My first encounter with the beast that is a hideous first date came at the impressionable age of 16. If, of course, you even consider an evening at a local movie theater with a male friend chaperoned by your mother a date. It was awkward and uncomfortable and devoid of the romanticized enchantment I had been groomed to believe existed. In fact, I believe he sneezed uncontrollably, leaving behind a long, stringy, hanging booger I was forced to point out, prior to delicately bidding him farewell.
It was then that I learned romance cannot be forced. Not by a pubescent boy trying too hard to impress and not by an adolescent girl hoping to appear desirable.
I dated a man who confessed all of our sexual encounters to his priest. While I respected his spirituality I couldn’t get the thought of a cloaked, probably elderly man of god masturbating to mental images of our favorite sex positions while occupying a confessional. The knowledge that the man I was dating viewed our passionate exchanges as regrettable sins wasn’t exactly a turn on either. I was the dirty temptation and he was the innocent lamb, straying from god when a hand and a bottle of lotion just wouldn’t do the trick.
It was then that I learned moral commonalities are important. Religious beliefs don’t have to perfectly align and spiritual awakenings don’t have to be equally shared but a foundation of mutual principles is, at the very least, ideal.
I went on a first date with a guy who claimed he’d memorized the entire Kama Sutra text. In fact, he was so emphatic about it I was convinced he refused to leave the dinner table for fear I’d notice his ego-induced erection. There wasn’t enough whiskey in the bar to make the conversation less uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there was enough whiskey in the bar to make testing his never-ending declaration absolutely necessary. Unless Kama Sutra is a 240 page lesson on two-pump chumping, he lied.
It was then that I learned the overly-confident usually under-perform. Cockiness is not confidence and arrogance is not self-assurance and the loudest are often the emptiest.
I dated a man who refused to invite me to his place. He was willing to drive an hour and a half each way and he was always free to come over to my apartment but the ability to return the commuting favor was off the table. His dog was sick or his roommate was sleeping or he was visiting his parents for the evening. In reality, he lived off his grandmother’s disability checks and had an extensive porn collection covering the majority of his bedroom floor and didn’t differentiate between a trash can and a bedside table.
It was then that I learned to trust my instincts. It’s not rude to ask questions and it’s not offensive to demand a certain level of transparency and sometimes the ball of judgement that sits uncomfortably in the pit of your stomach isn’t prejudice or discrimination or even unfair assumption. It’s self-preservation.
I briefly dated a man who had our wedding completely planned after our third dinner. He saved for an engagement ring and debated how large the guest list should be and searched for a song that would describe “us” before “us” ever happened. I was definitely the one he’d been looking for and I was definitely the answer to his prayers but I was definitely unable to tell you what his favorite color was or his favorite food was or his favorite movie was. A Chia Pet would have been his soulmate if it had a pulse and a vagina.
It was then that I learned the importance of being alone. Companionship is important and love is certainly needed by most but the ability to be happily detached is essential. You must know your single self before you contemplate attaching said self to someone else.
And while all of these first dates and brief flings and short-lived romances were horribly uncomfortable and painfully debilitating to the point I genuinely considered the pros of celibacy, they were also undeniably necessary. I learned more from the bad dates than the good. I learned more from the Kama Sutra wielding, grandmother-mooching, sinful-sex confessing men in my life than I did the relatively “normal”.
And when I went on a date where the romance wasn’t forced and moral compasses aligned and he was subtly confident and secure being alone and my instincts told me he was genuine, I knew exactly what I was sitting across from.
And then it was my turn not to fuck it up.