When we know someone is looking at us or listening to us, we change our behaviour don’t we? We either moderate it to avoid coming across as an idiot or, more usually if we’re going to be totally honest with ourselves, we ramp things up a notch.
We become this exaggerated version of ourselves, an attention-seeking hydra who wants to be thought of as fabulous to everyone within a 10-mile radius – and, boy, do we make sure everyone in that catchment area can hear us.
Meet Malik, 26, a gallery assistant, whose bed is almost certainly pushed up against the wall with only the wrong side available for him to get out of, and Jake, also 26, an American video production assistant who may have swallowed a megaphone in his youth.
Read what happened on the date, and see if you can guess which one of them got the least attention as a child, before I go in for the kill.
We begin with Malik.
This is James Middleton:
A gay man fantasising about a moneyed, bearded faux-ristocrat who knows his way around a sports jacket and is close to a lot of women with shiny hair? How UNUSUAL.
Why this could be an entry from my diary. If you want your dates to be romantic and twee, go curl up with a Barbara Cartland. I always wanted my dates to start off well before descending into a savage, hedonistic catastrophe that you could only speak about in hushed tones afterward. From a hospital bed.
Well, that or beer then snogging then sex then morning then goodbye then never hearing from them again.
Shave the beard off and he’s not that far away from being James Middleton, really. Imagine having James Middleton as your fantasy figure. A man whose ‘big business idea’ was personalised marshmallows. Marshmallows. With your face on. Why are you laughing? What? It’s not funny. I’m being serious. It’s a thing.
This is the last answer in the entire column that is not an aspiring medallist in the try-hard olympics, so enjoy it while you can.
I’m sure it’s not much of a spoiler for me to say that the answers in this date take two very different directions from the off. And yet both of them feel like they’re auditioning to be the least funny panellist on 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown – quite the challenge.
Ah, not so shy after all. The thing about dates where one person talks a lot is that it’s very easy to blame the chatty Cathy. Why don’t they ever shut up? Why are they so self-obsessed? Yet this is misguided.
True, it’s selfish of a date to yak on about themselves endlessly, but the other person in the conversation has to bear some of the responsibility too. Why aren’t you interjecting? Why haven’t you got anything to say for yourself? Is he boring on and on simply to fill the air because you haven’t said a solitary syllable since he arrived?
Oh, you’re a bit shy and quiet? Good for you. But you’re on a date, not standing up in front of your GCSE French class giving a presentation about a visit to a boulangerie. Step it up.
When you go on a date with someone, part of the thrill – if you fancy them at least – is imagining what their body is like underneath all those clothes. If their conversation is dull and, oh dear, they’ve just said they’d vote Ukip, it matters not, so long as you’ve got their rack to dream about.
Jake, however, is leaving nothing to chance. Despite Malik being as receptive as a cutlery drawer, he’s flashing his body at him from the gloomy depths of his iPhone. One can only imagine the other horrors within.
I don’t think there’s any ‘maybe’ about it, bae. Let’s all raise a glass to being the drunkest person on the date. Almost all of us have done it. And let’s all make a pact not to be that person again.
It’s time for table manners and I almost can’t look.
I have to agree with this. Your phone shouldn’t come out at all on a date. Not ever. Not even to show them a picture of your dog. Fuck your dog; it’s boring. A phone is a distraction, an unwanted gooseberry on a date. Before you know it, you’ll be on Tinder together checking out who’s nearby and laughing uproariously at all the ugly ones because oh my goodness you are so funny and beautiful.
The phone should only come out at the end of the date, either to text that you had a lovely time and would love to do it again or to go back on Tinder and pray you’ve got a match with a bottomless wallet and no discernible gag reflex.
Goodness how awful for you. What could you have done? Let me see here if I have any suggestions for you. I shan’t be a minute, just googling.
Oh, here’s something. Don’t know how useful it is.
And “vibe”? Baby, cool your jets, and leave the “vibe” to R Kelly.
I’m guessing it would be something like the characters from The Big Bang Theory waking up in Las Vegas next to a dead male stripper with Keeping Up With The Kardashians blaring out from a planet-sized television in the background.
Gay men reading this, just take a moment to imagine what Jake’s friends might be like.
While I am starting to get the impression Jake was a raving, drunk nightmare on this date, Malik’s “Anthea Turner opening a garden fete and cringing at how regional everyone’s accents are” routine is wearing a little thin too.
We get why you’re here, to show everyone how clever and refined you are. Congratulations on being an antique vase that can talk.
Sitting opposite either of this pair for an hour or two sounds like it was about as pleasurable as waking up to find your house redecorated by Laurence Llewellyn Bowen and a team of meth addicts, but at least Jake has something nice to say here.
His grandma would be very proud.
So inquisitive that you didn’t say a word all night? I thought you talked about “Him. A lot.” No? If you’re inquisitive, I’ll assume you asked him a lot of questions and he… answered them. No?
Isn’t it strange that in an effort to make yourself sound interesting, you have… well. Not.
Come on, Jake, come and destroy my last shred of goodwill for this horror-show.
Attaboy. Well done. In what way are you “voodoo”? What are you talking about?
Reading this has been a bit like being a victim of voodoo, or perhaps watching two cardboard cutouts talk me through their evening has awoken my osteoarthritis. Who’s to say?
Haha, did you FUCK have a party to go to. You went straight home, Malik, and sat down at your laptop – a Dell – and began crafting your answers for this column because you almost certainly knew exactly what you were going to say before you even turned up on the date.
“I’d rather talk about my regret at not eating some squeaky cheese than say maybe I would’ve changed my date’s head, or my attitude.”
Are you sure about that. sweetheart? At least you wouldn’t remember the whole sorry affair, I guess.
We are at the scores. How long have we been here? It feels like a while, doesn’t it? I’m hysterical. I want it to be over yet I want it never to end, like I’m on a really scary rollercoaster but sitting next to Jake Gyllenhaal and he’s got super-short shorts on and smells like an angel.
Dropped with the ice-cold precision of a receipt slithering out of a self-checkout machine, Malik’s score could curdle milk. He didn’t have a very good time, did he? Oh well, at least he got to appear in a national magazine, although I’m sure that was the farthest thing from Malik’s mind.
Thing is, no you’re not. You’re from the same world – a universe where you think you might as well appear in this column to get a free meal and build your ‘brand’.
You’ve both done your utmost to paint the other as a bit of a nightmare and yourself as the hapless hero we should get behind, but guess what?
Here’s Malik’s final tap-dance in the limelight as the hook to drag him off the stage hovers. Make it a good one, Malik.
Ooh, you big show-off. No need for the lime in your gin and tonic – you’ve got plenty of zing of your own.
Oh well, at least you’ve got your phone to keep you company.
Main photograph: James Drew Turner; Graham Turner, both for the Guardian
Note: I generally don’t take sides – although it was HELLA tricky not to this week, Christ – and all the comments I make are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy. The participants in the date are aware this may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena. I am sure, in real life, they are cool people. I am critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date and want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal.