Well, my friends. It is officially cuffing season: that autumnal time of year when those in the casual dating scene begin to look for a mate — if only temporary — to keep them warm and entertained during the imminent winter season. The thing about dating is that drinking is such a part of it. “A drink” is often the first step in courtship, but what if you don’t drink? The below is a story Julia Bainbridge wrote for Man Repeller, published last October.
First dates normally present an awkward moment or two. To buy myself a little time in order to deal with the awkward moment or two, I reach for a glass and sip. The contents of that glass, after around ten such sips, normally help dilute this particular kind of anxiety, thus removing the need to buy a little more time, thus stimulating the flow of conversation. Normally.
After twelve legal years of drinking alcohol on dates, though, I’ve stopped drinking altogether. “Normal” is gone with the wine.
The challenges of hopefully romantic evenings spent with strangers aren’t gone, mind you, but my coping mechanism is. A cocktail or two is the way many of us soften the edges of evenings spent looking for love in all the wrong places. We rely on alcohol such that, upon hearing that I endure dates without it — yes, at bars and restaurants, and yes, while the men drink if they want to — people’s jaws unhinge.
The first couple times out of the gate were admittedly wonky, but with some practice, my level of discomfort waned, and I even grew to accept the presence of a little wonk. I learned to get in front of the problem, suggesting walks in parks or brunch instead of dinner, which most men found refreshing.
Then came someone I thought I might like. Let’s call him Jason.* Jason invited me to his apartment for a third date. He seared trout and steamed couscous, and, once we were full and our feet were up on the couch, he tried to kiss me. This was a plausible thing to try to do at this point, but I stiffened up. As he hovered over me waiting for my body language to change, my lips, I swear, curled into my mouth, like snails retreating into their protective shells. While I didn’t quite understand what was going on, I kindly explained that I felt a little uncomfortable, which was the only thing I knew to be true at the time. Jason froze, and I could tell the night was over. I thanked him for dinner, took myself home, and didn’t hear from him for days. When I asked for an explanation for the silence, this is what I received, via text message:
“You seem to be going through a transition in your life — not to mention that was one of the most awkward kisses I have ever experienced — and I just don’t know if I have the patience or the want to support you through it.”
That’s fair. I was — I am — going through a transition in life, one that makes me unsure of how to paint my portrait for others, which is what you’re supposed to do on dates. Courtship is a chess game of personal information sharing. His move: What are you looking for right now? My move: Are you close to your mother? His move: What do you love about writing? My move: How long have you had your dog? And so on. Right now, many of those question marks are met with more question marks from me, which makes gauging interest in this woman difficult for the man seated across from her at some cozy two-top.
The comment about the kiss, though? It had been an embarrassing moment for both of us, and Jason turned it into an embarrassing moment for me. With his language, he torqued our shared experience into something that he was subject to at my hand. What a bully. What a baby!
And there’s the thing: I know that’s why I seized up when someone whose lips I wasn’t so sure about letting touch mine advanced towards them. I sensed it already, Jason’s dickishness, and I was able to listen to that sense because I was sober. If I had been two drinks in, I might have indulged him a little; I might have even sailed a hand up his thigh. Alcohol tends to put me on a kind of vixen autopilot in situations like that. Remove it, and you get me: a little awkward, very much in transition, but me. Things may be confusing, but I’m honest about that, most importantly with myself.
I’ll drink again at some point, and I’ll drink on dates again. I’ll enjoy it, too. But right now, I’m leaning into the discomfort. The wine is gone, but so is the haze it brings with it.
*His real name is Jason. Fuck you, Jason!