Jem and Ria
Illustration: Nishant Choksi
Impeccable Table Manners

Jem and Ria

For almost six years, I have got up nearly every Saturday morning, made myself a cup of tea – in a mug with my initial on that I use only on Saturdays – and have sat either on the sofa (while still in my thirties, or ill) or at my desk and written a review/analysis/whatever of the Guardian Blind Date. Thousands of answers from hundreds of different people, countless sharing plates, and trips to the toilet, and dodgy waiters trying to build up their part. Umpteen missed opportunities to kiss, a few passionate lunges, awkward rides home on the Tube and just one, very famous, lost item of underwear. Some have been predictable, some have been boring, some exciting, some romantic, some were sexy, some were deliciously savage, some excruciating, and a choice few would have been better served by my staying in bed and pretending I’d never read the date at all. But they all had one thing in common: they were face to face, in the flesh – a real, physical, in the moment date where anything and everything could happen (even though hardly anything did, often). Couples were photographed, matched and dispatched to a restaurant with a free meal and one (1) bottle of wine to grease the wheels. The rest was up to them.

Today is different.

It would be impossible for me to even start talking about what the pandemic has done to our daily lives, and some have felt it harder than others, so let’s stick to the immediate: dates can’t meet any more because of social distancing and the government guidelines on when you can and can’t go out (which are extremely clear, and anyone saying otherwise, that they have been deliberately vague because of government ideology and very much open to interpretation, will be dragged, screaming, from the Easter egg aisle in their local Tesco). So we are at the mercy of an internet connection, each of our daters given a takeaway and – I hope – some kind of alcohol, to do their best to work their charms virtually. As anyone who spent more than thirty seconds on Chatroulette will tell you, making a first impression and holding attention over a computer screen is pretty tricky – unless you’re putting something inside you, or removing something – so we must all rein in our expectations.

Jem, on the left, is 27 and an advertising creative, and Ria, 23, is a junior TV question writer (?????? this sounds like an amazing job! Questions for what?! For whom?! I want to read 750 word on this). No photo shoot for them, sadly, because distancing, but here they are again, all illustrated up in a mock laptop, as they would have seen each other.

Jem and Ria
Illustration: Nishant Choksi

Read the full-length version of the date before I come and tidy up the back and sides (OMG remember hairdressers?!?)

Jem on RiaRia on Jem

What were you hoping for?
To pretend that everything in the world isn’t weird right now, and do something a normal single person would do at a normal time in history.

What would a normal single person do at a normal time in history? Go on a date, yes, definitely. I can think of other things you can still do now that you could before:

– Go to the supermarket and marvel at how absolutely everything is geared toward people in couples, except for individual ready meals and “for one” tins and packets which, when you place them on the conveyor belt, there checkout operator looks at you with abject pity.

– Walk through the park (don’t stand still!!) and enjoy the passive buzz of couples arguing.

– Thank your lucky fucking stars you don’t have to pretend to like someone else’s friends/family/taste in movies/cooking/face.

What were you hoping for?
A laugh, a good story and for the video not to freeze while I was shoving in pizza.

If there’s one thing the coronavirus pandemic has exposed, other than the shared brain cell of the people running the country, it is the poor quality of EVERYONE’s internet. Where is all this hyper-fast, bull-strong broadband that’s so powerful it can shave off your epidermis if you look straight into the box that we are promised? NOWHERE, isn’t it? Celebrities have been torching alight their brands with vigour claiming that coronavirus is the “great leveller” – nope, guess again – but it turns out awful connectivity is what truly binds us. People with LUDICROUS amounts of money and power still have internet connections of dial-up quality: pixellating, freezing, and spluttering from their operating-theatre chic kitchens, their voice burbling out 20,000 leagues under the sea. When all this is over, we need answers from BT, Sky, and Virgin and all the other providers charging £££ for their broadband packages. (Mine was awful before this btw; it’s not just related to coronavirus demand.) I need to be careful how I word this, I guess, because we are very much in a “heads on spikes NOW” phase of isolation and I don’t want to end up in jail. Just write a strongly worded email to complain.

First impressions?
She’s cute.
Her tattoos and room full of houseplants hinted she was a lot cooler than me.

Ooh, now this is an interesting bonus of this new format in that you get to see inside their house. I… well, I don’t think I would pass this test. I am a messy person. Clean, and groomed etc etc, but messy. I would like to be tidy. I have ambitions of being a very graceful, minimalistic person who has lots of “open spaces” and nary a knick or a knack cluttering up the surface. I hate having stuff. And yet I have loads of it.

One dangerous side effect of selfies and FaceTime etc is the stalk-zoom. Oh, you’ve done it. You have. Someone posts a selfie from their bedroom, bathroom or lounge and, before you even know what you’re doing, your two fingers are pinching the screen and zooming in to see what’s on their bookshelves/bedside table/laundry pile. It can be much more revealing than an ironic, twisty pout, or a salute – and you can also get yourself some decent skincare recommendations without the indignity of asking. But, yes, if you’re taking a selfie or heading onto FaceTime, make sure you’re stalk-zoom ready.

What did you talk about?
How we have both been doing abnormal things like handstands and self-tattoos. Celebrity crushes, living in London, and how she would probably win any pub quiz.
Coronavirus apocalypse, bisexuality, cheesy chips and how Piers Morgan finally saying something intelligent (about the virus) signified the end times.

Coronavirus apocalypse/abnormal things like handstands and self-tattoos ✅ I have never done a handstand and I don’t have any tattoos – and certainly not any self-tattoos, which I’m assuming means homemade tattoos and not just self-portraits inked into your skin. I’m not sure risking an infection, or slicing into a major artery in the middle of a public health emergency would be my go-to leisure activity but I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

Celebrity crushes – did you see that challenge where celebrities have to put on a sweatshirt, one-handed, while upside down? Yeah, they really are just like you and me, aren’t they? I don’t understand how anyone who actually eats and has a full-time job can have a bad like that. Plus, can I just say again that I don’t understand why uber-famous people have such horrible, clinical kitchens and live in houses that look like contact lens cases?

P*ers M*rgan saying something intelligent – please don’t be fooled by this kind of commentator suddenly making sense because you agree with them. Even the saying “a stopped clock is right twice a day” doesn’t apply, because all they’re doing is gauging public mood – or at least the mood of the kind of captive audience they enjoy – and going along with it, in self-interest. They are weather vanes, not a clock. When it comes to opinions, our world is becoming increasingly binary – ironic, really, when you consider how everything else is going – and it’s a common misconception that people who disagree with us = bad, and people who agree with us = good. It’s not like that at all. And sometimes people exploit that very narrow worldview. Anyway, I am bored with this, next question.

Any awkward moments?
I went to get my takeaway pizza and locked myself out of my flat.
She got locked out of her flat. I thought it might have been a really inventive way to end the date, so I was glad when she came back.

I do like a genuine romcom moment on the GBD. I didn’t think people *did* that on screen any more. In the last few weeks, I have seen about four different shows where a character got locked out (usually in a date of undress, or mid romanic moment) and I have scoffed at it, but here we are and there you go.

Good table manners?
I think both of us were scared the camera would freeze on us pulling an unflattering face while eating.
I think we may both have eaten really quickly to try to stop the video freezing mid-bite (we failed).

Man very frustrated with laptop freezing

See what I mean? Get all internet providers in a court of LAW as soon as lockdown is lifted. Nationalise!

How long did you stay on the call?
About three and a half hours.
About three hours.

Ralph from the Simpsons saying "I'm new"

A new question! So digital! Very online! Anyway I think three hours is a very long time – even on the most scintillating calls, I’d be slapping ‘red’ within an hour or two – so this is a good sign.

Describe Ria in three words
Pretty, smart, optimistic.

PRETTY, which mist be reassuring to Ria because don’t we all worry that we don’t look good enough on camera – let alone a camera that freezes mid-bite?
SMART, like a smart card you might use on public transport remember when that was a thing, like, getting on public transport and just going somewhere, anywhere, and it being such an automatic thing you barely thought about it, back when plotting a route on CityMapper wasn’t niche pornography?
OPTIMISTIC – good quality to have at the moment. I would not thrive in the pandemic dating arena.

Describe Jem in three words
Funny, easygoing, creative.

FUNNY, which is hard to crack over video, for some reason. Well, I know the reason. Body language is important, as is the atmosphere in a room. That’s why many televised comedies, and standups, have a live studio audience, to make up for that nuance lost over broadcast. (Awkward comedies tend not to need them, as you can’t wait for a joke to land.) Same vibe as a text message losing the tone of a voice call. Words are important, but it’s the way we say them, and where we are, that gives them meaning.
EASYGOING, like absolutely nobody seems to be at the moment, especially when it comes to the coronavirus daily exercise rules. Might I take this opportunity to link you to a piece I wrote for GQ (weeks ago now) about how not to be a dick during a pandemic, and also posit that the continued sharing of photos and video of people in the park, or socialising, or doing yoga, or buying more than one tin of beans in the shop is not actually a public service – all it does is feed anxiety and anger and I wonder how productive this is. There is certainly a deterrent in there somewhere but I don’t for a minute think many people filming and sharing these videos is acting in good faith.
CREATIVE, like a creative.

Any connection issues?
I thought she was rude because she kept interrupting me, but I realised it was a delay on the connection.
The video call kept letting only one of us see the other.

It’s another new question! The answers aren’t very interesting, but as Jem said, “I thought she was rude because she kept interrupting me”, we now another CRIME to add to the list of bad broadband’s misdemeanours. Seriously, 5G can’t come fast enough. I don’t care. Build a mast ON TOP OF ME.

And… did you swap numbers?
I asked for her number over email while I was sitting outside my flat, because I thought we’d have to finish the date on WhatsApp video from the corridor.
We did.

Woman raising glass with the subtitle "cheers in gay"

I miss the And… did you kiss? question but we are living in a new world and this is the best we can hope for.

How did the call end?
I started yawning because I’d been up since 4am.
We both started catching each other’s yawns.

Britney yawning

I yawn a lot. I am always tired. I am a light sleeper. When I used to go on dates, and yawn, I would panic and immediately say, “Oh I’m not yawning because you’re boring, I didn’t sleep well last night” and it sounded like a LIE, and, reader, sometimes it WAS.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
It felt a bit unnatural to say goodbye and press a button.

peppa pig hangs up

Oh believe me, you haven’t LIVED until you’ve got into a lift, pressed the button for your floor, and said “fuck you” to the person you’re leaving behind just as the doors close. I see video calling as the successor to this.

Marks out of 10?
Maybe a 4. I can’t say it was any more than that without devaluing how nice it would have been to meet her in person.

David Tennant looks at his phone in disgust

It feels unfair to score without meeting her in person.

Doris Day head in hands

SCORE IT. That’s whey you’re here. TSK. Fuck’s sake.

Would you meet again in person once physical distancing is over?
Yes. I hope so.
She asked me out for a drink when this is all over, so why not?

All is not lost!


The pandemic means my book has shifted publication date. It would be great if you preordered one. Click image below for why this has happened and a list of retailers.

The Magnificent Sons release date

If you liked this post, consider showing your appreciation by donating to the Trussell Trust to support food banks.

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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 comment,  replies, and generally on social media. 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. And tell me what toppings you had on your pizzas – cannot believe you left that out. Also: Ria, drop the info on your job, please!

Self-isolation doesn’t mean you have to stop looking for love, and Blind Date will continue with online video dates. If you’re single and would like to be set up (with a takeaway on us), email blind.date@theguardian.com

If you’re looking to meet someone like‑minded, visit soulmates.theguardian.com

8 Comments

  1. In this brave new world I really thought there would be more criticism of each other’s takeaway choices. I mean, you are ordering just for yourself so you can have whatever you actually want but I want to see the judgement on the deep-pan tuna and sweetcorn.

  2. A 4??? And she hopes to meet her in person? She’ll be lucky to get a return text/email/acknowledgment of existance after a 4! I don’t understand. Otherwise, seemed like it was going ok, but what do I know, I am hopeless at relationships and live vicariously through other peoples. I just want others to get a happily ever after!

    1. I have to assume she was rating the date, not the person, since everything else seemed positive.

      Still, they should have rated it as a “video date”, not in comparison to the real thing. How did this video date compare to an ideal video date? (and what would that even be? would clothing start coming off?). Maybe the whole concept feels so lame it’s hard to rate it at all. I can sympathize.

  3. I was all “yes, Jem is very cool” until the 4. Then I did a major turn around. Jem is NOT cool. A fail score is not cool. You are judging on what you experienced and if you want to hedge your bets, you give a 7. Everyone knows that. Bad form, Jem. Bad form.

  4. I see that kissing is difficult, and know that there was never a more explicit question, but I mean, they might have taken some clothes off during the call, so shouldn’t there be question with a chance to capture that? #makezoomfun

  5. I suppose it could be interpreted as a rating of the date (never going to be as good as one on person), fair call. Clothes off sounds very internet porn, would take a big step of trust to do it with someone you just met (or being very drunk, I suppose!). I wasn’t sure how video dates were going to go, but if you look at it as a good chance to get to know someone (very much You’ve Got Mail vibes), I could see how it could work. Sometimes I think people can be very quick to dismiss another person, but relationships can develop, if given a chance. Not saying you can force it, if “it” isn’t there, but “it” could happen over time. My two cents worth, sorry to ramble. I have too much (and too little) time on my hands! I hope there will be more reviews, I keep checking!

  6. Completely ‘get’ your comments about being single. To begin with, I had a number of ‘sympathetic’ contacts, which of course I was glad for, although able to explain that I am used to living in my own space. I know three people who have chosen to isolate (separately) with an elderly, confused parent. I don’t think I could do that. Re: the supermarket, I now have quite a lot of lime pickle and preserved lemons because Aldi, my nearest food source, only sells them in big bags. They’ll be good Christmas presents if we’re allowed to gather by then ….

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