Three Bad First Dates

He asked the bartender for a taste of a particular wine to see if he liked it. Common enough; no biggie. He wanted a sweetish white. Well, he did not like it, so he tried another one. Nope. The bartender tried to chat with him about the wines, explaining that the Reisling they pour is quite dry, that they don’t have too many truly sweet whites, that such-and-such was the most “fruit forward.” My date was pretty determined to know more about wine than the bartender, so he waved his words away and asked for a taste of yet another bottle. Still no luck (as was anticipated by everyone within five feet). After the third reject, he ordered the same red wine I was drinking, but only after asking for a taste—he refused to taste mine, though I offered.

So this was the start. Then he needed to interview the chef about the menu. She obligingly came out to the bar to talk about this and that. I sipped my wine, nodding. I know a bit about food too, but saw that the wisdom in this moment was to just smile and seem impressed. I was impressed—with the chef—but my date did not need to know that he wasn’t the one earning my approbation.

I’ve been very lucky with my forays into the world of dating, thanks to the following: I am very selective, and do my homework. I don’t have a ton of unscheduled time to drive around the Hudson Valley and meet people so when I do I want them to be—at least—interesting. I have met about a score of men since last fall, most of them truly lovely—various versions of smart, kind, interesting, interested, thoughtful, sexy, funny. But this guy was a mistake from the get-go. To make it even more interesting, two friends of mine happened to be sitting at the other end of the bar no doubt giggling into their martinis.

After he had his wine, and was eating his calamari or whatever it was, he began to tell me the story of his lovely wife and how she died. I actually was relieved when he started down this road as it gave me a chance to simply see him as a man who has gone through a tough time. But somehow, his narrative was full of sex. The sex he used to have with her, and that they didn’t have while she was dying (yeah, and that is important to his story why?), and then the tangent about his mother and how she was such a fan of his stories of sexual exploits now that he’s single. She must be very proud. Actually, I think the word he used was “sexual prowess.” Oy. (This same mother, I also learned, got pregnant with her husband at the age of 17 back in the old country, without knowing how that worked—like, what made a woman pregnant exactly? I could write a book about this guy, his mother, and dead wife….)

The story of the wife was quite moving, actually. I think part of my reaction was on her behalf, wondering if she was now spinning in her grave as her widower tried to use his grief over her loss to get into other women’s pants. But she sounded pretty great, and unless he was lying completely, he may have been a good husband to her. I am willing to assume: yes. It helps me to believe that.

I had talked very little at this point (a definite theme in the three bad dates), but I said something sympathetic and he said, “Now don’t start crying.” I said, “Not planning to…” wondering if perhaps that was and continues to be his end-game with first dates, to get them to cry over his dead wife.

His next rant was about the dating site on which we met and how they “obviously put filters on the photos.” Excuse me? Pretty sure they don’t do that, and I said as much. He whipped out his phone and called up my profile. There were my carefully selected unfiltered photos on his phone, his big thumb flipping through them. Yup, regular old pictures, my most flattering of course, but as I am not a baby any more, they show the reality of wrinkles and the like.

Somehow the poor guy felt like he’d been sold a bill of goods, and did not mind telling me. I laughed right (at him) and asked, “Am I not looking my very best tonight?” (I looked really hot, BTW.)

But then, he flipped to a full-length photo of me and said, avoiding the question, “Oh, this is my favorite.”

I commented, “Oh look, I’m wearing those same pants now.” (It was something to say.)

He said, “I know,” and proceeded to jam his entire hand between the thighs of my crossed legs. I batted him away and inched closer to the woman sitting to my right.

Why didn’t I leave then?

Meanwhile, the bartender, Jim, was giving me sympathetic looks every time he came down to that end of the bar. I felt free to make eye contact with Jim because literally any time he was not actively talking, my date was looking over my shoulder at the TV set above the bar.

When my date launched into a story about how he gets hit on by ministers on all the dating sites, and his weird fantasy of the awkwardness of taking off a minister’s clerical collar to get at her boobs, while demonstrating on me, including a “turn the knob hard to the right” gesture mere inches from my own breasts, I turned to the bartender and said, “Could we have the check please?”

My date threw down his card the minute the check arrived. Almost 100% of the men I have gone out with (there is one exception and you’ll meet him below) have picked up the tab—this is a topic for another blog perhaps but I learned early on that questioning or offering or simply raising my eyebrows while reaching for my wallet—these things make men very uncomfortable. So I have developed a gracious-acceptance position and always say thank you. When my date for the evening walked me to my car and said, during the very unwelcome full body hug he pressed upon me, “If you want to see me again, it’ll be on you,” I had to wonder about that mama of his, and what she taught him, exactly, as a child.

The other two “bad dates” were similarly themed. One guy was the epitome of the mansplainer. He pursued me very hard on the dating site and I had a few pre-date phone conversations with him. So I have only myself to blame as the writing was on the wall. But, I was lured by the words, “You interest me,” though they were belied by his actions. (It is rare that a man will admit to being interested in me, as opposed to how sexy I look or the fact that I might be interested in him.)

So I met this guy in my town. He drove the 40 minutes (normal procedure is to meet halfway) which was a nice touch. He wanted to greet me with a kiss. To clarify: he wanted to meet for the first time with a kiss on the mouth. I demurred.

So this is the summation: he talked, he held forth, and he knew more about everything than anyone, especially me, could ever know. One topic covered: cooking and food—I managed to slip in that I had once cooked professionally. He blew past that to launch into All the Knowledge about All Cooking as well as All the Kitchen Exploits—his. Not interested in my input. I did try to start a few sentences. This is how many times he interrupted me: all of the times.

He brought up independent education because he went to a private school in 8th grade. I slipped in (by talking very fast) that I had attended private schools too, and have worked in independent education for 30 years. He gave me a level look that seemed to say, “Oh you poor ignorant woman,” and proceeded to mansplain the hell out of education, private education, including teaching, fundraising, finances, child development, private vs. public, and on and on. He got a lot of things wrong. I started a few sentences along the way. This is how many times he interrupted me: all of the times.

At one point during this ghastly hour I figured, what the hell. I’m going to have fun and try an experiment. Next time I try to talk and he (invariably) interrupts me, I will—instead of stopping talking to let his interruption go unchallenged—continue with my sentence until it is over. Or even my paragraph. Let’s see what happens.

Maybe you’ve guessed? Yup. I continued to talk after the next interruption and he kept talking so that we had two adult humans facing each other both saying different sentences. If this were a traffic situation, it would look like this: I had the right of way, he pulled into my lane and then refused to stop, instead literally driving over my car and probably my dead body.

I was truly amused by the fact that he was 100% oblivious. I went to the bathroom and texted my daughter: “CALL ME IN TEN MINUTES WITH AN EMERGENCY.”

She did it, bless her. As soon as the call came through and I explained the “emergency” to my date (who clearly knew what was happening as it probably happened on all his first dates), I hustled to find the waiter for the check. The waiter and his colleague were in a little alcove out of my date’s line of sight. I asked for the check. Both men gave me looks of such unutterable sympathy that I almost cried and laughed. Instead, I rolled my eyes and grinned. The check came fast. This was the one exception, in my experience, to the who pays rule of thumb—I threw down cash and bolted. My date did not object.

The most recent bad date was probably the least bad, really. Nothing aggressive or menacing, no rude assumptions or veiled insults. Just another well-meaning, obliviously privileged white male who thinks a first date is a chance to dazzle, monopolize, hold forth, audition, dominate, prove-something….

This is what I learned about him in one hour: how many times he was married, what kind of alcohol he likes, how he came to be introduced to port, and sherry, and his recent trip to the Middle East, and that his sister paid for it, and that they stayed at great places, and what airline they used, and what airlines he prefers typically, and that he used to drink one beer a day, and that he doesn’t now but he drinks wine (and port and sherry) and that he goes to the gym daily, loves Zumba…. I learned how he found out about Zumba, in detail, and how he got involved, and how he got good at it because he’s not a natural dancer, and how it reminds him of some great free form dance events he used to go to, and how his girlfriends never went with him, and exactly what those events were like, and how he organized a Zumba flashmob at his gym, but that he did not know what one was till he heard it mentioned, and that the flashmob he organized made him a hero at the gym and how everyone loves him. And he has a bad knee, and I know about the medical interventions he has sought, oh and I know what kinds of shoes he wears for each kind of activity he does at the gym. I heard about the errands he did on his way to meet me, and about his career, and about a conference he is about to go to in Oregon, and I learned so much more that has leaked out of my brain. Realize that each of these single items was part of a detailed narrative with tangents, side-notes, and usually accompanied by the words, “I’ll keep this short.”

This is what he learned about me: my son lives in Oregon, I had knee surgery once. (Slipped those suckers right in there!)

The funny thing is, all three of these men understood instinctively that there would be no second date. So they all pulled the plug on their own, making excuses or shutting the door, managing the situation so I did not get to reject them. Understandable. Their privilege comes with a certain undercurrent of uncertainty perhaps, or vulnerability when faced with a very clearly unimpressed female with a mind of her own, long legs, and a loving heart—none of which they’ll ever get to touch.

Tennessee Roamers, Mother-Daughter Style

The sun rose behind me on the first day as I drove west with Maggie, my 24-year-old daughter, snoozing in the back seat.

First hour of trip. ZZZZzzz

The sun rose ahead of me on the penultimate day of our trip as we drove east again, out of Memphis.

Penultimate sunrise, Memphis, TN

Then on the last day, heading north from our overnight stop in Virginia, I drove first shift as the sun slanted in through the opposite side of the car and fell upon Maggie’s head as she slept the sleep of the innocent and the young.

Final sunrise, somewhere in VA

Those are the sunrises I can measure our trip by. There are other benchmarks. Museums. BBQ joints. Friends. Local music. Local coffee. Local beer.

Seriously local Nashville Brew

Not my first road trip (by a long shot) nor the first I’ve written about in this blog, the recent mother-daughter journey to the heart of Tennessee was one of my most adventurous. Mostly because of the number of miles traversed—2,418, from one Friday to Saturday of the following week.

Road trips need no reason. They need no justification or excuse. They are, a priori, of value.

But why Tennessee?

  1. Never been
  2. It’s drivable
  3. Music and food mecca
  4. Two dear friends have, independently of one another, moved there over the last two years making it OBVIOUS that the universe required us to visit

100% worth it.

High points:

  • The usual road trip with Maggie perks. Epic rounds of “naughty Madlibs” that would no doubt horrify most people but that have us crying gallons of laughter tears. Fabulously twisted 20 questions games. Listening to the same CDs over and over because she is obsessed (currently with The National)– oh wait, that’s not a perk, but I’m willing to put up with it most of the time.
  • We read a whole book as we drove. Or rather, I read. When I drove, she slept. When she drove, I read.
  • Stopover in Cincinnati to see my sister and her family.

    Laughing with my sister

    That visit included long card games, great cooking, a mani-pedi, a fantastic contemporary art center with some great current exhibits around gender, feminism, and race in America etc.

    Feminist cousins at Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center

  • An afternoon at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, KY. Neither of us is a fan of the racing industry for a variety of reasons mostly to do with the horses. But we are both horse lovers and the museum was all about the ponies.

    Derby hats

  • Wandering around Nashville with friend Betty. This involved non-stop talk-as-we-walked.
  • The Johnny Cash Museum. Seriously excellent museum with interactive musical exhibits, lots of info on the soulful, challenging, often uplifting life and times of the Man in Black.

    Maggie channels Johnny

  • Sitting in a famous Nashville bar (Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge) in the afternoon listening to live music and drinking local beer.

    Tootsies in the afternoon

  • The exact replica of the Parthenon that exists in Nashville (who knew?) with a wonderful American art exhibit and a seriously huge replica of the Athena statue too. Very fun stop-off on what became a torrentially rainy day. We left there and ran barefoot back to our car, headed to dry off and have dinner in the Gulch section of Nashville where we listened to more music, of course.

    Talk talk talk walk walk walk (me+ Betty+ the Parthenon)

    Athena!

    BLAT… having too much fun

  • Memphis! It is a seriously cool city. First night there our awesome friend Charles introduced us to one of the best BBQ places I’ve ever experienced. The Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison Ave was everything it should be, including the ice-cold beer. Their “dry BBQ”—basically with a dry rub to die for—was flawless.

    Dry ribs at Bar-B-Q Shop

  • Graceland—Elvis portrayed through the lens of worshipful love. The home is not huge, but it is flamboyant in its way, with a surprisingly modest kitchen! I was lucky enough to see him perform shortly before his death. I was 17, a senior in high school, and despite not being a particular fan, grabbed the chance because somehow I knew this iconic man was not long for the world. It was an amazing experience and I’ve had a soft spot for Elvis ever since. I’m glad I got to pay homage at the museum of Elvis-homage. 

    Surprisingly modest Graceland kitchen

    Elvis and his mirrored ceilings, amiright?

  • The Civil Rights Museum. Probably the high point of the entire trip. It is at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was murdered and is worth going to Memphis for—the BBQ and music are nice bonuses. I wish every high school student in the country could experience this museum. We were cramming too much into one day and did not have a chance to see it all, so I will be going back. Someday. Warning: you will feel lots of things, and you will, in the end, cry.

    Balcony where he died

  • Four Way Soul Food Restaurant. Soul food, the real deal, straight to the face (and waistline).

    Fried green tomatoes at the Four Way … heaven

  • Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars playing on Beale Street on a Wednesday night—at Rum Boogie Café (hint: it’s not a café). Some seriously hot and dirty blues.

    Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars

    Beale St. Memphis

  • Taking home a cooler full of BBQ from another Memphis standard: Central BBQ, right behind the Civil Rights Museum. Their dry BBQ gave Bar-B-Q Shop a run for its money but I could never choose. Not in a million.

We drove back in two days that should have dragged but flew by, thanks to our tried-and-true road trip protocol. Re-entry was a little tough as it had been a long time since I’d been that footloose and it felt really good.

Maggie and I would both recommend a trip to TN. There’s much more to it than we managed to see in what amounted to 5 days actually in that state, but we were there long enough to realize there’s plenty of soul, beauty, flavor, history, and music.