Thursday, November 04, 2010

Top Five Things That Can Go Wrong On A Date

My pal DD borrowed my 'Great Dating Disasters' theme for her radio show on relationships a few weeks back.  Unfortunately, she didn't feel that the topic had the legs in it for a whole show, and jettisoned it only about a third of the way in, in favour of interrogating her poor guests more closely about their own love lives.

However, this got me thinking about the topic some more, wondering if I could categorize the various types of possible disaster for one of my 'Top Five' lists.

An American friend of mine, counselling the need for perspective in these matters, used to say: "It's not a bad date if you don't end up in handcuffs.  In handcuffs in the back of a cop car, that is.  Obviously, ending up in handcuffs could be a very good date..."

An even worse example of the extreme end of the spectrum that occurred to me was the Stephen Waldorf incident, a notoriously botched police raid that was a huge news story in the UK around the time I was starting university back the '80s.  OK, it might not have been a 'date' as such, but this guy was in a car with a young lady whom the police had under surveillance because they believed her to be romantically involved with a dangerous criminal who had recently escaped from custody (a guy who had twice shot at police officers attempting to arrest him earlier in the year).  The police, not unnaturally rather jumpy about this manhunt, mistakenly identified poor Waldorf as the escaped prisoner - and shot him full of holes.  He survived, and eventually made a full recovery - but it was a horrific episode.  Since then, I often think to myself, if I don't end up in hospital on a life-support machine, it hasn't been a bad date.

Anyway, let's get on with the list....

Top Five Things That Can Go Wrong On A Date

5)  One or both of you are running badly late.
This is a particular problem for us here in Beijing - which is a rather spread-out city, with still rather limited coverage by the subway network, and some of the most horrendous traffic in the world.  Moving across the CBD in the early evening can be hellishly SLOW.  And cabs can be in very short supply at peak periods (an awful lot of drivers go off shift at around 7.30pm - really!).  However, I wonder if this isn't a problem that's been created - or exacerbated - by the universal adoption of mobile phones.  In the bad old days when we usually had no way to contact someone we'd arranged to meet once we'd both left our home or office... well, we had to make more of an effort to make bloody well sure we'd make the rendezvous on time.  Now, I'm prepared to be tolerant if you're just a little late, or if you've suffered really exceptional bad luck; but if you just didn't anticipate that it might take 45 minutes to get from Wudaokou to Sanlitun on a Saturday evening... well, I'm going to be inclined to think that you are at best inconsiderate, and at worst extraordinarily stupid.  And you should think the same of me if I screw up that much.  If you've been in this city any length of time at all, it's really not difficult to estimate the likely travelling times from one district to another in different traffic conditions.  C'est la politesse des princes.

4)  The service ruins the evening.
Of course, you should try not to let the externals ruin the evening.  The evening should be about you and your companion, your conversation, the chemistry between you.  But the circumstances in which you are trying to have your conversation will inevitably have some impact, possibly a really huge impact on how enjoyable the evening is.  And we do live in the country - the city - with possibly the worst customer service in the world.  Really - yes, it's got a lot better in the last 5 or 6 years, but it's still TERRIBLE.  And you're never completely immune from the risk of such a bad experience: even in a place with foreign management, even in a place that usually has high standards, even in a place you think you can rely on... there may be new staff, the manager may be bunking off for the night, perhaps the chef's girlfriend has just left him... bad things can happen at any time.  The possibility of outrageous incompetence - and occasional violent psychosis - from your serving staff is a constant threat in Beijing.

3)  You run into a bunch of friends.
In my famous (?) series of posts on 'Dating in Beijing' a few years back, I noted that one of the biggest obstacles to getting a relationship off the ground here in Beijing was what I termed "a hothouse intimacy".  Despite the proliferation of foreigner-friendly venues in recent years, there are still only a relatively small number that are very good - or very popular - at any given time.  And we expats tend to have large and overlapping circles of friends and acquaintances.  It really is pretty difficult to go out anywhere in 'laowai Beijing' without running into someone you know.  It can thus be next to impossible to cultivate a one-on-one relationship with a member of the opposite sex, because you can never get any time alone together.  I suppose the very worst variation of this would be running into an ex (that very nearly happened to me the last time I went on a date, a few months back!).  No, the very worst would probably be running into one of her exes.

2)  Unsuspected incompatibilities.
Or... the badly chosen date venue.  I have recounted on here before the sorry tale of the young woman I took to a gig by top Beijing punk band, SUBS.  Ideally, planning a date should be a matter of negotiation, of establishing shared interests.  But sometimes... you make a suggestion, and the lady acquiesces "just to be nice" - and you find out too late that she's absolutely going to HATE it.  And I seem to dislike a lot of things that most other people like.  My interest in a woman has cooled very rapidly when she's suggested going to one of the bars on my 'Hate List' for an after-dinner drink.

And topping off this list we have.....

1)  The chemistry just isn't there.
Even if no gross incompatibilities of taste or opinion emerge... sometimes there's just no spark.  I suppose this is more of a danger on a blind date, and I never really do those (well, I've gone on two in my entire life; and they both went astonishingly well!).  However, sometimes there seems to be at least a little chemistry there on first meetings, and you think - hope - that more could develop.  Then, suddenly, out on a date.... you discover a dismal, catastrophic, total absence of chemistry.  Maybe you should persevere anyway; maybe it's just temporarily absent (she's had a rotten day at work, received some bad news from home, had to put up with a really horrible cabbie on the way over here)?  More probably you were mistaken, deluded about the potential in this relationship at the outset... and there really is NO HOPE.  But does she feel the same way?  And, even if she does, perhaps she's still hoping to get a jump out of the evening?  It's wretched, WRETCHED to be in this sort of situation, wondering how quickly you can extricate yourself without hurting her feelings.

Of course, I have omitted the more extreme possibilities - what we might call the 'Act of God' dating disasters, where random external circumstances contrive to give you a hellish time even though you and your date may be getting along splendidly together: muggings or lost wallets; extreme weather (snow or heavy rain in Beijing is a miserable experience; and we suffer sandstorms and toxic smog too); earthquake, fire, riot... or being attacked by a squad of armed policemen.  I once had a date melt down on me because she'd just discovered (as in, an hour before she came out to see me) that her ex was about to get married to his previous ex (with whom he had evidently never completely broken up, despite living with my date for three years)  -  yep, that was really ugly.  But such calamities are, mercifully, rather rare; and I wanted to focus here on the more generic.  Do you think there's anything I missed?

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