February 26, 2014

KUSSMAN | In Defense of the Pseudo-Date

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There’s nothing like a little curveball right before you’re about to go on a date. This winter break, two nights before I was meant to go to a Broadway show (aptly named First Date: The Musical) with a boy named Dave, he graced me with a text message that made my heart sink: “Yo, I copped a ticket. Try to get one and maybe I can switch with the guy next to you.”

The romantic in me died a little bit. He bought a ticket without me? Were we not going together? Was this some sort of test of my interest? The only thing I knew for sure was that there is nothing romantic about the verb “copped,” and there never will be.

I did what any confused person in my position would do: struggled to think of a response, wrote three unsatisfactory drafts and then didn’t respond for four hours.

In the end, I decided to go to the show.

As the lights dimmed, it all hit me: I had literally purchased a ticket to this show with my own money to sit two rows behind this guy and stare at the back of his head. This was not a date. This was an act of desperation on my part.

The first song ended and people clapped as I fought back tears. I had never felt so incredibly stupid. And then, suddenly, it happened. In the middle of a Broadway musical, Dave leapt out of his seat, over a row of people, and landed in the unclaimed seat next to me.  He put his arm around me.

When I got home that night, my friends attacked me with a series of questions, the most of important of which being: Was it a date?

The truth was, I had no idea. But the girls wouldn’t take that for an answer. They fired a checklist of questions at me: Did he pay? Did he look nice? Smell good? Hold any doors open for me? Walk me home? (No, yes, yes, yes, yes).

These questions were meant to define what a date was. But after answering each one, I was still clueless. As my friends struggled to reach a consensus, I realized something: Maybe it didn’t matter.

Social norms are changing. Dates today seem to defy any sort of formal definition or checklist, so much so that when a guy does go out of his way to let a girl know that he considers their hangout a date, it can place a lot of pressure on a situation in which people are just starting to get to know each other.

When we hang out with someone new, we should focus on feeling comfortable and having fun. Instead, we often find ourselves trying to decode intentions while looking to behavior for clues. But when we get caught up in the technicalities of who paid for what or asked whom to go where, we lose sight of the more important checklist: Did we have a good time? Did we feel respected? Do we want to see this person again? Pseudo-dates come in all shapes and sizes. They can be coincidental, like when we realize that we are hanging out with a certain person alone for the first time. They can be accidental, like when we run into someone unexpectedly and wind up catching up for an hour. These instances may not involve door holding or any of the formalities that we associate with a “date,” but that doesn’t make them any less valuable. They all involve the opportunity to see how we vibe with another person.

I’m not suggesting that we keep our intentions deliberately vague, or that we put up with someone who refuses to treat us to anything, lest it be too incriminating a gesture. There must be transparency at some point. But in the beginning, when things are budding and fragile, a little bit of ambiguity can go a long way towards keeping things light and making both parties feel at ease. A couple of low-pressure pseudo-dates — and a little bit of wiggle room — never hurt anybody.