Impeccable Table Manners

Max and Thomas

If this week has taught us anything – and that’s a big if – it’s that your past catches up with you. Everything you say or do is just a regret waiting to happen, whether it’s an adolescent telling their parents they hate them, letting someone walk out of your life forever, or tweeting mean things just to show off. It’s an unfortunate human condition that we’re so rubbish at futureproofing ourselves, we can only really live in the now, ruled by our emotions and our desperate need to impress someone, anyone. So we do things we know aren’t cool, or that we very likely don’t mean, because we live for instant gratification. It’s why we drink that extra shot of Sambuca, smoke that drunken cigarette, or eat that quarter pounder midway through our boring #eatclean diet out of a book – it’s all about how we feel now. We are stupid. We should at least own it. “I was an idiot,” we should say when called out. “I did these things to show off, because I thought I was being fabulous, or wanted a cheap laugh, or just wanted to feel good, and this is not who I am now, and I regret it, and I’m sorry.” Why does nobody ever want to admit how stupid they are?

I wonder what Max, a 22-year-old research consultant, and postgrad student Thomas, 27, will think in a few years’ time when they read back their appearance in this week’s Guardian Blind Date column, which is a masterclass in “Why are you like this?”. Perhaps, like I do when I read my early writing, they will cringe and blanch as their stomach does the gentlest of somersaults, and rue the day they had less self-control, filter, or poise. Maybe one day I, too, will regret my comments in this very post. But you know what they say: publish and be damned.

Photograph: Sarah Lee; Jill Mead, both for the Guardian

Read what happened on the date before we take a deep breath and mutter softly to ourselves.

Thomas is not a regular reader of the Blind Date column, clearly.

Imagine being 22 and Miss Havisham is the romantic scenario you dread the most. Miss Havisham gets to slouch around the house all day in a wedding dress and refuses to do any cleaning. She’s living the dream. She gets Deliveroo for dinner, Amazon Primes her groceries right to her door, and spends all day on Tumblr ❤️-ing really emo quotes and pictures of the Madden brothers. And she drinks RED label Coke because she has literally nobody to impress. Your faves could never. EVER.

Your geography teacher was a slightly socially awkward 22-year-old? Wherever did you go to school? I never had geography teachers that looked or dressed like Max when I was at school. If I had, I may well have played my Kylie tapes a little louder than I had been doing, let me tell you.

“Glam.” *peers at picture above* Perhaps Max has just been released from prison, or is from Basingstoke.

(Yes, Basingstoke is great and has some of the loveliest roundabouts in Britain. Please don’t write in.)

Camp America? Is that still going? Wow. OK, so the only match here is Grindr chat, which is a bit depressing as that’s the only thing they can each remember the other saying. I’m much older than these guys so I can’t comment on whether this is the done thing, but I can’t imagine why you would want to sit on a date and go through all your hookup LOLs. Are they ever as funny as we think they are? I liked Grindr when I used it – it was, uh, useful – but I didn’t know we talked about it on dates. Like, bad hookups. I thought those stories were for close confidences, people with shared history, who can imagine you in that situation and can feel for you – not just some random you’re trying to impress with a no doubt faux-lurid tale about someone having a hairy back or a bent knob.

On a side note: I hate the word “shenanigans” and if anybody ever uses it, in a birthday party invite on Facebook for example, I block/report/unfollow/defriend/sign them up for the Paperchase newsletter.

If only there was something you could’ve done to alleviate his nervousness like… fill the silences. Here is my pro tip/life hack/best practice or whatever for awkward silences on a date: talk about the silence. “Ooh, bit of a silence there. Do you think that’s awkward? There are some moments where it’s OK to be silent aren’t there? You know, when you’re totally at ease with somebody. And other times silence makes you want to rip your throat out and hold it up in the air for a passing pigeon to take away.”

Failing that, talk about whatever you read in Metro that morning.

Yeah. See above.

Maybe he was trying to get away from you as quickly as possible. I eat quite quickly; I hate hanging around in restaurants, making a load of noise and sitting amid half-eaten dinners and dirty glasses. They say you should take at least 20 minutes to eat your food to avoid feeling hungry again straight after, but I’ve never cared what “they” say (I totally do btw) and I’m not about to start now.

We’re getting to halfway. Who are we rooting for? Who are we supposed to be backing? It’s quite hard, isn’t it? So far we have been led to believe that Max is quite sweet, if a little oblivious and Thomas… well, I’ve no idea.

Best thing?

A refreshing change? A frank gay man?!? A refreshing change from what? Unless you mean “honest” – yeah, that would be quite the game-changer amiright, BOYZ?


Uh. Um. I don’t think it works like that.

Vegetarians don’t want to talk to each other about being a vegetarian; it’s the meat-eaters they want. They just love to be asked “But what do you actually eat?” and quizzed over and over about which meat products they miss the most. (They always answer bacon sandwich; it’s a stock reply.) What are two vegetarians going to talk about together? A recipe for yoghurt?

This isn’t how it works, Thomas. You are supposed to chuck out three adjectives – I’m sorry that was either beyond or beneath you – and then I can make some vaguely funny comments about the words you’ve used. Instead, you’ve given me this. So let’s use some adjectives about your reply:

Clichéd – like a 1995 romcom featuring a screaming gay best friend who either disappears completely two-thirds of the way through or gets a flimsy taste of love when a waiter smiles at him during whichever awful wedding happens at the end of the film.
Unimaginative – like an untucked Oxford shirt.
Catty – like a cat. A big one.

Nice – like the biscuit or the place or a vaguely pleasant thing that wasn’t interesting enough to be wonderful, nor dull enough to be dire. A day without weather, Michael Bublé’s smile, unsalted butter, brown suede.
Funny – like, really?
Vegetarian – Max, seriously, we get it; he’s vegetarian.

Imagine the way you eat being one of the three most fascinating things about you. It’s like being lauded for being fast at urinating or brushing your teeth before bed.

I think we need to put Thomas in rice.

“I’m mad me!” says John in Accounts, who never speaks except at the Christmas party and always finds cat hair when he peels back the cling film from his (wafer thin-sliced turkey) sandwiches. He does not have a cat.

“You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!” says the dog-eared sign on the wall behind the counter at the newsagents, staffed by middle-aged white people who have been doing a sponsored frown since the three-day week was abolished, and whose most daring act of madness so far was to load the pricing gun with pink stickers and stop using the apostrophe in Hallowe’en.

“I’m as mad as a bag of cats,” says Max, here, now, on this date, that we’ve just read about, blinking slowly like a Tiny Tears doll tied to the side of the London Eye.

Oh, Max. It’s a bit late to come out with your best barbs now. We needed you earlier. Anyway, however laboured this analogy is, Max is confirming my suspicions that Thomas isn’t perhaps the most interesting of people, but thinks he is the most thrilling of the two.

In a way this is quite liberating because historically, when we’re not being told to hide ourselves away or quieten down, gay men are supposed to bring it and not be boring. Pithy putdowns, zingers that would take the average heterosexual comedian days of workshopping to come up with – we just toss them out like they’re tortillas for your lousy Old El Paso fajita kit. We are supposed to be the go-to for comic relief, or sharing secrets, or bitchiness and do you know what? It’s tiring. So if Thomas really is as “It’s Pepsi, is that OK?” as Max’s light ribbing suggests, then all power to him.

I think if a date goes this badly, the least you can do is improve it by 85% and get off with each other. Amateurs.

Good call, Thomas, nice one. Who would you have sent instead of yourself? Do you have a hot brother Max would’ve got on with better, perhaps?

YES YOU BLOODY WELL SHOULD’VE. You’re in a magazine. And, plus, you’re on a date, and you’re 22, and dinner was free. Why not make the best of it rather than sit there and wait to be entertained? And if you were both terrible company, why not just agree to laugh about it and get horrendously drunk courtesy of the restaurant. Instead we get “oh he’s a vegetarian” and “blah blah blah personality”.

Two gay men with nothing to say but low-rent, “last day of the blue cross sale” digs. GROUNDBREAKING.

Hmmm. A 3 and a 5. Really? That bad? OK.

“Ladies and gentleman, tonight Craig Revel-Horwood is indisposed, so the part of Miss Hannigan will be played by Thomas, from the Blind Date column. Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.”

No indeed.

Disclaimer: The comments I make about the couples are meant to be playful and humorous and are based on the answers the Guardian chooses to publish, which are usually edited for space, brevity and drama. Most of my bitchy comments come from a place of envy and tiredness – don’t get upset. You’re young and wrinkle-free; you can handle it. Get in touch if you want to give us your side of the story.

Note: I have a Tinyletter called The Truth About Everything* and there will be another edition next week. Do sign up if you fancy it.

Another note: I’ve got a novel coming out. Find out more or buy it, maybe!


  1. Gosh, that was so awful it was really enjoyable!
    Also, I am sorry to be snarky but, how can someone be a Research Consultant at 22? Consultant? Seriously?

  2. That must have been the saddest one ever and record-breaking for the number of times I had to check back to see who was saying what. I know, maybe they really loved each other and decided not to tell anyone?

  3. I think Thomas was trying to be sassy but he comes across in print as bitchy, verging on mean-spirited.

    I had to laugh when you were doing the 3-words breakdown of Thomas’ response, using “nice” as a substitute. It made me think of that scene in the brilliant Acorn Antiques when a letter is delivered (unceremoniously flung through the open door by a stage hand):
    Mrs Overall: “It’s your decree nisi!”
    Miss Babs: “Nice eye, Mrs O.”
    Mrs Overall: “Nice eye; I always get that word wrong!”

    Anyway – another excellent unpicking!

  4. When I had the joyful realisation that I had not one, but two Blind Dates to read, I bought some sweets to scoff while reading them, just to add to the pleasure.

    I didn’t think ‘Brexit. Trump. CHERYL.’ could be topped, but your dissatisfaction at Thomas’ failure to select three adjectives manages it. Wonderful.

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