There had been a few warning signs, sure, and normally I would have ended the date by now. However, when your friends chastise you for being too damn picky you have to try your best to be a bit more tolerant. Then again, when you first meet someone its hard to tell what parts of a person are simply quirks and what might be the characteristics of a wacked-out, Xenu worshiping, has a skin suit sewed from his victims psychopath.
I had only ended a four year relationship about ten months before and had recently decided that it was time to put myself out there and see who the world had to offer. Of course, it had taken a while to get to a point where dating felt right again. Well, as right as dating ever can feel. I had learned a few months earlier that I wasn't ready when I had gone out to meet a friend for lunch and catching up. It was a semi-date of sorts. We had been friends for seven years and always had a mutual attraction towards each other. Considering that we were both now single we decided to give it a shot. The semi-date ended when in the middle of getting to second base on my couch I broke out into a bout of uncontrollable sobbing. Hardly a turn on, but definetly a sign that at the time I wasn't ready to move on.
A few months later, sobbing and emotions now in complete control, I was ready to broach the dating scene. I was all spiffy and raring to meet the men this time. I was slick in some new clothes, had begun to style my hair a bit differently, and began to embrace some aspects of my old social life that had been yearning to breathe in my claustrophobic relationship the past few years. I was ready to conquer the world, or so I said in my online dating profile.
Of course, I learned quickly that most online meet-up sites simply aren't gay relationship oriented. In fact, probably about 99% of them are geared towards finding a guy in the closest proximity who is looking to get off. I found that using these sites weren't conducive to finding someone who likes long walks and isn't tied down, as much they were to finding guys who like long shlongs and being tied down with rope. Not that that wasn't useful some nights.
Still, the dating scene wasn't exactly filled with hopeful prospects, like cracking open eggs and finding each and every one rotten inside to the point where you dread the foul possibilities contained in the next. Sure, there would be the occassional date where there was simply no connection. A fine situation I simply accepted, though I was fortunate enough that a few of those people are now good friends.
Then there would be the ones where after a few dates I realized it wasn't going to work. I admit I was an ass in those situations as my usual tactic was simply to completely cut off all lines of communication. This meant never returning calls, e-mails, or text messages. The person simply stopped existing to me.
It was only after a guy I was interested in did the same to me that I realized how much it hurt. Not like a sharp sting when someone simply ends it or turns you down at a bar, but a dull pain like a day-old bruise, purple and mottled. I vowed from then on to always end things in person.
Every so often there would be a truly bad date. At a food conference in Napa my friend Ashley had planned to set me up with a friend of hers at an exclusive after party. It would be my first blind date and while I was eager and nervous, and though all my gut instincts told me to tell her no, I went along with it. After all, shouldn't everyone experience the social phenomenon of the blind date at least once in their life?
The answer is no. No, everyone shouldn't. The guy was nice enough but after three minutes we realized that we had absolutely nothing in common and nothing to speak about, nor were we physically attracted to one another. As it was, we both spent the next three hours doing our best to socialize at the complete opposite corners of the very tiny room.
Of course, there were other bad dates. Many bad dates. So many that at one point I had decided to never go out again. I would raise my standards so high that they would put Japanese high school entrance exams to shame. This was both good and bad. It was good in that the number of bad dates I went on reduced dramatically. However, it was bad in the fact that I now became almost impossible to please.
My friends pointed out that I was being a bit impractical. It was unfair to not call a guy back because he had a bad haircut. Possibly, it could have been cruel to dump someone over the fact that they didn't know what the capital of South Korea was, a factor I interpreted as not being geopolitically aware. Maybe it was mean to end a date early with a lie that my dad was in the hospital because my date insisted that the Spice Girls were overrated during the nineties. (I'm still not willing to bend on that one. A boy has his standards.)
To quell the insistent lecturing of my friends I decided to be a bit more lax. I would lower the bar a bit and maybe pass some people that I might otherwise reject. Plus, I realized I really was being a bit too finicky and cooking for one was beginning to get a bit tiresome as leftovers truly do lose their charm after you start eating the same curry for the fifth day in a row.
His name was James, the date in question that started this post. We had met through a mutual acquaintance at a party and after some time chatting he asked me out. James was an event planner and he wrote the astrological forecasts for the local paper. To me both of these were red flags. At the time I considered event planner as simply a job that one developed after graduating college in Communications. (A wedding planner friend of mine has proven me quite wrong in this regard.) As for his firm belief in astrology, well, I have trouble believing that giant balls of gas billions of light years away that sort of make a shape if you squint and use your imagination have any feasible bearing on the condition of your life, and that basing your decisions on them is silly at the least and irresponsible at best.
Putting my first impressions aside however, I decided to go out on the date. James seemed nice enough and he was handsome in an outgrown hipster sort of way with his over-bleached hair and jeans so skinny they looked like they were his natural skin.
He arrived to pick me up from my apartment and surprised me with a few gifts. A bundle of incense sticks and a hexagonal mirror covered in Chinese symbols. Again, red flags to me, as anything that remotely resembles what my dad would call "out there ideas" like healing crystals or UFO trackers seemed a bit too crazy hippie to me. However, I realized that both were just kind gestures. These were a personal and new age bouquet of flowers. I was touched, if not a bit confused, and thanked him for the gifts. I put the mirror, apparently one specially designed in a feng shui manner, above the door in order to block negative chi. I secretly gave the incense to my roommate as incense smoke often made me sneeze uncontrollably.
As we were about to leave he asked to excuse himself for a moment. Wondering if I had done something to scare him off he insisted that he just had to have a quick smoke and I told him he could use the patio outside. He thanked me, went outside, and, rather than open a pack of cigarettes, he proceeded to whip out a pipe and a bag of hash and quickly huffed down a bit of Hawaiian Skunk. A strain, he told me later, that could run $120 an ounce.
This would normally have ended the date right then and there. Honestly, I don't care if a person smokes tobacco or marijuana. However, I consider smoking a bowl right in front of your date to be just plain rude. I doubt such a situation is covered in any guide on etiquette, but I was sure that Emily Post wouldn't have approved his actions.
We went out to dinner, a nice place for Moroccan food in downtown Sacramento that I had always wanted to go to. As we talked we began to chat about our jobs and hobbies and all the stuff you go on about when you first get to know someone. All seemed to be going well and I had put the minor reefing incident aside and decided that maybe this wouldn't be so bad.
That was until he excused himself again. "Bathroom?" I asked.
"Just going to smoke another bowl real quick in my car," he replied.
"Oh! Uh, okay."
What else could I say? So I waited by myself at the table. I sat down and began to nibble furiously at the plate of dates that we had ordered. It was, I think, the first time I had ever really eaten them, as an adult. My dad chopped them up into oatmeal when we were kids but I never really focused on their flavor before. I marveled at the silliness of eating dates on a date, but was more intrigued with their butterscotch aroma and root-beer flavor. These particular dates had been filled with cheese and wrapped in bacon, then quickly grilled so that their sugar caramelized to compliment all the salt. I doubted if this was authentic Berber cuisine, but I was happy none the less and the dates took my mind off my date's absence.
He came back, a little more pungent than before and we continued eating and talking. Twenty minutes later he excused himself again. Just for a quick joint he told me.
All and all he ditched me eight times to go smoke out in his car. This wasn't simply someone who smoked every now and again; this was full-on, hardcore addiction. Most smokers can go an entire meal without having to break for a cigarette. This guy was huffing down pot like there was a pot of gold at the end of each roach.
When I asked him about it he got defensive. I let it go and tolerated the rest of the awkward meal. Once the check was paid I requested that he take me home and that I drive since I simply didn't feel safe with him behind the wheel. After a small argument that ended with him walking into a glass door, he handed me his keys and I drove his ancient Ford Pinto back to my place. At home I thanked James for a lovely dinner but explained that I didn't think this would work out. He called me stuck up and left. I assume to buy more pot.
My roommate creeped out from his room after hearing the commotion and asked how the night went. "Not a total loss," I replied. "That date may have sucked, but I found plenty more that I can't wait to have again."
The following morning I went to the store and picked up some dates and began to cook and bake with them with vigor. They seemed to cure my dating woes and spice up my meals, giving them a richness I never knew they lacked before. Chicken cooked with lemon and dates, date and buttermilk pie, and good old fashioned date-nut bread. A simple comfort that helped adjust me to what seemed might be a longer single life than I had imagined, and that was okay.
However, it seemed the mirror was helping out a bit, too, as the number of bad dates I had dropped dramatically. I guess there is something to reflecting all that bad chi. Well, and the bad dates.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup dates, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325F. Grease and flour a 9X5 loaf pan and place the pan on an insulated baking sheet.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. Beat together the butter and cream cheese for 2 minutes on medium-high until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for a minute each. Add the extracts and beat another 30 seconds. The mixture will look curdled but don't fret. Reduce mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture. Mix together until just combined. Fold in the dates and nuts and turn into the pan.
4. Bake for 40 minutes. Then cover the top loosely with a foil sheet and bake for another 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before taking the loaf out of the pan and cooling completely. Best the next day once the flavors have melded.