Photographs: Silvana Trevale, Sarah Lee/The Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

Maria and Jacob

Still January, then. Great. Nothing more to say on that, really.

This week’s hopefuls are Maria, a 24-year-old fashion PR, and Jacob, 27, a charity fundraiser. Here they are in all their glory, posing for their Edinburgh Fringe comedy show flyers.

 

Photographs: Silvana Trevale, Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Read the full account of the date on the Guardian website (I know its boring because I’m not on there, but I always leave at least one question out so its the only way to experience the full horror) and then let’s meet right back here and roast them gently.

Maria on JacobJacob on Maria
What were you hoping for?
A fun evening and a very nice meal.

Nothing else? Romance, maybe? A “fun dating story to tell my pals”, perhaps? No? Well, there’s nothing like aiming low but remember you can still miss.

What were you hoping for?
An interesting conversation with someone personable.

Ha! Well, I’m afraid I have read ahead and… let me just say Jacob’s hopes may well be dashed before this column is out.

First impressions?
Interesting choice of shirt (short sleeves!). But cute.

Maria just pulls herself back there with the “but cute”. The “interesting choice” is, obviously a barb, but if it’s her genuine first impression then… okay? I suppose Maria works in fashion PR so she should have some idea what she’s talking about but for all we know she could be the UK’s PR representative for Crocs, T-shirts with Che Guevara’s face on, or stick-on belly jewellery. I’m not entirely sure with what’s wrong with wearing a short-sleeved shirt (I generally don’t like them unless they are patterned and it’s summer) but perhaps Maria has a phobia of bare arms.

First impressions?
Really friendly and relaxed. She’s very good-looking, too, which is definitely a bonus.

I mean, this is nice enough. So why does it feel like Jacob is being led into a crocodile’s mouth by a Foxtons letting agent under the pretext of it being a “roomy two-bed”?

What did you talk about?
Our jobs, music, ballet, where we studied, wine-tasting.
We were facing the open-plan kitchen, so she spent a significant chunk of the evening trying to engage the head chef in conversation. I found it charming, but it felt a bit as if she was more interested in him than me. (To be fair, he was a good-looking bloke.)

Hmmm. Well, no matches here because Jacob can’t remember anything they talked about other than the fact Maria didn’t seem to want to talk to him. Further explorations reveal they were sitting at a bar next to the kitchen and not at a table – this is a dick move by the restaurant by the way. Seat a potentially romantic couple at a table, so they can talk, not next to your kitchen, where they’ll be distracted like sugar-hyped toddlers. I guess when you’re on a date with someone who is knowledgeable about or interested in food (again, spoiler: Maria is) then a bit of light badinage with the chef or waiting staff might be entertaining or amusing – though not for the staff, I’d wager, who want you to exchange a pleasantry or two, then let them get on with their work. Jacob himself says he found it “charming” and as he was there and we were not, we must demur to his testimony.

BUT

If it were me, I wouldn’t have liked this. I’ve been on dates with men who were showy and gossipy with the waiting staff, and it always made my heart sink a little. I’m not talking about Maria’s case here, but I have felt that this kind of thing shows not only a disrespect for your dining partner, but an imbalance of power. The chef or the waiter has to humour you, because their job is to make you happy, and unless you are being demonstratively rude or aggressive, they can’t stop you. We all know that being rude to a waiter is a red flag, but sometimes I think being overfamiliar and extra with them can be too. Some waiters or chefs enjoy talking to customers, I know, and an interest in their work is much more welcome than dismissive haughtiness, but if you’re on a date, keep your interactions with the people serving you friendly, light, grateful, and polite – and concentrate on the person you’re supposed to be chirpsing.

Any awkward moments?
Many, but the standout one was when I attractively dribbled water all over myself.

No, Maria, definitely not the standout awkward moment. You were just getting started.

Any awkward moments?
Listening to Maria lecture a professional chef on how to make a Spanish omelette.

Now, I have a confession here in that I have done something similar – but don’t worry, I lived to regret it. Maria is Spanish so you would imagine something of an authority on a Spanish omelette and, well, as I have mentioned a couple of zillion times, I am from Yorkshire. When we first moved to this area of London, we went to our local for Sunday lunch and among the roast that arrived was one of the worst Yorkshire puddings I’ve ever been served – and I will eat ANY Yorkshire pudding set in front of me. It was, for a start, the size of a Malteser (slight exaggeration, but it was small), which is fine if you have six of them, but not if it’s flying solo. Then, on biting into it, I discovered it was made with  among other things – a very bready kind of flour, or at least I assumed so, because it tasted like an old loaf of Hovis and had an almost psoriatic consistency. I complained (POLITELY, PLEASE ALWAYS BE POLITE IF YOU HAVE A GRIPE, THANKS) and, um, suggested another way they could have made it. Mortifying, yes, but its not over. The next time I went into the pub – just for a drink, not lunch – they brought over to me, with GREAT, GUT-CHURNING CEREMONY, a single Yorkshire pudding, with some gravy on the side, and asked me to taste-test it. I wanted to DIE. Anyway, they finally got it right (although not on that specific occasion LOL) and every punter who buys a roast in that pub has me to thank. You’re welcome!

Good table manners?
I kept the wine glasses topped up, but he left me the last piece of eel.
Definitely.

Maria is suggesting here that Jacob’s table manners were less than… ooh what’s the word, can’t quite think… anyway, not that great because she had to keep the wine glasses topped up but, as I’ve said before, I don’t like it when anyone else tops up the wine glass for me. Why have you decided I should have some more? Is it because you want some more? Then just take some! I’m guessing they were on red wine so it’s not as big a deal but I loathe it when someone pours lovely chilled white wine into my half-drunk, rapidly warming, now-gloopy wine that’s already in my glass. Can you imagine half-drinking a cup of tea and then just making another one in the same glass – a hot, fresh brew mangled with the ageing, greying freezing cold tea. I’d rather drink a headache.

Also – and perhaps heterosexuals can enlighten me on this one because I have limited, distant experience of trying to be interested in you romantically – isn’t there something a bit icky about a man constantly topping up a woman’s glass on a date? Isn’t it a little “are you trying to get me drunk?” Perhaps Jacob was being over cautious. Or perhaps he was hoping Maria would drink all the wine herself and pass out so he didn’t have to listen to her wanging on about omelettes anymore.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
Hmm, I think they’d have different interests.

How do you know? It sounds like you’ve barely even asked Jacob what his name is, or what he got for his A-levels, or where his favourite branch of Oliver Bonas or Fat Face is – or whatever it is straight people do when they’re not throwing their heads back in raucous laughter in the Putney Zizzi’s, clicking their fingers at waiters and asking for a perfectly reasonable octopus-based starter to be taken off the bill out of sheer badness.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Yeah, why not?

I can think of a few reasons! Unless one of them is a chef.

Describe Jacob in three words
Funny, enthusiastic, grapefruit-lover.

Maria’s first two adjectives are great compliments (although enthusiastic always sounds like someone who spends years trying for a Blue Peter badge but never quite making it) but I see she has given up by the third and went for ‘grapefruit-lover’. If he doesn’t call her an omelette-lover next, all is lost.

Describe Maria in three words
Assertive, relaxed, opinionated.

Again, all positive comments but he could also be giving one-word descriptions of 500-word comments on MailOnline under a piece on Harry and Meghan.

What do you think he made of you?
Who is this Spanish girl and why won’t she stop talking about food and her family being chefs?
Not a lot, probably; things seemed to tail off in the second half.

How do you solve a problem like Maria and Jacob being woefully mismatched and sitting, staring into the kitchen? When is this over? Oh, now, by the looks of it.

Did you go on somewhere?
Nope, I think we were both on the same page.

The same page of very different editions of an increasingly unreadable novel.

Did you go on somewhere?
She spent the last 10 minutes in the restaurant looking up buses home, so I got the impression she wasn’t interested in continuing.

I’m hoping that Maria and Jacob were still actually talking at this point and not just sitting in silence whole she scrolled and he wished he too was an omelette. I guess you could say this is practical behaviour, as Maria doesn’t want to be hanging around at bus stops all night, so its best to check before you leave the warmth of a restaurant, but it’s also a bit… miserable. Jacob sounds a bit deflated.

Again, not talking specifically about Maria and Jacob, but people have very different ideas about what is and isn’t appropriate and when you’re dating you’re exposed to these quirks without warning. It’s incredible how rude people can be to total strangers, just because there’s no spark or whatever. I’ll never forget the date who had bored and belittled me all night yet because my self-esteem levels were too low to limbo under, we went on to another pub. I went to the loo and said, out of habit, ‘Can you watch my drink?’ and he replied, ‘Don’t worry I doubt anyone’s going to put anything in your drink.’ When I got back, he was slagging me off to some other gay guys at the next table. He even tried to kiss me after we left. Lucky I can’t remember his name or I’d be shaming him right here. But, by the same token, I have behaved terribly on dates too. Why we do it to ourselves, and each other?

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
That I hadn’t gone on about food, just like I have again (sorry, not sorry).

Maria should get a podcast. It feels like there has been a third presence on this date, and I don’t just mean the chef. There is an eggy, spectral intruder to this whole disaster. This week’s Blind Date has been like Rebecca, but with the role of Rebecca being played by the elusive, perfect Spanish omelette.

To sit at a table rather than the bar.

I feel Jacob is being polite here as I can think of many other things I’d have changed about the date. First one: turning up at all.

Marks out of 10?
6.
6.

These scores are too high.

Would you meet again?
I don’t think so. It was great to meet him, but we are quite different.
We didn’t exchange numbers.


Maria and Jacob ate at Peckham Cellars, London, SE15. Fancy a blind date? Email blind.date@theguardian.com  . If you’re looking to meet someone likeminded, visit soulmates.theguardian.com

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My second novel The Magnificent Sons is out in May and it’s great. Find out how to preorder.

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, so please be kind to them in comments or replies. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll happily publish whatever you say. How do you make a decent Spanish omelette, anyway?

5 Comments

  1. Given that many more straight women apply to appear in the column than straight men, mismatches like this are sadly inevitable. I would have thought that you are either the sort of person who goes in for appearing in the pages of national newspapers or you aren’t, and that chromosomes wouldn’t have much to do with it, but here we are.

    It does read as if Maria might have made up her mind about Jacob a little prematurely, but that could be the editing, and in any case that’s the prerogative of the young…

  2. Someone needs to tell Jacob he’s a good-looking bloke. I’m guessing it was Maria’s choice to sit at the bar facing the open kitchen. Poor lad, he never had a chance.

  3. ” It feels like there has been a third presence on this date, and I don’t just mean the chef. There is an eggy, spectral intruder to this whole disaster. This week’s Blind Date has been like Rebecca, but with the role of Rebecca being played by the elusive, perfect Spanish omelette.”

    Dying at this, thanks for the laugh!

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