Love & Romance

THE ART OF DATING: PAINT-BY-NUMBERS OR SMOKE-AND-MIRRORS

Has the art of dating been lost? Have we evolved past dating with the inundation of social media hookup apps? First, second and third base have WiFi signals. Everything is digital and nothing hurts.

I was talking to my coworker Amanda and we were dishing about bad dates. Awkward encounters, awkward kisses, awkward last moments. For both of us, we have experiences with going on dates with people who we had texted previously. Hers was Tinder; mine was Grindr.

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For me, he was goofily cute over text. Shy, clever, flirtatious. In person, he was a fumbling robot. He made bad jokes and couldn’t meet my eye. Not in an endearing, “He finds me too beautiful to look at” way. It was more like a “I’d rather be anywhere but here” way. All of the quirks I had enjoyed over text I realized were carefully edited versions of a truly awkward person.

For her—from what I remember. Frankly I’m not the best at listening—it was flint and steel and no spark. He fell flat.

We’ve grown accustomed to dating online. We’ve become used to existing online, and the days of “Hey darling, wanna go steady?” have morphed into Netflix and Chill and no strings attached and casual hangouts that have as much romantic confusion as Michael Jackson’s Neverland. Too far? That’s how serious I am.

I’m bad at romance. I’m uncomfortably aware of how I’m trying to be suave and sexy and effortless. I make a much better friend than date, and I’m kind of a shitty friend sometimes. I’m unable to see real romance staring me in the face, and the romance that I do attempt is fodder for blogs where I do that thing where I laugh so that I don’t cry.

Me @ myself

Me @ myself

But I like the idea of old-fashioned, gin & tonic romance. Straight-up. Simple. A little brisk and a little jolting but undeniable. I asked someone out on a date once. I mean, I’ve done it multiple times. But I actually said the word “date.”

“Would you want to go to dinner sometime?” I asked.

“Yeah!” He said, and I knew that this could be a casual friend dinner. I could escape with my dignity and my class.

“As—as a date,” I added, and I saw his eyes shift kaleidoscopically as the dinner took on a different color and texture. And instantly it had lines and numbers and a set of crayons to choose from to shade in the suddenly defined shape.

And I liked it. I liked the un-ambiguity. The Date. Not a hangout. Not a casual friend thing. A date. Four letters. Solid. Romantic. Unmoving.

We ended up at an upscale casual restaurant and wore variations on the same outfit and we argued about Miley Cyrus and he never returned my text for another date. But even though that didn’t end up—well, let’s get real, it was a flop—it was a date. A finite one, but a date nonetheless.

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“Would you like to go out?” I asked another boy. He looked at me with a measured gaze. We had been around this carousel before.

“In what way?”

“In a romantic context,” I answered. He said no, it wasn’t me it was him. But I knew that he wanted me to finally say it. To define it in a way that I hadn’t had the courage to before. To name it.

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I think we’re all scared shitless of rejection so we don’t define it. Plausible deniability. If it’s not a date, then it can’t end badly. Hangouts don’t end badly. They just end. But dates—there’s a definite ending. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book where if you skip to page 110, you get a second date, and if you skip to page 135, you get a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and spend two hours overanalyzing that joke you accidentally made about the Hindenburg.

So we hide behind vagueness and romantic smoke-and-mirrors. Dodge. Deflect. Retreat. Live to fight another battle. Ask out another person to an ambiguous, amorphous “thing” that they’ll wonder what it is and you’ll wonder what it is.

But the problem with vagueness is that it leads to vagaries—sudden, unexpected changes (look it up). You didn’t set parameters, so you don’t have expectations. You don’t know how you want this to end. So you don’t invest. You retreat. You live to text another day.

But in the end, you’ve actually lost. You’ve lost the tingling electricity that goes with making a complete ass out of yourself by walking up to that cutie. You’ve lost the impetus. You’ve lost that chance at human connections and fallibilities. You’ve given all that up for safety and security and Facebook-stalking.

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And I’m saying “you” but we all know I mean “we.” I mean “I.” They said setting boundaries is good for raising children, and for raising dogs. And hell, kids and puppies seem happy enough. Who are we to judge? Set some boundaries. Define. Flip to the page in the dictionary and point to it and say, “Yes, that’s what I want us to be. Friday night. Dinner.”

I’m bad at coloring. But I think I’d like to have those lines to know when I’m shading outside of them.

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