I had a date last year with fellow I’ll call Howard, a criminal defense attorney in a nearby city. Howard came recommended to me by my friend Sally, who raved about him, known him for years, if she weren’t a lesbian she would have snapped him up, etc.
“Oh, all right,” I said, by which I meant, “How bad could it be?” I forget, every time, that when I ask myself, “How bad could it be,” that it’s going to be worse than I could possibly imagine.
Howard phoned me, we chatted on the phone a little, and he suggested we get together. “What would you like to do?” he asked. “Let’s go to a movie,” I said. I like going to the movies. I go to the movies sometimes, and I see couples going in and coming out together, and sitting together, seems like a civilized thing that men and women do together.
Howard came to pick me up at my little cottage in the far reaches of the county. He was chewing gum. Now, I have an objection to gum-chewing. As a behavior, it can fall anywhere on a spectrum from mildly disagreeable to downright revolting. But can I turn a potential suitor away at my doorstep for chewing gum? It was off to the movies with us, Howard cramming a fresh stick of gum into his mouth every ten minutes or so. Without getting rid of earlier, presumably chewed-out wads. On a 40-minute drive, that’s a lot of gum.
Anyhow, I was enjoying the movie until Howard, still working on the gum, put his hand on my knee. I squirmed as far away from him as I could get. The lady on my right glared at me, so I murmured something apologetic and squirmed half the way back.
After the movie, Howard suggested dinner. I was pretty hungry, and I thought, well, I’ve come this far, and besides, how bad could it be? At least he won’t be chewing gum.
At the restaurant, Howard tucked in with paleolithic enthusiasm. I was transfixed. Think, Clan of the Cave Bear. Think, Hagar the Horrible. Grunting with pleasure, grinding and masticating noisily, talking the entire time, spilling gravy and spewing crumbs and bits of half-chewed foodstuffs in every direction. The food disappeared into his maw at an appalling rate. I pushed my bit of chicken around the plate a few times, but couldn’t take my eyes off his mouth long enough to eat anything.
Howard’s method of intake was as efficient as it was prodigious, and it was all mercifully brief. I mewled when asked if I wanted coffee. Howard took that for assent, and ordered a piece of pie for himself. He finished that off in four enormous gulps, belched, smiled, and began to offer a critique of my behavior. Why did I shrink away from him in the movie theater? Was I afraid of intimacy? Why did I even suggest we go to the movie? On a first date we should be getting to know each other, not sitting in a darkened movie theater. I laughed weakly. “There,” Howard crowed, “a couple of times during the movie you laughed and that was really sexy, that was the real you.”
I took a deep breath. “Howard,” I said, “I shrank away from you because you need to know me longer than half an hour before you get to put your hand on my knee. You think because you picked up the tab for the movie I should be all over you like a bad rash?” Oh, this was very bad. Go for it, I thought. “How dare you!” I continued, pumping up the volume a little. I was warming to my subject. “And how dare you presume to know the real me?” I said. “And watching you eat dinner, I almost lost my lunch. Didn’t anyone ever tell you to keep your mouth closed when you chew? I kept waiting for the rinse cycle light to come on. I thought of asking the waitress for fabric softener!” Howard was, for the first time that evening, silent.
One of the forgotten advantages of living in the city, as I used to do, is being able to make a swift and dignified exit by hailing a cab. Howard chewed gum in a sullen sulk all the way back to my house. 0613-12
You had me with you right up to “Go for it”. Everything after that was unnecessary, harsh and lacked a significant foresight. Howard needed to keep his hands to himself in the theater but if he did pay for your movie and dinner, you owed him the courtesy of being civil. Shrinking from him in the theater rather than dealing straightforward with his roaming hand appears to have set the stage for an angry outburst later. (For the record, the way to deal with roving hands is to firmly take the offending hand and place it back where it belongs without saying a word. Guys know exactly what that means …as in “I tried and she isn’t going for that.” Continued roving hands requires a change of location farther away.) And btw, guys, making a move like that so early in the game sends the very obvious message that you don’t respect her personal space and that’s a huge turn off for lots of women.
While you did no find him attractive, your friend Sally considers him one of her favorite people and rest assured, she asked him how the date went and he may have told her in no uncertain terms how you went off on him. It was retaliatory rudeness when cool, calm civility was in order. Sally isn’t likely to risk offending her old friends by setting them up for dates with you in the future so your lack of business-like civility at dinner may have felt good but the consequences ripple for years. You should have eaten your dinner without staring at his mouth, said nothing and when he made presumptuous comments, just looked at him firmly while calmly saying, “Oh, you think so?”, or, “What an interesting assumption.” You don’t toss out any conversational “balls” encouraging him hit them back, you answer any questions with a minimal amount of detail so that you yield nothing. You thank him politely for the movie and dinner and request that you be taken back home. End of date. If he inquires about a second date, you tell him, “I don’t think that will be possible since I do not believe we have much in common.”