Johnny and Gen
Photograph: Andy Hall/The Guardian/The Guyliner
Impeccable Table Manners

Johnny and Gen

I originally wrote something quite profound here about what date it is today and what calendars really mean – including a so-so joke about friends who go out with boring boyfriends who ask you questions like ‘How many vinyls do you have in your collection?’ but I didn’t like it and I find it’s better not to dwell when so many other outlets will be reminding us of the day’s significance SO after a swift delete of THAT all I will say is it is Saturday morning, we have a new Guardian Blind Date at our disposal and it has quite a few Impeccable Bingo prompts for us to enjoy, Yay!

Braving the lions’ den – by which I mean the cringing politesse of middle-class matchmaking – this week are Johnny, 24, an artist, and Gen, who is 23, and a postgraduate student. In what? We are never told. Anyway, here they are in their full-length, awkward pose glory.

Johnny and Gen full length – he is quite skinny, has long hair and is wearing a T-shirt and shorts. She is wearing a denim jacket and trousers
Photograph: Andy Hall/The Guardian

– make sure you do this as I will miss out some questions to avoid any lawsuits – before we return here to the (better) after party.

Johnny on Gen | Gen on Johnny

What were you hoping for?
A pleasant evening and maybe the beginning of a new friendship or romance.

I’m going to start by saying I like Johnny’s outfit. Yes, I do. It’s the kind of outfit I could never have pulled off in a million years, even in my twenties when I was like a talking pencil, but Johnny wears it well. Maybe its his artistic tendencies that give him the credentials, I have no idea. Anyway, from his answer here, I sense Johnny is a romantic of sorts. Most under 25s who take part in the GBD use some variation of ‘a good story to tell others’ or ‘I wanted a free meal’ here, but Johnny has spoken with his heart which is either the bravest or the most pathetic decision – I cannot decide which.

What were you hoping for?
An excuse not to cook dinner.

Here you go, Gen is keeping it very much ‘I’m 23’. And why not?

First impressions?
Pretty, intelligent, easy to be with.
Long hair, short trousers.

And here we have the two standard types of answer to this question. Exhibit A is Johnny’s overall first impression of Gen, and exhibit B is Gen’s very first ‘just laid eyes on him’ impression. So what we get are a spoiler from Johnny – he didn’t hate her – and, from Gen, a toddler pointing at a plane overhead and simply saying what it can see. (Which usually means they’re not that into them.)

What did you talk about?
Our times at university, living in cold and dirty student houses (truly magical), the purpose of the jury in criminal trials. I worry I may have talked a little too much.
All the classics – university, books, films, the Crusades.

University – God, thank fuck I went to university. What the hell would I talk about other than council tax, fielding questions from my friends about when I’m going to get a dog (I can’t), and when my next book is coming out?

Living in cold and dirty student houses – I didn’t think students lived in crappy houses anymore. All I seem to see out there these days – aside from Tesco Expresses and men with Victorian mill-owner beards converting former launderettes into artisanal coffee shops – are great big ugly slivers of student housing, with huge hoardings on the front featuring smiling models holding A4 binders or pointing at test-tubes. I once even googled one of my most notorious student dives with the most evil landlord to find it had been converted from charming, grotty, terraced death-trap featuring one unreliable toilet between six and a boiler straight from the first three minutes of a very special episode of Holby City and transformed into a ‘deluxe live/study/work experience’ where every door had a brassplate number on it and the kitchen looked like it was out of a Jed Mercurio script.

Purpose of the jury etc – do we have a law student in our midst or are they, too, simply sick and tired of Coronation Street being overrun by court cases?

The Crusades – Both of these people are under 25.

I worry I may have talked a little too much – A MAN? Saying this? In the Guardian Blind Date? Freaky Friday has come a day late! Praise be!

Any awkward moments?
I did use the expression “man” a lot, as in, “No way, man!” which is strange considering Gen is not a man.

I remember reading Smash Hits in the Eighties and, whenever LA was mentioned, they’d put ‘(man)’ after it, because, back then, saying LA instead of Los Angeles was considered really pretentious and something only huge stars or try-hards did. If you live long enough, you see the strangest things happen, and now it is totally normal to say LA, and to call it Los Angeles in full makes you sound weird. Thanks for coming to my modern history lecture. I have no idea what Johnny is going on about here, btw.

Any awkward moments?
I was mid-prosecco swig when he told me he didn’t drink.
Evil Edna from Willo the Wisp going nuts

Oh dear. Why would this be awkward? As regular readers will know, I have  and this attitude is one of the most annoying. The idea that somehow you are spoiling it for everyone else if you don’t have a drink, that it makes people drinking uncomfortable to have a sober person anywhere near them, is so grim and toxic. Obviously Gen is just being light-hearted but there’s always this undertone that not drinking is a red flag and that somehow it’s embarrassing for those who do drink. If you’re worried that being around sober people will shine an unfavourable light on your drinking habits then… go away and think about that rather than blaming them.

Good table manners?
Perfect – he honourably ate his burger with a knife and fork.

Now I know from experience that many have scoffed at eating what I suppose you might call street food with cutlery but… fuck you, frankly. I do, infamously, use cutlery to eat anything that comes on a plate. (I don’t eat McDonald’s with a knife and fork, for example.) And, yes, I do eat pizza with cutlery if I can too. Why? Well, the boring answer is I don’t like eating with my hands. That’s it. You would think, after a year and half of covid hell, that people would have come around to the realisation that your hands are nothing more than fleshy germ shovels. Think about where your hands have been; they’ve been everywhere, done everyone, touched every surface that’s felt the touch of goodness knows how many before it. Your hands are the wanton tramps of the body, I’m sorry.

And think about it, if you’re on a date, and have a burger, you’re going to want them to reach for cutlery because, if you’re lucky and it all goes well, you might end up with at least a couple of their fingers in your mouth – or elsewhere – so do you want to be reminded of that bacon double cheeseburger they devoured like lions unravelling a gnu two hours earlier? No you do not. For a start: ONIONS.

Best thing about Gen?
She was totally authentic and genuine, not interested in presenting any sort of image of herself. I think that’s really special.

Genuine Gen! Well, this is a lovely thing to say and further proof that Johnny is a bit of a romantic and has almost certainly said ‘Good morning, beautiful’ to one of his houseplants before today.

Best thing about Johnny?
His London museum recommendations.

Look, it might just be me, but Gen seems rather less keen, and certainly more logical. However, as someone who freezes in horror when asked to recommend ANYTHING, I suppose Johnny’s internal rolodex of exhibitions is a pretty good quality to have.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Of course.
women giving the thumbs up
Would you introduce him to your friends?
I think they might eat him alive.
Janine Butcher in EastEnders licking her lips

Not this again. The Guardian Blind Date would have you believe that whole swathes of Fulham and Hackney are populated by swarms of marauding man-eating women who like nothing better than to sit in a mid-level chain pub knocking back Picpoul and slamming bits of their friends’ boyfriends between two halves of a ciabatta. ‘My friends would eat him alive’, or its variations, is, as someone on Twitter this morning has also noticed, pretty much only said by women, and is the strangest thing on first glance. What are you really saying about your friends? What are you really worried about? I’m not a huge fan of the equally dreary trope that a woman’s worst enemy is another woman – often perpetuated by men trying to divide and conquer – so I’m quite sure that under almost all circumstances, your friends could be introduced to any man and could be trusted not to fire up the barbecue and start seasoning his forearms when he wasn’t looking. I think what it might mean – and I don’t want to speak for women so I am only guessing, just to be clear – that many women don’t feel they can ‘be themselves’ in front of quite a lot of men who aren’t their gay best friends called Toby or Tom, or the men listed in their phone as ‘Drugs Andy’. In front of some men, perhaps, women feel they have to behave a certain way, not be too loud or boisterous, or speak their minds, or get drunk, or even be fragile, or real, or angry, or show any kind of emotion. So what they mean when they suggest that their friends are starving cannibals might be: ‘he wouldn’t be able to handle seeing women as they really are and as women we’d kind of prefer not have to that energy around us, because we don’t want to have to hide part of ourselves away’ and that, I’m afraid, is all men’s fault.

Disclaimer: sometimes it’s just because they have awful friends, I know. I would urge both women to give it a try and then men, in this situation, to take a backseat and let women do their thing. You might learn something.

Did you go on somewhere?
We didn’t. It was raining and it felt like our evening had reached its natural conclusion.
The bus stop.

Haha Gen is so matter-of-fact in contrast with Johnny’s ‘let me look at your beauty in the shadow of this Montmartre moonlight’ vibe that I find both of them quite endearing, even though this date has been about as romantic as a parking ticket.

And… did you kiss?
No. I don’t think either of us felt such feelings towards one another, and that’s all right.

Better to not feel anything and forgo the snog than not feeling anything and kiss for the sake of it, in these ‘unusual’ times.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Asking the restaurant if they had non-alcoholic cocktails. I don’t drink.
I would have had a second (or third) cocktail.
Sharon in EastEnders, with wine

He didn’t ask? What did he drink all night then? Water? Gen wanting to get drunker but feeling she couldn’t in front of a sober person is… well, it’s exactly what I was talking about further up the page. Please: if you want to drink, drink! It’s been a hard year! The cocktails are free! I’m sure Johnny will be okay as long as you’re not sick on him! (I know it’s a bit more complicated than that and that being the only drunk person on a date can affect the whole energy of the evening and – crucially – can leave you vulnerable and, less crucially, can make you a bit boring, so I think Gen probably did the right thing on this occasion.)

Marks out of 10?
8. Although I don’t necessarily see any friendship or romance blossoming out of the evening, I think she’s a great woman.

Over-marking from from Johnny here tbh, I think, but spot on from Gen. This is definitely a 7-6 date. As longtime readers will know, a six, in GBD terms, is the gentleman’s zero.

Would you meet again?
I’d like to, but I sense we probably won’t.
Probably not.

ben willbond saying 'oh that is a sad story'

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About the review and the daters: The comments I make are based on answers given by participants. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits answers to make the column work better on the page. Most things I say are riffing on the answers given and not judgements about the daters themselves, they seem very nice, so please be kind to them in comments, replies, and generally on social media. I will not approve nasty below-the-line comments and will report any abusive tweets. If you reply to my tweets about the date, please don’t embarrass yourself or assume I agree with you. Daters are under no obligation to get along for our benefit, or explain why they do, or don’t, want to see each other again, so please try not to speculate or fill our feeds with hate. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story. Gen, do let me know just how many men your friends gave actually eaten and, Johnny, where did you get your socks?

Johnny and Gen ate at Le Bab Soho, London W1. I quite fancy going here, actually, if only for the fact that ‘bab’ in Yorkshire slang means ‘excrement’, so it would be a good photo opportunity – but also because the food looks nice.

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  1. “I worry I may have talked a little too much – A MAN? Saying this? In the Guardian Blind Date? Freaky Friday has come a day late! Praise be!”

    Totally agree. Nearly spat out my dinner when I saw this comment from dear, sweet Johnny. Is he the first GBD man to ever entertain such a worry?

  2. I do think given Gen mentions it twice in generally terse answers that Johnny not drinking threw a bit of cold water over the experience for her. I used to be typically British about non-drinkers too (vaguely suspicious, instantly defensive), but my partner has long periods of sobriety and we met during one, and I’d say sober courtship is actually great. You do differently things, the pace is more natural, you don’t force things with someone you don’t actually fancy without 4 glasses of wine. I’d recommend it!

  3. An interesting take on the meaning of friends eating newcomers alive. I hadn’t noticed that women say it more often than men, but in any case it’s a horrible expression. To me it gives off a “he’s such a loser and my friends are so cool” vibe that reflects badly on the speaker.

  4. I personally think that ‘they’ll eat him alive’ is really cruel – I think of it as short hand for saying someone is far too boring to introduce to their friends. Anyone who says it goes down as a massive bellend in my book. (I’m a woman.) Gen screamed bellend from her first answer. I never understand why people go on these dates if they are going to be deliberately cruel!

  5. Being prepared to wear those shoes with those shorts is a gesture of confidence that nothing else about this sweet boy demonstrates, so I think it was an accident.

    The “my friends would eat him alive” thing is interesting, because I feel like most of my adult life has involved meeting people’s dreadful new boyfriends and being unreasonably pleasant because you don’t want them to cut themselves off from their friends while they come to the realisation that the boyfriends are dreadful. All the eating alive happens in side chats.

  6. A disappointing date; I don’t understand why Gen would bother to apply to Guardian Blind Date since she seemed so reluctant to be open to someone who did not share her world-view (and her drinking habits – honestly, who cares?). One might have thought that, after the deprivations and anxieties of the pandemic, she might just be glad to be out on a date with an attractive and pleasant person who seemed to appreciate her, and even enjoy a friendly kiss and romantic stroll through Soho, but her comments seem somewhat mean-spirited and uninteresting. Regarding the friends-eating-alive syndrome, I’m wondering whether those friends are, like her, graduate students, who sit around quoting Lacan and debating post-colonial theory, and she considered Johnny to be her and their intellectual inferior. As an art historian and curator, I’d have loved to hear about the kind of art he makes, and hear his recommendations for London museums.

  7. For me Gen can do and say as she likes. In my view she is under no obligation to behave in a way that anyone else might find acceptable. So she feels uncomfortable around someone not drinking alcohol, so what? As a teetotaller for 22 years I can tell you that most people who drink alcohol do respond by feeling awkwardness or displaying awkward behaviour. It’s really a standard and normal response. I respect her open honesty and grappling with her feelings about this in an international paper. I would also say that anyone with the courage to apply and go through this experience is definitely open to new things. No one has to like the person they meet or enjoy the experience. That’s the point of doing it: to find out. And finally, what’s up with the name calling? I’m not sure we can make judgements about someone based on a few hundred words and I know I can’t.

  8. She’s under no obligation to fancy him, and although he sounds like a lovely guy who’s right for some lovely woman, when I was 23, I prob wouldn’t have been into him, either.

    But (as a woman) I v much subscribe to the “bellend” interpretation of “my friends would eat him alive.” Such an unsubtle way of saying “He’s not cool enough.” Her first answer was v much the same.

  9. Somewhat late (I was just checking last weeks and realised I missed this one too), I wanted to give my appreciation for this line:
    I’m quite sure that under almost all circumstances, your friends could be introduced to any man and could be trusted not to fire up the barbecue and start seasoning his forearms when he wasn’t looking

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