Failure to Launch: Essays on the Awkward Side of Dating
It’s not all honey and roses on the road to true love, pilgrims. We set our expectations impossibly high trying to make the impeccable gesture and share the perfect experience on Valentine’s Day with our significant others or romantic prospects. In looking towards a holiday that essentially is a mass marketing conspiracy to manipulate our deepest vulnerabilities, it’s worth remembering that most efforts towards intimacy fall far short of the mark. Long-term relationships and co-parenting arrangements are made of far more durable and practical stuff.
It’s okay to not be perfect. We’re only human, after all. Valentine’s Day, like high school prom night, is a whole lot more fun once you let go of expectations.
So in service to puncturing impossible expectations and making Valentine’s bearable, our staff writers put our painful and humbling experiences forward as an antidote. As attested in these essays, cruelty, idiocy and all manner of embarrassing behavior are all part of the courting experience. We’re both the perpetrators and the victims of this folly. Admit it: You’ve probably been there, too.
And Happy Valentine’s Day.
Hot dog flavored water by Eric Ginsburg There are plenty of contenders for most embarrassing aspect of my middle school years — my friends might say it was the safety pins I stabbed into a black hoodie — but the awkwardness and bad taste peaked in seventh grade.
When our English teacher informed us that we’d each be writing a seven-page “I Search” paper about a topic of our choice, it shouldn’t surprised anyone that the kid with images of musicians adhered to his binder with packing tape would choose a band. I doubt I stared at those pictures of artists such as Tyrese Gibson or bands including Godsmack before my refined musical palate honed in on a topic: Limp Bizkit.
Yes, seriously. I wrote a seven-page paper about Limp Bizkit. I’ll never live that down with my friends, but I took my fandom to an even more embarrassing low that year.
I don’t remember how we met. I generally try to avoid discussing the entire incident, and as far as I know there is no photographic evidence, but I do remember a few details. It was the Halloween dance, I had just turned 13, and someone had the brilliant idea (that someone was likely me) that we should show up as a group dressed as different members of Limp Bizkit.
The rap metal group admittedly wasn’t ever good, but this occurred mere weeks after the brilliantly named Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water album hit CD stores nationwide. There were enough people initially on board to fill each slot in the band, but on the eve of the dance, only two of us remained. Jill and I both insisted on going as front man Fred Durst, and despite my best pitch for guitarist Wes Borland (“His color contacts are so awesome!”) she was un-deterred.
That’s how Jill and I ended up at the dance together, slow dancing and wearing backwards, red hats while my friend, Peter, heckled us. I don’t remember asking her to dance — we had gone as friends — but I do remember that I wasn’t sweating as profusely as the last school function, when I asked Courtney to dance and she was too nice to decline.
I have no memory of what Peter, with his gelled black hair spiked in the front and bleached an orangey tone, said exactly, but he made some comment in the vein of Jill and I being great losers for each other and that we should date. Resenting the dig but recognizing the opportunity, I seized it with some comment akin to “So, should we?”
My three-week relationship with Jill was ill fated from the start, doomed to failure in part because my parents wouldn’t let me wander the “downtown” of our suburb on Friday nights with her and all my other friends. She dumped me in the parking lot of Peter’s Pizza, the farthest reach of my Friday tether, and I can’t even remember what reason she gave as we sat on a curb in the street light. Our first and only kiss wouldn’t come until a year later, during a game of truth or dare in my basement.
Dating: An abject record of failure by Jordan Green My attempts to date girls in middle school moving into high school comprised an unending train of disasters.
I didn’t really go out with a member of the opposite sex until late in my junior year or have a proper girlfriend until the summer before my senior year. The lead-up to those two significant events may as well have been an eternity in the anxiety-ridden interior of a profoundly maladjusted teenager.
I’m not going to count my first crush in elementary school, which involved one of a pack of five girls who each had their favorite Duran Duran member. My strategy was adopting the favorite band member of the object of my affections (bass player John Taylor), with predictably doomed results.
In seventh grade, the pressure to fit in shaped my notions of “going out with a girl” into a purely cosmetic exercise in status development devoid of any real feelings of passion, friendship or desire. Rather than risk major rejection or ridicule I aimed low, in what I thought was a practical approach. I decided to ask Rhonda to go out with me based on my assessment that she wasn’t all that attractive (I’m sure that actually she was then and has since developed into a beautiful, wonderful woman).
I tapped her on the shoulder in the cafeteria during lunch hour and handed her a note professing my interest. I don’t recall her responding, but word of my deed made the rounds. When Doug, one of my classmates, asked me why I had asked her out, I responded, “I’m desperate.”
“You’d have to carry around a step ladder just to kiss her,” Doug said.
Luckily, the matter didn’t go any further than that. I didn’t get my ass kicked by Rhonda’s cousins, and as far as I know Rhonda didn’t suffer any real humiliation. Hopefully, she talked some trash at my expense.
From that point on, my feelings about certain members of the opposite sex evolved rapidly in emotional texture, introducing me to a rollercoaster of feelings — sweet, swooning expectations of companionship coupled with pangs of profound loss were my sentiments not to be reciprocated.
I set my sights on Donna, who was a full three or four years senior to my 13. She was funny and warm, and less mean than her sister, Susie. We met each other on the school bus. In our rural school district in north-central Kentucky, those of us who lived in the outer reaches of the county developed a bond; we spent 45 minutes on the bus together each way, after all.
One day on the bus, I asked Donna to go to a rock concert with me.
“Are you asking me out of a date?” she asked.
Well, yes I was.
Donna acted pleased, and told me she would think about it. She gave me her phone number.
Much as I struggle to recall the details of this first real effort at romantic connection, I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the band that we were going to see. That’s the most embarrassing part of the story, considering that I had started a zine around that time, enthusiastically chronicling underground bands like fIREHOSE, Camper Van Beethoven and the Pixies that were tilling the ground underneath the hair-metal mainstream that I so despised. But I’m drawing a complete blank. I also can’t remember what transportation arrangements I made for my would-be date with Donna, although I can only presume they involved my dad as chaperone.
I remember preening in the mirror and lip-synching to “Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie, while perfecting a pout that I imagined would make me practically irresistible.
As the hours wore on and my phone calls to Donna went unanswered, what I had always known deep down became crystal clear to me: It wasn’t going to happen.
There were no hard feelings.
I sometimes sat in the back seat favored by Donna hoping that we could sit together on the school bus. One day it was particularly crowded and an older boy named Ernest, AKA Junior, slid in with us. Ernest and Donna were flirting, with me crammed up against the window. I didn’t dare look at either of them, and didn’t have a decisive answer when Donna asked me if she should be concerned that Ernest’s hand was in her pants.
I was catching on fast to the possibilities of what might transpire between two grown people who take a shine to each other.
Cheap-skate movie date by Tori Pittman When I was 17 I went on a date to the movies with Robert. We were debating what to see at the 2-dollar theatre. It just so happened that he had two tickets that looked like the admission tickets. We were supposed to go see one particular movie but he snuck me into The Ring instead. During every scene of the movie, he kept giving loud outbursts. I remember I was wearing a hat and I kept pulling it over my face because I was so embarrassed. When the movie was over he offered to pay for my meal at Burger King. I was so pissed at him I just took him home, but only after I stopped by the store so that he can get some candy for himself.
Another time was when I was going to the movies in 2007 to see I Am Legend. Joseph and I wanted to take a break from studying. It was before winter break at NC Central University. So we went to the theater, and he came up with a “brilliant” idea. After a certain time the ticket prices increase. He went up to the cashier and purchased one adult and one child ticket. The child ticket was for me. No sense in trying the student discount for the both of us by showing our college ID. No, this was the perfect idea in his mind since he said I looked younger than my actual age.
If you’re going to insult a date, schedule alternative transportation by Robert W. Pacheco It was the winter of 2005 when I returned from my first tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was happy to return to America with all of my limbs still attached, even though I was returning to the city of Virginia Beach.
My friends were equally grateful to be back in the United States, and shortly after our boots hit the beach we eagerly left Naval Air Station Oceana to have a night on the town.
We were young men who had survived the tides of war. We felt like we were 10-feet tall and bulletproof. We had stared death in the eye and avoided the grim reaper’s grasp.
My lifetime of anxiety towards meeting women had been lost somewhere in the sands of Iraq. I swore to myself that should I get home safely I would not hesitate to meet those beautiful women I had always considered beyond my reach.
I spotted her from across the dance floor. After a few glasses of liquid courage I approached her with my most gallant swagger. An intoxicated evening followed with laughter, moments of wild flirtation, and uninhibited dancing that should not be allowed in public venues.
We exchanged numbers and agreed to go on a proper date the following weekend.
My mother once told me that “women are like the baby bear’s porridge in the fable of ‘Goldilocks.’” You don’t want one that’s too hot, or one that’s too cold, you want one that’s just right.”
Her point was that dating a person more attractive than you can be a horrid experience, because you both know that the other person is capable of acquiring a more attractive mate.
Mom’s always been a source of good advice, but never had she been proven more right than when I went on a date with the most beautiful woman who had ever accepted my advances.
I arrived at my date’s apartment in my 1994 Chevrolet Berretta wearing new clothes that I had bought for the occasion. My hair had been freshly cut in accordance to military regulations, and a liberal spray of cologne surrounded me with an appealing scent.
As she opened the door I made sure to smile, even though my smiles often feel forced and unnatural, and warmly greeted her.
She returned my warm greeting with a cold, “Let’s go.”
I attempted to make small talk on the way to my car, but she seemed in no mood for such social customs. I opened the passenger door in a most gentlemanly way and pondered if I had somehow been offensive.
As I slid into the driver’s seat she asked me, “So, this is your car?” Her tone indicated an utter lack of approval towards my mode of transport.
“Yes,” I proudly replied. “It’s my first car. I bought it with my own money when I was 17.”
“Hmmm, you should have probably asked your parents to help you out.”
I was taken aback by her lack of understanding towards what a prideful thing buying your first car is to a blue-collar kid. It was an offensive comment, but she was hot, so I let the insult pass.
Her next slur was over my freshly bought clothes.
“Do you really need to wear a tie?”
I informed her that I had bought the clothes for our date, but this revelation didn’t appease her criticism.
“Maybe you should have asked your parents to help you out with that too.” she said with a chuckle.
I began to fume with anger. But again, she was really hot, so I let the insult pass and praised her on how nice she looked hoping that the compliment would change her attitude.
Two minutes of the most awkward silence in the history of bad first dates followed.
Her final insult to me was over my choice in music, proclaiming, “Could you turn off this terrible noise?”
That was the final straw. You can insult my family, my clothes, even my car. But the moment you disrespect the Clash, we have reached an impasse.
I pulled the car to the side of the road and told her to get out.
She was stunned; a look of horror struck her face as she realized that we were four miles from her apartment and on the wrong side of town.
“Are you serious,” she yelled incredulously. “You pick me up looking like a banker, smelling like a cologne factory, and in a broken down car; and now you are going to make me walk home.”
“Yes,” I replied with much satisfaction. “Get out and good luck finding someone who will ever love you as much as you love yourself.”
She opened the door with a fierce look of unmitigated anger.
“And how the hell am I supposed to get home?” she asked me, suddenly searching for sympathy.
“I don’t care. Maybe you should get your parents to help you out with that.”