Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dating in the 21st Century, Pt. 2: What's a "Date?"

Saba7o and namaste LOVEanese! I hope the weekend has been well! I'm really excited to bring this much-anticipated post to you. I feel like I've been building up hype for it for a while now. In case you're just tuning into LOVEanon, you can read my previous post here, and keep up with the blog through the LOVEanon Facebook Page. India's also getting better and better for me, and I figured as much. So, I'm really excited to see what life has in store!

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.

Why We Date

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. First, let Louis C.K. prime the discussions with his funny but thought-provoking comments on dating:

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."

Without necessarily giving an exhaustive list above as to why we date, it still doesn't answer what is dating supposed to "do," and what does it "look like." This is the thesis of this post that I ultimately want to address. As alluded too, I feel a lot of the uncertainty in today's dating landscape comes from the ambiguity regarding the infamous "date." How many of you have asked yourselves, "IS this a date?" "Do they THINK it's a date?" I feel like we drive ourselves crazy just trying to navigate that frustrating and confusing game of "Are they interested?" while figuring out the basic essentials of whether or not someone is attracted to you, and whether or not you're really being courted in a way that makes you feel like you're the real-life embodiment of He's Just Not That Into You.

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.

What a Date Looks Like: The "Features" of a Date

Van: "It's a date."
Gwen: "It's an interview, not a date."
Van: "Gwen, first dates are interviews."

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. Involve 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. Be thoughtful, 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 bookstore (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. 

Pictured: definitely a date

A Note on Dating and Paying

Something else that doesn't matter is who pays for the date if you do spend money. The entire debate about who pays and what not is ridiculous. It's within my opinion that the person who asks should do it out of courtesy, or at least the other person should offer. If they refuse, insist on at least paying for drinks or tip, and then if they still refuse, then don't press the issue. The most important thing to do is ask, especially because it avoid awkwardness. If they want to get the bill, let them. Don't read into it too much. Also, if they get the bill and you offer to get a drink or something at the next venue or the next time you meet, see what they do. If they accept, its a good sign. Today's world must have a balance between "chivalry" and respect. If he especially  constantly insists, perhaps  he would overexert himself in a relationship as well.

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 and communicate financial security and stability. However, (I think) it was also done 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 you're 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. 

She on the other hand...

Dating Examples (and Lessons Learned) a la Ogie

With all that said, I feel like it's time for some date confessions, that is, give you some examples from my own life that illustrate the five aforementioned features of a date. I've mentioned some of these before in an interview with Babel Together magazine, but I just felt like divulging some of these stories because they all have a message.

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 about 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 (especially now that the technology is so ubiquitous).

3. Coming off too strong is one of the biggest turn offs out there. 

Luckily, I (usually) 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 Belvedere. 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 and because it's already pretty long, something I will do in the third part 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!).  

Until part three, spread the love!  
-Ogie, MA

P.S. These are 100% true stories. No embellishment or exaggeration. I was really that awkward/sweet/naive.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post, and I wish the people I encountered/will encounter in my life would think so..

    Paying: I had a very ugly incident once where I used to like this person .. and being me, when I like someone I like to spoil them big we would always go out to both fancy and plain places "as friends that is" since that person thought I don't have all it takes, but anyways, I always insisted on paying because it makes me happy, very few times I did not mind that person to pay ... at the end, I discover that that person thinks I am trying all ways possible to get something out of it.. I never felt stupid and frustrated as that time, and I realized that good intentions can be easily misunderstood... but it is a habit of mine, and I am working hard on controlling it ...

    Is it a date or not? So this person asks me out and we go watch a movie, we hold hands (not initiated by me), we talk all the time on msn (back in the days of msn), and days go by...Christmas eve I receive a leather bracelet with both our names on it, an original CD of one of my fav. artists, and two silver rings...we are dating then right?....Wrong...when I asked what exactly are we...the reply was "just friends, I am a complicated person you do not want to get involved with"...I wonder where do the gifts I got, the walk on the beach, the movie, the dinner, and the endless list of activities we did fit in that statement

    First date: I was 18, the ex: 28, and never ever took me out anywhere...everytime we wanted to get together the ex would pass by my place for few hours, talk about work, hang out with my mum and sister more than with me and that would be it...being stupid, vulnerable, and naive back then, being smitten by the ex, I never questioned about didn't last long anyways...thank God!

    I went wrong many times because I tend to try hard to make things "perfect". I even sometimes forget to act myself which ruins things for me. I am aware now that I really should go with the flow, be completely honest with my feelings with others, and tell the other what I am really feeling, whatever the result may be. it is liberating to be honest with yourself and others.

    Excuse my lengthy comment, looking forward to Part 3 xx

    1. Anon, thank you so much for reading and for your comment!

      I agree that intentions can be misunderstood, but it sounds like there was a bit more to it in the dynamics than he thinking you came off too strong or something. It almost sounds like he was taking advantage, and used it as an excuse.

      Ok, that's just ridiculous. I mean, there's no excuse for that not being more clear. I don't even know what to say to that. That's not a subtle hint, that's quite explicit. And how'd he not think about you misinterpreting that??

      I'm so sorry to hear about all of these bad experiences, but I think your prescription is right on!

      Please, your comments are always welcome. It's because people like you share that make this worth doing :) So thank YOU!


  2. Ok, so this blog resonated with me strongly, especially because I've tried hard to be clear about my interest in someone when asking them out. I feel this is an important part in establishing a)That you have some level of romantic interest b)That neither of you are attached to anyone else at the time, including recent ex boyfriends they can do nothing but talk about.
    So after several good dates in college, well planned, nice places a peaceful walk through nearby parks, nothing ever ended up working out. Usually I probably came off quite strong, too interested even. Living in the Caribbean changed that, for one, I was as a guy in the minority and even though I was not being pursued (as we all imagined we were), I met some amazing women there. Two great dates that had everything except chemistry happened. And it was quite crushing.
    The first was a brilliant evening adventure date through Basseterre, the small capital city, to about five different local bars/restaurants with their own character and history. Easy and entertaining conversation, fun photos and experiences along the way and still I had yet to establish any level of chemistry. It lasted probably four hours and to date is the favorite date I have been on regardless of the total lack of physical intimacy. And it upset me, that every other piece could fall into place but that one thing could just not be faked. There was just no attraction there.
    The second date was doomed from the start because I had fallen in love before meeting her. A friend who knew the both of us, used to tell me about her and how much we had in common. Needless to say it involved one act of facebook stalking that made me realize that we had even more in common than my friend had mentioned. I've tried to recall, sometimes with obsessive detail what could have gone wrong and it was as clearly visible to me from the very beginning. I took her for lunch at a Rastafarian place which I was very familiar with and she had never been to. It was a cute vegan 'ital' joint and the owner went out of his way to make sure we were attended perfectly. There was great conversation back and forth but my own uncertainty made me feel as though I was boring her. Its quite tough to get ahold of yourself when doubts plague your mind in the middle of a date(I had not clarified, was it a date at all?) We went out for dinner once after that, at an Indian restaurant(also a bad move, never pick your native cuisine for a date when you're not already 'dating') where there was even more conversation about what we had in common but the gulf between us widened and it was clear to me that I was putting a lot of effort into making conversation happen with someone who clearly wasn't as interested as I was in being there.
    Since then, I've been asked out and taken out on a date by my last girlfriend, which was a hugely refreshing change. It was a more traditional first date, fancy place, taxi to and fro, and thankfully, not me in charge. I still feel I haven't had that great date yet that really sets any standard at all, since everything I've taken the initiative for hasn't worked out quite the same. The standard is just a date that will at the very least be a memory that gives me more of a happy smile than a wistful heartache.
    Ironically, the one woman I have loved the most to date(an ex girlfriend), I did not 'date' before we started going out. We hung out with mutual friends and immediately realized we wanted to be with each other. The dates came much later. All weird experiences..

    1. You're absolutely right that it should be clear. I think that is a sound course of action.

      Thank you so much for sharing though, I think you illistrate quite clearly both what went wrong as well as the lessons that were taught. Of course, a date shouldn't be stressful (I understand that if you like someone, you'll feel the butterflies. But that isn't stress or anxiety). On the contrary, dates should be comfortable, the conversation natural. And if it's not, that should be a clear sign that the chemistry just isn't there--no matter how good they look either in person or on paper.

      I'm curious, though. What made the gulf wider? And a better question: what was apparent to you that made that gulf wider?

      And lastly, I'll say that the standard shouldn't be the date itself--it's a means to an end. What's important is the kind of interaction you're having, and the quality of the conversation.

      Hey, weird experiences happen. The most we can do is learn from them :)

    2. Isn't it strange or perhaps not desirable to not date before a relationship? Or is it sometimes inevitable when the mutual attraction is so strong that we ignore a more mature approach.
      So the wide gulf I always put down to an evenly balanced conversation. I tend to talk a lot, a consequence of having lived a lot. But it tires and bored me to hear myself say the same thing I've said a million times. It bores me even more if I don't hear something that grabs my attention either in content or tone or in this case, the wide gulf of me dominating a conversation unwillingly, in retrospect probably also unwittingly. I think the most important thing (which again in retrospect could have been completely in my own head) was that I was falling for this girl with every story she said, word she spoke and I felt that although she was narrating to me what was the story of my dream woman at the time, that there was a lot of emotional distance and baggage that I felt. These days I think I'm much better at handling that sort of thing instead of being scared off by it.
      So, the quality of the conversation for me must abide by certain 'rules' in my head, that are not strict, just Do's and Don'ts.
      1)Don't - talking about ex's, past relationships. ugh, enough said. 2)Do - interesting stories or the ability to make an interesting story out of just good observation.3)Do - adventurousness/curiosity is key, apathy is its polar opposite, seen in body language, leaning forward etc. 4)Don't - Be seen fiddling with stuff as if you didnt want to be there, looking about, checking your phone(Rules out more than half the eligible women on this planet) 5)Do - establish a basic level of physical contact to see if sparks fly.

      I think I have some more I look out for on dates, but these are the important ones for me. Hahaha and if its a dinner date, eat a little bit beforehand so you don't look like a hungry pig when your food arrives.

    3. Haha, I think you're definitely in the right mindset! I like your do's and dont's. Dating is also one of those dynamic processes that changes with time I think as well. You learn a lot as you do: trial and error. Knowing yourself and making a good decision about the person helps too.