Waiting for a date is harrowing; it’s bad for your health. Your mind works overtime. Will they even turn up? Will it be awful? Have you wasted your evening? Will they be drunk or dull or salacious or flirtatious or racist or clumsy or annoying? Will they have a laugh that sounds like a thousand shards of glass falling onto a xylophone? It’s all to play for. The unknown is all you have.
The last five minutes in particular are the worst. And there’s only one other person who understands who you feel right now, but you can’t find any solidarity, or get comfort from them, because they’re out of reach – it’s your date, and they’re on their way, and they’re the ones making you feel like this. They are your kill and your cure.
Anxiously checking their breath and running their tongue over their teeth this week are Jared, 31, a software engineer – the times over the years I have heard that job title and never confessed, as I’m about to now, that I have no clue what it even means – and 26-year-old Ellen, who is a journalist. I know what that one means. Read what happened on the date before I… well, before I see if I can actually remember how to do this.
Jared starts us off.
Wild. have I ever been wild? I don’t think so. I’m not sure a mild addiction to ecstasy in my early twenties counts. My favourite kind of wild hedonism is the kind that has no chance of happening. It’s something to be dreamed about, and aspired to, and then filed away in a box marked “Things I don’t really do”.
I hardly ever use the word “pleasant” because I find it a very “Rich Tea dunked in a cup of Tetley for one second too long” word. I never hope things will be pleasant. I merely hope they won’t be unpleasant, which is, weirdly, a brilliant word, and best said when imagining Margo from The Good Life opening a tin of salmon that’s gone off.
Pleasant again. Sheesh. Did the Olympics not teach us to aim high? But, no, you don’t want to go on a date with someone who reminds you of your dad.
Here we go again with my regular rant that nobody seems to understand what a first impression is. Just imagine it in the space below; we’re all busy:
“Good morning, passengers. The captain and the crew would like to welcome you aboard this shuttle service to THE FRIEND ZONE.”
A solid handshake. Shit.
Gosh. How awful. How would you even recover? Of all the faux pas you could possibly commit on a date, this has to be the one that would finish you. I wouldn’t know where to look. Mortifying. Wow.
This is the kind of thing Geri Halliwell would worry about doing on a date. Beyond try-hard. Why are you wanging on about stuff you’re not really sure about? Stay in lane; there are no prizes at the end. Oh, and here, this is who Adam Curtis is. I mean, I know you knew, but, like, others, might not. *cough*
“I saw him and realised I needed three shots of Sambuca to cope with what I knew instinctively would be a very solid handshake, so I headed straight to the bar, only to be turfed out by a waiter who was very anxious to appear in this column and, subsequently, the Guyliner blog, which isn’t even supposed to be on this week, but there you are. As Madonna said, life is a mystery.”
Very. Efficient. Why, this courtship is almost as romantic as Charles and Diana’s, isn’t it? I’d love how I eat to be described the same way you’d rate a hotel’s cleaning staff on TripAdvisor.
We underestimate this power. So few people have it. The ability to make others laugh. And it is a power, because it can charm, and disarm, and help plot your future. It is a spell.
I pity those who aren’t funny, because all they have to attract people are superficial things, like their looks. And having good looks is wonderful, I’m sure, but it’s temporary. Your sense of humour, your ability to make others double up in mirth, is for ever. In theory, anyway. You can be kind, and you can be smart, and you can be gentle, and you can be passionate – but it doesn’t mean dick if you’re not funny. That’s what they all want, to be laughed into bed. Warning: you probably need to be good at a few other things too, if you want to keep them there.
OK. I’m calling it. Time of death for this date: Right. About. Now.
FUN like a helter-skelter.
WARM like a gas fire in 1987.
RACONTEUR like a word you say when you’re trying to find a nice way of saying someone talked about themselves nonstop.
POLITE like a commuter stepping on your toe on the platform at Raynes Park and being most apologetic.
PASSIONATE like a character who dies 27 minutes into a Hollywood movie.
TALL like a word you say when you’ve run out of nice things to say about somebody so you blurt out the most basic of physical attributes like you have some kind of compliment Tourette’s, just as long as you don’t mention that you don’t fancy him at all because you don’t want to look mean in a magazine, even though what you don’t say is more damning than what you do.
He knows it. Jared knows his tea is out and getting cold and he has to give up and go home.
To hope someone thought you were “sweet”, which is what Paris Hilton would say after visiting the patients on a leukaemia ward, is a last-minute grab at a positive from a date that sounds, despite what these two are saying, like it was as much fun as getting your tie caught in a revolving door.
“I look really young but I have a shit voice.” This question always brings out the very worst in self-deprecation, especially among the women on the date. The lengths they will go to to avoid looking big-headed or to seem as if they like themselves even a tiny bit is really sad. I wonder whether this is a hangover from everyone using dating apps. Take a compliment, and agree with it, and you’ll be told you love yourself or aren’t that special. Dignity, it seems, can only be bestowed upon you – you can’t own it all by yourself.
I hate that people do this, that we do this to ourselves. That we believe we’re not good enough and invent absolutely bullshit reasons about why that might be. You don’t think Jared thought you had an annoying voice, it’s what you think about yourself, because we never seem to be able to stop telling women that they’re irritating, or in the way, or need to pipe down, or shouldn’t rate themselves too much. And we need to cut it out, because while it’s all very well being a shrinking violet who doesn’t want to cause any trouble, I do not want to live in a world where the soundtrack is nothing but the booming, boorish voices of blokes who think they’re amazing and can’t fucking wait to tell you all about it.
Now, like Donna Summer, I’ve been around the block enough to know that “a gentleman never tells” – which the ‘gentlemen’ in this column say with a regularity that is in turns depressing and heartwarming – means the couple did in fact enjoy a drunken, regrettable snog. Ellen, however, is quite clear that this experience was about as “pleasant” as spilling black paint down your wedding dress, and that no kissing occurred, so for Jared to hint that there was, rather than just say “no”, is quite odd. Unless he’s just trying to be mysterious or interesting. Lord knows we need it.
Anyway, I still have tears in my eyes from laughing at the “2 Many DJs at XOYO” line, which is currently holidaying with us here in 2016 but hopes to return to 2004 shortly, to read too much into this. I do still love a mashup, though, all these millennia later.
It’s all falling into place. “Liberal lefty.” “2 Many DJS at XOYO.” Adam Curtis. The breakneck effort to look cool. Crystal clear to me now. Jared felt old, perhaps for the very first time in his life. Ah, Jared.
It’s awful realising you’re old when you don’t particularly feel it. They don’t tell you; you can’t prepare. It needs to hurt you. It’s the cruellest trick, and it stings most of all when you are actually not old, but come into contact with someone who’s both younger, but also acts considerably younger. They haven’t worked it out yet, you see – they haven’t realised the world doesn’t belong to them. But you’re just starting to catch on.
The fact you have so much history behind you seems like a disadvantage; all you crave is the now. You cling, then, to the things you thought made you young. You search your mind palace for relevance, currency, whatever makes you contemporary. You usually start with music, but that’s a mistake, so hard to get wrong. Then you rely on your politics, your youthful optimism and activism and bolshiness. But it falls flat. You turn to celebrity culture, perhaps, but it’s a dangerous area and you soon find yourself desperate and dehydrated, wandering the unforgiving savannah of your own inescapable, inarguable AGE.
Happily, Jared, I can exclusively reveal from my balcony, which has exquisite views of the garbage fire that is being alive in 2016, that you eventually push past all this. You realise the young don’t want you and the old don’t care about you, so you just do your level-best to be yourself and concentrate on making that the best version of you possible. Although maybe you could go listen to a Dua Lipa record or something, J – let’s not fade away into obscurity just yet.
And you should have gone to XOYO anyway. Why not? The best thing about being old is you get to relive your youth at your own choosing. You get to be a tourist, just dipping your toe in, without all the horror, angst, and arguing over utility bills with useless flatmates that youth brings you.
I’m not here at all for “let’s say something about the food because I don’t want to say something awful about the date” answers but I know why people, women especially, do this. It’s the same reason why, when asked out by some drunk random in a pub, a woman can’t say “fuck off”, and instead has to refuse very politely or make up some fantasy boyfriend. It’s not just about sparing someone’s feelings – it’s about protecting yourself, because you can’t count on the reaction not being violent and unpleasant. You have to play the game, because you have no power at all, and any attempt to assert it will be seen as an attack, even though you’re trying to mind your own business. This is how we have to do it in 2016, pandering to weak and entitled cry babies. A world where we can’t tell people to fuck the hell off is a depressing one indeed, wouldn’t you agree?
Photograph: Sarah Lee, Graham Robertson; both for the Guardian
Note: 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 editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena. This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have.