No matter which way you look at it dating makes us vulnerable. It’s a throw of the dice that leaves us breathless with anticipation, hope, faith and not a little fear. It exposes us, opens us to every emotion and leaves us naked in the face of virtual strangers but it is also exciting, exhilarating and rewarding. It can lead to friendship, love and, usually the end game, marriage.
We are programmed to connect with others, to seek out mates and procreate and irrespective of our belief in marriage most of us want the whole package. We want to find a soul mate and have a family and live happily ever after. It’s a pilgrimage that starts with, sometimes, nothing more than a meeting of eyes across a crowded room.
Barriers, either physical, political, religious cannot contain our desire to be part of a couple. It’s like our need for oxygen, it is simply a fact of life we are not meant to be alone and isolated, living out our lives without companions. Finding that companion can be a long journey with detours and pit stops but no matter how difficult the trip we are always ready to pack up our baggage and start afresh, a different destination each time until we find the place we call home.
Many factors influence this search, our state of mind for one thing. We might have ended one relationship and not be too anxious to embark hastily on another without testing the waters, or we might be struggling to find the right person. Some of us may simply want to have fun and enjoy many experiences without commitment. The differences are great, the initial steps limited. You can’t get to know an individual unless you go on a date. Meeting someone you feel an attraction to at a party or a bar is only the beginning, finding there’s a real spark between you requires a one-on-one date.
Date, the word conjures up an event of unimaginable delight or unmentionable despair. Dates can be fun, interesting, thrilling or exciting. I doubt there’s an adult who cannot describe one that has been near perfect or another that was almost unendurable but in the quest for love or even companionship, you won’t find it if you don’t date it.
None of the wonders of this electronic age make dating easy, there is yet to be a scanner invented that can be swept over a date and expose his intentions so one has to employ basic gut instinct. Of course this same gut instinct is what attracts women to ‘bad’ boys but there is an ocean of difference between them and the real bad men. Let’s suppose then that your gut tells you he’s a good guy, common sense makes you carry a can of pepper spray in the event he’s not and you’re wise enough to tell your best friend, sister, mother or landlady your plans.
It begins well. He opens the car door for you and compliments you, not too effusively or in such a way that you feel uncomfortable because his eyes are on your legs. He drives confidently and makes small talk so that by the time you reach the restaurant you’re relaxed and the conversation isn’t stilted. He doesn’t try to crowd you, no hand holding or awkward touching as you make your way into the up market crowded restaurant and you’re beginning to feel a tingle of pleasure in his company.
He’s chosen well. The table for two is reserved, it’s at the window overlooking fountains and trees bedecked with lights and it’s intimate and cosy. The waitron discreetly lights the candle. Menus are produced and there’s a slight hiccup, hardly more than a flutter when he tells the waiter he’ll order for both of you because you wonder at once how he knows what you like. This is 2012 after all, the year the world may possibly end, not the fifties when a woman may get a thrill from a man who takes charge. You swallow misgiving though because he’s a good looking guy and you both know it when you catch him watching himself in the mirror. You dismiss any qualms at his vanity as he casually runs a hand through his hair and the muscles in his arm move and you experience a rush of pride, and let’s be honest, a small lurch of lust, he’s in great physical shape.
Wine is ordered, a dry red when in fact you prefer a light white, but you say nothing. You smile and gently clink glasses, your smile fading a little when he orders garlic snails as a starter. You thought it was a gastronomic disaster in the eighties and quite apart from the fact you don’t eat snails and didn’t think anyone else did anymore either, you wonder at the garlic. Garlic? On a first date? Not a good combination surely. You can’t be the only one to think it.
You smile sweetly and murmur, snails aren’t really your thing, you’d rather have the avocado and rocket salad with parmesan shavings. The waitron ducks his head in acknowledgement, your date’s lips thin and he says, ‘fine’ but his voice is stiff with disapproval. A knot begins to form in your stomach and you swallow a mouthful of wine. Nerves make your mouth dry and you glug the whole lot back. The knot loosens and heat infuses you.
Things go from good to bad in shockingly fast time. He frowns at your empty glass and tells you condescendingly that a good red should be savoured not downed. You are now feeling hot and light headed and slightly aggravated so you reach for the bottle and recklessly refill your glass. He is not amused and you give an involuntary giggle. Starters arrive and before you’ve even had a mouthful he orders the main course, rare pepper steak.
“Medium”, you mutter, “and easy on the pepper”. The waitron nods, lips tight with amusement. Conversation that was effortless is now stuttering and your salad sits heavily next to the knot that’s re-formed. His eyes wander and you watch, with curious indifference, when they fix on a blonde at the bar who smiles knowingly. Suddenly you just want to go home, you want to throw off the dress you thought sexy and kick off the stilettoes, you want to pull on a tee shirt and shorts and have a cup of tea and watch re-runs of ‘Friends’. The date that began on a high note is ending off key.
You finish the meal in silence. He slices his steak, red and bloody, chews while eyeing the blonde. Your appetite has disappeared and you make eye contact with the waitron who smiles sympathetically deftly removing your plate.
Your date looks at his watch and makes a comment about an early meeting and suggests splitting the bill and calling it a night. You stare in disbelief, too polite to argue despite the desire to stab him with your fork. The bill comes and you slap down your credit card, desperate now to get home as soon as possible. The drive is made in record time, also in silence and you know he’s going to return to the restaurant to hook up with the blonde. He doesn’t even turn off the engine or get out. You’re very careful not to slam the door – that would indicate a level of emotion you don’t want to offer him and when you’re safely inside you let out a sigh of relief.
Never again, you swear, no more dates, no more men, no more disappointment. It’s only when you check the credit card slip, too proud to have glanced at it in the restaurant, you see that the waitron hasn’t charged you anything. Instead he’s drawn a sad face, written his name and phone number on the slip and you experience a rush of gladness, remember his warm brown eyes and sympathetic smile and you know you’re going to think about calling him. You start fantasising about a date with a nice guy and already you’re filled with positive anticipation, excitement and you allow expectation to flourish again.
Everyone wants to find someone, someone who fits. Everyone wants to be the puzzle piece connecting to the perfect match. We are programmed to search for connection, contact and despite disappointment we have an in-built determination and drive to get back in the saddle if we fall. Dating is an unknown and our expectations make us vulnerable but no amount of failure dampens our need to want a partner to share life’s journey, no matter how long or short. Whether life ends in December 2012 or continues ad infinitum if you’re single and looking for love you’re going to date, if you’re going to date you’ll experience highs and lows. It’s a jungle out there, disaster and delight but we embrace the challenge. We have no choice.
Next time we’ll explore truth and dare. Be strong, people, the year is only just beginning.