The summer finds me no longer lightly turning my fancy to thoughts of love as I did in the spring.
Rather, it sends me wondering how those mid-May romantic promises evaporated into hot air.
To this end, I'm finding solace in the Turner Classic Movies Channel where 1950s flicks show me my courting blunders are not entirely my fault. Those films prove dating used to be much simpler than today.
Now, maybe Warner Bros. has been less than fully honest with me, but as I understand it, it used to involve a drive-?in movie and something called a malted, and was meant to lead eventually to a kiss.
Afterwards, the girl became "his girl," and everyone knew what that meant. Of course, what I've gleaned only applies to straight males who wore hats. Nevertheless, I think I can safely conclude that courting rituals today are vastly more cryptic.
We 20-?somethings do not go on "dates." We go for coffee or, if feeling particularly confident, a drink. Coffee seems to imply relatively nothing. This is the genius of it.
To further distance ourselves from the premise that we are actually attracted to another person, invites to "have coffee" can be prefaced by words like "um" and "you know," and/or punctuated by the postscript "sometime."
The steps leading up to such invitations have reached a level of ambiguity that can only be called advanced.
Not so long ago, if you invited someone to have a coffee, you would then ask for a phone number. But if you were a man, that was a little risky since seeking permission to penetrate a woman's home by voice (aside from phrasing it that way) may have seemed a tad creepy, due to a certain cultural stigma around men making phone calls. Think Scream, Dial M For Murder and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Still, the phone number, until recently, was an important step toward the coffee or drink, which we could now refer to as "crink." It used to be basically impossible to score crink without a number. Young straight males were pretty pleased with ourselves when we wrested those digits. High-fives may have been involved.
Then one day in, the unthinkable happened: I was given an e-mail address instead of a phone number. What did this mean? My friends began to admit they, too, were getting the same deal. It was probably then that I realized women were and always will be more clever than me.
I really think the story of dating should have stopped there with the e-mails. I thought we had reached the pinnacle of non-?commitment, but we couldn't stop. We were hungry for more ambiguity, more indirectness. If you want to see a picture of the future, imagine a person shrugging - forever.
In the present, rapidly slipping away as I write this, Facebook allows for even less clarity and more opportunities to avoid admitting you actually might like someone, pretty much the most uncool sentiment there is.
The other night, I met a woman and thought of asking for her number or e-mail or even if she would like to, um, you know, have coffee sometime, but instead thought to myself, "Why go through all that when I can just make a Facebook friend request?"
Actually, I'm not really sure I want the relationship, I just want to stop going for coffee and having a drink. This could explain the popularity of Lavalife and other Internet dating services. It seems just about right that to escape the irritating ambiguities of dating, a third party, a faceless corporation is required.
I have considered this route myself. I've even considered just being upfront and direct with women I'm interested in, but that seems like something only characters portrayed by John Cusack in the 80s are capable of. Besides, I remember high school all too clearly.
The entire discourse of "dating" today reminds me of what Roland Barthes said of text when he proclaimed the death of the author: "Everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered; the structure can be followed, ‘run' (like the thread of a stocking) at every point and at every level, but there is nothing beneath."
The reader, said Barthes, is the only authority. And since we now seem to announce our romantic intentions, which may not be romantic intentions, through text open to the reader's interpretation alone, the same can be said of dating in the early 21st century.
Okay, it seems a little overdramatic to claim the death of dating or the death of the dater. The dater is not dead, might actually be alive, but mostly, um, you know, could go either way.