First dates are frightening. They are so frightening, in fact, that I often wonder if we only endure them to keep our survival instincts intact.
I, like most who face the unknown, prefer to have a little guidance in the endeavor.
We have been groomed since birth for our roles in gender performance, but I have found that the more religiously I followed these socially-constructed rules, the more disastrous my dates end up being.
So this time, I tried something different. I decided to ask Tyler, a handsome and interesting guy I met at a party, to see a movie and have drinks with me.
I consulted my friends for advice on how to go about surviving the date. For every word of advice they gave me, I committed to do the exact opposite.
And, to my surprise, a date that theoretically should have been disastrous ended up being one of the best dates I've ever had.
Here are the rules I purposely broke:
1. “Don’t ask him out on a date; you’ll send him the wrong message.”
If the message this rule is referring to is this person is proactive and doesn’t subscribe to archaic gender norms, so you should hang out with her, then I see no problem with broadcasting it to all corners of the earth.
Although I wasn’t overly concerned about sending Tyler the wrong message, I definitely struggled with sending him an interesting one.
I framed our date an “adventure” of sorts. I laid out our viewing of the movie as an academic inquiry: What exactly do guys think of "Fifty Shades of Grey?"
I also gave him a way out of any awkward feelings with a cool, “No pressure, let me know,” tagline. I sent it before I could convince myself to do otherwise.
Despite knowing the worst he could say was “no,” I still had a nagging fear that it was exactly what he would say.
Twenty minutes later, he responded to my petition as a “most unusual request” and that “[he’d] love to go.” Success!
2. “Don’t overdress. You don’t want to come across as desperate.”
Here’s the thing: If you’re feeling desperate, you will come across as desperate, no matter if you’re wearing a little black dress or sweatpants. And who’s to say that desperation is a bad thing?
Another word for desperation is aching. I’ve always been intrigued by passionate people who want something so badly it hurts.
I’ll admit that I cycled through five outfits before I settled on wearing what I wore to work that day: a black and white tweed skirt and a light blue shell under a white lace cardigan.
I added the black heels, though, out of spite for the person who tried to tell me what to wear.
Was I overdressed for a movie? Perhaps. By the end of the night, I found myself aching for a pair of flats, and I was a little jealous of how comfortably cool Tyler looked in his fitted sweater and skinny camo pants. But, was I feeling desperate?
Far from it. It is far easier to be yourself when you’re at ease with yourself.
3. “For the love of God, don’t see anything sexually explicit. You’ll come across as a perv.”
Now it’s perfectly understandable not to see a movie that you or your date finds emotionally triggering. Taking care of one another’s emotional well-beings should take precedence over personal preference.
That being said: if you’re both cool and open to the subject matter, no matter how controversial, why not go see it? Why not talk about it? Sometimes, slightly uncomfortable or challenging circumstances may prove to be the perfect litmus test for a potential partner.
On that note, choosing the movie for this experiment was easy. Lately, no movie has been more polarizing or sexually explicit as, "Fifty Shades of Grey," and I had the added benefit of knowing that Tyler would be cool with seeing the film.
Tyler was, after all, the one who first brought up the idea of seeing "Fifty Shades of Grey" when we first met. He had mentioned that he read the books and would probably go see the movie ("but not alone," he quickly added).
What I hadn’t expected was how invested he was in some of the subject matter, as revealed by one of our correspondences via text:
TYLER: So, what do you think of the whole BDSM scene?
ME: Do you mean in the book, or of the scene/culture?
ME: I’m intrigued with it. I’m always intrigued by activities that require high levels of trust. You?
TYLER: I’m into it, actually. And ditto on the trust thing.
At the time, I read “into it” just like I am mostly “into” things, as a matter of academic inquiry.
On the way to the restaurant after the movie, it dawned on me that this was the sort of utterance that demanded follow-up questions, questions that would not have been possible without this movie laying the groundwork.
4. “Don’t try to be funny.”
I love when people use "don’t try to be" statements, especially when they follow-up with, "just be yourself!" because they always are backhanded in nature.
Women are especially prone to receiving this sort of advice, as if showing any sign of personality will send a date running for the hills.
Pro-tip: If someone tells you not to be someone or something or some way, inform him or her that you have and will always be that way, forever and ever, amen.
The film lent itself to some comedic interludes. Puns were made about coming attractions.
Mostly, we marveled at the modern feats of engineering in that red room, and later at the restaurant, Tyler pointed to the ceiling, asking what I thought of having a wood-latticed mirror for our own (hypothetical) red room.
I told him that it was a little old-fashioned for my taste, more fitting for his father’s version of a red room. Laughter and ease carried the conversation.
5. “Don’t get too touchy-feely. You’re not in high school anymore.”
Of course, there are legal reasons for showing some PDA restraint in public places. Having sex in movie theaters is generally frowned upon for good hygienic reasons.
But, what if you primarily communicate in gesture? What if words don’t provide the support you require? What if an empathetic body is really all you need? Only you alone can determine how little or how much touch is best for you.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of "Fifty Shades" because I was holding my breath for most of the movie.
What I do remember is the way Tyler held and kissed my hand, how his warm breath grazed my ear as he whispered into it and the comfort of feeling his hand brushing against my knee.
I think my nerves required a supportive touch and once the movie ended, I had no qualms about pressing my lips to his just as we were leaving the theater… and just as cleaning services were coming in.
I wanted to give them all a high-five, but I’m glad I showed some restraint.
6. “Engage in his interests, but this is not the time to get too personal.”
I took a sip of my drink. “So, what are you: a dominant or a submissive?” The question came out as more of a shout than the whisper I intended. I immediately became mindful of the frequency of waiters passing by our table.
“Dominant,” he answered, then folded his hands. I felt strange.
Some other things I learned about Tyler: he occasionally switches (“but I prefer being a Dom”); his favorite form of punishment is spanking (“it just is!”); he has some hard limits (“there are people online who stick needles through their urethra, so yeah”); and he has a copy of his master-slave contract on his hard drive at home (“I’ll send it to you if you’re interested… in seeing it, I mean”).
Some things I learn about myself through his questions: I would probably switch, but the power play of being submissive is interesting to a control freak like me; restraints are kind of sexy (?); and there’s no way in hell I would ever do anything involving needles.
At one point, Tyler asked if we were negotiating something. Then we both laughed. I couldn’t tell if it was nervous or telling.
7. “Don’t talk about your exes or other BS like that.”
My mother once told me that the best way to evaluate a person’s character is to see how he or she talks about someone who caused him or her great pain.
This is not saying that either of our exes caused us great pain, but I was intrigued by how easily our histories entered the conversation, not because we wanted to rag on exes, but because they were essential to understanding where we were going and where we have been.
I learned that Tyler introduced BDSM a year into his relationship, and that it had built upon the mutual love and trust they had established in the first year of their relationship.
I admitted that the way he talked about trust made me question how trust manifested itself in my previous relationships. He asked if I had trust issues, and strangely, it didn’t sound like an accusation. Rather, it was a legitimate progression of our conversation.
It was easy to be honest because there was no BS. Instead of trying to hide our pasts, I came out of that conversation with a greater respect for everything in our relative pasts that made us who we are today.
8. “Don’t overthink it, just do it.”
By the time we left the restaurant, it was late. A light snow had fallen, so Tyler drove me to my car. When he parked, he reached for his car brush and offered to clean off the snow. I offered to help, saying that it would get done quicker.
He playfully tapped his brush near the small of my back. “Don’t make me use this on you, Miss Friedlander!”
I laughed. “I didn’t even sign anything yet!” I imagined we were both grinning stupidly.
The night ended appropriately with a cheesy pick-up line. ("You did such a nice job on my car. Now if there was only a way to tip you."
You can fill in the plot holes with your own imagination.
Although I didn’t subscribe to conventional dating practices that night, I found myself signing up for something much more fulfilling: possibility.