Has anyone ever been on a second date? Of course I don’t mean have you met someone for a second time. I know you have. I go from first date to seeing really quickly. Or would if ever I got to second date. If you can stand more than twenty minutes of your first meeting, then isn’t the second date already the beginning of some sort of relationship? Haven’t you agreed that you like each other, even if you aren’t certain? Still, first dates are gruesome sometimes. I wrote about my best one here. It’ll make you weep.
However confident you are it’s hard to start talking to a stranger. It’s harder to listen to them, sometimes. I think you have to arrive with no expectations. Keep an open mind or you’re doomed. I once met someone who was angry about everything. It lasted eight minutes. It was enough. My top strategy, practised over some years, is to meet at a gallery showing a horrible exhibition. It’ll give you something to talk about other than you or what you’re doing. You can laugh together at it. If you can laugh together you have a big clue as to your compatibility. If you hate it and they love it you have another.
I love First Dates. Blind Date would be a better title, but that’s been taken by a much worse programme. It’s on its third series on Chanel Four and I understand that not many people watch it but it’s a mystery to me why all 60 million of us aren’t glued. Each episode is repeated three or four times over the week and I often watch it each time. Humanity is laid out for us, hair straightened, cheeks polished, trying to make a good impression, trying to hide the bad bits but showing everything. We’re incapable, it seems, of hiding our true selves for very long.
The concept is simple. Two strangers, mostly young but older, too, mostly straight, but gay, too, have dinner together. We watch as they see if they can rub along with each other or, at least, rub against each other. They flirt, they tell jokes. More people than you would expect try to make a good impression by doing terrible impressions. A woman didn’t know that Egypt is a country. We all have gaps in our data bases. There are sad stories and not-so-sad stories. As I said: humanity. It’s filmed well and edited brilliantly.
First Dates loves to confound our expectations. The programme looks for the sweetness under the bluster, the anger, the shyness, the flirting and the, sometimes, hating. A burly man, 90% tattoos, has been a soldier, worked in porn and been a chef, is sweetness itself. A cool librarian is looking for an S+M lesbian. A 40-something looking for his first girlfriend, a 20-year-old hoping to find a man who’ll get on with her two children. Pretty much all of them are up for it, often with the people they’re sitting at a table with. There are dogs sometimes. Many of them want sex, but many want a boyfriend or girlfriend more.
The restaurant staff are getting more of a voice this series. Many of the diners have their eye on Fred, the m’aître d’, a sexy frenchie with a carefully trimmed beard. He smooths the nerves of people as they arrive, takes their jacket, tells them to play it cool. He opens each programme with a bon mot in french, the translation beneath. Jean-Paul Sartre said you must act out the passion before you feel it, non. Zose Frenchies, eh.
Much of the comedy comes from the over confidence some daters have about their attractiveness. It’s a blessing, isn’t it, that we don’t know how other people really see us. Much of the tragedy comes from that. One of them will often go to the loo halfway through, call their bessy mate, sometimes their mother, and we find out how the date is really going. More young men pluck their eyebrows than you realised. Or that should. Girls want boys to be confident but not arrogant. Boys want girls to have big tits. The world hasn’t changed that much in the last thirty years. Nature always, but always, out guns nurture.
Boys and girls, boys and boys, girls and girls, the world would stand still without all this sexual energy, this need, powering it. At the end of each evening the daters sit side by side in a studio. You first, they always say when asked if they’d like to meet again. No one wants to say yes if the other one says no. Your fingers are crossed for some of the couples, and a surprisingly high number of them go on for a drink, get in a cab together, meet again another night, without cameras watching. My favourites are the sparky ones, the ones that seem to dislike each other, but they’re sparring. They’re jabbing at each other to see if the other can keep up, is worthy. After, they look shyly at each other, a smile on their lips. Last night they saved the best line for the end. Would I high-five his face with my minge? said an attractive young woman who hadn’t been on a date for six years. Hell yes! I felt fuzzy inside. And that’s why I love First Dates.
There’s surprisingly little on YouTube – First Dates is perfect for short hits – and you’ll find more here, but here’s a lovely pair from last year.