Max and Joe
Photograph: Graeme Robertson/the Guardian/The Guyliner
Impeccable Table Manners

Max and Joe

Much as we all have our own specific dreams and aspirations when facing another new year, we all hope for and expert different things from the Guardian’s Blind Date column. Some are eager for romance, to watch the happy couple ride off into the sunset (or at least ride each other), while some value the prospect of a long-lasting friendship that resists Cupid’s arrow. Many used to enjoy watching two strangers tear each other apart with a gladiatorial thirst, or hope for some subtle and witty shade, but in a world which seems to enjoy not only chasing its own tail but blowing it off with a bazooka, that has fallen out of fashion, and most of us are looking for positives. I’ll be honest: I’m not too concerned with how things turn out so long as there are a few trigger points I can latch onto and gently roast.

Offering themselves up for the carving knife this week, on the very first day of 2022, are Max and Joe. Max, on the left in the glasses, is a 28-year-old learning and development director (no idea but I imagine it involves sending out a lot of Zoom invitations) and Joe, 26, a PhD student – studying what we are sadly thus far in the dark. Here they are from top to toe:

 

Max and Joe
Photograph: Graeme Robertson/the Guardian

I thought C&A had pulled out of the UK but apparently not. Read what happened on the date on the Guardian’s website for the full details – plus a selfie of them on the date – before returning here for the main event.

Max on Joe | Joe on Max

What were you hoping for?
Someone funny and up for a good time. In a perfect world a doctor – we can all dream.

A doctor? In a perfect world? Has Max ever met any doctors? They have literally zero free time for ‘a good time’ and when they’re not working, they’re sleeping, staring into microwave ovens while a Co-op lasagne silently rotates within, or having arguments with their friends about never having any free time. I wonder what kind of doctor Max is interested in – perhaps the kind who works in Holby City and squeezes in a life-saving operation and falling head over heels with a patient during his working hours of one hour, every Tuesday.

What were you hoping for?
A glitzy night out with someone new.

GLITZY. Joe was hoping to find their date had tumbled headfirst into jam before staggering backward into a bath of sequins.

First impressions?
Great smile and charming. He clearly had a free-spirited sense of self.

A great smile is wonderful indeed, and to be called charming before you’ve even sat down – clearly Joe is a close relative of Nigel Havers. I’m not sure what ‘a free-spirited sense of self’ is but it sounds like something a Tory education minister would want to obliterate at the earliest opportunity.

What did you talk about?
Growing up in the countryside and whether London was an amazing place to live or a terrible one. Our reality TV guilty pleasures – his being a Below Deck man and my love for Made in Chelsea.
Dating closeted men and fancying straight ones. And we both despaired about dating apps in the countryside.

Countryside ✅ – I can’t really imagine growing up gay in the proper countryside but I imagine it’s quite different from growing up gay in the city. Fewer buses for one, and definitely not as many gay bars – not that I went to any when I was still living at home. There is a reason most LGBTQ people leave their hometowns and head for the nearest, brightest centre of everything. It’s a paradox, I guess: the urge to seek out the beaming lights of the city so you don’t have to hide anymore, alongside the desire for anonymity, to slot into the crowds and only be a curiosity of your own choosing. Which I suppose leads onto…

Dating closeted men and fancying straight ones – I don’t fancy straight men as a rule. Nothing personal, I’m just not that interested in you. But perhaps where there are no other gay men, or none prepared to be out, your eyes might wander toward the land of Lynx, football, and treating the world like you own it.

Below Deck / Made in Chelsea – I’ve never seen either properly. I can’t really do this sort of TV. I have friends who watch it as a way of switching off completely but it triggers something in me, the constant overanalysing of the most inconsequential situations and basic emotions… oh, hang on.

Any awkward moments?
Maybe when he said he was vegan and I ordered a steak.

As far as I’m aware, being vegan does not mean insisting meat cannot be eaten in your presence, but I suppose it’s a very clear message that you don’t expect your tonsils will be getting a licking anytime soon. What you eat on a date is way easier to decode than body language – if the person you’re with is shovelling stinky food down their throat, they’re probably not interested in having you down it next. There are exceptions: I once went on a date with a fantastically good-looking man who was actually interested, just thoughtless enough to eat a burger on our date. After the inevitable clinch, we broke apart and I found I had some onion in my mouth that I must have liberated from between his teeth – I am very thorough. Reader, we had come that far, so I took him home and did my very best to taste the rest. (I adapted this story for my first novel The Last Romeo, which you should read!)

Any awkward moments?
None that weren’t resolved by his fun spiel about growing up in Weston-super-Mare.

On reading this I did a quick scroll back to the top of the page to look at Joe’s face to see if they might be capable of sarcasm. ‘Spiel’ – not the most complimentary of phrases. Anyway, I decided that while Joe looks mainly very sweet, Joe definitely has it in them to roll their eyes and tell you that you look great, right after you’ve just sicked up ten Bacardi Breezers in the toilet at Revolution.

Good table manners?
For sure: he kept my glass full.

Woman fills wine from water cooler

I’m not a huge fan of others filling my glass – I learned how to do that for myself when I was about 2, thank you very much, but some people love it. There are a variety of reasons someone might top up your glass for you. Here are just a few:

  1. You’re not drinking fast enough
  2. They want you to relax and enjoy yourself and perhaps undo a top button
  3. They’re hoping if you drink enough you will pass out and they can leave
  4. They’re absolutely positive your stories about deciding which pairs of red trousers to wear to the Tory party conference will get more interesting the more Pinot Grigio you put away
  5. You are paying for the wine
Good table manners?
Excellent. He apologised repeatedly for getting the steak.

dave franco

Hmmm. It might have been easier for Max… not to order the steak in the first place? Apologies are great and if reality TV is anything to go by, we’re all doing much more apologising than we used to, and taking responsibility for our own actions. But it’s an even better idea to take that responsibility a little earlier, and not actually do the thing we might need to apologise for. An apology doesn’t wipe the mind or take away the feelings that upset who you’re apologising to; it’s not carte blanche to just do what you want. There’s a certain type of person – not saying either of these two are it, just riffing on what they say – who thinks they can do what they want and apologise later. The old adage ‘it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission’ certainly works in some scenarios, but unless you’re a contestant on The Apprentice, heavily involved in a pyramid scheme, or are fairly relaxed about losing your house in a divorce, it’s not a hugely useful motto to live by.

On a related note, while Joe appears to appreciate the repeated apologies for the steak-eating (why is he apologising repeatedly, we get it, you like meat, just eat your steak, take your selfie and go home), I am not a fan of this bizarre tactic that is, in fact, a way of forcing someone to give you permission to do exactly what you want. I haven’t drunk alcohol for two years (today in fact!) and I am fine with others drinking booze, nobody needs my permission, I am not in charge of who gets drunk and who doesn’t, but some people act so strangely around me. We go to a pub and the first thing I hear is ‘Oh I won’t get an alcoholic drink if you’re not drinking.’ Why? Just do what you like – don’t put the pressure on me to say that you can or can’t drink, or make me feel like some kind of miserable scold who’s stopping you from getting wasted. Argh. Concern yourself with what’s in your own glass, or on your own plate, not what’s on mine.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
For sure – not in a romantic sense but as someone to challenge their beliefs and add a new perspective.

To challenge their beliefs?! Oh no. What do they believe? Is it something like 5G signals cause genetic mutations? Are they anti-vaxxers? Or is it something REALLY important, like preferring the second recast of Ben in EastEnders to the third, or choosing ‘No Good Advice’ as their favourite Girls Aloud song over ‘Biology’?

The alarm bells are deafening here.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
Yes, if he’d schlep to south-east London.

Ah, y’know, London is a big old place but if you really want to get somewhere to see someone, you’ll do it. If you’ve lived in the countryside, where there’s only two buses a day to the nearest conurbation – one which doesn’t even have a Superdrug or a WH SMith – you can probably survive 35 minutes on a Southeastern train to a dreary new-build development that overlooks an abattoir but is called something like ‘HeavenDreams Glade’.

Describe Joe in three words?
Idealistic, witty and caring.

IDEALISTIC, like someone whose political opinions differ greatly from those of Max’s close cohort.
WITTY, like a gay teenager who expresses their as yet unconfirmed sexuality through a series of laser-targeted barbs at their straight brother, and other wry sideways looks at life.
CARING, like someone whose political opinions differ greatly from those of Max’s close cohort. (Just a hunch.)

Describe Max in three words?
In his element.

Ooh which element, I wonder. Potassium? Nitrogen? Boron? Imodium?

What do you think he made of you?
He got the measure of me, literally. He looked me over and guessed my suit measurements, a skill honed over years working in retail.

When I worked in menswear in BHS as a student, I couldn’t believe how many men needed to be measured up for the array of non-iron slacks on offer. How could you get to the age of, say, 55, and not know what your inside leg was? And then I realised exactly what was going on and stopped carrying a tape measure round my neck.

And … did you kiss?
No. I don’t think either of us had a strong desire to.

I think you could forgive a vegan for not wanting to swish their tongue round a mouth that had just chewed its way round a cow’s arse.

And … did you kiss?
It never materialised.

Haha I like the use of ‘materialised’ here – was Joe expecting some kind of patch to be downloaded to an operating system that would switch on the skill to make them want to kiss Max? Like a character in The Sims waiting for the Cats & Dogs expansion pack to be added.

If you could change one thing about the evening what would it be?
I’d have encouraged him to order a pudding – I missed my favourite part of an evening.

Again with this. If you want a pudding and the other person doesn’t, but they’re not eager to leave yet, just get the pudding and eat! We do not need to do everything in pairs! We’re not backup dancers! Or scissors!

Marks out of 10?
8.
7.

christina applegate in don't tell mom the babysitter's dead, blowing smoke

This seven feels like it’s telling me something.

Would you meet again?
In a group of friends – sure.
Max has a penchant for doctors, so in a few years I’ll qualify for another date!

This doctor thing – can it be, like, any doctor? Is there a specific type? Are you happy with a podiatrist or a rheumatologist or do they have to work in a more glamorous field? Is it the scrubs? The long hours? The access to fentanyl? Do you get turned on by the idea of a GP sitting in a small badly lit room and listening to the problems of 50 people every day, or getting an instant diagnosis for any minor health complaint you might have? Is it the messy handwriting that gets you all gooey in your AussieBums, or maybe the fact the are never at home? I know some people have fetishes for people whose job require special uniforms, but doctors, really? What would make you attracted to someone because of their job? Do all jobs have fetishists like this? Is there a market for financial advisors, or petrol station cashiers, or social media executives? Will we one day, in the ‘What you were hoping for?’ question, see someone say they are dying to meet a web designer?

Weird.


Happy 2022! A new year means my new book is out THIS YEAR. I am really excited about it and can’t wait for you to read it. It’s called THE FAKE-UP and is a romantic comedy, kind of. It’s great. I would love it if you’d preorder!

>> PREORDER THE FAKE-UP

Graphic showing my book cover and the text The Fake Up 3 MONTHS TO GO

(Thank you for being patient during this period of self-promotion, which is both a contractual obligation and necessary for me to survive.)

 

If you enjoyed this post but don’t want a book, consider chucking me a small tip:

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. There has been an increase in readers being quite horrible about the daters – this isn’t what we should be about. I will not approve nasty below-the-line comments and will report any abusive tweets. If you reply to my tweets about the date, please don’t embarrass yourself or assume I agree with you. 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 or fill our feeds with hate. If you’re one of the daters, get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story. I am joking about your friends; I am sure they are great.

Max and Joe ate at Nest, Bishopsgate, London EC2. Fancy a blind date? Email blind.date@theguardian.com

4 Comments

  1. I wonder if the steak apology was because he ordered it and THEN found out he would be eating in front of a vegan. Steak seems the most unrepentantly carnivorous of meats!

  2. You made me laugh at loud with “Ooh which element, I wonder. Potassium? Nitrogen? Boron? Imodium?”

    Looking forward to reading your next book!

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