I think we can all agree that Zoom, generally, isn’t working for anything other than awkward business calls and parish council meetings featuring a load of shouty gammons (seriously, why the fascination). It is hard to conjure up much enthusiasm for talking to your own family or best friend over Zoom, never mind a total stranger, but unfortunately the deathly virus is still with us and unlikely to go anywhere soon – unless it takes one of the bargain package holidays that seem bizarrely still available to buy for this summer.
Staring blankly at one another this week are Julie, a 27-year-old customer engagement manager and Michael, 29 and a project engineer. Looks like the hours are going to fly by. Here they are in situ on the page:
Julie’s wearing a lovely top, and Michael’s wearing his favourite kitchen. Awesome. Read what happened on the date in the Guardian – ‘happened’ is doing some heavy lifting there, I have to say – before we dive in and assemble some vaguely amusing lines to pass the interminable hours until we’re all back out on the streets resenting each other across crowded bars.
Julie on Michael | Michael on Julie
What were you hoping for?
To meet someone funny and interesting. If there was a romantic interest, that would have been a bonus.
I don’t think anyone can be funny or interesting over Zoom. It’s like when you log in, an invisible laser zaps out of your laptop and removes any elements of your personality that make the call more pleasurable.
What were you hoping for?
The future Mrs Michael, ha ha. In all seriousness, I’ve been single for a long time and I just wanted a change from the usual dating apps, which are all essentially terrible.
Wouldn’t it be great if Michael’s name was actually Michael Michael? I feel duty bound to point out that it’s not necessarily the apps that are terrible, but the people on them. Although, a bit like Zoom, being on a dating app does seem to turn most people into selfish, entitled morons. You didn’t get this on Guardian Soulmates (RIP).
Reserved, polite, friendly. Not my usual type but he seemed nice enough.
I’m assuming Julie’s ‘usual type’ is someone who wouldn’t be trying to woo her through the camera on her flat entryphone. Or maybe she prefers men with more streamlined kitchen units. I’m guessing Julie likes a lacquered finish.
Julie is pretty, so I noticed that first!
A compliment! Good start!
What did you talk about?
We mostly spoke about what we did for a living, how we’ve found the pandemic, general interests and our workout routines. We didn’t really delve deep.
A bit about family and hobbies, living arrangements, interests – standard stuff, really.
Another problem with Zoom dates is you end up blurting out what’s right in front of you, like a toddler pointing at a bald man on the bus and saying, ‘Why does that man have no hair?’ over and over until the parent drags them off, even though their stop is 3km away.
In a pub or a restaurant, when there are lulls in conversation, you can say something bland and throwaway about the surroundings. Some people might comment on the tablecloths or how hard some of the starter items on the menu are to pronounce. Others might pour a very large glass of wine each and take it in turns to look round the restaurant and identify which of the other patrons at each table would ‘fuck like an animal’. Zoom dates? ‘Ooh I like your curtains?’ ‘Isn’t your internet fast?’ ‘Is that a kettle bell I can spy in the corner?’ GOD.
Good table manners?
Nothing that I could make a negative comment about.
Mainly because… neither of you ate, Julie? Or do you think table manners are something else? Actually this is fascinating – can you judge someone’s table manners if they don’t eat anything? Maybe it’s all down to how they slurp their Ribena, or whether they cough into their hand/elbow/a hanky/the air/the dog’s mouth. Well, when I say ‘fascinating’, it’s fascinating insofar as we’ve all been locked in our homes for months and it might actually be quite a thrill to watch someone destroy a big bowl of tonkotsu ramen or bite into a massive burger so all the fillings squelch out the sides.
Good table manners?
In the end, we both decided eating on camera in front of a stranger would be a bit weird. It didn’t seem right … like eating a burger during a work Teams meeting, or something.
This answer has been sponsored by Microsoft Teams and Honest Burger.
Best thing about Michael?
He was friendly.
Friendly. Hold on while I unbutton my collar.
Best thing about Julie?
Nice smile and she likes to work out, like me.
She likes to work out. If these answers are anything to go by, Julie’s favourite thing to work out is how soon she can politely end this call and do something else.
Would you introduce him to your friends?
No, they would have nothing in common.
Nothing, Julie? Not a single thing? Are they all not human? Do they not love, and feel, and cry, and bleed? Have your friends not also endured a pandemic for the best part of a year? Do they too work out, like Michael does? Surely one of them has a lovely sage-coloured kitchen or, like you, do they prefer the design paradox that is the austere sterility yet reassuring luxe of a lacquered wall unit?
Luckily I can’t afford to buy my own home so the joys of home improvement and trailing round Homebase or IKEA or whatever looking for the ideal corner unit are unavailable to me – nor do I have children. What I’m saying is that I’m still fun to invite to parties, should they continue to exist.
Would you introduce her to your friends?
If we dated, absolutely.
What about if you didn’t date, and indeed never met, Michael? Would you introduce her then?
Describe Michael in three words
Affable, approachable, chilled.
Affable, like a painter and decorator who thanks you for your bourbons and tells you the truth about Farrow & Ball.
Approachable, like a kindly woman in a pastel coloured cardigan at a jumble sale who restickers everything while you’re not looking.
Chilled, like a can of Zero in the fridge, one of the few pleasures now available to you given that leaving the house can kill you and it rains all the time anyway.
Describe Julie in three words
Pretty, sociable, grafter.
Pretty, like you assumed you used to be, before you had all the time in the world to take selfies and scrutinise every line, blemish, and crater on your face. When, exactly, did you have smallpox and why did nobody mention it?
Sociable, like nobody is ever anymore. How can you be sociable over Zoom? I don’t understand. Did Julie do a flicker book of all her nights out? Did she wander off for an online margarita tasting halfway through the date?
Grafter, like you might say about somebody whose job was licking the insides of mill chimneys for 17 hours a day in 1881.
Any connection issues?
Yeah, it was a faff to log in and I ended up being about five minutes late. I had to use my work laptop in the end.
What I love about the new ‘connection issues’ question is that the daters take it very literally and sit and bore you to death with their computer problems – maybe they miss having someone from IT come and tinker with their workstation. Shame nobody uses it to gently eviscerate the other, or decisively snap Cupid’s arrow right in half. I suppose this is the true cost of the ‘Be kind’ mantra, and the fact we’re all going through a pandemic. You only see violent, terrifying tongue lashings and they’re all on social media. Light, polite, common-or-garden takedowns are thin on the ground. bring back more thinly veiled criticism of someone’s social skills, I say!
How did the call end?
His laptop battery was low and we decided to leave it there.
It doesn’t take the combined might of the Rosetta Stone and the Enigma machine to decode that if there’s one thing Julie has had, it’s it. She is done, she is over it, she knew this was a non-starter as she was logging on for a full five minutes, glass of wine superglued to one hand as she one-finger typed in her details with the other, lightly cussing as wine sloshed over the side and onto her duvet cover. In Julie’s world, there are no second chances, there are no laptop chargers or battery packs or moving over to WhatsApp – it’s all or nothing, now or never, shampoo and conditioner in one. She’s busy.
How did the call end?
With a convivial exchange, wishing a good rest of the evening to each other. Saucy stuff!
Michael, the only man under 75 to use ‘convivial’ in a sentence since Gracie Fields was top of the bill down the Ritzy, has a more positive spin on the moment he heard the clamshell of his laptop shut with a definitive snap. Saucy stuff, indeed, and here again is the problem with video dating. A lack of sauciness. Flirting in person is acceptable, and even if it’s unwelcome you can, hopefully, read the room and adjust your behaviour accordingly. Flirting on video always feels like a precursor to something else. All nuance is removed and signals are wildly misinterpreted, so to compensate you end up going too far and before you know it, someone’s whipped their top off and is sucking on their forefinger like it’s the last Mini Milk in Costcutter.
If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Virtual dates just aren’t the same, so I would have preferred to have met in person.
A date in an actual bar or restaurant would be incredible once Boris can allow it again. Also, I am living in my sister’s spare room while I wait to move to my new place, so I had to balance the laptop on my knees – not ideal.
This tragedy builds and builds Maybe, if things had been different, if they’d met over a crisp tablecloth in the kind of restaurant that’s very popular locally and unashamedly parochial – somewhere called Chez Barry, or Plume de ma Tante II – they might have got on. Sociable Julie and affable Michael may well have spent the entire evening rocking with laughter, shouting ‘Garçon!!!!’ in an Antoine de Caunes accent and daring each other to try a fairly pedestrian delicacy. Or perhaps not, because:
Marks out of 10?
As a date, I’d give it a three.
A combined score of 9. Possibly the lowest score we’ve had in a while, the kind of score you get when one of the daters turned out to be one of the –ists, or desperately unfunny. Seems to me, however nice Julie and Michael are – and they do seem very nice, what can I say from the scant tidbits before me – that Zoom has done its worse once again. Not a pheromone it can’t quash, nor a boner it can’t kill. Sadly, it looks like we’re stuck with this format for a while, given the government is about as useful as a Woolworths voucher you find when you’re moving house.
Would you meet again?
No, we are from very different worlds.
Late in the day for Julie to confess she is, in fact, from the outer limits of Andromeda; where was this verve and spice earlier, Jules?
Would you meet again?
She seems like a nice person to hang out with as a friend.
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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, 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. 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. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story. And do let me know what kind of kitchen units you’re into.
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