“How I handled the social media trolls after appearing on First Dates”

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Liberty Folker met her boyfriend, Pearse, on national television. Here, she explains what it’s really like to appear on Channel 4’s First Dates – and how she handled the subsequent furore on social media.

You don’t often have your best mates witnessing your dating technique. Or your dad. Or your date’s friends. Or your date’s mum. You definitely don’t get Janine from Sheffield witnessing it over dinner and a bottle of wine, along with millions of strangers. But that’s what happens when you go to Fred’s restaurant on one of British TV’s most popular shows right now.

So, yes, Sequin Jeans and Curly Haired East End Knobhead met for the very first time during the ninth season premiere of First Dates. Those are the names we were christened by Twitter. And they’re sticking. Forever.

At the beginning, I felt eerily calm going in. You will never catch me sending back a meal or dancing first at a party – those are unthinkable levels of confidence to me. But, somehow, this date was pretty doable. I simply prepared myself for walking in, having a fancy meal and meeting someone I was promised would be a good bloke with banter. And all that came true.

My brain is obviously fantastic at denying certain parts of reality because for the most part, I just didn’t think about everything else. My date opened with talk of nipple tassels and it dissolved into me licking rib juice from my elbow on national television. We laughed and teased and spoke fluent sarcasm to each other (well, mainly me) over candlelight. I felt confident and happy with this Curly Haired East End Knobhead.

It was, as it turns out, one of the best dates I’ve had in my 27 years.

Months passed, we met up for a second, third, fourth date, and so on and so on. It was easy to forget about the rather unusual way we met.

Until that is, the day the episode aired on TV, and we were both forced to watch with bated breath and our eyes peeking out from behind our fingers.

It’s a strange feeling seeing yourself on screen, and even stranger seeing it in real time, with millions of people acting as judge and jury on small edited clips of you, your personality and your terrible table manners on an utterly blind first date.

But it’s what you sign up for, despite the fact you never quite believe it will actually happen in reality.

Now, I can safely say that the only way to be universally loved is to be a sweet and sparky over 75-year-old with a packet of minstrels. Basically, be Doreen and you will be utterly adored – and rightfully so:

Point made. How could anyone not adore her?

If, however, you’re under 75 and have some opinion either way, it’s a safe bet that not everyone will like you in life. You may be too wet or too spiky, boring or weird, sassy or sullen. And Pearse and I were no exception.

As the end credits rolled, the phone rang – and I picked up to Pearse screeching the words, “TWITTER SAYS I’M ON COKE!” at me.

Yup, as it turns out, bags of nerves, a quick mouth and alcohol can be very deceiving. And it didn’t stop there: social media was soon flooded with GIFs, memes and pithy one liners from the lovers and haters.

Now, anyone who says they would not look on Twitter if there were tweeters twittering away about them is a liar. Everyone checks, everyone is curious. It’s human nature.

So what do you do when the tweets, comments, statuses, friend requests, messages, all start pouring in?

Well, you have three options:

1) You can ignore the bad and believe the good

2) You can ignore the good and believe the bad

3) You can laugh at both.

The latter is certainly the best option, because, really, both are hilarious. It may be easier for Pearse and I to say this because (thankfully) the reception was largely nice and supportive, especially as people usually like to see two idiots somehow work out. But, sometimes, Janine from Sheffield won’t like your fashion choices, or your banter, or your comments on feminism – so what to do?

Yes, you can certainly ignore it, but I preferred to find a way to laugh at myself and offer a pithy reply.

Someone told me I needed to get off my Shetland pony. I said they’re small and I’m tall so I’ll probably fall off. Another said my fashion sense needed to grow up, so I notified him that he hadn’t seen my light-up trainers yet.

Really, just speak fluent sarcasm: it’ll entertain you. And if you can’t laugh at yourself, then who can you laugh at?

I could say that going on First Dates was a a revelatory experience, where I discovered whole new facets of myself that I never realised existed. But I don’t think I did. And I don’t think that scouring social media will ever be the best way to find that, either. 

What I do think is that I had a great laugh, I met someone lovely and then everything else was just amusing noise that passes, like birds outside your window twittering away.

I’m a believer that you should hopefully know and like yourself first, your best and worst qualities from a lifetime of being you, from family and friends and people that matter. It’s lovely to see so many laugh with you and it’s perfectly OK to see people not. It’s almost physically impossible to be everyone’s cup of tea. So you might as well as well be as milky or sugary as you want: go full fat full cream, go peppermint, go sprinkle some sequins in there.

It’s your tea metaphor. You make it however you want.

Channel 4’s First Dates airs on Mondays at 8pm.

Images: Channel 4