Dating was in the midst of a sea change in the 1970s. Women’s liberation was in full swing and a nascent gay rights movement was getting some traction. The upheaval may have contributed to some of my difficulties in establishing romantic relationships, as opposed to friendships, with guys. In my mother’s era, dating was pretty straight-forward. That it isn’t to say it didn’t have its challenges, but I think the process was kind of black and white. A boy liked a girl, he asked her out for a Friday or Saturday night. The boy put on nice slacks and a button-down shirt. The girl would likely put on a dress or skirt. The guy, if he had a car, would pick up the girl. If he didn’t, he still went to her house to get her. A girl might go out on dates with several different guys, until a couple became serious. I’m sure I’m simplifying, but it was simpler! (I’m not saying it was better.)
When I was in high school and in college a lot of socializing was done in groups, girls and guys could be friends. Mostly we hung out in someone’s basement or at the diner, dressed very casually in t-shirts and jeans. If we went into the city (which meant going into Manhattan), we might put on nicer clothes, but we’d all meet at the subway station and travel together. Or, if someone had a car, we all piled in without regard to seat belts. The groups were co-ed. The relationship boundaries were fuzzy.
It was the beginning of a time where girls could take the lead, though that was not something I was ever comfortable with. It was also the beginning of a time where there was more awareness of options in sexual orientation. We had not yet reached the point that people came out as gay when I was in high school, but that began to happen when I was in college.
I found the whole scene difficult to navigate. I wasn’t adventurous, I didn’t know how to flirt and, while I was clear about my sexual orientation, I didn’t feel feminine. I had no confidence in myself as a feminine being. And, while some around me were adopting a more relaxed approach, sex was not a casual thing to me.
I offer this as background to my first ‘date’ with Gary. We embarked on a transition from friends who hung out as part of a larger group to something else, and I was bringing some baggage. He was, too.
It was September of 1979, the semester was a few weeks old, when Gary asked me out. He borrowed a car from a friend who lived on campus. Since we were going to Copperfield’s, a nice restaurant in Oakdale mall, we each got ‘dressed up.’ Gary was wearing slacks and a sweater, which was a major change from his usual wardrobe of a faded t-shirt and very worn in jeans. While I don’t remember what I wore, I wasn’t wearing overalls, which was my daily uniform.
There was some awkwardness in conversation as he drove us to the mall. Somehow the formality changed things, but we were doing okay. We were shown to a table. The waiter came by and asked if we wanted a drink. Gary immediately said no before I even had a chance to respond. The waiter went away. I was disappointed. I said, “It might be nice to get a drink.” Gary’s eyes opened wide. “It didn’t occur to me, I’m sorry.”
While I didn’t come from a family that drank much, it wasn’t unusual for my parents to have a cocktail when they went out to dinner. Apparently, that was not Gary’s experience. It was outside his ken. He motioned for the waiter to come back, I think I ordered a white russian.
We enjoyed our dinner, discussed our families and learned about each other. Then we drove to campus, returned the car and went to lecture hall number 2 where Foul Play, with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase, would be playing. A line was forming and we were close to the front. After a minute or two, a curly-haired girl walked by to get on the line, but she stopped when she saw Gary. I did not recognize her. “Hi Gary!!” she said with enthusiasm. Gary said hi a bit tentatively, and turned to me and introduced me, “Linda, this is Cindy. Cindy this is Linda.” I recognized the name, if not the face. This was Gary’s ex-girlfriend. She was quite delighted to see him and find him close to the front of what was now a very long line.
“Gary, you look very nice,” she noted. “Do you mind if I join you?” Gary nodded his thanks in acknowledgment of the compliment. She may have taken it as permission to join us. She did. We all made some small talk, mostly I smiled. When we filed into the lecture hall, she sat between us! This was all very strange.
Fortunately, it was a very entertaining movie. I have always loved rom-coms (still do) – they are a great means of escape from reality. Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase made a very likeable duo. The movie made me laugh and that was a relief from the uneasiness.
After the movie ended, we started to walk out and Cindy asked if we wanted to go out for a drink! She had a car; we could go get a drink and then she would drop us off at 30 Haendel. “It will save you from having to take the OCC (Off-Campus Community) bus,” she explained. I hoped Gary would say no, we had other plans. But, alas, he didn’t. “Okay,” said Gary.
Off we went to some bar, I have forgotten which one. We sat at a table and Cindy asked about various members of Gary’s family whom I had not yet heard of much less met, but she had. “How is Aunt Sophie?” she inquired. Cindy and Gary had been together for two years. One of the things Gary and I had bonded over was our similar relationship histories. Though his relationship with Cindy lasted two years, by his account it petered out, lost its momentum and died a kind of natural death, while mine involved more heartbreak (at least for me). Even with that knowledge, I certainly wasn’t expecting to share our first date with her.
Eventually, we finished our drinks and everyone decided not to get another (Hallelujah!). We went to her car. She drove us to 30 Haendel. We thanked her for the ride and started to go up the stairs. Neither one of us knew what to say, so at first there was silence. I think I broke it by asking, “What just happened?” We were on the landing of the third floor at this point. Gary was shifting his weight from foot to foot, looking down. “I’m really sorry,” he said. Then he said, “I kind of lost control of my nervous system. I didn’t know what to say or do. It was awful.” I looked at him, shaking my head, but feeling kind of sorry for him. “Okay, I guess,” I said. We agreed that we would talk about it the next day, rather try to figure it out right then and there. We said good night and went into our respective apartments.
The next night, Sunday, Annie Hall was on television; this was before cable, it was going to be on ABC, a special event. I don’t remember how the plan got made, but Alison, Merle, Gary and his housemate, Glenn, and I gathered to watch it in the living room of our apartment. Annie Hall was one of my favorite movies of all time (it still is). Merle and I would quote lines from it to each other and we loved noticing all the little quirks, like the fact that Woody Allen and Tony Roberts call each other Max throughout, even though their names in the movie are Alvy and Rob.
We all watched the movie, laughing and chatting during the commercials. Gary and I had yet to discuss our date of the night before. As the credits started to roll, Gary and I volunteered to make a Dunkin’ Donuts run for everyone. Just as we were getting up to go, the phone rang. It was my ex! Annie Hall was a movie he and I had enjoyed together and, apparently, he watched it back in Brooklyn. We had a very brief conversation during which he said seeing the movie made him think of me. As he said that, I realized I had watched the entire thing without associating it with him! I had not consciously recognized, until that moment, that I had finally moved on.
Gary waited in the hall while I wrapped up the conversation. I joined him and we walked the few blocks to the Dunkin’ Donuts. We were finally ready to address the events of the night before. I don’t remember the details of our conversation, though I’m pretty sure I explained how difficult it had been for me to spend the evening with Cindy. I don’t think I was too hard on him, but I wasn’t letting him off too easy, either. We agreed to a do-over. We would try another date the following Saturday.
This time we went to a real movie theater, to see The Seduction of Joe Tynan, which I didn’t enjoy as much as Foul Play, but we didn’t run into or hear from any exes.
38 years later I see the seeds of important elements of our relationship in those first dates. We were honest with each other, we tried to understand one another, we were forgiving and we were friends. It stood us in good stead.
12 thoughts on “The First Date”
Your essays have elements in common, chief among them the opportunity for me to nod in agreement and often laugh out loud at amusing /incongruous situations. Especially when you mentioned Annie Hall and the characters calling each other Max – I remember laughing hysterically in the theater because my Dad had that same affectation, calling his brother-in-law and several friends Ralph and being called Ralph in return. That you and Gary were friends long before dating was a huge plus! First dates can be nerve wracking under the best of circumstances, glad you gave him another chance. Great post.
Thanks, Mary. Love the anecdote about your dad!
Great blog and so revealing. It helps to start as friends, as you know that was Dad’s and my relationship and it lasted through good times and bad. I didn’t date much in HS and I have to say Dad was the first and it started with baseball arguments. Our first date was to Madison Square Garden for some championship, NCAA? Thanks for sharing because it brings out so many memories.
Thanks, Mom. I’m thinking maybe the NIT?
Linda, your writing gets better and better. It is clear that you have always been a most introspective person. It is perhaps one of your most wonderful attributes. I only wish that I could have as clear a recall of my past life as you do. Your ability to remember even the smallest of details is truly astounding. Although I have known you for many years, your blog has truly helped me to understand you so much better. Keep doing what you are doing. You do it so well.
Thanks, Jay. Much appreciated.
I can explain my failure to respond to Cindy’s presence and involvement on that first date, but I cannot excuse it because it was a total failure. The reality is that I was just too young and not yet self assured enough to just tell Cindy this was the wrong time and place. While she was a bit oblivious, the fault was entirely mine.
I recall an evening when I was in med school in Pittsburgh. I walked down the hallway of our apartment building to knock on the door of a good friend of mine who was living with his wife (then girlfriend). I was surprised there was no answer to my knock and I waited a little while and then knocked again. Finally, I heard my friend say “Who is it.” Trying to be amusing, I responded “It’s the plumber.” and he said, “The pipes are fine.”
There it was, plain, simple, direct and yet not explicit. I quickly walked away from the door and back to my place. And that is what I should have done that night. I should have said, “Cindy, while I ordinarily love to have you join Linda and I on our first date, as it turns out, the pipes are fine.” But, alas, I had no lines, good or otherwise to offer.
As far as how I felt during the fiasco, the answer is miserable, helpless and more or less worthless. I could not tell you one thing about the movie Foul Play other than that it is the name of the movie attached to that embarrassing event. Really, the entire evening is such a blur even though it went on for 500 hours.
Still, as Linda explained, we got past it and the second date worked out so much better. No unwanted surprises. And I also agree that being friends really helped and being able to discuss the events was critical.
I would like to add just a couple more quick comments. First, before that fateful night, I had never heard of anyone having alcohol with their dinner. It was as if the waiter had come over and said would you like me to change the brake pads on your car. It came out of nowhere, sort of like Cindy did a couple hours later. Second, Aunt Sophie, I am happy to report, is hanging in there all these many years later.
Thank you for choosing to go on one more date with me.
I have a slightly different take. I think that while maturity and experience might have led you to handle it differently, I believe that a big part of it was that you didn’t want to hurt her. And while I would have preferred that it not happen the way, even then I saw the kindness in it, too. You are far more self-assured today, I still see your good heart.
I am with Aunt Sophie right now. She says hello.
Hello, Aunt Sophie! Gary and I send love and best wishes!
I loved reading this account of your first date and it’s aftermath. The fact that you and Gary had such good communication even back then certainly is consistent with a relationship that blossomed into a happy marriage. I love that you remember that Annie Hall was on the next night. What a movie!! I love you and I love reading your essays!!!
Thanks, Merle. You may not remember it, but you were there (and have been an observer of all of my years with Gary)! We’ll have to discuss Annie Hall next time we’re together 😉