It’s been the longest gap between posts that this blog has seen, which means it’s time for another previous adventure in the life of Dateless-Man. We’re still in the midst of my high school years in the mid to late 90’s and this chapter should hopefully be the meatiest in terms of the blog’s stated purpose. It’s time for dinner and a movie, or just one of the other – it’s my first date, in all its’ awkward and mixed message glory.
Picking up from the last “high school adventure“, I was now a teenager in the mid to late 1990’s, a rebel without a cause and a loser without a love life. By this stage I was skipping most of my classes in favor of hanging out on campus with my clique of friends (mostly freaks, geeks, goths, stoners, and metal heads) either shooting the breeze or playing table top RPG’s – character sheets, dice, and all. Most casual observers thought were were gambling until they saw the d12’s. Naturally my mother was far from happy with my truancy, and this led to some of the worst arguments of our lives. I just didn’t give a damn and considered myself a bit too “cool for school” – which was ironic as I wasn’t too cool at all. At any rate, I did attend some classes here and there on my schedule, and at one point that included a social studies/history type class in my sophomore-junior year. The teacher was an older and sterner man who I would later revisit when I finally had to get my GED, but that’s another story.
In a way, the genesis of my first date is a perfect microcosm of my relations with women in high school, and perhaps later. Naturally, as a horny teenage male with zero confidence, I spent many classes sneaking peaks at an incredibly attractive young lady who was seated across from me who I in no way had the guts to ask out. I would still interact in class, and despite my truancy I always proved to be an apt student when I bothered to show up and study. But I imagine that a good reason why I still attended this class was due to the object of my desires. Awkwardly, one day I found myself handed a note in class not by her, but by another young lady who was seated next to me, who I’d hardly noticed. Yes, this was the era before texting became as widespread and kids still passed notes on paper to each other. Is that something that still happens now?
As always, all names are changed to protect the innocent; I’ll dub her Sophie. For the record, the names I choose to dub the ladies who are involved in my misadventures are chosen based on the first letter of their real names and then any alternate name which pops into my head. I’d noticed her in the class before, but she simply hadn’t been as glamorous as the girl that I had been obsessed with in the class. Yet she was still very much “my type” and appeared friendly. To be blunt, my initial response to being handed a note by her in my class was surprise. It was a very direct note, asking me whether I wanted to attend a movie that weekend with her, which literally offered check boxes for “yes” or “no”. Rather than leap at the chance, I was stunned that she was offering it at all; by then I’d had no luck with women and was suspicious and hesitant of disappointing any who had been near. I recall my initial response was writing in a “maybe”, and asking about more details.
This wouldn’t be my last date, but every time I am on the cusp of one, my lack of confidence manifests itself sort of like a disclaimer. I usually display surprise at being the target of a date as well as ask the lady some version of, “Are you SURE!? Is this not a GAG!? You DO know you’re asking ME out, right? The lowest rung on the man ladder! Don’t say I didn’t warn you if you’re disappointed!” Considering how many girls by then had played the “she likes you game” with me or previous experiences involving cruel pranks or tricks, maybe some hesitancy was justified. As a teenager, I was far more cynical and wary of things than I had been in elementary school (even if still more hopeful than I am now). At any rate, soon the details would be ironed out between Sophie and I. Date, time, which theater, which bus to take and so on. From the onset, however, Sophie seemed to stress one thing: “We’re just going as friends”. She said it when we met that day, she said it when I called her to confirm it, and on the evening of the date itself. “Just. As. Friends.”
So, I did what any logical person would do. I took her for her word.
Naturally, I made sure to be perfectly cleaned and shaved, and wore a nice button down and shoes. My mother was thrilled that her shy son was finally on a date. And things seemed to go well. Sophie and I chatted on the 45 minute bus ride to the theater we wanted to go to, mostly about shared tastes in movies and other small talk. She enjoyed “smart action movies” the best, and in addition to being a Russian immigrant, was taking a gymnastics class at school. The film we wound up seeing was “Double Jeopardy”, starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones. She’d seen it before, but wanted to see it again and I was certainly game; considering it was my first date, I’d have been game for “THE CARE BEARS MOVIE” if I’d had to. I remember that we decided to go dutch, but I was such a bundle of nerves that I almost forgot to go up to the ticket booth and pay. I don’t remember if she got snacks or soda or not; I know I never went for that at the movies and still don’t. Any any rate, there was the two of us, in a darkened theater watching a movie on the big screen.
And that’s all we did; watch the movie.
I never made a move, never even tried to flirt with her. It wouldn’t have helped had I tried, since I in no way would have known what to say or how to deliver it. I recall during a love scene with Judd in the beginning having an odd feeling about me, and glancing back at Sophie. She looked back at me for a moment and I distinctly remember debating within my own mind to attempt to make some sort of move, or not. My best option was also the most tired; the “oh I am yawning oh look there is my arm going over your shoulders by sheer accident” move that I likely picked up from TV somewhere. It would have been lame; even I thought so. I didn’t want to make Sophie uncomfortable or cause her any sort of distress or a bad time; in fact, throughout the date I stuck to my usual routine of trying to make her laugh with quips, which is how I usually interact with people. So instead I respected her decree; that we were “just friends” seeing a movie. And lord knows I’d never tried to make a move or romantic suggestion to any of my other (male) friends on trips to the movies. So the moment passed, and soon the entire movie did. I did enjoy it, at least. Our hands stayed on the armrests, our butts in the seats, and beyond some banter we mostly watched the movie in silence, as instructed by the animated figures at the start of any cinema experience.
The bus ride back seemed to go faster, with there being slightly less banter. I was still in a good mood and Sophie seemed to, as well. I walked her home (as she didn’t live too far from my apartment), and the date ended with a hug and a “we’ll do this again sometime” statement. We chatted for a few minutes after on her porch and I was thrilled. Was this the start of something? What would we do for the next time? Did she really like me or was this just a “friendly” movie trip? Naturally, by our next class I was asking about our next date, and Sophie said she was busy. Then, she had an accident at her gymnastics glass and sprained her ankle quite badly – bad enough that she had it wrapped and traveled with crutches for one or two weeks. Sophie insisted that she wouldn’t go out again until she’d recovered, and I certainly respected and understood that. I tried to be a gentleman to her, help her with books or doors before and after class, usually walking her to her next one. I would call her on the phone, but she almost always cut our conversations short.
After a fortnight she was only using one crutch and not long after seemed to have mostly recovered. I began asking about when she felt she might be ready to hang out again, which she kept putting off, saying she wasn’t ready or was busy. I respected this and tried not to badger her, and gave her space. However, one day in class she was chuckling with some of her friends and I learned that she’d been busy with them, going to the movies and doing other things despite her ankle. Her ankle was soon healed but Sophie continued to give various reasons why a second date wasn’t on her schedule; a test here, something else there. Yet the next day in class I’d always find out that she’d instead been busy with her friends. Any phone call (which was maybe once or twice a week) would end quickly, until the point where she stopped taking my calls. Eventually I caught on that she wasn’t interested in another date, but hadn’t told me in as blunt a way. After about a month or so, then, I stopped trying, and she made no move to suggest this distressed her. We remained friendly, even after the class had ended if we bumped into each other in the hallway, but usually not more than a “Hi, how are you doing?” sort of deal.
So, that was my first date experience. No flowers or candy, no fumbling hands or lame passes – just a bucket of mixed signals on both ends. I imagine responding with an opening “maybe” started things off on the wrong foot, and her insisting we were “just friends” was either a tactic to ensure I didn’t get grabby or some counter-measure to that. I never would have gotten grabby or crude, but naturally there’s no way Sophie knew that, and I imagine most young women try to set boundaries for their safety. On the other, I never quite understood why Sophie didn’t simply tell me how disinterested she was in me after our date, and allow it to end at that. Years later I reasoned that women often do that because men can (and do) become nasty or even violent (or stalker-y) when they are firmly rejected. I never would have done so, and while I would have been a little deflated I’d have merely internalized it and moved on; but again, there was no way Sophie knew this. Still, I prefer a firm statement of displeasure rather than a promise of a new date or a claim of having had a good time when clearly, that didn’t happen. I mean surely if I come off as enough of a putz to be unworthy of a second date, I also come off as a putz who’d never lay a hand on a woman even if she’d stabbed me. In the end it came down to me having no charisma and never making a move, so I imagine Sophie lost whatever passing interest she had in me romantically. That or maybe she just really did want company to see an Ashley Judd movie again.
At the time this wasn’t a huge deal; I was disappointed but bolstered by my experience and imagined I’d learn more from future dates with future women. Little did I realize that it would be at least six years later when I was in the midst of an extended tour of college before I’d get a date again. I had no idea that my dating opportunities would become more rare than sex between Vulcans. While I was a cynical and frustrated teenager, I still had hope for the future, hope that I’d encounter young ladies in travels and exploits with my friends much as they had. Hopeful that something would happen, that someone would take an interest in me; after all, it’d happened once, right? Eventually that hope died as the years went on, and the cynicism and frustration would only grow.
I can count the amount of formal dates I’ve had on one hand, and still have fingers left over. Much like a lot of things in my life, this first date seemed fun on the surface but beneath likely had a lot of misunderstanding and missed cues on my end. I want many of the same things normal guys want, yet when given the chance I often have no clue of what to do and bungle it, missing some unspoken hint or trigger that is common for everyone else. Maybe there was nothing I could have done back then, as respecting a woman’s word and choices about what she desires from an encounter has usually always been my policy. Unfortunately, obedience is not very attractive or charismatic, or adventurous to a woman, whether in the 1990’s or now.
Still, most people’s first dates are awkward horror shows. And at the very least, a minor film like “Double Jeopardy” will always have a place in my memories and my heart.