There are those, optimists all, who hold that men and women have reached a pivot in their respective social evolution. They maintain that if women can lead great island nations and men can get away with reading Cosmo in the john, they certainly can get along famously on a first date over a couple of plates of pasta primavera and a piquant little Chardonnay. Sweaty palms and worries about the spinach leaf in the front teeth are goblins from the unenlightened past, they assert.
But let us not kid ourselves. The social ecologists have blown it. Here, in the prickly shank of the 1980s, men are still men and women are still women, and the ritual of dating is still agony. It's supposed to be. A first date, or even a second or third, was never meant to be idyllic, or even comfortable. It was meant to be hell. The smart single person on a date could do worse than to think of the evening as a breakneck proficiency run around the circuit at Daytona. If the kinks get worked out, you ease your shoulders back into the seat and go whistling along for miles in comfort and exhilaration. If not, you crash and burn.
Established couples wax nostalgic over their early dating days in the same way the Rough Riders must have recalled San Juan Hill once all the shooting stopped and they were safely holed up in the basement of some cantina. The embarrassments, blunders and miscues all look better the farther they recede in the rear view mirror. And shared misfortune does a lot to cement the bond between the sufferers. It even blunts the resentment when the female half of the couple eventually reminds the male what an incredible boob she thought he was during those first evenings, before she decided he was just a teddy bear after all.
But, while dating continues to be recognized as a fiery trial by those who practice it, a couple of married local boys who haven't faced it down in some time have written a book purporting to show how to plan and execute dates with elan and--unbelievably--fun.
Called "Creative Dating" (Oliver Nelson Books, 1986), the book claims that asking someone for a date, sending gifts and endearing messages to the potentially beloved and going on an array of suggested outings can be one huge bag of giggles.
Further, quite a few of the dates and ancillary activities in "Creative Dating" are of the sort that under first-date circumstances would cause most men to edge toward the door and most women to punch their escorts silly.
Among the ideas suggested by the authors--Doug Fields, 23, of Irvine and Todd Temple, 26, a former Newport Beach resident now living in El Cajon--are the following:
- Waiting for a rainy day and going foraging for puddles to jump in.
- Climbing up on the roof to watch the sun rise.
- Going to the fathers' lounge of a hospital maternity ward and watching TV.
- Touring a barbed-wire factory.
- Having a watermelon seed spitting contest.
- Spending an evening browsing around hotels ( not , it should be noted, checking in).
- Building battleships out of paper, floating them in the toilet bowl and sinking them with bits of wadded tissue launched with spoon catapults.
- Seeing who can make a complete circuit of the house without feet touching floor; specifically, walking on the furniture.
- Asking a prospective date out by way of a board room presentation complete with graphs, charts, cost analysis and a pointer.
- Saying "I love you" by throwing dirt clods or snowballs against your date's garage until it spells out the words.
Strangely, some of this stuff sounds like it could be fun. Why, for instance, should the cat be the only one to have a good time walking on the furniture? Also, puddle jumping can be a nice catharsis. And how do they make barbed wire, anyway?
But you have to know each other pretty well to get away with foolishness like that, which undoubtedly accounts for Fields' and Temple's urgings that dating not be limited to the single, that married people should be able to "experience the thrill of dating."
Fields, who works with high school students at South Coast Community Church in Irvine, said he and Temple, who runs personal growth seminars for high school students, used to "get together late at night in restaurants over iced tea" and play a game of can-you-top-this with dating ideas.
The "philosophy" behind the book, said Fields, holds that "you can pick it up and read it if you just want to laugh, or you can pick it up on Friday afternoon if you need an idea for a date."
"We got real outrageous with some of the ideas," he said, "but we figure that even if people don't think they can do something like that exactly, they can do something similar to it--not go quite as far as we do, but in the same direction."
Actually, the book may end up serving a useful dual purpose. For the established couple, whose idea of a night of wild abandon is take-out burgers and television, an evening of strolling around in the lobbies of the Meridien, the Marriott and the Hilton (and maybe, just for the heck of it, checking in) might well revitalize the relationship.
For those palpitating first-nighters, however, for whom the terror of early dating has become almost comfortably familiar, Fields and Temple have several suggestions that should get the old adrenalin pumping, likely out of sheer astonishment.
The barbed wire factory should do nicely.