I think we can all agree this pandemic situation has been one of the most bonkers times in our lives – second only to that inexplicable period when Daniel and Natasha Bedingfield enjoyed near boundless chart success. How did we let that happen?
For those lucky enough not to be directly affected – by which I mean those who haven’t lost someone, or been seriously ill themselves, or unable to leave their homes, or seen their career implode, because of course we’ve all been affected in some way or another – the novelty is wearing off. Like a game we are all sick of playing because we know we can’t win. You can see it in politicians’ faces as they ooze in and out of shot on various breakfast TV shows. They’ve had the ‘exciting’ part, now they just want to get back to normal. Normal. What the hell does that mean anymore anyway?
One thing still very much not normal are the Guardian Blind Dates, which for safety reasons are still taking place virtually, over a Zoom call – or Skype if we’re going retro, in the sense of retro being something popular about five minutes before something else was popular – with a takeaway and a free bottle of plonk or whatever the daters choose to spend their allowance on. It’s not the same, though, is it? You miss out on so much when you’re dating virtually. Pheromones. Nuance. Bonding over a snippy barman or waiter. Other fit people to gawk at in the bar or restaurant if your date is going badly. On video dates you are TRAPPED, eyes locked front and centre, conducting flirtatious overtures in what amounts to a photo booth.
It is, however, the way things are likely to be for some time so we must get used to it. Today we have Ros, a 29-year-old PA and on the left, and Emily, 31, a junior doctor. No word on whether this date happened on a Thursday and had to be paused for Ros to stand and applaud Emily – but that would’ve been a nice touch. Did NHS staff used to applaud too during all that? I never thought to ask before. Right, let’s get on. Read the date on the Guardian website before we get personal.
Ros on Emily | Emily on Ros
What were you hoping for?
To break the monotony of lockdown with someone interesting. To flex my rusty conversational skills.
I lived on my own for quite a few years and have worked from home for a fair few too, so perhaps I have had an easier lockdown than most. But there is still that lack of something. The interaction with others, no matter how small. One of the worst things you can do in London is forget your headphones and find yourself dullard-adjacent and eavesdropping on the dreariest conversations known to man and yet there is something about lockdown that makes you wistful for this kind of thing. Friendly baristas you used to know, the smiley lady in the Thai place, the miserable person on reception at the doctor’s who you ironically nicknamed ‘Joy’. Where have they all been? Where are they now? Are they ever coming back?
What were you hoping for?
To meet someone new. A few cocktails.
“Hoping to meet someone new.” Was Emily worried that someone she actually knew was going to pop up? A distant relative, perhaps? Is that likely? I would say that of all the aspirations you could have for a blind date with an absolute stranger, ‘meeting someone new’ is the most achievable. Perhaps Emily is one of those people who needs to tick off a certain number of activities on her to-do list otherwise she can’t function.
Really relaxed, friendly, with a lovely smile, and patient while I struggled to get my sound working properly.
YOU’RE ON MUTE. CAN YOU HEAR ME? MUTE. NO, UNMUTE. THAT’S… YEAH I HEARD YOU FOR LIKE A SECOND THEN.
If lockdown calls have taught me anything, it’s that it doesn’t take long for everyone – even the most tech savvy – to become that puzzled grandma we all swore we’d never be.
Bubbly and easy to talk to.
Bubbly is a good start. Not a word anyone has ever said about me, I imagine. I’m cool with that, though. Aeros are bubbly. So is farty bathwater. So I’ll live. ‘Easy to talk to’ is no mean feat over an internet connection.
What did you talk about?
Grassroots theatre, standup comedy, nieces and nephews, gay bars, sexual health, cringe-worthy dating apps, cocktails and city living.
The C-word (Covid), comedy, theatre, Manchester, dating apps, jigsaw puzzles.
Theatre ✅ I know what grassroots means but I’d never really thought about theatre having ‘grassroots’; I only really associate it with horrible things like middle-class couples in bri-nylon suits holding right-wing fundraisers in their conservatory. Anyway, I did a quick google and from what I can gather, grassroots theatre is just like ordinary theatre except you are very unlikely to find Felicity Kendal playing a major role and the interval snacks never include ‘poshcorn’.
Comedy ✅ What a WEEK it’s been for comedy, eh? Yet more ‘funnymen’ being exposed as leering, exploitative perverts! Are there any wholesome comedians left? Is this, like a career progression for naturally sleazy men? The same way that people who quite fancy taking up a career in serial killing but are unsure prison food would acknowledge their wheat intolerance join the NYPD?
When I was reading about that latest comic exposed as a routine DM slider and all-round sleazeball, I was struck by how unsophisticated and, well, downright dumb, his seduction technique was. This was a man in his thirties, who has travelled the world and enjoyed huge success, plonking himself into the DM inbox of very young women doing his best “How do you do fellow kids?!?” impression. “Wanna hang?” “Can we make out?!!!?” What a massive, stupid creep. UGH. It brought home to me – like I needed convincing – just how sad and entitled a lot of powerful men are. They use their influence not for good, but to be monosyllabic in the inbox of a woman who could probably get more intellectual stimulation out of the talking Care Bear that was still on her bed not *that* long ago. Honestly.
The C-word (Covid) – well thank goodness she clarified.
Any awkward moments?
With a 10-second delay it was hard to have a flowing conversation. We were pixels and black screens by the end.
Seriously my patience for tech problems is nonexistent. I give it, like, three confused “Hello?!? Can you hear me?”s and then I’m hitting ‘end call’ faster than I’d say yes to any question Jake Gyllenhaal asked me.
Any awkward moments?
At one point my housemate burst in and announced she had burned the dinner she’d been making in exchange for a cut of the free cocktails.
Housemates! I can’t tell you how lucky I feel not to have had any for years, except for my partner, of course, and the partner before that. So many things I do not miss sabot sharing with randoms: petty arguments over bills; washing up dramas; all their various relationship traumas that you find yourself caught up in; being unable to just sit, quietly, on the sofa; a discussion about who last cleaned the bathroom becoming a full-scale jury trial. And yet there is loads I do miss. Having conversations with people who, generally, like you, but aren’t too invested in your life, so will persuade you to do that risky thing you were thinking of doing. Seeing them across a pub, making that “drink?” hand motion to you, and bringing you a pint just because you live together. Ganging up on the landlord. Borrowing their stuff. Reading their diary when they’re out. Marvelling that they actually keep a diary! Moving in on their boyfriend when they’re away. Helping them pack their stuff as their now-ex moves his boxers into *your* second drawer on the right. Seeing them years later and agreeing that the boyfriend you fell out over wasn’t worth it and did you SEE how ugly he got? Beautiful.
Good table manners?
Emily wisely decided to order in cocktails, although why they had marshmallows in them is anyone’s guess. I think I managed my Italian food without major incident.
During this bizarre Bedingfield-esque time, we’ve had to find our comforts where we can and while we’re all worried about death and money and how long it will be before EastEnders is back up to full production, the little moments of hedonism have been a comfort. People who bring us things are, I think we can all agree, the best people. I don’t do much shopping online as I’m freelance so can go to the shops literally any time I like and no boss can control me, so it always feels like a treat when I do. Covid-19 has kind of ruined this because it made home delivery necessary and it felt scary and exploitative for the people obliged to do the fetching and carrying. The politicians like to call people who work in jobs like this low-skilled because YES MATE it takes loads of skill to helm a government briefing with all the knowledge and charm of a toddler getting acquainted with diarrhoea for the first time. But they are lifesavers, literally; they have kept spirits up, bellies fed. How much you get paid shouldn’t depend on how ‘skilled’ you are; if delivery drivers disappeared overnight, where would we have been? If you can afford it, tip delivery staff, and if you can’t, vote out this cesspool of a government. Let’s fill the country’s job centres with these arseholes.
Anyway, having cocktails delivered is VERY fancy and a total waste of money, but… like I say, this is a grade 2 ‘Bedingfield chart domination’ era.
How long did you stay on the call?
Around three hours.
Two and a bit hours before our technical difficulties, then instant messages for a short while before accepting defeat.
Best thing about Emily?
She was curious about me and had a dry sense of humour.
I can’t remember if I’ve ever said and I’m not going back to check, but one of my all-time pet hates about meeting new people, is a lack of curiosity. People who don’t ask questions – not just about you, about anything. It’s ironic, really, as I am not one to interrogate anyone as I prefer to let people volunteer information and I don’t want to look intrusive, but I do like to show an interest. People are, generally, fascinating – presenters of The One Show, people who queue-jump, and members of Take That aside – and it is so RUDE not to try to find out more about someone. I knew a date was off to a bad start when I had to ask three questions in a row without any being returned. It is worth remembering, especially in a romantic setting, that when someone ask you a question, it usually means they want to answer it themselves.
If a man doesn’t find you the most fascinating person he’s ever met, do this:
Best thing about Ros?
She seemed really genuine.
I don’t know anyone – ANYONE – who can hear or read the word ‘genuine’ and not think of Ginuwine singing Pony and, frankly, I don’t WANT to know anyone who doesn’t.
Did you introduce her to your housemates?
I’m on lockdown with my parents, so in true regressive teenage form, I enforced a do-not-disturb rule.
I have a good relationship with each of my parents but I’m not sure that would’ve endured had I spent lockdown in either of their houses. Although they both have gardens and I have NONE.
Did you introduce her to your housemates?
My flatmate and Frida the dog both made appearances. Meeting her parents on a first date might have been a bit intense.
I really hope this dog is named after Frida from ABBA but I have a feeling it’s after Frida Kahlo, ffs.
Describe Emily in three words
Chilled, funny, engaging.
Describe Ros in three words
Funny, animated and engaging.
CHILLED, like that box of Soleros in my freezer that I have been attacking daily.
FUNNY, like a story that you start telling that sounds hilarious in your head until you get to the part that really isn’t funny at all but you’ve started telling it now so you have to plough on as the energy drains from the room and people are, like, covering their faces, my God is it really that bad?!
ENGAGING – we have a DOUBLE-engaging! Look, everyone, two PowerPoint slides are talking to one another! The word ‘engaging’ is such a third-word filler and I am onto you, ladies.
Words I would rather be described as than engaging: captivating; bitter; lemony; piquant; slouchy; grimy; pulchritudinous; last night’s takeaway sicked up in a bin. I’m sorry, ‘engaging’ is banned. We’re people, not egg-whisk demonstrations at the Ideal Home Show.
ANIMATED, like an animation, I’m losing the will hear.
FUNNY, oh and we have a double funny too. Have they been cheating?! Funny is fine, though. Funny works.
What do you think she made of you?
Hopefully: a friendly, charming, gorgeous distraction. Probably: a jittery mess who talked too much.
Nerves! I love it. All dates should have an air of nervous menace about them. Just drink through it, Ros.
What do you think she made of you?
I really don’t know.
JUST MAKE SOMETHING UP THEN.
And… did you swap numbers?
We did, and independently saved the other person as “[Name] Guardian” in our phones. She spelled my name right first time, always a positive.
Now that my life bizarrely involves signing books for people – isn’t this a strange thing to do? – I am very good at asking people how to spell their names, even if it’s a common one you think you know. There is always some parent out there who decided that ‘Chris’ sounded right but didn’t look glam enough for their baby and decided to spell it Kry$$. This will only get worse now that Elon Musk and Grimes have named their child after words they randomly came across in a dishwasher instruction manual. I don’t really like snobbery about other people’s names because it is none of your business but you do have a duty to make it easy to spell over the phone – nobody wants to waste their precious, finite life spelling out their name to customer services. And never call a child Justin, for FUCK’S sake.
Marks out of 10?
Oh how flat. Flatter than Jane McDonald’s hair before she gets her heated rollers in. Flatter than that dribble of Prosecco still in the bottle that you’ve had in the fridge overnight – no a teaspoon doesn’t keep it fizzy, by the way. Flatter than Leicestershire. Flatter than vowels in Otley. Flat flat flat.
Would you meet again in person?
I’d be up for that, if she was, too.
Yay! Why not, eh? Coronavirus doesn’t have to ruin everything! Take a chance! Meet in the queue at Primark and wave to all the TV cameras relaying you back to Kay Burley in the studio for some reason!
Would you meet again in person?
Although I enjoyed the evening, I don’t see it going anywhere.
Right, fine. Another time, maybe. Back to lockdown we go.
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, replies, and generally on social media. They seem like nice guys. I will not approve nasty below-the-line comments. 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. 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. Anyone says “engaging”, the conversation is OVER.
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