I try to be optimistic. Well, that's not entirely true, but deep beneath my hard candy shell, there is something of a soft, optimistic center. It tastes like coconut, but that's entirely beside the point. The point is that I go on dates and I try to believe that the best possible scenario will result from them. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I force myself to not go into a spiral of virulent pessimism each time I meet a new person and instead try to think that maybe this will be a) fun and b) not something that will make me want to quietly slip into a hot bath at the end of the night and slit my wrists. If you can't tell yet, I went on a date.
My trials and tribulations in the romantic world are well documented on this blog; I've told you about exes who re-surface, websites that don't deliver on their promises and nights in bars that I would rather forget. However, I don't know that I've ever written about a first date. For one thing, I rarely have a first date that manages to be such a debacle that it warrants it's own posting. For another, I tend to be forgiving on first dates. I realize that that's extremely difficult to believe, but I assure you it's true. First dates are hard! Well, hard for some people, I've been told than I'm a stellar first date from start-to-finish by more than one person. And some of them aren't in permanent residence in my head. But in all seriousness, whether or not I have a good time on a first date, I try to understand that it's a nerve-wracking situation and often people are not at their best.
The particular date in question occurred a few weeks ago, on a Friday night in the city. One of my hard and fast rules of first dates is that meeting for coffee is more than sufficient. Let's face it, you generally know in about 10 minutes whether or not you want to see the other person again. Coffee is an excellent diversion that can easily be cut off after a half an hour, or extended to a meal if the urge strikes you. However, on this particular date, I was weakened in my resolve by an extended period of single-hood and complete exhaustion brought on by two weeks of constant running around like a chicken with it's head cut off. Dinner and show was proposed and I, in my stupor, accepted.
We met up at a restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. I'm not going to get into what he looked like, because it just seems unnecessarily cruel. Let's just say that he did not resemble his pictures, and I'm fairly certain that the entire staff of the aforementioned restaurant now thinks I'm a prostitute. As I said before, I was fairly certain it was going nowhere within ten minutes, but I thought to myself "Self...you're here. Try to at least have a good conversation." No sooner had I re-focused than the waitress appeared to take our drink orders. Even as I opened my mouth to order a glass of wine and hopefully grease the conversational wheels, my date jumped in and said he would stick with water. Feeling like a lush if I ordered alcohol, I changed my order to a soda and silently prayed that his conversational skills would be able to stand on their own.
Now, I'm a fairly loquacious person. I can talk about most things, and if I don't know anything about something I can at least fake attentive listening while someone else talks about it. I can actually sometimes talk about not knowing what I'm talking about. However, what I cannot do is talk to someone who doesn't talk back. Here's a little tip for all readers out there...when you are meeting someone, and they ask you a question, don't simply answer the question as quickly as you can and smile uselessly. The proper response is to answer the question, and then volley a query back their way to give them a chance to answer. Without this, what you have is a tennis match in which an ace is served every single point: you're impressed with one player and find the other one pathetic. It's like Roger Federer playing against a walrus.
When the waitress returned with my soda, we quickly ordered our meals (remember we had a show to get to!), and before she could walk away, my date pulled out a coupon. A coupon. He called it a gift certificate, but I know a coupon when I see it. Let me state right now, I have no issue with coupons; I have gone to restaurants with friends where coupons were used to bring down the total. However, I have never whipped one out on the first date. Believe me, it doesn't leave a good first impression, particularly when no warning has been given. I'm an actor. I don't mind going for cheap eats. But, please, just pick a restaurant where you can pay the total bill for the first meeting.
Even that I was trying to overlook. Tough times in the economy and all. However, it just put the final nail in the coffin for the evening, and I couldn't bring myself to really invest in conversation anymore. Which led to a tennis match in which it was the walrus' turn to serve to Roger Federer, who couldn't be bothered to return service, but was instead staring longingly at the bar in hopes of absorbing some form of liquor through sheer force of will. A sample exchange:
Walrus: Oh look! There's carrots! So healthy!
Roger: Yeah, they're really good for your eyesight.
Somehow, we got through dinner. I spent a great deal of it shoving food down my throat to give myself a socially acceptable reason to keep my mouth shut, and my eyes focused somewhere else. Now, up to this point, you might be thinking "Come on, now. He's nervous. And poor. Stop being so judgmental. Weren't you just talking about how forgiving you are on first dates? Hypocrite!" And to you, I say "Wait for it." Because it was time for the check.
You'll remember the coupon mentioned from earlier? Well, you might be able to see where this is going, but HE ONLY APPLIED IT TO HIS OWN MEAL. So, basically, he picked a restaurant which was beyond his budget, so he brought a coupon to defray the cost of his meal...and assumed that my budget would be able to handle it no problem. Now, since I'm not an idiot, I had ordered within my resources. However, the sentence "So I'll just give you a few dollars for tip?" really just killed what little remaining glimmer of attraction had managed to survive the evening thus far. Who am I kidding? There was no remaining glimmer. What it actually did was ignite the first seeds of active dislike, which tend to grow with alarming speed within me.
After I paid the bill, we were off to the show. Obviously, this was something I was looking forward to, as it would be completely socially unacceptable for any kind of conversation to be had during a play. We barreled into the theater with minutes to spare, and I hurriedly introduced my date to a friend who happened to be working on the show; at which point, my date started worrying that he was nervous meeting my friend, and thought he hadn't made a good impression. It took every ounce of my will-power to not reassure him with a simple "Oh, don't worry, there's no way you're even seeing ME again, let alone HIM." He then remarked how often I smiled. And again, I resisted the urge to say "Well, it's either smile or let my real emotions show on my face. Would you like to see my face when I look at a train wreck?"
The show passed in blissful silence, and when it was over I had my eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel. I was out of that theater like I was fired out of a cannon, having planted the seeds of having to wake up early the next morning in our first conversation. As we walked to the subway, my date tried to extend the evening. He proposed I take a subway half an hour out of the way so we could spend more time together. I declined. He mentioned that he had a good time at dinner. I commented that I thought the show was well done. He made a sad face and said that he had to say good-bye to me. I helpfully stated that this was how dates work...they end. Even the ones that seem interminable.
After this, I was praying for a simple fade-away. And I thought I had achieved it. After a week had passed, I thought I was out of the woods. Alas, I was wrong. I received an e-mail, seeing if I wanted to meet up again, "either as dates, or as friends." I waited for three days to respond, purposely being rude to help my message along. I responded that I didn't feel a connection, completely ignoring the proposal of friendship. Ten minutes after sending that e-mail, I got another missive asking again if I wanted to "see a cheap show or get dinner as friends." It was at this point that I decided that I had no further recourse...it was either be actively rude and nasty, or simply ignore him. Which is something I really hate to do. I was at a loss as to what to do next, not wanting to stoop to cruelty, but also not wanting to deal with it anymore. So, naturally, I called my mother.
Me: It's like he's FORCING me to be rude to him. And I HATE ignoring people.
Mom: Well, I think he's being rude by not picking up obvious social cues. I say ignoring him is about the best possible response he can hope for at this point. Freakshow.
I love my mom.
So the email thread was deleted, and we've now passed four days with no further contact. I again hope that we are out of the woods with this. And should further pressure be exerted, I will actually send the email that I posted on Facebook earlier this week:
"While I found your company tolerable at best, I simply would not choose to waste anymore of my life in conversation with you. No hard feelings. Literally. Now please stop e-mailing me asking to be friends. I've done this the nice way. You know what way comes next. And, hey, we'll always have carrots."