For those who need a refresher about the topic, a few weeks ago I wrote part one of this post about how the process courtship is changing (at least in some places), and wanted to know your opinion about it. I didn't receive as much feedback as I had hoped for, but I did get a lot of people telling me they were interested in the content of the second post I promised about this subject (this one!). I did, however, see some responses online to the articles I posted. A really good one is this one in the Guardian. I really suggest you check it out.
Now, for this post, I want to really have fun with it. I've been outlining it for a while, and it will include a lot of different things. First of all, I want to discuss why we date at all, then get into a definition of what a date is--that is, what constitutes a "date"--since this seems to be such an ambiguous topic, it's good to have at least a working concept to use as a foundation. I also want to give examples of many types of dates using my own dating history, full of romantic, memorable, awkward, and downright fun stories.
|Luckily, they didn't involve any of this.|
So, let's dive right in! Dating definitely isn't a new topic to this blog. Aside from part one of this post, I've blogged about dating many times before, including discussing where you can meet a potential partner, covering online dating (and it's pros and cons), offering some fun date ideas (one of my very first posts), but also about how I think people are afraid of intimacy (and use "redefining" dating or courtship or being "progressive" and "modern" as a cop-out to avoid getting close to someone). Dating is also not a foreign concept to most people--at least those who have the luxury of dating. However, as part one of this post demonstrated, dating and the entire courtship process are becoming more complicated and convoluted. Does anyone even know anymore what dating is supposed to be?? And if so, what's the appropriate culture context to apply? Should you be sensitive to your own social norms, values, and expectations? Or try to adopt new ones, perhaps from a different culture? These are questions many of us face, not to mention the more obvious ones such as "what exactly IS a date these days?" Before I get into this, let's examine dating as a process.
Have you ever really thought about why we date? I mean, really thought about it? Perhaps the most obvious answer is "to find someone we want to spend time with," or "our life with," or "someone to marry." Or dating is a way to filter all of the choices available to us. Either way, the commonality here is the search. Why do we search? Because we are encouraged from day-one to pair up. It's inherently socially constructed, but the larger tendency to bond together is practically human nature--we're social creatures, it makes sense. If you recall, I actually wrote a post a while ago about why we love. Socially speaking, I think many of the reasons for why we love is the same reason for why we date. And if you need a refresher, just remember Maslow's Hierarchy. As you see and based on his theory, our physiological needs are at the foundation of human motivation. Thus, pairing up makes sense in terms of securing economic capital and the resources we need for (basic) survival. Only after this point of securing these resources can we move on to higher things like love, self-actualization, and other things. As I said previously, this could be a reason why love is deemphasized in places like Lebanon where there is much insecurity concerning money, resources, ability to advance, gain access to good education, etc. It's not that love doesn't matter, it's just not the first priority for many. Which is why some of my thesis interviewees reduce dating and love down to a luxury only available to few who could afford it, and also sheds light on the struggle between parents and children in many parts of today's world: freedom to choose a partner vs. being with a partner that makes "social" sense.
|"Social Sense" meaning "Fill-in the-Blanks."|
Long story short, why do we make it so hard? Play the games? Wait to call. Ladies, why do you perpetuate bad advice like, "Guys, you need to make yourselves more "unavailable?" Guys, why do you perpetuate things like, “Ladies, you should lead us on, but not too much.” Or some other bullshit advice like that. Remember the clip I took from the post about Hitch? We really do complicate things, build walls, make assumptions, and basically completely leave each other in the dark as to what we want, what we're expecting, and what is considered "ok."
|Ok, so just imagine this stock photo is like life. But each side has no idea what the other side is thinking, doing, or saying. And they occasionally cross the gulf because someone's lookin' fiiiine.|
Let's set something straight; a point of courtship is not merely "finding" someone you want to be with, but it's to figure out what you want and to discover what you DON’T want. How does this often happen? Through dating, and through having relationships. It's all about experience and learning. However, because things aren't necessarily as defined in a neat and organized way anymore, it can often lead to confusion and uncertainty. Dating is a great example of this because, as the articles I referenced in part one showed, very few people even know what a date constitutes anymore.
I love the quote above from the movie Van Wilder because I think it's really true. Of course, social media and other ways of networking are largely fulfilling step-one of the dating process for us by giving us access to basic information, likes, interests, personal history, etc. And it can also establish rapport (though, meeting through family, friends, or colleagues does for you as well). Yet, there's so much more you can learn from someone that Facebook can't tell you, and I'm always cautious that people using the argument that "courtship is dead" or whatever are really just finding an excuse to avoid intimacy. Because a date is really about establishing chemistry, figuring out how you feel. Call me an old-fashioned romantic, but I think we've taken the magic out of everything (or, at least, most things when it comes to love/romance/dating). So, I think some people see dating as outdated or unnecessary--especially since we're in a new era where gender roles and expectations are changing quickly--but I think it's still incredibly relevant and just as important. Thus, after much discussion with friends, I've developed a simple 5-point checklist of features to help you discern a date from a non-date. Given, this list is definitely subjective, somewhat arbitrary, and by no means exhaustive. But I figure that it can at least serve as a guide.
A date is:
1. Intimate -- You're sharing information about yourself, both personal and public, with the aim of getting to know each other, establish chemistry, and navigate your feelings.
2. In person, face-to-face -- While "Skype dates" are fun, there's so much you miss when you aren't in the same room together--the body language, the surroundings, the subtle look in someone's eye, the gentle touch of someone's hand grazing your own that is electrifying.
3. One-on-one -- It's really important to be in an environment that allows you to be yourselves without putting you in a situation where you don't want to talk about certain topics, or can't really focus all of your attention on one person. The only exception to this rule I could see is in places in Lebanon where group outings tend to be normative. However, if you're older than 21 and reading this blog, I'm assuming you have the freedom to spend your leisure time the way you want.
4. Planning -- I'm not implying it has to be planned from start to finish, but I think a bit of forethought should go into it. Spontaneity is always fun, but at least there should be a plan for the first activity, whether it's dinner, a concert, a walk in a park, or anything else. Use critical thinking though, and incorporate the other features. For instance, the cliche of "dinner and a movie" is an awful date. Where's the interaction between you two during a movie, especially if it's a first date?
5. Not about spending money, it's about spending time together -- connected to the intimacy aspect, it's about getting to know each other. So, a date doesn't even have to have the stereotypical dinner component. It could be going to a park, a free art exhibit, a public concert, going to a book store (one of my favorites), getting drinks, coffee, tea, ice cream, anything! Don't limit yourself, the "activity" of dates can really be anything, but understand that it's about setting aside time to spend time with someone.
Ideally, a date should also be natural, easy, and comfortable. But given the amount of "dates" people go on where they don't feel that way, it can't really help you figure out if it's a date or not. But 99% of the time, if those five criteria are there, it's a date. Additionally, these apply to the first date, the second date, the eighth date, and the 50th date. That's not to say you can't double date or go out together with friends, but especially during the initial stages of getting acquainted, you should spend time alone, and then gradually introduce each other to your social circles. Another assumption to make is that there is at least some degree of mutual attraction with the idea that getting to know each other better could lead to a romantic relationship (otherwise, a lunch date you planned with your same-sex boss could be a date too).
However, a few things don't matter (necessarily). One of them is the time of day and the day of the week. Lunch on Wednesday can totally be a date, as can dinner on Friday night. But, a note of caution: I think we tend to choose the dinner on Friday night because of the social message it sends--if you're going to dinner with someone on Friday night, that's definitely a date.
|And this is DEFINITELY a date!|
However, on the contrary ladies, bear in mind that he may be trying to be respectful as he thinks this is the only way to do it/the way dating works. In the end, trust your feelings and your knowledge of the person. Are they being nice because they really like you and want to impress you? Or is he simply trying to hard to be "the man" dating for guys can be really stressful for us too since many of us want to get it right? Yet, I also realize there is no concrete formula for us to even go by anymore. This, "getting it right" depends on the girl, and ultimately can be frustratingly if we guys "mess up" in their eyes. There are gender roles involved, but not necessarily on purpose. This can leave many men confused who want to respect you, but also don't know what is the right thing to do. Especially since some women want guys to be assertive and protective, but also respect their own agency/arbitrarily assume that since your a woman, you can't pay or something as well.
Historically, the man paying while on a date was done to both impress a woman, but also (I think) out of honor and decency. As a guy, it was your honor to be out with her, not a means to an ends. Overall, people are just way too sensitive when it comes to this issue! Don't worry so much about it, just enjoy yourself. No matter who wants to pay, don't get offended by it--if your a girl, thank him and move on; don't think you are being anti-feminist or anti-progressive. If your a guy, do the same and don't take it as a blow to your masculinity. And if it is that big of a deal, then simply don't spend money. You should feel comfortable and at ease with the person, not stress and awkwardness. It SHOULD be natural, easy as I said. Not complicated. In the end, we really just need to lighten up, remember that some people do have ulterior motives--like replacing money for sex for buying you dinner for sex--but generally, people are just trying to get to know you. And sitting down over a meal, for instance, is a great way to do that. So, just enjoy it and don't read too much into it. I'm sure Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir wouldn't be upset if you told them you went out with a guy, he paid, but you had a great time and he was incredibly sweet, charming, and respectful.
The first, which for me is the most embarrassing, was from college. I was an 18-year old freshman, first semester, and I really liked this girl in one of my classes. I noticed her every time we'd have class, and thought she was so pretty. She used to sit behind me to the left too, and I remember in order to get her name, I opened a MS Word document, typed "Hi, my name is Michael, what's yours?" And then she wrote hers back on her notebook. Anyways... one day I actually had the courage to approach her after class, and we were talking a bit, and then this happened once again, and I invited her "out." I didn't know what I was doing (can you empathize??), I didn't know what I know now, I was a lot more naive about things. I guess I also thought that if a guy asks a girl out, it's a date right?? It WAS 2006 after all, practically a century ago! Anyways... I ask her if she'd like to get dinner sometime, and the first kind of unexpected thing happened. She told me yes, but she's not free Saturday (there was a football game that weekend), so we could go on Sunday. I didn't think too much of it, I was just excited we could. So, I got excited and put a lot of planning into it. I even checked out Facebook to make a CD with songs by her favorite artists that I could play in the car. I consulted with some friends to figure out where we could go, it was going to be great. Then the second unfortunate event happened. Something happened to my car that Saturday, so it had to get fixed. But what would I do without a car!? I have to impress her, pick her up, etc. I thought! Luckily, a friend lent me his car, so we were still on (and it had a nice stereo system too, so my mix CD was still on). Sunday arrives, I get ready, and go pick her up at her dorm. We go across the river with the intention of going to this cool Italian place right on the river. Then unfortunate incident number three happens: I'm so concerned with making everything perfect, we end up getting a table at the WRONG RESTAURANT! It was right next door, but I had no idea it was the wrong place. I felt awful. We eat anyway, we're talking and having a good time, and then we go back across the river to this place called Waterfront Park. We're walking around, and as it gets dark, we go back to the car. Then the fourth, final, and most embarrassing unfortunate event happens. I was trying so hard to be all romantic and ambitious, that I put on a slow song, and asked her to dance with me. Perhaps it's cute, but what wasn't cute was 1. the parking area for the park itself was underneath a highway (Interstate 64), and 2. according to my friends who heard it from her, there was a homeless guy not too far away from us. Afterwards, both on the way home and throughout the semester, we didn't speak too much after that (I definitely freaked her out a bit according to my sources).
Needless to say, it was a bit awkward, I came off way too strong (even though I had good intentions), and it's still one of my most embarrassing stories today (though, I can obviously laugh at it now. But when I was in college, I wouldn't tell the story to a soul because I was so embarrassed). Now, what did we learn?
1. Planning is good, but make sure you aren't so caught up in it that you forget to have fun and be relaxed. No one wants to spend the evening with someone wound up too tight! And you shouldn't "have" to impress someone either, just be yourself. A little thought shows you care, but too much, and you come off as neurotic.
2. Obviously, don't try and slow dance under highways. Related to that, Google Map the HELL out of new places.
3. Coming off too strong is one of the biggest turnoffs out there.
Luckily, I (sometimes) learn from my mistakes. The next date I went on was anything but awkward and uncomfortable. I had met a girl through friends (ironically, the same friends who told me to go to that Italian restaurant haha), and we got along really well. So, I asked her out on a date. This was 2007, and I had a lot more knowledge of Louisville. She came to my dorm one late afternoon, and we went in my car to one of my favorite restaurants in Louisville--Amichi's--a cute, cozy, and romantic, locally-owned Italian cafe in Old Louisville. The conversation was great, and afterward, we went downtown to go to a jazz show at the (unfortunately) now-closed Jazz Factory at the Glassworks. We were really having a great time, I remember we split a piece of cheesecake and had perfect seats right in front of the stage. Something really cute happened too, I totally wanted to hold her hand but was too shy to do it. So, I kept kind of inching it towards hers, and finally, she makes the move and grabs mine. AHH! It was so awesome! Haha. So, then afterward we didn't want to go home yet. We decided just to walk around Downtown. We eventually ended up at this place that overlooks the Ohio River called the Belevadere. I remembered there was a cool waterfall/fountain there, so i took her to it, and we laid down on this concrete slab that is right in front of it. We talked for about four hours, and the entire time, we kept getting closer and closer to each other (physically-speaking). Eventually, I realized it was about 1 AM or so, and suggested we go (but not before we ended up sharing our first kiss in the fountain). On the way back to the car, we held hands, and that was that.
That was really the best date I've been on in my life so far, but also it perfectly incorporates the five principles I detailed above (as well as the lessons I had learned from the previous date almost a year before).
It was a hard one to top,but I've had a combination of good ones and bad since. One date I went on in Beirut included going to Spaghetteria Italiana in Ain El Mreisseh, and then getting drinks at De Prague in Hamra. Another, I was on what I thought was a second date, but was informed about halfway through it that she had a boyfriend (that sucked). Yet, at other times, I had experiences that were the complete opposite of "thought it was a date, but turned out not to be." Once, I was meeting up with a new female friend, and we had no idea what to do. We ended up at a Barnes and Noble bookstore, got coffee, and then ended up spending a couple hours just sharing books with each other (especially intimate when we shared our favorite children's books). After we got dinner, and I could only think "...was this a date!?" Based on my criteria, I'd say no because attraction wasn't assumed--as far as we knew, we were just friends.
Although I wanted to do it in this post (it's getting long), something I will do in a part 3 of this series is go further in-depth of the "rules" of dating in Lebanon (per the results of my thesis), and also give some suggestions for good date spots in Louisville and Lebanon (sorry Bangalore, I just don't know you well enough yet to say).
|But play your cards right India, keep feeding my dosas, and we could totally be FWB.|
I'll close this post by asking you: tell me about a time you’ve been on a date, or thought it was a date, or maybe it was a date, and tell me what you feel on a date. What do YOU think are the primary components of a date? Tell me your stories! And please laugh at my 18-year old self (he's learned a lot since then haha).
Until part three, spread the love!
P.S. These are actually 100% true stories. No embellishment or exaggeration. I was really that awkward/sweet/naive haha.