As in any other kind of human interaction, all kinds of things can go wrong during the dating process. Someone met for the first time can turn out to be any sort of person: an imposter, philanderer, criminal, bigamist, homicidal maniac, etc. The connections between two people can fail because of intervening acts of nature: accidents, illnesses, persons relocating unexpectedly from one end of the country to the other. Other people can intervene: parents, friends, even therapists. Sometimes the world seems to contrive to interfere in certain relationships. All of this is commonplace. Simply being alive risks certain dangers. No special strategy can be developed to cope with the multitude of possible things that can go wrong.
I admit up front that it is possible in the dating process to get involved with bad people who set out to take advantage of the people they meet. This is true of any relationship. I want to talk here about the more mundane things that go wrong typically in dating. I am not counting dates where one person does not show up at all. They can scarcely be counted as dates. I am thinking of things that not only can go wrong; but routinely do go wrong. These examples fall under the heading of a really bad date. How does one go about recovering from a really bad date?
This brief list can be extended indefinitely. It includes instances where someone was ill-behaved by being boorish, seductive to others, rude or just plain oblivious. And by being rejecting. Everybody has had a “worst date,” and I think many of us at some time or other have been somebody else’s “worst date.” This is my own candidate for “worst date of the year.”
It was a long time ago. I was fixed up with a blind date for a big party weekend at Princeton. Blind dates were not unusual since there were no women at Princeton University at the time; and we were not choosy. I forget the name of this particular woman, who became known in club lore as “the blotter” because of all the liquor she could absorb. By the end of dinner Saturday night she had vomited all over herself. She decided to take a shower in order to look more presentable, and chose to keep her clothes on while showering for the sake of modesty. “Presentable” is the wrong word here; but in the general hilarity of a party weekend, she did not seem terribly out of place.
When she was able to walk, we strolled down Prospect Avenue stopping at each of the clubs—which is what everyone did. I do not remember how much more my date drank, since I was not keeping track, but I remember her throwing up a couple of times more. At some point, for reasons I have never understood, she decided to take off her shoes while she walked from club to club. She started screaming suddenly—I thought a new manifestation of high spirits—but it turned out she had stepped on a piece of a broken beer bottle. Most of the rest of the evening was spent in the infirmary where she was stitched up.
What sets this date apart in my memory—apart from all of my other dates who got drunk and lacerated themselves—was what happened when I half-carried her back to the club. Since women were not allowed in the students’ rooms after seven o’clock, (on the theory that sexual misbehavior was limited to those hours) all the weekend dates slept at the club. When it came time to drop the girls off, all the students kissed them good night. I did not feel in the mood just then to kiss my date, who was still wet and bloody, and still smelled from vomit; but I did not want her to feel bad. I leaned forward to kiss her, and she turned her cheek! Evidently I did not measure up to her standards, and she did not wish to encourage me.
On the way back to my room, not entirely sober myself, I found myself laughing. I was not sure which of the two of us had been more ridiculous.
Most of the stories about bad dates I hear about from patients are not quite the same as those mentioned above. Typically some unpleasant, and usually unappealing, person was rude to my patient, who took that behavior very seriously and was upset. Often, the patients would endlessly ponder just what they might have done to be treated so disrespectfully. On the other hand, all the examples I have chosen to list above were, at worst, irritating to the person who had to put up with the bad date. Often, they reported to me later on that they were amused.
There is a moral to these stories, most obvious, I think, in my own story. Just because some second-rate person looks down on you, or rejects you, it doesn’t mean you are no good! You are not third-rate because someone who is second-rate finds you not up to his/her standards. What it means is that that person’s opinion is not worth anything. What goes on between people who date is largely arbitrary and idiosyncratic, anyway. Some people will like you and some won’t. When you run into one of those who do not like you, and that person chooses to be unpleasant on the date, you need not stop to wonder why. There is no good reason.