Impeccable Table Manners

Tom and Emily

There are very few times you will turn up to a date and instinctively know that things are going to work out fine. Attraction likes to keep your guessing right until the very end – your own personal “will they or won’t they?” storyline.

Repulsion, though, doesn’t hang about, and your gut seldom lies when it’s telling you the date will be a non-starter. Oh, sure, you can grow to like someone over the course of the evening – alcohol helps – but you will be harder to persuade if, for example, they haven’t brushed their hair, or are late, or are too young or old, too stylish, too smiley or too glum. And, yes, there is such a thing as “too smiley”.

But when you know, you know. “Oh, they’re exactly my type,” you say to yourself as, miracle upon miracle, your very narrow and, at times, restrictive attraction criteria have been met. How lovely it must be to go through life with zero surprises, every moment so prescriptive and useful, because you refuse to stray from your own stringent regulations, dismissing people because of their immediately evident physical or character traits. How nice for you indeed. Nice.

Hoping to meet their match this week are Emily, 28, who works in PR and 29-year-old Tom, yet another web editor.

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I have that sweatshirt too, Tom, so congratulations on that.

I don’t know about you, but I can already picture them arguing about aubergine and blocking the aisle in the Fulham branch of Waitrose, but do read the date to see how they got on, before I arrive with an unexpected item in the bagging area.

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I can’t imagine how much of a disappointment your 20s must’ve been so far to aim as low as this.

The answers to this question are getting worse aren’t they? They all hope for nice food. They’re going to one of those satellite restaurants The Ivy has started doing, so it’s probably a given the food is going to be more than OK.

“A good chat.” Reach for the fucking moon. I bet these two never wanted to be pirates or astronauts or spies when they were children.
“What would you like to be when you grow up, Emily?”
“I’d like to be the owner of a wardrobe filled with immaculately ironed and folded cardigans.”
“And you, Tom?”
“I’d like to have a 2 for 1 discount card for Vue Cinemas.”

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Whenever they say things like this, I always imagine their date getting out an old-fashioned pocket watch and swinging it before their transfixed face, or slamming them down onto a massage table and invigorating their chakras.

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This is an overall first impression, not a very first impression. I will die on this hill if I must.

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I bet they said Waitrose. Look at them. Of course they did. Waitrose has quite a sinister hold over white, relatively young and vaguely middle-class people. They see it as a status symbol, a sign they’ve “made it”, not only financially, but as an adult. You don’t get sulky teens wandering branches of Waitrose trying to shoplift – it’s all perfumed grannies, friendly vicars, and digital basics floating around flinging products that cost half as much everywhere else into their trolley which, naturally, does not have a wonky wheel.

Yes, you’re still buying a ready meal for one and, correct, you’ll never finish all those olives before they go off and, agreed, Coke Zero tastes just the same no matter where you buy it, but this is Waitrose – you’re in the John Lewis-approved version of grasping food retail consumerism. It’s different. You’re not like the others, the great unwashed wrestling one another for the last can of pilchards in the Old Kent Road branch of Asda, or the beleaguered couples on the brink of divorce buying organic in Surbiton Tesco – you are a Waitrose person.

However.

It’s just a fucking supermarket. Get over yourself.

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They both went to the same university, so I’m calling it right here and now that these two will end up together, for the joy with which they can tell the origin story alone.

“So, for all those years,” their dinner-party guests will say, in around five to seven years’ time, swirling amaretto round their glass, “you were at the same university and never met? Incredible!” And Tom and Emily will laugh – perhaps they’ll pause at this point to pat the head of the angelic toddler that’s just wandered in trailing its comfort blanket behind it – and say, “Yes! Meant to be together in the end, though”, and the value of their house in East Dulwich will immediately rise by 17%.

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I reckon you could take a look at Emily from across the aisle at your favourite Waitrose and guess she was called Emily, but we’ll let you off Tom because you are at least a kind of endearing nervous and awkward, rather than the usual self-help book swallowing egomaniacs we’ve been getting in recent weeks. I bet you wouldn’t ever ask a woman to take off her headphones to talk to you, even if she was standing on your foot.

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Right, we can either immediately assume Emily is going to magically transform into Hyacinth Bucket on the eve of her 48th birthday, or we can have a think about this and agree that, well, it is a little awkward to go for a kiss on the cheek when you greet a stranger. Unless you live in Belgium.

An awkward shake of the hand, accompanied by slightly goofy smile and borderline shrug of the shoulders is the ideal hello on a date.

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I have made my feelings perfectly clear on this in Impeccables passim so I shan’t be trolled. Next!

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james franco WHUT

I mean, there’s good table manners and there’s basically being Country Mouse who offers to sit in a different restaurant so you don’t disturb the other diners.

I understand sorting out your hunger can lead to a more pleasant date overall, but you’re not here to eat, you’re here to get it on. I hope Emily said no to this kind, and totally weird, offer.

If you want “a silent first course” go back and eat it in your flat. I’ll wait right here for you, drinking your share of the wine and playing “fuck me eyes” with every single member of the waiting staff.

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Tom gets it. Of course they would.

Sometimes that fact is actually more of a worry than the prospect they might not get on.

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I’m only joking here, as it is great she’d introduce him to her pals, but, y’know, I refuse to believe Emily’s friends are anything other than perfectly pleasant, harmless and about as “mad” as a dinner plate.

I bet at least one of them says they’re “really OCD” because they alphabetise their books.

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FUN like telling someone about Harambe for the first time and trying to laugh off their concerned stare.
INTERESTING like interest that is accruing on the savings account you took out when you were 7 but still refuse to touch.
INQUISITIVE like someone who’s asking a lot of questions and showing an interest in you and yet somehow you want to convey that you found this intrusive and nosey even though you’re on a date and asking questions is totally fine.

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FRIENDLY like a ghost that just wants to sit at the end of your bed crying, rather than chase you down the hallway.
INTERESTING like the people at the next table may well have been.
LAID-BACK like someone who’s acting a little too nonchalant for your liking even though he’s probably just trying to sit on a hot, vibrating can of nerves.

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You aced it Tom; she either didn’t notice the nervousness or she’s actually a stealth Mean Girl and the “laid-back” she gave you above was a spectacularly sarcastic diss.

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At the risk of repeating myself – and I have said this so many times before, because the straight women who go on the dates almost always say this – it makes me massively sad that women in this column think the overall impression of them was that they talk too much.

Why don’t we value the ability to hold a conversation more? It’s what both daters said they were hoping for in their first answer – “good chat”.

The most harmful thing about this toxic old trope is that women not only think the world wants them to shut up, they also feel guilt when they don’t comply. It also reinforces the idea that a man’s ideal partner is someone who won’t talk to them too much and will merely glide in and out of rooms silently, picking up socks and newspapers as she goes.

For some men, perhaps, that is the optimum, and maybe there are women out there who are only too happy to fall into line. But let’s be clear: nobody in their right mind should date either of them.

Talk, talk, talk. Speak until your throat is raw and you’ve exhausted every conversation topic possible. Read out pages of the internet to each other if you must. A relationship where nobody’s talking is one that isn’t working. Don’t ever let anyone shut you up.

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See? Went to the same university, live down the road from each other? This is a silver-wedding anniversary anecdote waiting to happen. I can practically hear the light thud of grandchildren plonking themselves down into an overstuffed armchair to hear this story.

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No, it doesn’t.

But this is very sweet; they are both very sweet. I think I’m having one of those days where I’ll cry at Strictly.

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In the movie based on my own novelisation of this date, these two cosmetic disasters will be told in a montage form, with Tom being played by Theo James or Douglas Booth and Emily portrayed by Carey Mullligan or Laura Carmichael. The soundtrack? Clean Bandit’s Rather Be.

You’ll go see it. Yeah, you will.

Scores, now, and today’s Guardian Weekend magazine has this letter from a reader: img_1444img_1445

Pity poor Jacqui, readers, who can only see what is presented in front of her. Perhaps she doesn’t have the free time that we enjoy, that enables us to look further and make wild, inconclusive guesses and interpretations on what the scores actually mean.

Nobody wants to open that page and see people scoring honestly, Jacqui. We want to work it all out for ourselves. While I’m glad Jacqui has given the Blind Date feature the attention it deserves, if future daters start getting liberal with the 2s and 4s, I’m coming to Cardiff and we’ll be arm-wrestling.

Observe, Jacqui:

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This seems… low. Cautious. It sounds like we should all be slinking off home, dejectedly putting on our coats as the very last light in your local BHS flickers and splutters to its death.

Read everything again, Tom. Either your 8 is a spot of face-saving, because you couldn’t work out whether Emily fancied you, or it’s a depressing sign that, once you’re married, you’ll never notice when Emily gets her hair done.

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Wow. Even worse. Seven point five. You have to wonder why Emily knocked off half a mark. Shoes not quite so shiny? Spinach in his teeth? Tried to picture them doing it but all she could see was someone flicking quickly through the pages of a Jamie Oliver cookbook? We’ll never know, but that missing half a mark is brutal. Everybody deserves a round number, Emily, even it is a pitiful and polite 8.

And finally…

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Photograph: James Drew Turner; Alicia Canter, both 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. I love these two and hope they’ll both be very happy together, although I’d prepare for a couple of rocky patches if things don’t get a little more exciting. 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. 

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  1. Brilliant as usual!! Although I’m going to disagree with your assessment of the marks this time.
    If they’re as crashingly middle class & ‘ever so slightly’ dull as you suggest then the 8 & 7.5 are totally in keeping with that and so are genuine ‘I like him/her but don’t want to commit too much in case it’s not reciprocated’ marks.
    The second date will go much better, they can go to whatever Sloaney hangout there is down in Clapham this year, get royally smashed and shag each other’s brains out….
    Rah!!

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