Posted by Cecilia Leger on 11:28 AM
“War of the Roses,” I say when he asks me to name my favorite romantic movie. His smile falters and he cocks his head to the side, perplexed. I know I’ve gone off script. The right answer on a first date is something along the lines of You’ve Got Mail, but I took a gamble that he meant it when he said he wanted to get to know me better.
He decides I’m joking, and he chuckles. He leans in across the table as if we’re conspirators sharing a deep secret, then confides, “I’m a sucker for a good romance. ” My internal bullshit meter is sending up flares of red alert.
I smile and sip my water. Already I know the date is over and we haven’t even ordered. Why in the world did I let my mother guilt me into this?
“Kate is a beautiful name,” he says. “It suits you. Tell me, why is such a beautiful woman still single?”
Because men are scum, I want to say, not that I’m bitter or anything.
A vision of my mother flashes: a mixture of wariness and hope in her expression. She’d come over earlier to the apartment I share with my sister to give me a pep talk, following me relentlessly as I got ready. “Mark is such a catch! You’re just going to love him.” I give her a look and she rephrases. “I thought he was absolutely charming. And he really needs someone to show him around town, help him get back into the dating game, you know. He said right away how much he wanted to meet you when I showed him your picture. Did I tell you he’s a lawyer?”
“Did you check his teeth?”
My sister snorts, but my mother sighs heavily and frowns. “All I’m saying is that you’re 39 and never been married. You could do worse.”
By worse she means I could stay single.
She stops me in the middle of putting on an earring, intent on making a point. “Katie, just try. Don’t be so closed off all the time. Please. For me. Just try.” She holds out the prospect of Mark to me like I’m a five year old who doesn’t want to eat her spinach.
I look over at my sister, the rebel in the family and so free from my mother’s machinations. She smiles knowingly at me and says, “She means, don’t turn into me.”
Remembering my spunky sister makes me smile. Mark, believing I’m flattered that he’s called me beautiful, relaxes back against his seat, encouraged. I’ve been through enough first dates to know the rules and the stakes.
“So, Mark,” I say. “Mom tells me you’re a patent lawyer. That sounds fascinating. Tell me all about your work.”
Pleased, he begins at the top of his resume, glad I’ve made it easy for him to impress me. I lean in and keep my eyes unwaveringly on his face, nodding my encouragement, asking a few questions when I think he needs to be wound up again. This keeps him talking so I can be free to think.
What I’m doing isn’t fair, I know.
I take good stock of him: 45, lean build, a little graying at the temple but no receding hairline. He is intelligent, responsibly employed, articulate. His greeting card compliments make me cringe, and I’m bored with the inane first date conversation, but I give him a pass because I know he’s just doing what is safe. Besides, I know my cynicism makes me judge him much harsher than I would have a scant few years ago. He’s probably a nice guy. My mother’s right. I could do worse.
Except that I don’t think I have the energy to do this all again, this delicate masquerade dance. I look across the table and feel the weight of all the dates we might have had. And I realize I want out.
At the end of the evening, I am genuine when I tell Mark thanks; definite when I decline an invitation for a second date.
I could do worse is not enough to take a risk, to make the effort.