I don’t date frequently because A) I don’t like meeting new people, B) I don’t like going anywhere for any reason, and C) I dislike spending money, especially at bars and restaurants. I’m like one of those monsters from The Descent in my reclusion.
But let’s linger on C: How people so casually accept the markup on restaurant food I will never understand, the same way I can’t understand the logic behind bars (paying an extra 5 dollars to drink a beer while surrounded by strangers, my least favorite demographic to be intoxicated around, and listen to music I don’t like seems like the opposite of what is good). Between tips, entrée, and beverage, you’re often paying a 3000% markup on a meal you could’ve easily cooked at home in ten minutes, not to mention the foreign environment, which automatically induces low levels of anxiety in the mild agoraphobe/cave monster. And then there’s the server, this obsequious person who, due to financial obligation, smiles and fills your glass, but he/she doesn’t genuinely like you or even care whether you live or die; he/she only acts in anticipation of the potential tip, making the whole interaction feel like commodified friendliness. This behavior devalues smiles, helpfulness, and gregariousness in human society by promoting their inauthentic expression. In short, I’m a cheapskate.
So keeping that in mind, here is the most expensive date I’ve ever been on:
We meet up at a sushi restaurant I chose based on its vicinity to her home. Normally, I avoid dates like this, the kind with borderline strangers — we met at a bar — but I make exceptions under certain circumstances I’m sure you can guess. The problem here, when the girl’s very quiet, is the degree of expectation feels very high. She stares blankly at me. I try to initiate conversation:
“So what’ve you been up to today?”
“Oh, you know, not much.”
“Are you in school?”
“Not right now.”
“What’s your job?”
“How do you like it?”
“It’s okay, I guess.”
Long silence. In hindsight, it’s easy to see this is already dead in the water. Whatever initial attraction she felt toward me, in the light of day, seems to have evaporated into the ether, and so now we play out a dead ritual: bland conversation over expensive food, the cells of my body poisoned by toxic levels of apathy, rising disillusionment, despair, Soul Death.
When the waiter arrives, she orders soup, a Caribbean roll, a Ring of Fire roll, a spicy tuna roll, and a Dr. Pepper, and I frantically scan the menu, adding up the prices as she orders, until I calculate an approximate total of $57 before tip. My internal organs dissolve as I realize this little lady will consume the cost equivalent of several weeks’ worth of groceries, yet I maintain a blank facial expression (because I am a Man). Only because I’m starving, I order a tuna roll — $65 — and stick with water. I should’ve picked a coffee place, I think. I’ve made a terrible fiscal error.
When the check arrives, I still have the faint hope she might be a 21st century modern lady sans traditional gender role expectations. But the check sits there, untouched, as we continue talking. She makes no eye contact with it, might as well be a figment of my imagination. “Okay, let’s take care of this…” I say theatrically, examining the list of charges. She says nothing. I put my card in the little slot, still thinking she might agree to split the bill, but she says, “Hey, thank you so much for dinner.” She’s smiling without a trace of secret malevolence. I say, “You’re welcome,” but my miserly side yearns to shout “EXTORTION!” throw a glass on the floor, and claw out my own eyes. My cheapness! Utterly subverted!
After dinner, as we near our cars, she asks, “What do you want to do now?”
Now? I reexamine our dinner conversation, and I can’t see why anyone would want it to continue. Have I completely misinterpreted the sepulchral quality of this date? This could mean she’s attracted to me after all, except she’s shy and inadvertently projects an attitude of withering contempt at all times.
We go to a nearby movie theater and see Cold Souls (an apt selection on my part)—$85 now. Next, we get ice cream—$95. By this time, we’re both hungry again, so we get burgers—$120. Then we head downtown to a bar where, unbeknownst to me, prohibition is still in effect, which is the only justification I can discern for the prices; otherwise—“EXTORTION”, breaks glass, claws eyes, etc. The total’s around $200 now, and as we discuss her love of dogs, I’m mentally computing whether overdraft fees will result.
As if I exist on some otherworldly plane, two men come by and hit on her in front of me, asking if they can buy her a drink, what’s her name, her number, and so on. But she doesn’t shoo them away. Instead, she casts sly glances in my direction and continues to entertain their advances, maybe expecting me to yell, wave my fists, reenact scenes from Twilight, who knows. I watch them with a placid expression, as if it has no effect on me. It actually makes me very depressed. After the men finally depart, I go to the bathroom and stand quietly in a stall for a couple minutes, as is my way under stress. I’ve made a mistake, I think.
Up to this point, having so rarely been on real dates like you see on sitcoms and movies, I felt like, despite my personal misgivings, this must be a standard cultural practice; that I, as a Man, have to pay for everything and I’d better get onboard with it or die alone. Now, I suspect terrible machinations afoot. When I come back, yet another man is sitting on my stool talking to her. He leaves with a laugh when I approach. This, I feel, does not reflect a high opinion of me as a Man.
Eventually, she finishes her drink and asks for a ride back to her car. This date has now lasted 8 hours. On the drive back, I wonder if kissing will happen, and if I even want that to happen at this point. But when we pull into the sushi restaurant parking lot, she scampers out of my vehicle before any gross kissing can happen to her (I’m sure she knows if a romantic type move was to be made, this would be the most viable moment). “I had a nice time,” she says from the safety of her car. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” I say, but that’s not true. Then she drives off without so much as a hug, which is fine; I don’t want a disingenuous hug anyway. The next day, I receive a text: ‘I had a great time, but I’m not interested in dating anyone right now.’
Sometimes, girls treat dating much more casually—and coldly—than I do, and this leads to bad experiences. Other times, girls expect me to act like a Man, as in the primal male who provides for His Woman—a Southern Gentleman, who imposes casual misogyny in a way that seems on the surface “sweet” and “chivalrous” but is indicative of gender norms inherited from a time when women were thought to be neurologically inferior and incapable of autonomy. This is all rationalizing though. The truth is: I’m just very, very cheap.