Date Tonight Cafe is an online dating service, specifically for lockdown. You sign up, answer a few questions, and get sent a Zoom link to click on at a specific time. Unlike RAG Blind Date, you can’t Facebook stalk the person in advance so, naturally, I assumed (as any reasonable person would) that I would click the link and the love of my life would appear on the screen before me, kneeling and holding up a big diamond ring to the camera. That or, I’d have a conversation with a CompSci student looking to make all aspects of his life digital.
Nevertheless, I prepared with great aplomb. I showered and put on a nice top. I brushed my hair and deliberated whether putting it up risked making me look like Miss Trunchbull on a video call. I even put on perfume, for the true experience, and because honestly, I think I’d forgotten that he wouldn’t be able to smell me. I didn’t bother with makeup as I didn’t want to look like I had tried too hard. I told my friend that I wanted to be wanted, even if that would in reality require a Cummings-esque breach of lockdown rules.
I’m no stranger to organised dates: in Hilary, my friend got so fed up with me moaning about how no one ever likes me that she not only signed me up for the RAG Blind Date, but she also paid. So off I went to the trusty Four Candles on Valentine’s Day, armed with the knowledge that another girl from my college (smaller, thinner, prettier) had already been on a date that evening with the same guy. At least then I could fall back on four pints and a vodka coke to keep the conversation flowing; it turns out that my sparkling personality is almost entirely dependent on liquid spirits.
It was with great trepidation that, come 7.30pm, I clicked the Zoom link from the email. Bravely, I decided to initially turn off my video. This is where my plans began to come apart. Far from a Prince Charming waiting for me to bless him with my presence, my penchant for being early was to be my undoing: he was late. I had to wait an entire three minutes, convinced that this was a wind-up, before a name flashed up on the screen. Then came the awkward who’s-going-to-talk-first moment, exacerbated by the fact that his audio hadn’t connected.
All in all, it was a nice conversation. It’s a cute idea – I hadn’t realised how much I missed talking to new people. There was an interesting moment when he mentioned a body buried under the tree in his front garden (thankfully, it turned out he’s an archaeologist) and plenty of discussion as to why NCS is worse for the team leaders than for the 16 year olds who have been conned into giving up a month of their summer. We were interrupted at 8pm by the “clap for the NHS” from outside my window, which helpfully reminded him of an essay deadline which expired at exactly the same time.
As a concept there’s some initial awkwardness, but there is also a chance to get to know someone new, even if they aren’t for you romantically. The benefit of it being online is that there is no prospect of you turning up to discover that he only comes up to your waist. What’s more, if it is going badly, then it’s very easy to leave – you just hang up, and you’ve vanished without a trace. Despite some anxious messages to my friends during the three minutes of trepidation, it wasn’t the complete disaster I was expecting, and in the end I was glad that I stuck it out.
Although there was a warning in the email that the Zoom call would time out after 40 minutes, I forgot, and my date was cut off in the middle of a sentence that went something like “Just the state of the Tory leadership at the m…” As a first-class hack (I flatter myself), it wouldn’t be difficult to find him on Facebook. But a friend request might then lead to an awkward conversation about how exactly a review of the virtual date he just went on has popped up in his feed…