Stylist.co.uk contributor Jasmine Andersson, 24, had an awkward first encounter filmed for the 2017 summer series of Channel 4’s First Dates. Though her date has not yet aired, here she reveals the five things she learned from taking part in a reality show designed to help you find love.
When I filled out the First Dates application form to make my best mate laugh over the phone, I hadn’t really thought about the consequences.
A heartbroken, drunk mess that was recently out of a relationship, I hadn’t thought past the comedic value of filling out an application for my favourite TV show – and then telling all of my friends about it.
But as the phone calls and sofa sessions unravelled, it became clear that I had somehow been chosen out of 150,000 applicants to dine in the First Dates restaurant – and there was a lot more to it than I’d envisaged.
So now, as the show is ready to take its next round of hopefuls and prospective daters are filling out their forms just as I did, here’s my five-point debrief on the reality of appearing on the UK’s most popular dating show – and surprisingly, what it taught me about myself in the process.
1. The application process is long and arduous
When I wrote on my application form that I was a hapless romantic determined to pass on some of my horrific genes to children at some point in the future, little did I realise that I’d started a 10-week, cross-country process to end up in the First Dates restaurant.
After my initial phone call to the producer who spoke to me for an hour about what I like doing and who I fancy (Andrew Garfield and Scarlett Johansson, if you’re really interested), I was then invited to an audition where I had to showcase my idiocy for another set of producers.
Living in Manchester at the time, I the made the trek to London for a pre-date chat and the date itself was of course, in the capital.
Although I ashamedly find it incredibly easy to talk about myself, by the end of the phone call, the audition, the pre-date chat and the date itself, I was pretty exhausted. I’d been a willing candidate and certainly don’t regret the experience, but the physical and emotional labour of appearing on a dating programme is sorely underestimated. When you’re reliving the pain of romances past and your love for the future at least four times to several different people, it can be exhausting for even the most seasoned of romantics (guilty as charged). If you’re determined to apply, make sure you have some annual leave tucked under your belt – the producers are very accommodating but there’s bound to be some unsociable hours.
Oh, and to add to the exhaustion, I decided to move to London on the day of my date. Do not do this under any circumstances.
2. It’s the best therapy session you’ll ever have
You know that bit that’s not in the restaurant and is filmed in front of a red love heart hologram? And you wonder why everyone ends up crying? Seriously, everyone? That’s the pre-date chat, and it lasts a good 90 minutes. When I trundled into the room wearing some cord dungarees and my feminist necklace, little did I realise that by the end of the session I would have poured my heart out to a stranger -- and oddly, I felt all the better for it.
Everyone has a sob story. It’s worth bearing in mind that the aim of the producer’s game is to harvest this emotional gold, rather than the daters aspiring to be part of some X-Factor B-roll. After all, there’s nothing more gut-wrenching than watching someone get a ball in their throat when they talk about a gang of boys at school who said they’d rather get married to a protractor than date them (OK, that was me).
However, as I was embarking upon the quest as emotionally raw as an uncooked egg, I didn’t realise until that point how much I needed to speak about what I was going through, and while you might sit down with the intention of not shedding a tear, the reality is different. Although I am lucky to have several friends who had listened to my woes as I recovered from my break-up, there was something refreshing about speaking to someone whose only impression of me was one that I had crafted on an application form. Although of course there are caveats to speaking to someone who wants to use your emotional experiences for national television, it was an oddly satisfying way to review how I’d approached relationships throughout my life, and what I wanted in the future. How often do you sit down and make time to do that?
3. You are a different person to the one you are in real life
I hate to be that guy, but presenting a version of yourself that appeals to a hunk or hunkess while ensuring your uncle can still swallow his dinner can be pretty daunting. Whether it’s the pitch of your voice, the way you’re into trainspotting or the fact that you know a dirty joke (or six), trying to negotiate the best version of yourself without upsetting the people you love – or the people who employ you – is very much a consideration when going on the programme.
Although I started the audition process as loud, clumsy and emotionally naïve as I normally am, by the end I had found the expectations of the people around me were starting to shape how I presented myself. Would I be the subject of a barrage of insults on Twitter? Would my mum be able to look me square in the eye if I mentioned my sex life? Would I be able to mention that I am bisexual without getting some bigots making my life a misery? Because I let all of these thoughts get to me, I offered a frustratingly pared-down version of myself and left out all of the bits that make me the fool that I am.
My true self will always be the one I live with every day, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the people on First Dates are putting their neck on their line in order to learn something about what they want and about themselves, so judge sparingly.
4. It’s not the place to slag off your ex
I KNOW HOW TEMPTING THIS IS. Although I have the rare deal of being pals with my ex, it didn’t stop the devilish side of me considering exploring the graveyard of exes past. But, no matter how much airtime you get, don’t waste the spotlight shaming those who were not worthy enough for you in the first place – they’ve already taken up enough of your time. Don’t give them national screen time too.
5. Not everyone on the show is looking for love
I may be a romantic, but as a young woman, I know how hard it can be to not buy into the narrative that having a romantic relationship is the defining goal of your life. I entered the show ready to state that I don’t think that being single is a disease or anything to be ashamed of – just like the vast majority of the people I met on the show. If I met someone nice, great – but if I didn’t, I was going to go and dance the rest of the night away with my mates.
Although the programme is fantastic in the way that it can bring people together who find it difficult to meet potential partners – their ability to pair elderly couples is frankly excellent – it’s also a lot of lovelorn adrenaline junkies grouped together willing to try out something a little bit different. While I resented being asked the question “Why are you single?”, appearing on First Dates did hammer home one truth – appearing on national television to go on a date was an experience that was about myself.
Images: Channel 4 / Radio Times