I’m sure we can all agree it’s been quite a week. I think even without everything that’s been going on in the news and on TV, this one has been a bit of an endurance test for many. It doesn’t help that people are intent on wishing the pandemic a happy birthday, like it were a chubby-fingered toddler poised over a sugar-splosion of a birthday cake. A year. A year of this weird, terrifying limbo, as if all the problems we already had weren’t enough. It has felt, at times, like we’ve had the big spaceship from Independence Day (google it if you’re too young or culturally stunted for this reference) looming over our heads, waiting for that laser to fire. But if you’re reading this, it means you made it. Not long now until our other worries take centre-stage again, or are superseded by new ones.
Anyway, if you’re in the market for a scrap of joy then roll up, roll up – this week’s Guardian Blind Date appears to be just for you. We’ve got 32-year-old export administrator Matt dialling into a Zoom meeting with Holly, 33, and an executive assistant – and despite video calls being about as romantic as an abandoned trolley by the canal, they are making the best of it, with considerable success. Here they are in Weekend magazine:
Read what happened on the date in full (please click this as I leave some info out, plus the G needs the money) before reconvening back here for my very queer eye.
Matt on Holly | Holly on Matt
What were you hoping for?
An evening of good conversation.
A nice chat with a like-minded person. I haven’t really interacted with anyone new for a year, so was looking forward to talking about something besides work or Covid.
When I lived alone, and worked from home, I noticed very quickly how often or little I’d have the chance to interact with others, how there would be so many words unspoken, smiles ungiven. Even saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – after a while you long for someone to give you a reason to say it. Eventually I started talking to inanimate objects – although I maintain that my whistling kettle was definitely communicating back. Loneliness can be a difficult thing to describe and get others to understand because we all think we know what it is – that it’s just being on your own and maybe not liking it that much. So, usually, we’ll see a friend, call somebody, spend a few hours on WhatsApp, or wait for our partner or flatmate to get home, and feel better again. But proper, actual loneliness is something else entirely. To be truly lonely is to realise that even being in the same room as someone can’t fix it, that you can’t possibly say how lonely you are because it sounds ridiculous and melodramatic. We bandy about the expression ‘self isolation’ and talk about it in terms of 14 days, for the good of everyone, but the truth is that for some, isolation doesn’t end just because someone else says it does. When the world gets back to ‘normal’, some people – many, I imagine – will still be very lonely. Lonelier, even, because the return to gregarious normality for others is a stark reminder that we have never been in the same boat at all. I have never felt lonelier than when in crowded rooms, amid throngs of people wrapped up in their own worlds, who cannot, or will not, see me.
Nice eyes and smile.
What a good egg! We fell into conversation very easily.
I have a friend who says people are a ‘good egg’. It’s a nice thing to say, really, about someone who you might not know even very well at the moment, but seems to be a decent person with nothing scary or malicious in their DNA.
What did you talk about?
Music, travel (and Brexit), pizza toppings and films so bad, they’re good.
Our “rebellious” teenage years, favourite zoos and aquariums, places we’ve been and want to go, whether modern or early modern history is better. We seem to be similarly nerdy about the same things.
Brexit – what, still? In Beyoncé’s 2021, people are still bringing up Brexit? I joke, of course, because this is no surprise at all. Every day, I find out Brexit has ruined something else I took for granted, like it now costing £££ to post something to France (where my goddaughter lives), or products once easy to get hold of suddenly now having to come from America, or the general feeling like things were just a little more possible before. Anyway, given Matt’s job is in exports, this is understandable and I imagine he has lots of horror stories about just how fucked everything is.
Pizza toppings – I’m only interested in pepperoni or close variants. Shall I dole out some CONTROVERSIAL opinions in the manner of a broom-faced TikToker pointing smugly at captions while ‘Blinding Lights’ by The Weekend plays in the background? (I would film this but I’m in pyjamas and my hair looks like Mrs Slocombe’s from Are You Being Served?) Okay, here goes: chicken doesn’t belong on a pizza; fish is also rotten on pizza; pineapple – well, you do you, but would you tip a can of Lilt over a pizza? Exactly. Sweetcorn on pizza is wasting everyone’s time; those little balls of beef are too fatty, what’s going on there; barbecue sauce on a pizza is the wrong kind of filth; those chocolate pizzas they sell in Iceland terrify me more than nuclear armageddon. I think that’s it – now it’s over to my Grandma, who’s lip-syncing to Ariana Grande while making buns using a bizarre ‘life hack’ that involves nitroglycerine.
“Rebellious” teenage years – God, I love teenagers but… we need to find a way to communicate to them that they will eventually be mortified by almost everything they do/say/wear. As a teenager I used to long for a rebellious streak. Maybe I assumed it would make me grow taller, or better looking, or more popular, or open doors into sexual kingdom that were otherwise padlocked tight. I maintain that’s why – other than hormonal changes – most teenagers act like arseholes, they just think they should. All teenagers on TV, and in movies – even the ones being played by 35-year-olds in musicals – are annoying and aggro. I had to invent my own rebellions, which I did largely in secret because I didn’t want to get into trouble. They were fairly run of the mill I that they began and ended at smoking cigarettes, wearing a fawn-coloured Benetton sweatshirt (got it in the sale) as my school jumper, and very occasionally skipping a day of school to go and hide somewhere, feeling very miserable, and occasionally flirting with light drug use. I loathed school, but knew it was my only ticket away from everything that made me hate it, if that makes sense, so I not only had to endure it but do well enough to formulate my escape. One thing I’ve noted now, as I look back at those years, is that everyone at my school who was an actual rebellious teenager looks like shit now. If only mirrors went forward in time; teenagers would perhaps sit there good as gold, cleansing, moisturising and conjugating être rather than having crap sex on fly-tipped sofas in quarries and doing bongs with handsy men called Steve. The best years of your life? They really shouldn’t be.
(This story has a happy ending: my school was razed to the ground about three years ago.)
Any awkward moments?
My pizza turned up 45 minutes before hers did. I felt bad eating mine while she was still waiting.
I somehow managed to lose an earring while sitting still at my own desk. Also there was a discrepancy between our pizzas arriving, so we were never eating at the same time.
Perhaps you have never seen a rom-com or read romantic fiction (you’re missing out btw) but on little incidents like these, great tales are built. The tiniest misunderstandings, the piffling things that go wrong and make things that tiny bit more ridiculous… they’re stories that will one day have grandchildren rapt (until you actually hand over their pocket money and they disappear out of the door to fund their teenage rebellions with it).
Good table manners?
How long did you stay on the call?
Three and a half hours.
A 210-minute Zoom call? With food, which arrived at different times? Hang on.
‘Hello, is that Manchesterford’s finest milliners, Flatcap-U-Like? Yes, I’d like you to whisk me up some new headgear fit for a spectacular wedding, possibly over video. For design inspo think Princess Beatrice, hooped up on Red Bull & diesel smoothies, determined to ruin a frenemy’s christening. Thank you! Ready by 5? Excellent. Ba.’
Best thing about Holly?
I felt really at ease talking to her and she had some good to stories to tell.
His sense of humour. And his smile!
This is going so well, in a time where things don’t often go well or, if they do, they are usually happening to someone else, with more money than you.
Describe Holly in three words
Bright, bubbly and easy-going.
BRIGHT, like the diamond glinting in the necklace of a rich person who’s just flicked a cigarette on the floor and designated you as the ‘ash fairy’.
BUBBLY, like the champagne at premieres that we shall never get to drink.
EASY-GOING, like people with personal assistants very seldom are.
Describe Matt in three words
Interesting, funny, friendly.
INTERESTING, like the unopened correspondence at a flat you move into hardly ever is.
FUNNY, like no right-wing person has ever truly been.
FRIENDLY, like Heidi and Keisha probably never will be again. And doesn’t it hurt your heart?
What do you think she made of you?
I’m not sure. She said I was the first person she had spoken to in a while who wasn’t a work colleague or family member. The time went very quickly and I think the conversation flowed pretty well.
I know the ‘check in on your friends’ thing is such a hands-off, vague solution to the whole issue we have with mental health at the moment, but if you can, do. It’s about the quality of the check-in, and doing it in a meaningful way. Nobody likes Zoom calls, and I know that sometimes (all the time) I don’t message people because I worry they might think I am intruding or they are busy or there’s nothing to say or they’ll just get anxious about having to reply, but you should send the message anyway, have the Zoom call – even if it’s planned for only ten minutes. Let someone see your face, show them you’re still out there somewhere. It doesn’t have to be a ‘how are you’ text, by the way – nobody ever answers those truthfully – but maybe just text over something silly or funny, or a reaction to what you’ve seen on the news. Skip the niceties and the politeness, as they tend to act as a diversion from proper social interaction; there’s no need for a catch-up on all your ‘news’. Just talk about anything: biscuits you’ve tried out; your latest obsessions; Drag Race (not the US version, who cares, honestly); stupid things people have said on Twitter; your top five toasted sandwich fillings; whatever. You will eventually find the emotion amid the ephemera. If you want to know how someone really feels, don’t ask them, get them to tell you what they’re loving and hating at the moment; show them you’re interested, and where their head’s at should become obvious. To hear your own voice out loud and to see what you’re saying register on someone else’s face (or in their replies) is to feel alive.
What do you think he made of you?
I think/hope he liked me. He laughed at my terrible jokes and didn’t seem put off by my nervous babbling.
🚨🚨🚨 Chatterbox/babbling klaxon. I wish we could find a way to convince women that talking is literally fine and sometimes the fact you’re ‘talking too much’ isn’t the problem, but that the other person isn’t talking enough, and that’s on them.
No week is an easy week to be a woman, and with everything that’s been going on this week, it’s been a particularly tough one. Whatever your gender, whoever you are, with the women in your life or women you don’t know who you encounter, do all you can to make sure they feel heard, appreciated, and valued and – perhaps most importantly of all – safe, to be who they want to be. And remind men, the good ones and the bad ones and the ones you’re not sure about, of the role we play in making the world a worse place to be if you are a woman – and that it’s our job to change that. This has to start way sooner than exchanging tips like crossing the road to avoid walking behind a woman – it starts close to home and goes much deeper, examining every part of our own behaviour and its effect on the wider world. It’s no good to say you’re ‘just learning’ or ‘realising’ what’s going on – if you’re coming to this late, ask yourself why (you haven’t been listening, probably, the world tells you that you don’t need to) and make sure the men coming up behind you get the message much sooner. It is actually very, very easy not to to be a dickhead about this, honestly. And so many women, and other men, and anyone of any gender who is basically conditioned to be frightened of you, will be thankful for it. You will too. As the old superhero cliché goes, use your powers for good. We all benefit.
Anyway, Holly, talk as much as you like while the connection is still going.
How did the call end?
Positively. We gave each other homework: I have to watch Galaxy Quest and she’s got to watch Rubber.
We agreed we’d had a nice evening and swapped WhatsApp details.
This is very sweet, but the Alan Rickman gif was too hard to resist. Rubber, btw, is a movie about a demonic car tyre. Sounds amazing, tbh.
Marks out of 10?
Is it OK to give top marks? We have a lot in common, in tastes and outlook.
Matt asking for permission to give a top score is very sweet – Holly’s 8.5 might seem a little cautious, yes, but these people haven’t actually met in the flesh (which they both said they would rather do in their answer to ‘what would you change about the evening’) and we cannot live vicariously through two strangers. 18.5 is an amazing score for a date where the food was a disaster and no physical touching happened.
Now, the clincher:
Would you meet again?
Lockdown dependent, I’d like to think so.
Yes – if he’s keen.
Please be good to yourselves and more patient with others.
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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. If you reply to my tweets about the date, please don’t embarrass yourself. 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 please tell me: which kind of history is better? Isn’t it all kind of awful?!
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