Inevitable, I guess, after a month of supposed lockdown, that we would return to the dreaded Zoom dates. While it was great to keep the column going during the summer – especially given the news that Weekend magazine, where the column lives, would be closing – nine times out of ten they didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. Why? Well, often participants acted like they had never used Uber Eats before – literally every week, one dater would express the kind of astonishment for the service you would reserve for seeing a spaceship or finding out your birth mother was Princess Margaret. Or, frequently there would be delays with the food, or issues with the internet connection, or… just the fact we were reading two people’s account of a sexless phone call.
But here we are again, and I’m sure that our two daters Liz, a 61-year-old illustrator, and Philip, 57 and a sales manager, are going to BRING IT to us this week.
Here they are in the magazine, posing for photos that look like they were taken on a courgette:
Yes, that photo actually appeared in print.
Read what happened on the date before I go in there and see what on Earth can be wrung from it.
Liz on Philip | Philip on Liz
What were you hoping for?
An interesting and entertaining evening, and to meet a soulmate.
A soulmate. I don’t really believe in them. Do you? I don’t mean the concept that there is just ONE perfect person for you out there somewhere – of course that is utterly ridiculous – but this idea that the person you’re with has to be perfectly matched to you in every way. I know these kinds of relationships exist as I’ve waited on plenty of train platforms next to couples in matching cagoules on walking holidays, but I don’t think the search for this person should rule our lives. Sometimes all you need is someone who you can sit in comfortable silence with, on your phones, or laugh at the same jokes, or at least pretend to, someone to look up when you walk into a room, to ask you how you are, even if the answer may be difficult to hear.
What were you hoping for?
A true connection, and strong physical attraction.
A true connection and a strong physical attraction, says, Philip, about to have a grainy video call with someone he’s never met before – how strong an attraction, physical or otherwise, should you really expect? I suppose “Not to be matched with someone I didn’t want to bone” wouldn’t have made such romantic copy.
Tricky, as we had connection issues: his screen was like a storm in a snow globe. I could see a nice green jumper, though, and he looked friendly.
Liz, here, valiantly looking for positives even though she has been set up on a date with someone patching in from 2010 Chatroulette on a Nokia 3210. “I could see a nice green jumper, though, and he looked friendly” is like a deleted line from a Victoria Wood sketch.
Liz was warm, energetic, outgoing. She has a gap in her teeth, which is charming, and was a bit boho.
Philip’s connection however was crystalline, beamed right into his screen via the Berliner Fernsehturm, as he could even spy the “boho” gap in her teeth. I don’t know what is particularly boho about your natural dentistry – unless the fact you haven’t had it fixed in in itself a boho move – but I’m guessing as a sales manager Philip hasn’t dated many floaty-dressed, gap-toothed Gloria Steinems who don’t automatically laugh at his jokes, and thinks he’s fallen headfirst into an episode of Tales of the City or the latter half of a Fay Weldon novel.
EDIT: A reader has pointed out Philip is referring to Liz generally as being a bit boho, rather than her teeth – I do tend to read these through quite quickly haha – so that makes more sense. My joke still stands though.
What did you talk about?
How to manage our technology! Phil was very open in talking about himself. It was touching to hear about his lovely mum whom he adores.
I am joking! I am pretty close to my mum and talk to her lots – but I’m gay, of course, so it’s kind of expected. Much of my experience of straight men and their mothers is that they like eulogising her home cooked meals and then dropping off their laundry once a week, taking her to a Harvester once a year for a three-meat carvery as a thank you.
Phil was very open in talking about himself – Oh dear. We don’t need the Enigma machine for this one, do we?
How to manage our technology! – Warning: this dominates. Liz can’t be doing with tech issues and I’m inclined to agree. I allow a podcast or a One Show Zoom interview three mic glitches before I switch off – life is too short to hear distorted voices echoing superfluous consonants out of your Alexa.
What did you talk about?
Single motherhood, open water swimming, male/female dynamics. We started with me confessing that I had already eaten my spicy starter – it had made my eyes stream and my voice squeaky, so she may have thought I was very emotional.
Oh Phil. Not only is he being broadcast into Liz’s room with all the clarity of a cream of chicken soup, he’s in tears and trying to squeak his way through the date like Rosie Ribbons aiming for that high note in The Winner Takes it All. #neverforget.
Open water swimming – you can’t move for people talking about this at the moment, I suppose reconnecting with nature and doing something quite basic and primal as going for a swim in unchlorinated waters has been helpful during the pandemic. Gives a sense of purpose or place in the world, perhaps. It’s not for me, though. It is, after all, just a mucky old lake and knowing my luck I’d end up swallowing an old condom or something. I don’t think I’ll be leaping into the Bradford Beck any time soon.
Male/female dynamics –
I really don’t think that’s a good idea for date chat, do you?
Any awkward moments?
It was hard to keep conversation flowing with the reception issues.
Our tech failed and we had to transfer to mobile.
I can feel Liz getting more annoyed by the second. Bless Philip, but she is stuck on a bad line being talked at by a stranger with the chilli sweats.
Good table manners?
He had ordered and started, but I waited, as negotiating food, perched on my bed, with my iPad precariously balanced on a pile of books, and terrible reception, was a step too far.
Liz did not have food, I did, but in the light of tech issues, we agreed to concentrate on conversation.
So… Liz is just sitting there watching him eat, like a cat about to pounce on your roast potato? Assuming she could actually see him?
“We agreed to concentrate in conversation.” Hmmm, how did that go?
How long did you stay on the call?
About 40 minutes.
Half an hour. Liz considerately said she did not want my food going cold.
Right, so not only do we have a bad internet connection that has now moved to a telephone call, one of them isn’t eating, there is a chilli rapidly losing heat off to one side, and the whole thing only lasted a half-hour?
I have LITERALLY already spent longer than that typing this up. I’m going to venture a guess that it wasn’t the temperature of Philip’s chilli that was concerning Liz.
Well, I’m afraid if they can’t be bothered to endure interminable hell to prolong the date, neither can I.
Best thing about Philip?
He has a nice laugh.
Best thing about Liz?
Her charm and openness.
Would you introduce him to your friends?
I am not sure I would get the opportunity, as we probably wouldn’t meet again in the natural course of events.
Sorry, could you say that again, this is a bad line.
Would you introduce her to your friends?
Yes. They would find her fun, up for a laugh, non-judgemental.
Did you say you’d already eaten? Oh, me, no, I’m not having anything.
Okay, so maybe this bit is funny:
Describe Philip in three words
Talkative, accommodating, kind.
What do you think she made of you?
A little bit too talkative.
Talkative, like someone saying the same sentence over and over again because their modem is over 20 years old or they live near a 5G mast that’s recently been torched by a splinter group of the Amanda Holden fan club.
Accommodating, like someone who valiantly says the same sentence over and over again even though it sounds like the connection issues might be on your side because you’re coming through okay for me – I can even see where you used your Aapri Rip’N’Go blackhead eliminator strip last night.
Kind, like you really have to be to come out of this date still smiling.
Describe Liz in three words
Open, charismatic, attractive.
Open, like a door just opened to find a…
Charismatic engineer from Virgin Media who says he’s come to connect some decent broadband for you, which will help to make people on Zoom calls look more…
Attractive, so that you can actually gauge whether you want to date them and not just sit waiting for them to look away so you can spoon chilli into your mouth.
What do you think he made of you?
Crikey, no idea. “Arty,” he said. Is that a good thing?
You’re an illustrator, Liz, remember? That’s what he means. He’s Roy Walker-ing the situation because he can’t think of anything else to say because you’ve only been on the phone ten minutes.
Any connection issues?
Yes, and some mobile glitches, too.
Hahaha good one, Philip!
I am imagining by this point that Liz has already stamped on her phone several times and is ten “can you say that again??”s away from smashing up the nearest internet cafe.
How did the call end?
His chilli was getting chilly, so I suggested we both go and eat.
How did the call end?
We said we’d talk again, but I said if she was only being polite, to text me.
Marks out of 10?
A fun experience overall, so 7.
Two zeros trying to make the best of a bad situation by putting a donk on it and cosplaying as higher scores. Come on!
Would you meet again in person?
As friends maybe. I’m not sure we had much common ground.
Oh Liz. Oh Phil. You know how most meetings could be an email? Maybe this date was better off as a voicemail.
Please buy my books as I love to eat.
I have a new book deal! Two more novels coming, first is in 2022. Read more.
I’ll be doing LIVE readings from THE MAGNIFICENT SONS on my Instagram on Wednesday 16 December and Thursday 31 December. Paperback details coming soon too!
I’ve been writing about what to drink if you don’t do booze anymore – see the series so far.
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. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story. And please get at least 4G on your phones, okay?
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