Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Friday, February 10, 2006


Valentine's Day is upon us, and as someone who's alone for the first time in a long while, I have to ask:

How do people date? I mean, how do they do it?

How do you walk into a room where you don't know anybody, and with such a presumptuous attitude that you actually intend to foist yourself onto a total stranger and make demands on his/her attention? And even assuming you're that arrogant, how do you stand to listen to the idle conversation of a total stranger?

That's the part that always gets me--it's not that other people are boring, inherently--OK, they are, mostly, but I only think that because I'm a misanthropic pr**k, so presumably this bias doesn't apply to most--but what the hell can two total strangers have to say to one another? The stereotype of talking about the weather has a ring of truth to it--it's just about the only common experience two people can be certain of. I don't get it. Other people are boring. It's not their fault, but they are. You don't know what this other person thinks, or believes, and you don't want to tick him/her off, so you stick to the most bland and innocuous of subjects, which is like slogging your way through a meal of dry toast and tapwater. Plus there's the awkward moment when one or both of you realize that the other person is A. a nut, B. a pervert, C. a bigot, D. 'born again', E.--you know what? I could go through the alphabet and have to start on Greek letters. It's all so...improbable, enjoying the company of a stranger enough to want to see him/her again.

Or maybe it's just a skill I've never learned. My relationships--and despite my advanced, borderline decrepit age, there have been damned few of them--have all been based on long-standing aquaintance. Women I'd known for months, or even years, and so already knew that I was in some sense 'right for' and vice versa. I can't imagine 'getting to know' someone while under the pressure of being out on a date, which is strenuous enough, what with the pretending to be the best version of yourself even if no such version exists, and trying at the same time to see past the mask of the other person's false persona to the real, grungy truth underneath. Plus trying to have a good time. And when you include the little dance of sex--incremental steps towards an event you both really want and are both so nervous about that you'd just as soon forget that it's a possibility--jeez, never mind how do people do it, why do people do it?

Oh, God--I'm going to die alone, one of those deaths where the neighbors have to notice the smell before anyone finds the body. OK, bring on Valentine's Day--I'm in the right frame of mind for it, now.


Blogger phd me said...

When you figure this out, let me know. My few relationships have all started as friendships. I've never really done the "date a stranger to see if it might turn into something" game. And according to my friends, I would really suck at it.

Case in point: latest encounter with man at our local hangout. Man strikes up conversation, I return banalities. Man asks what I do, I tell him. Man tells me that academics have it easy; after the first two or three years, there's no stress like there is in the business world. I say "bullshit" and laugh in his face.

Friend explains to me this is not the way to entice a man. This? This is what I get to entice? So unfair.

12:35 PM  
Blogger post-doc said...

That's OK - I'm going to die alone too. We have cool things in common!

While abd me cracked me up, I so beat both of you in the dating experience field. Not only have I done the match.com thing, I also joined a dating service in my second year of grad school. So I went out on at least 15 blind dates within 2 years. I have wonderful stories, none of which I've been able to post since I inevitably come off sounding picky and mean.

The short answer is, I'm going to die alone because I can't do it anymore. While you do come across some cool people, it is mostly a nerve-wracking, painful, interview-like process. Awful beyond words.

But you, darling Dryden, are one of my very favorite people online. So I hope that you find someone who makes you laugh and think and crave her company. But in some weird way, it makes me feel less pathetic to know that other people I think are beyond amazing are also alone on Valentine's Day. So just tell yourself you're dateless to help me out.

Thanks a lot!

2:20 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Don't worry, sweetie. If you stop posting, we'll call and check on you.

9:43 PM  
Blogger La Lecturess said...

Yeah, I never figured out the dating thing, either. The tepid date with someone from work, I could manage. The complicated friendship? That too. The random hookup that never went any further? Oh yes. But the only time the meeting-someone-randomly-and-striking-up-conversation thing worked for me was at a party thrown by a friend of a friend of a friend--none of them people I'd ever worked with, gone to school with, or had any of the usual connections with.

I was happily drunk, talking with some friends, when I overheard the guy behind me, whom I'd vaguely noted as cute, say to someone, "well, as we used to say...[expression unlikely to be uttered by anyone other than a graduate of my alma mater]."

I whirled around, grabbed his arm, and said, "WHERE did you go to college?" I continued to interrogate him for some five minutes, not really noticing that I totally interrupted and ended the conversation he was actually involved in, and also not thinking to introduce myself. Apparently, he found this appealing rather than obnoxious (a good sign), and it turned out that we knew a couple of people in common. This gave us something to talk about, I suppose, but he was also a genuinely interesting person.

Did it work out? Well, uh--we had a number of great dates. But that was the Summer of Self-Destruction (there were, actually, some five years that could be categorized thusly), what with the hooking up with the ex with the live-in girlfriend, the blacking out at weddings in small midwestern towns, the being picked up by the local uni's campus police the night I couldn't find my way back to my sublet--yeah. So it sort of, you could say, petered out.

Anyway, that excessive autobiographical revelation out of the way, I think what I'm saying here is that it IS improbable, but it does happen, and that your worst enemy is surely yourself. The average educated, literate woman digs the English/theatre prof schtick, and your line of work would lead naturally, I'd think, into a discussion of books and movies and whatnot that would allow you to guage whether this person is actually worthwhile or a good match.

11:43 AM  

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