t been allowed to talk enough. Most men, I hope, would prefer a talkative, expressive woman than one who just sits there while they strain to entertain them.

Dating can sit quite at odds with generally accepted behaviour elsewhere, because we expect certain things in the name of courtship, and these habits are hard to break. The man feels he must crack jokes, the woman feels compelled to laugh. The whole thing about who pays for dinner, gets to choose the venue, whether to pull the chair out for someone or not. All these rules, courtesies, and traditions operate under the guise that they’re keeping us safe by reminding us who we are and what we should be doing, but they are, in fact, holding us back. Manners and politeness aside, the rule book needs rewriting. I do not volunteer.

Did you go on somewhere?
Emily understandably called it a night at 10.30pm, as she had to be up at 5.45am the following morning.
No, much to his dismay. I had to make a long trek home and it was only a Tuesday.

Oh well.

And… did you kiss?
I can confirm that we did not kiss on the lips.

Then where did you kiss her? On the asshole? Just say no, man.

And… did you kiss?
Just on the cheek.

Oh, right. Cheek. Fine.

Marks out of 10?

Wow. Consider myself fully less than whelmed. Sevens. Home for 10:30, on a Tuesday, with sevens. You realise, don’t you, that it’s Saturday, and I got out of bed before 8am to do this? That there are literally tens of people clicking through to this page wanting to read some actual ROMCOM romance that the pair of you seem so fond of, and instead we get as much “chemistry” and “fireworks” as a cold Deliveroo.

Would you meet again?
I successfully acquired Emily’s phone number, so we shall wait and see…
He said we should read the article together. I haven’t received a text yet…


James and Emily ate at The Gun, London E1. Fancy a blind date? Email If you’re looking to meet someone like-minded, visit

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, but get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll happily publish whatever you say, although I can’t promise I will find it remotely interesting.


MORE ABOUT CONFIDENCE: In my most recent British GQ column. I write for them weekly and it goes “live” every Wednesday evening around 8pm.


  1. You left out the responses to “Would you introduce him/her to your friends?”
    James replied, “Not on purpose.” Emily’s response was the well-worn “I’m not sure he’d be able to handle them.” The 7 ratings become a bit more understandable.

    1. I always skip a couple of questions to ensure people read the thing on the Guardian site. I didn’t think there was much for me to say about those answers that I haven’t said the previous 100 times a dater has said them.

    2. NOT ON PURPOSE. Jesus H Q Tapdancing Christ. How bad are his friends!? Pro tip mate: if you’re that embarrassed by your friends, you probably shouldn’t be friends with them…

  2. I get the feeling that Emily is a bit on the judgey side…. The comments like ‘Only when he asked if we’d had any awkward moments… that one was entirely his fault’, and ‘Yep, he was determined not to be defeated by three courses, red and white wine’, and ‘Late, tall and ginger’, all sound strangely critical. Shame he uses self-depreciating humor…she may not have been the best audience. Some people understand that you are joking…other’s think you are confessing your sins and need judgement. That text may be a long time coming!

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