I feel obligated to tell you about the date I went on last week. Not because it was bad in the way you commiserate about with friends, but because it was bad in a way that traumatized me for days, shattered my self-esteem, and yet reminded me how far I’ve come.
Let me explain.
In my early 20s, when I hated myself a lot more than I do now, I allowed people into my life who mistreated me, who got off on fueling my insecurities and using me for their own sexual and psychological shortcomings. Mine is not a unique experience, and I’ll chalk it up to my youth, abandonment issues and craving any male attention regardless of how destructive and unworthy of my time it was.
As I inch toward 30, I can take stock of all the ways I have learned to better take care of myself. I have a therapist who I love, I run to calm my anxieties and I have little to no time for anyone who doesn’t bring joy, love and support into my world.
But after a particularly harrowing date last week, I came to a painful realization that there are still a number of extremely problematic things I’m willing to put up with when it comes to the prospect of a romantic relationship.
The first red flag I noticed about John* ― let’s call him that ― is that he asked to meet for a drink on the same day we started chatting. It’s small, sure, but shows a general lack of respect for another person’s schedule.
Our actual date happened a week later. When friends who I spend a lot of time with asked me what my plans were for the evening, I was tempted to cancel and retreat to a safe, comfortable place. But I didn’t really notice anything too terrible about John over text, and, as I asked my therapist one hour before the date: What’s the worst that could happen?
Well, I’ll tell you!
I arrived at the bar at 6:15. At 6:52, I was about finished with my first beer and starting to think maybe I was getting stood up when a grown man walked into the bar wearing a “Sesame Street” T-shirt, basketball shorts and flip-flops.
I do not expect a man that I’m going on a date with to dress any kind of certain way. I just expect a man that I’m going on a date with to have the common decency not to show up in his pajamas.
“Did you wear that to work?” I asked, genuinely curious. “No,” he scoffed. “I wear a suit and tie all day. I wanted to be comfortable.” Pro tip: There is a difference between being comfortable and flopping around your flaccid penis in a pair of basketball shorts.
I should have had the self-respect to leave then and there, and in my ideal world, I would have. But instead, I laughed off his ensemble and failed punctuality and ordered a beer. I spent the next hour excusing not just his outfit, but his language and his behavior, too.
His general disinterest in anything I had to say excluded only my profession. After learning that I’m a reporter, he asked if he was going to “get Me Too’d” following our date, finding the suggestion very amusing. He was unimpressed with my place of work, and when I explained that I frequently interview members of the LGBTQ community, he proceeded to use a derogatory word to describe transgender people.
“I really don’t give a shit about which word is right,” he said when I suggested that there were other words he could use. He said this while he propped one bare fucking foot, sans flip-flop, out on the stool next to us. Ew!
And hey, I still didn’t leave.
He made a joke about looking at another woman’s ass as she walked by. “Don’t worry, you have my attention back now,” he assured me. He commented on how smooth my legs were as his hand went with the grain instead of against it. When I looked back at his face, which I had begun avoiding, it had taken on a ghoulish quality. He looked like a monster.
He told me about all the other places he takes women on dates. He made a joke about looking at another woman’s ass as she walked by. 'Don’t worry, you have my attention back now.'
And I still didn’t leave.
After a beer, I was ready to get the fuck out of there. He, it turns out, was too! “Well, I’m done drinking,” he said. “But I’m down to keep hanging out. My apartment is around the corner.”
I’m done. I’m down. I. I. I. I.
When I declined, he became angry. “Oh,” he said, his face inching closer to mine, his words slimy. “I’m so sorry to have deeply offended you.”
Before I even had a chance to respond, he followed up. “I’m leaving,” he said. He stormed out of the bar.
I didn’t even get to leave.
I calmly stood up, paid the bill and checked my phone. When the friends I bailed on to waste an hour of my life asked how it was going, I told them. “I’m sending you a car,” one wrote back.
I was sobbing by the time I got in the car, partially in shock and mad at myself for staying as long as I did. My very kind driver let me borrow his charging cord, one of those short ones that can plug into multiple types of devices. For some reason, that made me cry even harder.
So I sat, hunched over the back seat vents, my ear barely making the phone, sobbing to my mom while the driver quietly passed back tissues and pieces of gum. (Wherever you are, Uber driver, thank you. I love you. )
I’m not the kind of person to swear off dating because of a shitty encounter, and I have had enough experience to understand that while typically uncomfortable, dates are rarely this bad. But I couldn’t believe that at this point in my life ― nearing 30, feeling more comfortable in my skin and more confident than ever ― that I allowed him to offend me, make me uncomfortable and still feel entitled enough to expect that I would have any interest in going home with him when all was said and done.
I am human, and I crave the intimacy involved in a relationship. I just didn’t realize how much the desire to find a partner could trump what I would typically allow myself to go through. How quickly I am willing to abandon the principles I preach both to myself and others at the prospect of wanting to be liked or lusted after.
But then, I thought a lot about how I would have handled things in my early 20s. How, if I’m being honest, I might not have just watched him leave, but I probably would have gone home with him ― even after all of that.
Because I have gone home with this exact guy, or rather, another version of him, in an effort to feel desired, to be granted attention regardless of how negative that attention was. And now, a few days later, still reeling over my wasted time, I’m proud of that growth.
Men behaving badly on dates is too common and too normalized. My expectations of men, while on the rise, are still, I realize, hauntingly low. I’d like to think there won’t be a next time, and if there is, that I will have the forthrightness to stand up for myself and get out of the situation.
But maybe I won’t, and that’s OK too.
Unless the guy shows up in a “Sesame Street” T-shirt and basketball shorts. Then I’ll probably just book it. K?