When it comes to awkwardness, few social encounters surpass the bizarre ritual of dating. And the older and wiser I get, the more reluctant I am to participate.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love spending time with people I love. Who doesn’t? My problem is with the cookie-cutter outings with men I don’t know very well, (and sometimes have never met.) Rain or shine, blind or group, they all look a little something like this: I wait for him to call. I wait for him to pick me up. I act so surprised when he unveils whatever bonding experience he’s planned for the evening. (“Pumpkin carving? In October?! You clever man you…*giggles*.”) And the two-faced, twirling tap dance continues from there.
Simply but harshly put, it’s self-betrayal. Nothing more. My objective is to be whatever kind of woman I think he’s looking for. Rather than acting like Erin, the Erin he supposedly wants to get to know, I become a silly, eager, polite projection of what I think he wants me to be. I feign interest in things that bore me. I tell stories I’d rather keep to myself. All of this usually involves some degree of helplessness and stupidity, as well as plenty of forced laughter. (“Eww it’s so squishy inside this pumpkin! No you scoop it out! You! *more giggles*.”)
Folks, I’m not a giggler. And I don’t mind pumpkin guts one bit. You know what I really hate? Horses. They smell and they scare me. If a movie is about or somehow related to horses, count me out. Really, I hate them. This is why it’s so peculiar that one time on a date to a symphony orchestra performance, I told my date, with wistful fancy in my voice, that the song reminded me of galloping horses. Why did I say that? What type of woman was I pretending to be? One that likes horses I guess. My lie was analogous to the beasts themselves: dirty, stinky, and completely unnecessary.
Certainly dating cannot be any easier for men; they have their own twisted social rules to follow, distorted self-images to project, and woefully unrealistic standards to uphold. And all of that plays out in addition to the stress of planning and perpetuating the blessed event. (As a side note, I know it’s not always “guys ask girls.” Plenty of people reverse those roles. But I do think for heterosexual people, it’s more common for men to ask women out, and this is also a limitation of my own experiences.)
Let’s face it: going on dates with new people is an agonizing, tortuous crapshoot for all of us, and anyone who comes out alive, let alone with a lasting and committed relationship, deserves a medal.
In homage to this curious custom, I’ve compiled a list of painful date stories. Most but not all are from LDS young adults, a population which I think subjects itself to this ritual social torture more frequently, and with loftier expectations, than your average twenty-somethings. All of these stories are true, so sit back, relax, and revel in the discomfort. Feel free to comment with your own stories. Oh and one last thing: what are you doing this Saturday?
A boy in my ward took me out to dinner. There was a BYU basketball game on TV at the restaurant, so we started watching and talking about our favorite players. A commercial came on for McDonald’s. My date asked me if I ate McDonald’s a lot. I thought it was an odd question, but I went along with it. “No, I don’t eat a lot of McDonald’s. But I do like those yogurt parfaits.” His jaw dropped, he had the most disgusted look on his face, and he said “I hate those.” He refused to talk to me for the rest of the night.
Drama at the Movies
My date and I were at the movies with a group of friends. Another girl, someone else’s date, showed up late and ran up the stairs to sit with us. As soon as my date saw the late-comer, she jumped up, ran to the back of the theater, and sat alone. I texted her asking if she was OK and would she please come back down. She refused, saying that she “hated that girl” and didn’t want to be near her. I never found out what the problem was and spent the rest of the movie by myself. Oh well. More popcorn for me.
Stealing My Heart
This guy in my biology class had a big crush on me and told everyone he knew. He even told the instructor so she would put us together for group projects. It was his life’s mission to impress me, so he hatched a scheme with his friends to win my heart. We went on a double date, and the plan was for all of us to cook dinner together. While at the grocery store, another one of my date’s friends, someone I didn’t know, pretended to “rob” me, a.k.a. steal a paper out of my hands and run away. My heroic date chased after him to defend my honor and beat him up. I really thought the guy had stolen the paper from me, (though I didn’t know why), and only realized what was going on once the fake fighting started.
Mapping the Friend Zone
While discussing with my date my recent field study to South Africa, he shared with me his knowledge of African geography. “So, Africa is two countries, right? North and South. North is the one with wars and South is the one with AIDS.” I wanted him to be kidding. He wasn’t.
Show Me the Money
On our first and only date, he asked me, “How much money do you make a year?” I was taken aback and hesitantly gave a ballpark figure. He replied with all seriousness, “Hmm…combined with my salary, we could buy a house.”
The Silent Treatment
My friend asked me to be her roommate’s date for a group thing, explaining that her roommate was painfully shy and too scared to ask anyone herself. When I showed up for the date, the ladies were making dinner for me and the other guy. I said “Hi” to everyone, but my date didn’t acknowledge me. Knowing she was shy, I let her do her thing in the kitchen while I talked to the other couple. During dinner, we chatted—me and the other couple I mean. My date smiled and chuckled when appropriate, maybe nodded when I asked her a question, but still not a word. Then we went to the movies. In total silence. On the drive home the other couple and I shared opinions about the film. I’m not sure how my date felt about it though, because she still didn’t talk. And then I went home. I felt terrible—I’m sure she was more uncomfortable than I was. But I couldn’t believe it. The entire evening she did not say a single word to me.
I agreed to a group date with a guy I worked with. He showed up to the racquetball court, along with his identical twin, in matching racquetball ensembles. The entire time I had no idea who was who or which brother was my date. They had to correct me multiple times.
Keeping It in the Family
My senior year of high school, I went on a date with a good friend. He invited me to see a movie, and because I had a little crush on him and was free, I said yes. During the movie, we started cuddling, and on the way out we held hands. I was on cloud nine—everything was going great. He drove me home, and we sat in my driveway and kept talking, flirting, and laughing. The music was low. We were leaning closer and closer. My heart was pounding. Suddenly he said quietly, “Do you want to know a secret?” “Sure,” I answered, gazing deep into his dreamy eyes.
To this day I cannot believe the “secret” he told me that night, our first and last date. These were his exact words: “My mom is also my sister.”