Impeccable Table Manners

Joe and Jess

We’re getting to the part of the year that I like to call “the drain”. Not just because the days are swirling down the calendrical plughole, but because it’s that seasonal limbo of nothing, a time of year so boring we now have to pretend that Halloween is a) interesting and b) lasts a month. And we all feel drained, everything is draining. We’re approaching our breaking points. Just the thought of a barista being rude to us, or missing a bus, or somebody tutting that they can’t pass us quickly enough in the street, has a very draining effect, when all we want is to be up, and light, and buoyant. Or, at the very least, comfortable in our misery.

Some good news, then. 1. The Christmas shops are now open and I have spent the entire Council Tax money on baubles. 2. Today’s Guardian Blind Daters seems like nice people. Oh, I know, we love it when they’re arseholes and we can give them a roasting, but sometimes the thought of it is very draining, so some light relief today is very welcome. Here they are:

Young! Good-looking! Hmm, suddenly I feel very drained again. Anyway, read what happened on the date between Joe, a 23-year-old designer and Jess, 27, a consultant (she doesn’t say what she consults on, so maybe it is something unpalatable like tripe or pine cabinets, because consultants usually like you to know) before I go in there and make a mess of everything.

Joe on Jess | Jess on Joe
What were you hoping for?
Good food and casual flirting.

Or, as I like to call it, the very opposite of going to Pret A Manger for lunch.

What were you hoping for?
A good laugh, free food and maybe some romance.

RoMANce. Whither romance? Does it still exist? It seems to have been commandeered somehow by the oversharers and the sentimentalists, who trudge through the streets on Valentine’s clutching giant teddy bears or wilting petrol-station flowers.

Romance 2017 has filters, it is showy and huge and likes an audience, and gestures. Romance is more intoxicating when it’s intimate and charming, when nobody else knows about it and, if you tried to explain it to them, they wouldn’t get it, because the best kind of romance feels like it only ever happens to you, that there is no fairy-tale written yet that could even cover it, no bunch of flowers that could ever say it, and no love song that could ever sing it.

So, anyway, good luck with all that, Joe.

First impressions?
Young, but very cool. Lovely hair, but very dressed down.

OK, so I feel I should mention here that they went to The Ivy. Well, not the proper Ivy, once-beloved haunt of celebrities, but one of their offshoots that have started springing up everywhere. The one in Soho, where these two went, is really nice, actually, but the whole point of The Ivy is that there is no dress code. However if there is one thing I remember about my twenties it is the permanent state of anxiety I was somehow dressed incorrectly for the occasion so I kind of get this.

I love it when young people use “young” themselves as a kind of light diss to one another – it makes me feel like I have Dutch Elm disease.

First impressions?
Cool dress.

Joe would be brilliant on Catchphrase. He just says what he sees!

What did you talk about?
She spoke a lot, so most of the conversation related to her job or Clapham. We did speak about my supposed resemblance to James Dean for a while, before deciding it was very slight.

“She spoke a lot” – now, before we get all angry about this, Jess suggests later on that she did indeed talk a lot so we can let this go. I have two ways of dealing with nervousness and the BEST thing about it is my brain tends not to let me know in advance which method it’s going to plump for. One way is talking too much until I pretty much gab my own neck into the noose, and the other is deafening silence that makes me look standoffish and awkward. Do try this out for yourself if you happen to see me in the wild.

Clapham. I’m not sure I have time to count the ways in which Clapham, south London, is one of the most devastatingly unspecial places in the country. Yes, it has a common, and, yes, it has a Sainsbury’s that looks like a spaceship, and, yes, for some reason every gay man who lives there wears a uniform of “never skips leg day and uses tooth-whitening strips” but I have never seen the big deal. As nights out go, it is super-average; the restaurants are no better than anywhere else in London; it’s on the Northern line FFS. And yet youngish people are DESPERATE to get themselves down there, especially white middle-class ones with floppy hair and gym memberships that cost more than a designer handbag. I just don’t get it. (I lived in Balham for two years in the “Noughties”, which was WAY better but is now pretty much Clapham’s very own loft conversion.)

I can’t be doing with the basic line of thinking that says someone under 25 who turns up in a white T-shirt looks like James Dean so let’s just move onto something else.

The north, university, his love of Japanese cuisine, rugby.

I can’t be doing with men who wang on about their favourite type of food on a date, sorry, and spare me your bollocks about the north.

Any awkward moments?
I made him order a dessert so that I could have two.

I 100% support this. You’re not getting a dessert? OK, fine, but it’s FREE, and they do a chocolate bombe pudding. I mean, fine, but… just order it anyway and we’ll muddle through. Good move.

When she told me I wasn’t allowed the lobster.

I 100% do not support this. Why wasn’t he allowed? But I am a reasonable man so let me process the possibilities. You may think it strange to do a deep dive on Jess’s motivations here but are you or are you not reading  the words of a 41-year-old man dissecting the answers given by two strangers in a newspaper column? You are. So, possible reasons for this:
1. “I can’t eat anything with a face.”
2. The lobster is £££££ expensive and Jess was well brought up and didn’t want to take the piss with the free food. (LOL The Ivy can afford it, hun; fill your boots.)
3. She had already decided by then that she was going to kiss Joe later and didn’t want it to taste of “the sea”.
4. She is a controlling nightmare.
5. Nobody wants to sit opposite somebody grappling with a fucking lobster when you’re trying to flirt with them.

I am going with 3. Because when you know, you know.

Best thing about Jess?
Her confidence, humour and ability to occupy a silence.

Oh, I like Joe. The men are almost always so fucking terrible on these dates, either grossly obsequious or maddeningly aloof, but Joe seems quite nice and comfortable in his own skin which I didn’t think possible at 23 but what do I know about anything. Am I going to make it to the end without tipping Joe into the garbage along with most of the other men who grace these pages? We’ll see.

Best thing about Joe?
He was really quirky, different and probably cooler than me.

I suppose years of living in Clapham would make you think a white T-shirt was “quirky”, yes. JUST KIDDING I like Jess too, but we should not still be worrying about people being cooler than you at 27. (I fret about this hourly.)

Would you introduce him to your friends?
Yes, though I’m not sure they’d be his type.

If the opportunity arose, then yes, but I don’t see many similarities between them and Jess.

Look, you two, I can pretty much guarantee if you throw enough booze at something, it’ll work out fine in the end. Your friends aren’t too cool, or too dull – they, like you, are just a huge bundle of insecurities wrapped in denim and cheap fragrance. Make as many friends as you can when you are young; they drift away from you as time goes on, and you need to make sure there is someone left to care about you when perhaps you no longer do.

Describe Jess in three words
Definitely not shy.

It’s not, is it? It’s a compliment, right? It better be.

Describe Joe​ in three words
Edgy, northern, cute.

OH WOW NORTHERN WHAT ARE THE FUCKING CHANCES BRILLIANT NICE ONE “OUR FUCKING KID”. Have you noticed nobody ever ever ever says “southern”? Ever?

The main reason I binned my northern accent (aged 18 on the M1, travelling to university in the SOUTH) is because I didn’t want my northern-ness to become a curiosity, the most interesting thing about me. Unfortunately, until I took up cocksmoking full-time, it turned out being from the north was the most fascinating thing about me, but at least I wasn’t ceaselessly fetishised or attributed some weird kind of pseudo-personality just because I grew up somewhere COLD. I don’t like it when actual northerners do this to themselves too, bigging up their northernness in lieu of anything else interesting to say.
“Here, ‘ow come youse lot don’t call barms barms?” Oh do piss off; you’ve lived in Kensington since 1998.

Anyway, as Liam Gallagher would say (he’s a northerner, did you know?!?!?!?) back to business:

EDGY, like a dodecahedron.
NORTHERN, like a [please see above].
CUTE, like a puppy – until it craps on your favourite rug.

What do you think he made of you?
Probably that I never shut up? I think he was nervous, but I broke him down a bit, so I’d like to think I’m approachable.
I know she wasn’t impressed with my white T-shirt and jeans. Other than that, perhaps a bit dull.

Isn’t it interesting – or maybe it isn’t, I have lost all sense of perspective – how very very often, when asked to look at themselves as the other person saw them, the daters choose to focus on negative traits? Why do we DO this to ourselves, like, all the time?

There is a lot to be said for self-deprecation, knowing our limits, staying in lane, being aware of our faults and all that modesty NONSENSE, but we do need to take a bit of time and realise there is something good in there too. (Jess does this quite well with her “I’d like to think I’m approachable” but even that sounds a bit submissive.) You know why? Because it’s this culture of “Oh I’m not that amazing and nobody could ever find me interesting”, of rampant impostor syndrome and “I couldn’t possibly” that allows the truly horrible to thrive. Having no confidence in our abilities encourages oxygen thieves and manipulators – colossal wastes of space like Harvey Weinstein, for instance – that they can do as they like and we won’t say anything, that we should be grateful even, that they’ve deigned to give us the time of day. It is not our fault that we’re like that, it means we’re good people, but we have to try otherwise the dickheads will win. And to that I say two things:
1. Fuck off, Harvey.
2. Fuck off again, but farther.

And… did you kiss?
Unexpectedly, yes.

See, now that is romantic. Just the way he says it there. “Unexpectedly” tends to lend itself to nasty surprises, and faces you don’t want to see, but here it’s perfect.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I think it was pretty spot on.

The lobster.

He may forgive, but he won’t forget. SCORES!


Y THO. These are low scores for an evening that ended with a snog. Face-saving? Date went worse than we thought? Joe’s 6 is, like, a ZERO and Jess’s 7 feels like it was handed over under duress. What does it all mean? Maybe it’s because they’re a bit younger and less open to the idea that sometimes things develop rather than work out immediately. It’s never been easier to swipe right and find yourself in a whole new situation, so why dole out 8s and 9s to someone who isn’t the real thing? It’s admirable, in a way, like a new kind of optimism masquerading as nonchalance. They both seem happy with it, which is the main thing, really, but for us it’s… well, a little disappointing, isn’t it?

Would you meet again?
Jess has a great sense of humour, but I think we’re cut from different cloth.
Probably, but more as friends.


Sad that it has to end this way but at least they had fun. Sometimes, that’s enough.

Main photo: Jill Mead for the Guardian.

Disclaimer: The comments I make about the couples are meant to be playful and humorous and are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which have usually been edited for space, brevity and drama. Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story.

Note: My entire career – and ability to buy a ridiculous amount of baubles – lives and dies on my writing being seen, so if you’ve liked this, do think about sharing it on your “socials” so someone might commission me to do something. I’d be very grateful.

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