After They've Seen Paree: A Love Story

There is only one thing worse than being on a bad date, and that is sitting next to two people on a bad date. At least when you are on a bad date, you can try to perform some emergency maneuvers to try to keep the runaway train on the tracks. But when you sit next to the two romantic rendezvous-ers, you are at the mercy of their relational skills. But when life gives you bad dates to observe, you write about them, and that is what I’ve done here.

Let me set the stage:  I had wandered into a packed coffee shop and couldn’t believe it: right at the moment that I received my coffee I spotted a free table back in the corner. I settled into my seat, getting my book out while stirring my customary three sugar packets into my coffee. Like a completely empty subway car in the middle of rush hour, I soon realized why the table was free. It quickly became clear that the couple on their introductory date sitting next to me had all of the romantic connection of a toenail fungus support group. On one side of the table was Brad, looking quite Bacheloresque with his tousled hair, scruffy beard, and shawl sweater. Unfortunately, at age 34 his days of Bud Light had finally caught up to him, giving a pronounced rounding to his once sharp jawline. Opposite him was Whitney, a pretty 28 year-old who worked in fashion. She wore a cream cable knit sweater and those tan suede wedges that half of New York is wearing right now. Her greatest accomplishment in life so far appeared to be being able to singlehandedly keep a dry-bar open. They seemed like an even match to my judgmental eye, and everything suggested that they were on a pseudo (meaning facebook-checking allowed) blind date.

Let’s ignore the fact that eavesdropping is one of my favorite pastimes (like you don’t do it, too!), and I will assure you that I wasn’t trying to listen to this fine pair of forlorn young adults.  But as you may know, in New York City there is little choice. Going to a New York coffee shop makes you feel like you’re a caged hen in one of those factory egg farms featured in an undercover PETA video. You have to ignore the other 47 people packed into a room roughly the size of your parents’ towel closet, basking in the 16 inches of personal space that you paid $4.25 to occupy for the next hour. Let’s just say things are a tight squeeze! Last week at a coffee shop a woman sat so close to me on a sofa that I was slightly worried she might try to charge me for a lap dance!

Brad and Whitney had been talking for a few minutes before I arrived, but it didn’t take long for them to get to the good stuff.  I like to spend free afternoons at coffee shops, and as I’ve observed different first dates (I was a communications major after all) , I’ve noticed how dating is different among the urban Manhattan crowd. For many young adults today, the focus of a date doesn’t seem to be so much on getting to know the other person, but more about taking advantage of every opportunity to peacock your own accomplishments. This turns dates from times of building mutual connection, to subtle back and forth bragging sessions about your life. Since everyone knows it is poor form to talk about your job, that leaves travel stories as the tour de force of New York dating.

As I opened my book, Brad and Whitney began to hit their full travel stride. Whitney had just finished explaining that since it’s been below freezing for two straight days, she had booked a 72-hour getaway to Puerto Rico with her friends. She hadn’t been before, and has been in serious need of some sunlight. “So,” Brad put forth, “outside of Puerto Rico, do you have any other trips planned?” As you read this, keep in mind that Brad’s voice had only two pitches: monotone and extremely monotone; which both conveyed all of the energy of a hibernating bear.  In responding to Brad’s question, Whitney couldn’t quite admit that she didn’t have any other travel plans, so she began listing off the places that she and her roommates want to go to soon (London, Montreal, etc.). More immediately, she was thinking that some sort of ski trip to Vermont would be fun. Spotting an opening, Brad begin to educate her on how much he had skied in life. “Yeah, I always go to Colorado; Vail...Breck...Copper,” Brad said, drawing out the names of these places like these were exclusive country clubs on Martha’s Vineyard, and not public ski slopes open to any Joe Schmoe with 80 bucks. “You know, I’ve skied other places, but Colorado has the best powder in the world,” Brad assured the both of us. Duly noted. Whitney manage to get out a “cool” that was filled with all of the excitement of someone unwrapping tube socks on Christmas morning. Not to be outdone, Whitney explained how she had been to Colorado three times, but had always been so busy visiting friends that she didn’t have time to ski.

It was now Brad’s turn to give his travel itinerary for the upcoming six months, and he did not disappoint. First off was a trip to Thailand with his high-school buddies. At 22, they had all backpacked through Europe together, so every year or two they went on a major international trip (which he graciously listed off). Also, his friend Travis was getting married and was trying to plan his bachelor party.  Travis was terrible at commitment (sounds like marriage will be just his thing!) and couldn’t decide on which exotic location to go to. Brad and Whitney both fake laughed at this, as Brad told her that the bachelor trip could be anywhere from Georgia to Ichee-bee-ah-wu. I had never heard of this place, so that is the phonetic approximation, but Brad pronounced it in such a way as to make it sound like this was the last undiscovered island in the South Pacific. More fake laughs.

Brad revealed that he had to travel so much just to remain sane, since he had recently moved to Scranton, PA. He confidently assured us that Scranton was the worst city in the world. “There are no girls, and nothing fun to do,” he confessed. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “he’s not going to go there is he? Please don’t, Brad, please don’t.” Few things are more awkward than talking about dating on a first date, but Brad plowed right through my hastily erected telekinetic barriers. “So what’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?” he queried Whitney. Silence, followed by that awkward “I can’t believe you’re asking this” laughter.  You should have listened to me on this one Brad! Not one to be deterred, Brad tried again, “So how do you like to meet guys in NYC?,” going on to ask if she used apps or bars or what. This led them to using the next seven minutes to bemoan the shallowness in today’s dating culture. I almost spit out my coffee when I heard that (pot meet kettle). Nothing screams “this date is going badly” like two people on a date talking about how much they hate dating.  

Whitney finally got around to answering Brad’s question by saying that she was more of a meet-through-friends person, since you couldn’t trust whether a guy you met on Tinder would be normal. Brad saw an opening and played his trump card, telling her the story of how “one of my really close girlfriends (I hate that phrase) met a psychopath in Oklahoma on eHarmony.” He then went through every stage of this trainwreck of a relationship, detailing how they had gotten engaged after only a month and had then bought a house together.  It eventually came to the surface that this guy was doing the exact same thing with two other women. They tried to make it work (just a few minor wrinkles to smooth out...they were both on the mortgage after all) but eventually she gave him the ring back. Upset, he then texted a picture of a gun to her, prompting her to break off all contact. Nothing like a nice romantic “catastrophic dating story” to warm your date’s heart!  

This prompted Whitney to share her crazy-guy-story (so maybe it did work?!?), telling about the guy who had given her a six page letter 24 hours after they met that madly professed his love for her. He thought she was perfect, with his only hesitation to marriage being that he wasn’t sure if her body could physically handle childbirth (I can’t make this stuff up!). Whitney was not one to take this challenge to her womanhood lightly, and thus thoroughly described to Brad every detail of her recent ordeal with kidney stones. In her mind this definitively proved that she could handle childbirth: “If I can get through kidney stones, having a child will be no problem. Just give me lots of drugs!” End quote. Take that six-page-love-letter guy!

After a bit more chatter on dating, the topic mercifully changed to Whitney growing up in Washington DC.  Whitney had grown up in Bethesda, the nicest suburb in DC, and told us about all the children of C-list political figures that she had gone to middle school with.  You had probably forgotten who the Secretary of Commerce was during the Clinton administration, but I can attest that Whitney has not!

Things quickly switched back to travel, as Brad asked Whitney what were the top five cities in the United States that she wanted to visit. Whitney immediately responded by saying, “Definitely California,” which made me wonder if she knew the difference between a state and city. She rounded her list out with Arizona, Nashville, the Grand Canyon (yes, separate from Arizona), and Texas, which did not settle my previous question in any definitive way. In that one-up sort of way, Brad casually mentioned that he had just been in Nashville last weekend, and it was as amazing as he thought it would be.  He then listed off San Francisco, Vermont, and Maine as places that he had been to recently and needed to get back to soon.

Brad then paused, leaned in like he was about to reveal state secrets, and slowly told Whitney: “Most guys wouldn’t say this, but Paris truly is the greatest city in the world.” Mhhhmm, such a bold statement! Whitney took the bait and was off: “Don’t even get me started about Paris.” Well, unfortunately Brad had, and we were all going to have to pay for it! This began Whitney’s soliloquy on herself, with Paris providing the foil. The high point of the conversation for me was to see Whitney nimbly drop hints of her Parisian lifestyle, including her expertise on French fashion, the language itself (she’s fluent after all), and food.  I’ll spare you the details of the rest of the food conversation, but I will mention that talk about Paris ended with Brad declaring, “You can really kill a cheese board without the right crackers.” Amen, brother!

And suddenly, like workers at a widget factory when they hear the five o’clock whistle, both parties realized that fifty minutes of superficial conversation was enough for one day’s work and readied to leave. Brad quickly defaulted into his end-of-date script, and with all the enthusiasm of a person describing an upcoming root canal, told Whitney that he was really glad to have met her, and couldn’t wait to see her again. Whitney responded with one of the most unconvincing yeahs in the history of humanity, and just like that, they were gone into the fading afternoon light.

Now, all that remains for me to do is to sit back and wait for my wedding invitation.