Recently, there was a bit of a clamor on the Internet regarding an article published by TV writer Tracy McMillan on the Huffington Post Web site titled "Why You're Not Married." In it, McMillan lays out what I assume she considered a no-holds-barred list of reasons why women in their mid-30s who want to get married aren't yet. It was definitely controversial, and, as of this writing, there were 2,144 comments on the Huffington site regarding the article, plus countless others on Facebook (my own reposting of the article garnered about 60 comments in the first day).
Setting aside the tone of the piece (presumptuous and accusatory), most of the reasons were, if distilled, pretty much no-brainers - you're mean, you sleep around, etc. Men and women both demonized and defended the article; one of its harshest critics following my post was a guy I grew up with and one of its strongest defenders was a woman with whom we had graduated high school. At the time, I had suggested that a companion piece for unmarried men of the same age wouldn't have raised such a ruckus, and I even jotted down a few ideas of some reasons men might be unmarried at 35 (she doesn't want to hear any more about "Star Wars," you need to change your sheets more than once a month, etc.).
Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Did Adam really just use the word 'ruckus'?"
The answer to that is, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Also, if you're thinking this column is going to be that list, you're again incorrect. What is wrong with you?
Anyway, the thing is that the night before that piece ran, I'd had a second date with someone, and was looking forward to a third (never wound up happening; not important to the story). Interestingly, knowing that the woman I had just gone out with might be reading the posts on my Facebook page, and not knowing her opinion on the McMillan piece, I consciously avoided taking any particularly strong position. I've definitely ruined my share of potential relationships before, but never because of something I posted on Facebook. I wasn't about to start then, especially when it came to something I ultimately felt had very little bearing on my life whatsoever. Tracy McMillan could have written a treatise calling for all garbagemen to adopt Norwegian babies and feed them on diets of zebra and it probably would have meant as much to me in the long run.
In thinking about a topic for this month's column, however (yes, it's a column, not a blog; kind of a sore point with me, people), it occurred to me that, had I not wanted a third date with this woman, I could have deliberately posted something that made her not want to see me again. Of course, it would have had to be specific enough that I not become anathema to the entire female gender. For example, if the woman in question had been, say, Norwegian, my above comment would have done the trick, but I could still date the Icelandic.
This train of thought led me to realize that, despite the canon of literature regarding the things a man should do to impress a woman he likes, how little literature there is on how a guy can avoid a second date. I know it should be simple, but there can be pitfalls, for example: 1) he may just not plan to call her again, but too good a first date might encourage her to contact him; 2) he might be the type of guy who just doesn't want to hurt her feelings with the coldest of shoulders; 3) if he acts like too much of a bad date, she might start questioning herself and her taste in men and that's just a bad downward spiral for which he does not want to be responsible; 4) getting slapped, from what I'm told, hurts. There's an art in sending her home at the end of the night thinking, "Well, he was okay, I guess, mostly."
I'm not trying to be gender specific here, by the way, except in that in our culture, the majority of the time it's the guy who asks out the woman on at least the first two dates. I'm sure there are plenty of times when a woman on a first date would love to do something to make sure she never gets a second call from the guy. (One almost guaranteed way is to have sex with his friend in the men's room, by the way. I lost that girl's number pretty quickly.)
Another reason why such knowledge could be useful is to avoid what's normally termed "mixed signals." I was having lunch with a friend at a bar on Monday (for the record, I was off from work; I don't usually spend my Monday afternoons in a bar) and the bartender was telling us (and anyone else at the bar or on the phone who would listen) about some guy she'd gone on a couple dates and snowboarding with. She'd asked if he wanted to hang out last Friday night and he begged off, saying he had a bunch of work he needed to get done and was tired, and she hadn't heard back from him since then. My friend suggested he was applying some sort of intermittent positive reinforcement (i.e., playing a game), and I suggested she seemed pretty cool and I was certain she could do better. My friend suggested I was a homosexual for having made that comment, but that's not really part of the story.
I explained to the bartender about the experiment with the mice and the cheese (B.F. Skinner, I think), in which it was determined that mice pressing on a bar would be more likely to press the bar if cheese fell intermittently than if it never fell at all or - and this is the interesting bit - fell every time. A chance reward is actually more compelling than a guaranteed reward (in human terms, you'll note that not a lot of people go to Vegas to play the change machines despite the much better odds of breaking even). I finished by saying, "Men, as a rule, are pretty simple creatures. If you're confused by his actions, it probably means he doesn't like you all that much." (It is important to note that I did leave her a sizable tip and I wasn't even drinking, mom.)
My point is that this guy could have saved all of us a lot of headache (and B.F. Skinner a shout-out in my column) had he just made her never want to see him again without simultaneously questioning all of her life choices up to that point. Simple.
Also, I'm awesome at pep talks.
Which gets me back to the question at hand. What can a guy do on a first date when he wants to simply just be underwhelming? I have a couple ideas, gleaned from personal experience, as well as that of my friends, and one of them I'm totally making up (hey, kiddies: if you guess which one is the prevarication, I'll let you PayPal me a dollar!):
1) Take her to a museum, and buy her drinks, but totally fail to offer to buy her dinner. She may remove you as a Facebook friend, but you're not likely to wake up in the middle of the night with an effigy of yourself burning on your front lawn. Especially if you live on the third floor of an apartment building.
2) Spend at least 20 minutes talking about your mother, but only in mixed messages - "My mother and I really have a great relationship, but I'm glad she lives in Oregon. I totally think you two would hit it off if you ever meet, but I don't want to be in that room." She won't think you're a momma's boy, or not a momma's boy, but she won't really care, since she knows you're going home alone.
3) If she likes karaoke, take her for karaoke, but do a terrible job. After your second off-key attempt at Journey assure her, "There's a lot more of this in your future." There won't be.
4) Learn all of the typical subconscious signals that people use to demonstrate sexual attraction and then make sure you do none of them. Don't lean in, don't angle yourself toward her, slouch, make as little eye contact as possible. If she tries to make the conversation interesting at all, subtly maneuver it back to something innocuous, like why more traffic lights have started showing "walk" and "don't walk" signals simultaneously. She won't hate you, but she won't like you.
5) Constantly apologize for things you don't need to apologize for. "I'm really sorry they only had three types of white wine." "I feel like it's my fault they seated us facing each other." "You'll have to forgive me for paying the taxi driver in cash." "I'm sorry it's not a Thursday night." Enough said.
I'm sure there are plenty of others. Just always remember, the point is not to make her dislike you - there are plenty of ways to do that, some of which will, inexplicably, lead to her taking you home - the point is to remove you from her mental Rolodex of potential mates. Or her real-life Rolodex of potential mates, for that matter, because that would be kind of creepy if she had one of those.
And no, for the record, I have never done any of these myself.
Well, not on purpose anyway.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
3.9.11 @ 4:48p
question: why would you be on a date with someone you want to lose in the first place?
3.9.11 @ 4:53p
Ummm...blind date? Liked her when you met her drunk at a bar? You realize she's your fraternal twin separated at birth? You only just noticed the tattoo she had of the ZZ Top emblem was actually the Nazi SS emblem? Tons of potential reasons.
dr. jay gross
3.10.11 @ 6:53a
There is no substitute for honesty. Why would you have a 'real' date with a girl you didn't really know? Find a group and spend some of your energy getting to know what you're getting yourself into. -before you even ask her out for a first date.
It might be hard to hook up with a person that radiates good possibilities, but bars are only a minor choice location for finding companionship. Visit places that interest you and you might find someone who shares your fantasies.
3.10.11 @ 10:33a
For the record, it may behoove some of you to reacquaint yourselves with the concept of "tongue-in-cheek."
3.10.11 @ 8:01p
I have been on entirely too many dates to consider it in any way 'my *fair* share'. Mostly because I have a job wherein I deal with large numbers of people and I'm paid to be nice. When I'm having a good day, I'm my usual charming self - and 'charming' usually means 'flirtatious'. I'm flirtatious with men, women, old, young - it doesn't matter because it's a state of being for me, not an effort.
That said, I also made a decision to enjoy my life more. Get out. Say 'Yes' instead of 'No'. This is how I've gone on so many dates. Not all of them have gone well, not all of them have been bad. Not all of them I realized were dates until the 'group of us going to -----' turned out to actually be a vaguely weird guy waiting for me, alone. Anywho.
I have had many opportunities to practice 'not getting called for a second date' - but that's from the female perspective. I totally applaud the easy let down methods outlined in this tongue-in-cheek, wry male point of view: why shell out bucks for another date or make her think you're going to call and then don't?
Adam, maybe we should write a book together. "Dating: You're Doing It Wrong."
Also, there's still something to be said for "Dude, this has been cool, but I'm just not that into you."
3.11.11 @ 2:20p
Oh, I thought of another one, by the way - from personal experience, Jay - meeting someone in person for the first time after talking for a short time online.
3.11.11 @ 9:11p
A long time ago, before I came out as gay, I had friends set me up on blind dates with women I felt sorry for because I knew it was going nowhere. The worst one ended with me giving her my business card and telling call me some time if you feel like it. Another date was a double date with my friend and her boyfriend, and ended with my friend and the other girl looking through bridal magazines while my friend's boyfriend and I played video games. Now I'm out and don't date.
3.14.11 @ 6:10p
So which is worse? Out of curiosity.