21. How was it for you? I may have to comb through the endless dusty tomes within my mind to recall those days, but I do remember being 21. I had horrible hair, parted down the middle and assaulted every eight weeks by a man who’d only ever used scissors before to trim rind off bacon, in a salon called something very ’90s like Storm or Studio or Envy.
My sartorial look was librarian cosplay – all woolly jumpers and sensible jeans and cords, shiny black boots. I wore a lot of checked shirts, which were all three sizes too big for me, because I had the physique of a genetically modified pencil. To cloak myself in winter, I wore a long corduroy coat that I got from TK Maxx. I was a child playing dress-up and longing to be taken seriously, so dressed like an old man. If I’d known then what I know now, my T-shirts would’ve been tighter and my morals would’ve been looser and I’d have got that fucking hair cut off, but that’s hindsight for you. So that was 21 for me.
21 for Ollie, the guy in the picture above who looks like he’s going to a fancy-dress party as Stephen Fry’s laundry basket, is to appear in a dating column in a national newspaper. Imagine being 21 and having exhausted all avenues for meeting someone that you need to throw yourself upon the mercy of possibly the least successful matchmaking outlet on the planet. A gladiatorial arena whose walls are still stained with the blood of every thankless drip who talked about running, or doled out an “impeccable” when describing someone’s table manners, because they have all the creative imagination of an egg sandwich. Perhaps he’s here for “good food and good company”, or maybe he just really wants to be in a magazine. Or maybe it’s something else. Riddle-me-fucking-ree indeed.
Anyway, 21. Read what happened on the date between Ollie, a theatre marketing manager (makes tea, corrects spelling mistakes on flyers) and Ruairidh, 26, who is a journalist (sits at a computer in desperate need of a system upgrade trying to think of different ways to say “The answer might surprise you” in a headline) and then I shall review it to the best of my ability and as much as my already sapped energy will allow.
Ollie’s answers are in pink, and Ruairidh’s are in blue. Sorry if this colour selection causes a #TeamMasc meltdown – why not write to your MP or demand your money back?
Full disclosure: a few days ago Ollie tweeted at me that he was going to be in the column and very politely asked me to “be nice”. Thing is, I didn’t get where I am today (sitting on a knackered kitchen chair in my spare room, typing this bilge, draining a cup of tea) by letting strangers tell me what to do and I’m not about to start now. This isn’t my first time at the rodeo, boys – but it’s definitely your last. Just so you know.
A gay man with plenty to say for himself. Hardly hen’s teeth, but it’s nice to have an achievable aspiration.
*’GOOD COMPANY’ KLAXON*
Well this is a good start. It’s the first impression we all want to make, after all. Who doesn’t want others to think they’re gorgeous? Anyone who tells you otherwise has very likely come out on the wrong side of a series of used, losing genetic scratchcards.
That light clinking sound you can hear is your grandmother placing her china cup back in her saucer, right after she said your “lovely new friend” was “polite and well-mannered”.
Shared tastes! Why they’re getting on like a house on fire. Question is, do we call the fire brigade or grab a marshmallow and toast it in the roaring flames?
Uh-oh. There’s trouble at t’mill. “Mainly his work.” This is the problem with people who think they have exciting jobs – they tell you all about it in gory detail. However, Ruairidh is a captive audience, so that’s something.
Why people go to the toilet a lot on dates: cocaine; drinking too much water because they’re nervous; excitedly texting mates to say how well it’s going; angrily texting mates to say how dreadfully it’s going; Domestos fetish.
Life hack: don’t go to the loo a lot while you’re on a date, because sometimes your date’s eye will wander over to the good-looking waiter at the bar, and the waiter’s eye will wander back, and then those two eyes – and the rest of their bodies – will soon find themselves at it like knives in a cubicle. Possibly even the one right next to where you’re on your phone to your pals, dispensing a load of emojis to say how things are going. Better tack this one on the end: 😢
*ROM-COM CLICHÉ KLAXON*
It’s table manners. Hold on to your napkins.
As long as he didn’t proudly tip the bowl over and put it on his head when he was done, I’m sure it was fine.
A gay man with a beard fetish. What are the chances, eh?
Being appreciated for your sense of humour is, at least, better than most of the answers people give to this one each week.
A sense of humour is not a gift, it is honed through years of experience, full of tough crowds and bad days and things you wouldn’t be able to get through without one. Aside from being called hot, or clever, someone appreciating your sense of humour is one of the biggest compliments. It’s all your own work and almost certainly unique to you, so for someone else to ‘get’ it, and be attracted to it, it’s gold. Don’t ever screw someone with a sense of humour you can’t relate to or doesn’t get yours; they’re not worth your time.
Oh Ruairidh. Engaging. I was rather hoping you’d get to the last slide in your PowerPoint without wheeling this one out, but here we are. Confident: good, good. Super tall. The best thing? Really? I assume this is because you’re counting on everything being in proportion, right? Oh, you. Put your tape measure away.
Sweetheart, I’ve yet to meet a gay man who was disappointed a date got drunk too quickly. You should put that on your Tinder profile or your Snapchat or whichever “online dating experience that I’m too old to understand” you prefer.
Two things: You haven’t answered the question properly. Also, don’t ever be late to a date. Never. Leave work early, camp outside the restaurant, do what you’ve got to do, but don’t be late. My back would never hit a mattress for a latecomer.
Ollie is actually very sweet. He has that boyish enthusiasm gay men briefly have between the years of coming-out angst and decades of jaded eye-rolling. “It was so much fun” – that really is a beautiful thing to read. Who even says that anymore? Very few. Too few.
Heterosexual people considering taking part in the Guardian Blind Date column, are you watching? Leave it to the gays to show you how it’s done.
Never mind your “polite peck on the cheek” or “that would be telling” nonsense – leave all that twee rubbish for your no doubt mesmerising post-date text messages to the rest of your “John Lewis click-and-collect service” friends. Yes, they snogged and, yes, they liked it.
See? It becomes a thing. Lateness – say no to it.
Yay. However, I feel a shadow lurking. This is not a cloudless sky.
Oh Ruairidh. Why would you do that? You don’t kiss someone and say they’re a 7, especially someone as young as Ollie. And I know that sounds patronising, but if you don’t like my apples, don’t shake my tree.
We forget, don’t we, as we age, what it’s like to be young? We don’t remember how we kind of fell in love with the first person to bring us off, or how, in our minds, we eulogised our early kisses that probably meant nothing to the boy who gave them to us. The excitement of youth and newness is replaced by other thrills, the stuff we do once we acquire all that experience everyone is so keen to get.
Kissing a guy and awarding a 7 – which is, in Guardian Blind Date terms, a 1 that takes three holidays a year and has a cleaner – is deeply uncool, whatever your feelings for potential romance. On Ollie’s behalf, I’m knocking 5 points off your 10, and my decision is final.
So we have come to the end of this carefully curated, choose your own adventure date, which has been like reading a cupcake with my name on it. And it’s spelled incorrectly. Will they bother meeting again, once they know nobody is watching?
Note: 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 editing of answers may happen, I assume, and know these answers will appear in the public arena. This isn’t about me thinking these two people are bad people – I don’t know them. I am sure, in real life, they’re cooler than the Fonz. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally. If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal. For future reference, if I do get wind that any of the people participating in the date are ‘ringers’ and crafting their answers for my attention or to appear in this blog, I reserve the right to skip a week. I do not take requests.
Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Guardian