When I was in middle school and had just started to cope with the fact that girls didn’t actually have cooties, I dreamt of the day when I’d be old enough to go on a real date.
I remember watching Smallville, an episode where Clark Kent finally got up the guts to ask out Lana Lang, and they went on a date to their town’s coffee shop.
I was mystified; a guy can drive himself somewhere, to hang out with a girl he likes, and drink things that he paid for with his own money? The Gameboy-playing me was fascinated by the adult world and all of the freedom that apparently came with it.
As I moved onto high school, the pre-driver’s licensed me started to immerse himself in the world of film—a world which glorified the proper manners of dating.
I tried to learn what correct etiquette was in my early teenaged years, so that when I could finally drive, I wouldn’t miss a beat.
I imagined picking up the girl at her house and she’d be wearing her best sundress in the summer heat. I envisioned opening the door for her, as she shyly nods, and I close it behind her. I dreamt of going to a nice restaurant, smiling at each other while candles flicker on our faces and shimmer in our eyes.
I’d pick up the tab, drive her home and we’d listen to music all the way, giggling when we discovered we liked the same musicians. Then we’d kiss goodnight and fall deeply into an abyss of love, to have and to hold from that day forth, in sickness and in health.
Well, reality isn’t like that. At least my reality wasn’t.
After high school let me down, college came. Surely these emotionally and intellectually advanced women would see the allure in an Arthur Avenue dinner, some Italian wine, and good conversation with a college athlete, right? Unfortunately, the result was familiar: complete aversion to any sort of formal romantic engagement.
I’m 23 years old now, and I only went on my first “official” date a few weeks ago. I’m not any sort of social recluse or a hermit – I’ve been romantically involved with an adequate amount of girls – however, I don’t really consider any of my previous experiences dates. The type of romance I’m used to is when a “hang out” turns physical – dorm room romance while Friends plays in the background.
A few weeks ago, when the girl I liked said yes to a real date, I was over the moon. Finally, someone mature who wanted to really get to know me, and didn’t just want to wear my soccer sweatshirt around campus.
I walked into the tavern where we’d agreed to meet, hugged her, and sat down to order drinks. I was smiling like an idiot; I could feel the grin glued to my lips. We had already met and knew each other a bit, so we didn’t need the beginner’s questionnaire. However, she didn’t seem to be as happy or smiley as I was. She kept saying ambiguous things about work and life, and talking about future plans. All the while, the look on her face suggested she was waiting in line at the DMV.
I leaned across the table, still smiling likely, and said, “You know this is my first date? I know I’m not supposed to say that, but I felt you should know.”
She laughed (loudly may I add) and clapped her hands together, as if I had been joking, before sipping her drink and subsequently shaking her head in disbelief. When she noticed I wasn’t kidding, her eyes refocused on me, as she said, “You’re joking, right? It’s just a date. It’s no big deal.”
About a year ago, a female friend of mine told me that I should start casually dating, that it was the normal thing to do at our age. She said, and I quote, “You should just go on dates. It’s a great way to get a free meal!” When I responded that I was the guy and that I would be paying, she quickly changed the subject, and we hung up soon thereafter.
I didn’t believe people thought this way until my date.
We shared an awkwardly-spaced walk to the car, an emotionless hug, and both drove off our separate ways. After my first date, I had always expected to drive home with the windows down, wind tossing my hair about, shoulders bopping to a Beatles song, while I shout the lyrics back without a care in the world.
I drove home in silence, in the frigid aftermath of Blizzard Nemo, with the windows up and the heat blasting. As I drove, one hand lightly gripping the wheel, the other flat against my face, I had a bit of an epiphany. Maybe my first date didn’t go well, but that doesn’t mean my second one will be a disaster too. That girl wasn’t right for me, but that doesn’t mean the next one won’t be.
It hit me that love is just as much about dealing with rejection as it is about finding someone. I thought about my beat up Honda Accord and how even though it was dinged and battered in certain places, it still functioned more than adequately. The scratches and dents gave it character, proved its mileage.
I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel of the car, matching the music’s beat, and smiled, knowing we both have plenty left in the tank.