The thing with getting older is you’re less predisposed to flannel. You want people to cut to the chase, because you’ve heard it all before; your ability to be delighted or surprised diminishes with every crashing bore you date. You listen, as faux-intently as your poker face will allow, to all their tall tales about travelling, and one-sided jabs at exes, and dizzyingly dull trivia about their work and wonder when you’ll get to the nub, when you’ll see what this person is actually all about, rather than what they want you to think they’re all about.
When you’re younger, you think you have to sit and listen to all this, because if you do, you’ll then get to talk lengthily about yourself, and when you’re young that is all you want to do because you’re so unused to being asked. But when you’re old, it’s just getting in the way of everything else. There isn’t time. Just as you perfected clearing the first part of the Green Hill Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog in 0:58 when you should’ve been revising, so too can you see every chat-up lines, clumsy flirt, straight-out lie that’s meant to impress you, cliché, ill-timed joke and bad opinion coming your way. You idly wonder how much longer you can stand it, but down inside, you know you’ll sit and listen – as you did 10 years ago, as you will 10 years hence – because we never tell people to shut up and get on with it. We’re too polite.
Patiently hoping the other will stop talking about their issues with HR this week are Susan, a 54-year-old development consultant (What does that mean? What industry is it, even?) and Phil, 50, a digital artworker. Read what happened on the date which, excitingly, happened in Manchester, before I throw myself between them with a big red pen.
Susan kicks us off.
You can say it, you know. Nobody will judge. “Somebody who didn’t bore me to death, in a restaurant that has at least a four-star rating for hygiene.”
I feel sorry for this first question because it does attract the most beige of answers. I mean, what are you supposed to say? The truth?
“I was hoping for a big pair of tits attached to a lolly stick that didn’t say too much and would pay for my cocktails after.”
“I was hoping for a man who had the body of Arnold with a Denzel face, a bulging bank account and a dicky ticker.”
I like these. These are good first impressions, literally the first thing you think when you see each other.
Let the “nicely ironed shirt” be a lesson to all you straight men who grab clothes out of the laundry basket, sniff them, nod appreciatively and put them back on – it really, really matters. A man who’ll iron a shirt when he’s coming to meet you means he’ll be considerate in other ways too, that he cares about the impression he’s going to make. That “just got out of bed” look really only works if the person has already been to bed with you. Get the iron out if you want to get them in there in the first place.
You’ll notice how these conversation topics match up almost exactly – a rare feat in the Blind Date column. The only deviations are the referendum and Phil’s son’s hair dryer – can you IMAGINE how much stomping up and down and “Oh Dad, for GOD’S sake why were you talking about that?!” Phil’s son is doing right now? Perhaps Susan has blanked out the referendum, as there really doesn’t seem to be anything left to say about it that hasn’t already been said, sliced in half, deep fried, and served up lukewarm to a weary audience.
Football. God. I will never forget the brief period one year when I had to pretend to like football, because it was a prerequisite for having sex with a man I met on Guardian Soulmates. When he said he was “straight-acting”, I merely rolled my eyes and thought, “We’ll see”, assuming he meant he only had one pink T-shirt slashed to the waist and would take a bit more persuading to dance to a Kylie song at a wedding. But, no, what he meant was sitting in some of London’s most unlovely pubs watching football, among loud men who’d never made anybody orgasm and couldn’t cry at funerals, but would have emotional breakdowns if a man they’d never met missed a penalty. I tried to play along for a while, briefly enjoying my sojourn into the straight world, but I soon came to my senses and was honest with myself, and reclaimed my Saturdays and Sundays (and Wednesday nights FFS) by ditching him. Football is not for me; I have always loathed it. Footballs were something that were kicked at me, not to me, by boys who knew I wouldn’t and couldn’t stop them.
So, in short: fuck football.
Isn’t it interesting they both thought this was an awkward situation? I think it’s something to do with their age. Someone 20 or 30 years younger, perhaps, would shrug this off and say “small world”, but people in their 50s know how this stuff works.
Two worlds have collided, and whichever version of themselves they had decided to be tonight would have to be adapted, or cancelled altogether, because now they knew, with absolute certainty, that the events of the date would be talked about in common company. What they don’t realise is that it’s a good thing this came out early on – imagine blundering on, blissfully unaware, and saying something incriminating. Mind you, they are in a bloody magazine, so it does seem slightly odd to worry that they know the same people – everyone will know you today, won’t they?
Do you think he actually fed it to her?
There are worse compliments, I guess, but I’m not exactly throwing my head back in euphoric laughter and thinking about my bottom drawer.
The thing with following your dreams is they don’t have a map, so have no idea where they’re going, and they can lead to you some dark, miserable places. Follow your dreams if you must, but make sure you’ve got the reassuring satnav of a regular reality check to keep you on track.
Why I Live in London: A Novella.
(This means no, doesn’t it?)
As was pointed out to me last week, “Sure” is a very common answer to the friends question. On first glance, it seems like a nonchalant, easygoing, “hey daddio, I’m totes cool with the way we’re vining”, almost horizontal answer. But “sure” is not an “of course” or a “yes” – it does mean yes, but it’s yes in the same way that you’d say yes to sleeping with someone for a million pounds. Yes, you would do it, but the likelihood of this possibility ever presenting itself to you is so small, it’s doubtful it’s a question you would ever need to answer. So it is, in fact, a no.
I’d like to aim a little higher than “OK”. OK is not awful, OK is pleasant, OK is nice. If I thought that was the best impression I could ever hope to make on somebody, I wouldn’t show up. What’s the point of anything if you can’t make somebody never want to forget you?
Mind you, Phil is remarkably perceptive, because:
Again, as is now becoming normal with this question, this is about what Susan thinks of herself. She’s worried she went on too much about saying nice things about each other in the column. She thinks she’s old. You are not old, Susan. The problem is we are our own worst enemy, and there is no escape from ourselves. How nice it would be to switch off the part of us that worries what people would think, that plays on our insecurities, for just one evening. That we could be ourselves – something I don’t think any of us truly are until we’ve had seven flaming Sambucas and confessed our deepest, darkest sins and madnesses – and walk away from the evening genuinely having no idea what someone made of us, but hoping it was positive, and seeing no reason why it shouldn’t be. Whatever pill it was that would take this away, even temporarily, I would queue for happily. We spend too much time staring into mirrors, zooming in on selfies, searching for clues, and worrying we’re getting it all wrong. We all are, and that’s why it’s OK.
Anyway, Susan, he didn’t say any of that, he said this:
So that’s nice.
FINALLY, a date happens on a Saturday night! Anything is possible now.
Or perhaps not, eh?
Typical, isn’t it, that whenever it’s two hopeless millennials staggering their way through the date, the final lament is always that it was a “school night” and they had to go home early so they could be up in the morning to go that job they won’t even remember having in five years’ time. You wonder what they could’ve got up to had the lights not been turned down prematurely. And then, here we are, with two people in their 50s and literally zero to lose, one of whom wishes they could’ve gone to a Morrissey concert instead.
I mean, Morrissey, somewhere in Manchester, on a Saturday – surely that’s a weekly occurrence? If you want to pay money to watch a bitter old vegan wang on about race, feminism and homophobia with all the grace of a hippo skateboarding through the glassware department at Selfridges, come to London and wait around Bethnal Green – one will be along soon enough.
REALLY? That’s it? OK.
The problem, you see, with resolving to say only nice things about each other in this rundown is that you end up saying nothing at all. You’ve tossed out a few pleasantries, but it’s all strangely without emotion or enthusiasm – like you’re writing out Christmas cards, or cleaning out a cupboard, or replacing a shower curtain. It has become a mildly diverting task, something you’ve agreed to do but need to get out of the way. That kind of works when you’re on a Grindr hookup, but not when you’re having dinner together with a view to taking it further. You’ve scored each other an 8 and a 9, but I simply can’t tell how you’ve got there or why. I woke up, got up, and was sitting here bang on time waiting for all you could throw at me. But nothing.
Just like I said at the top of the page, with age comes the desire to cut through the bullshit, to get to the meat – but the will still eludes us. Shame.
So, are they going to do this again? Does another three-hour session of politely nodding across a table await, on a weeknight, perhaps, just in case Morrissey’s back in town soon?
Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
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 great. I’m critiquing the answers, not the people themselves. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally; I don’t see the date in advance so my reactions are my first ones. If you want to give your side of the story, get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have. Please, pray for some actual spice next week – I have never been fond of chicken korma.