Impeccable Table Manners

Valerio and Matt


What makes a good date? What can you do to make someone want to see you again?

An entire evening spent gazing into each other’s eyes, throwing your head back in unabashed, girlish laughter and clinking glasses before each swig of fizz would, you’d think, mean it was time to start picking out hats and deciding whether to take their name or risk a double-barrelled. You may even start doodling his name in the pocketbook of your mind, imagining it next to yours at the bottom of Christmas cards or, if you’re slightly more realistic, at the foot of an alimony cheque in 20 years’ time. And you might leave the date and think, well, that was fantastic, dole out a peck on the cheek that promises “next time I’ll be pecking at your naked body” and off you’d go into the night, confident the call would come.

But it does not. And you’ll never know why. You’ll never understand what you did wrong. And that’s the way they like it.

Come, then, let us pull up a chair to the edge of the abyss and meet Valerio, a 29-year-old architectural designer (looks nice on a business card, I’m sure) and Matt, 27, a communications officer, who looks a bit familiar but I don’t even want to think why and where from.

Valerio and Matt

Yes, it’s gay men again, and young, stubbly, near-identical svelte ones at that – the Japanese knotweed clogging up any bar you try to get served or noticed in once you’re over 35. Amazing. In fact, are they BROTHERS? Maybe that fake story about “Gay couple discover they are, in fact, twin brothers” is about to come true before our very eyes.

Valerio kicks us off and his answers are in pink. Matt’s rocking the totes masc blue.

What were you hoping for?
To meet someone charming.

Charm. We are lacking in it now, I think. There isn’t time to charm, to woo, to seduce. I don’t think this is entirely down to dating apps or anything like that, more that we all have a raging sense of entitlement because someone told us, long ago, that our time was precious and we shouldn’t waste it on anyone. Thing is, we waste time day in, day out, watching Corrie or peeling oranges or trying to pick bobbles off a jumper. We might as well waste it trying to charm someone’s jockey shorts off.

Yes, to meet someone charming would be no bad thing. Good luck.

What were you hoping for?
Someone fun who I hadn’t met out and about before. It was a relief to manage both.

“Out and about before.” Did we all give a deep sigh as we read this, guys? We all joke about how microscopic the so-called “gay scene” is, but it can be depressingly true. I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with being set up with someone you’ve seen “out and about”, unless you’ve had sex with them and it was awful, or you’ve sauntered into a sauna and found your boss in there, wearing two twinks like Alexis Carrington would wear a mink stole.

First impressions?
Good looking and well dressed. First boxes ticked.

“He looked just like me. Box ticked.”

First impressions?
Good looking, great teeth and likes gin: always a decent start.

“Likes gin.” A gay man with a bit of a beard who likes a drop of gin?! Quite the discovery! Have you been in touch with all the leading scientific journals to let them know?

What did you talk about?
Music, travels, movies, food, family and friendships.

These sound like categories on the quiz-round dartboard on Bullseye.

Please note: These images are smaller than the standard.

What did you talk about?
Politics, work, grandmas, travel and pineapple on pizza.

Grandmas. I wonder whether these two are the sort of gay men who cream their jeans whenever Mary Berry waggles an eclair on TV, but only call their grandmother once a month. “Ooh, isn’t Angela Lansbury MARVellous,” guys like that coo, while their own gran sits glued to the TV all day “for company” because she hasn’t heard a human voice since the last time she went to the supermarket and a checkout operator ignored her. Five days ago.

If you still have a grandmother you don’t see very often because you don’t know how to relate to old people, guess what? She may not be just like Mary Berry or Angela Lansbury or one of your other sainted old dears, but you exist because of her. If my grandmothers were still alive, I would spend day upon day with a phone glued to EACH ear, just listening to them tell me everything they know.

EDIT: Matt (and, separately, one of this close friends) got in touch after this post was published to let me know that Matt and his grandmother are very close and he is indeed a wonderful grandson. ?

Pineapple on pizza is disgusting and I have nothing further to say about that.

Any awkward moments?
The waitress spilled a cocktail on his legs inside the first 10 minutes. It was actually an ice-breaker and we laughed about it.


Any awkward moments?
Being covered in rum.

There was a little speck of dust or a crumb on my screen when I originally read this and I got mildly excited/horrified, until I leant over and scraped it off and read that it actually said “rum”. Rum.

A cocktail all over his knees and not even a “wet crotch” joke.


Table manners, then. Let’s do this.

Good table manners?
All perfect – he offered to share cocktails and food, which made us more relaxed.


I had a quick look at the menu of the facelessly opulent bar they met – it was all “small plates”, so perfect for… well, eating to yourself. The man who offers to share food might sound like he’s affording you a kindness, but he’s actually a great big crybaby with middle-child syndrome who was always furious to see his baby sister get a large ice cream than him.

To suggest sharing – and how this can make you more relaxed when you are desperately trying to remember who’s had the most crab causitas and can you take another Padrón pepper without seeming greedy, I have no idea – isn’t to make you more relaxed. It’s to make sure you don’t order better, so he won’t have to spend all night turning himself inside out with food envy.

Also, sharing cocktails? Did they, like, come in a jug? Or were you both having sips of each other’s because if that’s the case I… I…


Good table manners?
He let me eat most of the chorizo, so yes.


sausage face

I shan’t be trolled. Onward.

Best thing about Matt?
He’s got a warm personality.

Warm. Like that first two seconds when you pee yourself, before it turns to uncomfortable, chafing ice.

Being complimented on your personality, that’s nice, right? But a “personality” is just a carrier bag, a holdall – it’s what inside it, what makes it be, that actually counts. Valerio, sitting here and staring with a faint cocktail buzz across the table at his hall-of-mirrors doppelgänger, can’t think of any particular attributes at all, no components of this personality, merely that he was warm. It could be worse, though. Get this:

Best thing about Valerio?
We shared similar views. And I liked the way he dressed.

“Similar views” – too right you did, you both look like two life drawings of the same person, by two students. It’s nice to be turned on by people who think like you do –  or not as the case may be, because I can definitely feel a wintry chill here – but don’t you like a challenge? Look at all these buttons, everywhere, all over you, all over him – don’t you want to push them? Not even one? Or do you want to live in silent agreement in your tastefully furnished flat and listen to the sound of the toaster pop up for all eternity?

“I liked the way he dressed.” No wonder – he looks like he’s been riffling through your wardrobe.

Describe Matt in three words
Interesting, confident, charming.

You’ll remember at the ‘top of the show’, that Valerio was looking for someone “charming”. And he got it. This gives him away somewhat. He’s keen. I have a feeling, from Matt’s so far pretty businesslike answers, that we are about to see a boot come down on a puppy.


Describe Valerio in three words
Smiley, interesting, polite.

All TERRIFIC things to hear about yourself – if you’ve just been for a job interview, or are anxious to appear on the next series of Pointless.

In the fuckability stakes? It’s over. Go home. That text isn’t coming. You are not being recommissioned for a full series.

What do you think he made of you?
I hope he didn’t think I was awkward or too nervous.

See? Oh dear. When you care about what they didn’t think, you’re letting them know you want to impress them even more.

What do you think he made of you?
I have absolutely no idea.


“I couldn’t give a fuck, tbh.”

You really didn’t get an inkling of what he thought of you? Don’t have any particular hopes at how you came across? No concerns? Nope?

It gets worse btw.

Did you go on somewhere?
We stayed at the restaurant all evening. Time flew by. Then we got on the tube together.

My gosh, how romantic this sounds. These two sound like they’re wrapped up in their own little world – starting out together on a beautiful journey, eyes locked on to one another. Right, Matt?

Did you go on somewhere?


And… did you kiss?
Just a peck on the cheek, as in “I’ll see you again.”


And… did you kiss?


I feel like I need to take this date to the vet and have it put out of its misery. Valerio is basically a walking, talking heart-eyes emoji, while Matt is describing it like he works in HR and is trying to manage out a troublesome secretary who he got pregnant.

Wait until you get a load of this one:

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I’d go back in time and repeat the whole thing again – I’d change nothing.


If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I’d have seen the band playing RuPaul’s Sissy That Walk.


Imagine being Valerio and waking up to this scenario. It’s like sitting all the way through Pride and Prejudice and seeing Lizzie and D’Arcy get married, only for a helicopter to crash on everyone at the reception finger-buffet.

Scores. Do we even want to see these? Shall we just stop now?

Marks out of 10?
A solid 7.

A solid 7. More like a solid turd, shaped like a 7. The 7 is not solid, it’s not a nice score. In Guardian Blind Date terms, a 7 is a 1. It’s a 1 wearing knockoff designer gear, riding around in an Uber like it’s a limo and still buying cheap, poisonous, buzzless coke off ‘that guy’ in Camden. It’s a 1 with big ideas but little else. A 7 is a 1.

That 9, though. It’s very “Princess Diana is about to go up the wrong staircase in Kensington Palace and find Camilla scurrying down it, smelling of Charles”, isn’t it?

So we dragged ourselves to the bitter end, punch-drunk on Valerio’s romance yet amphetamine-woke to the sharp reality of Matt’s inevitable dismissal. Will they meet again? Will they share one more cocktail? Or is the chorizo-nibbling well and truly over?

Would you meet again?
We exchanged numbers with the promise to have dinner.


Would you see him again?
Definitely, but just as friends.

By which he means:


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 lovely and, hopefully, not actually twins. 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. 

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Photograph: Antonio Olmos; Sarah Lee, both for the Guardian


  1. Your forensic dissection of the date is almost an afterthought – the real meat is your reminiscences and thoughts on dating, and human interaction, in general. Always a pleasure.

    I realise this is a po-faced comment which doesn’t address how utterly, hysterically funny your columns are. Cut us some slack, those who lack – but appreciate – your humour! 🙂

  2. or you’ve sauntered into a sauna and found your boss in there, wearing two twinks like Alexis Carrington would wear a mink stole.

    Hilarious! Thanks for brightening up my afternoon!!!

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