Monday, February 01, 2010

My first date

As I have no particular ideas for a blog topic today, I'm digging out an anecdote from my youth that might shed a bit of light on me. It's the story of my first date, and then, many many years later, realizing that it had been a date.

I was always shy and also I was two years younger than my classmates, due to being pushed ahead a grade in elementary school plus having a July birthday. Combine that with the usual social isolation of being the smartest kid in almost every class I was in, at least until high school where they started to sort the kids out into "gifted and talented" classes and the like (and even then being one of the tops), and I was pretty socially inept. (Those who know me are probably chuckling at the past tense in that sentence. Believe me, I was far worse then than now, as this story might help to demonstrate.)

In my junior year (I was 15) I and one other teammate on the Math Team (I don't dare call us "mathletes," as the term was then, since even then I knew how corny that was) had qualified for the state finals. Math Team was barely funded; all we got was some bus trips on weekends, and a bit of photocopying, and that's it. No coverage for state finals for either transportation or lodging; if we got that far, it was our problem to deal with it. And the same was true for math teams all over the state, so whoever happened to be hosting the finals tended to do all they could to accomodate their guests. That included getting teammates (and their friends) to ask their families to put up the visiting math team members for the couple of days of the competition.

David and I got billeted at the home of one of the local math team members and her family was even kind enough to invite us to their meals. Their house wasn't very large and fitting in two guests was a strain, more than I realized at the time, and I wish I could retroactively express more appreciation than I did then.

It seemed like more of the same hospitality when the math team member whose family was hosting us, invited David and I to go out with her and a friend of hers to some kind of party that was going on at the school that night. We certainly had nothing else to be doing, being on our own in an unfamiliar town. I remember thinking, maybe they're just getting us back out of the house, so it'd only be polite to go ahead.

We went to the school gymnasium where we listened to a band, presumably of students from the school, massacre a variety of classic rock standards. Their rendition of Baba O'Riley still haunts me as the worst musical performance I ever heard. There wasn't really any dancing, perhaps because of how out of rhythm the band was, or perhaps because there wasn't room. We hung out there for a while and chatted mostly about our schools and math team and the music. I didn't realize it at the time, but of the two girls, one of them (the math team member whose home we were staying at) kept standing nearer to me, while her friend stood mostly near David. If that even occurred to me then I would probably have thought it was because of heights (David was a little taller than me, and the two girls were about the same heights as us).

After the band had done as much damage to music as we could stand, we took off for a nearby Friendly's where we had some ice cream. It didn't even register in the tiny little "social niceties" part of my brain how the girls seated us in the booth in the same pairings as before. Being both oblivious, and pleasantly egalitarian, I reacted not at all to the coincidence of them being female: they were just math team peers, and there was no reason to treat math team peers differently based on gender.

When we'd sat and chatted pleasantly long enough and eaten our ice cream (each of us paying for our own) we were brought back "home" where we turned in for the evening. So far as I know, David and the taller girl didn't do any canoodling -- if they had, I might have realized right then that it was a date. But I didn't.

In my defense, those activities would have been perfectly innocuously appropriate things for peers to do to welcome other peers to their town and show some hospitality. If the people putting us up had happened to be boys and we'd done the same things it would have seemed entirely suitable (and I don't mean in the "homoerotic overtones" sense, but even to prudish folk). But those were also suitable activities to be a date.

Thinking back on it more than ten years later, what made me think it was actually a date is more the way the two girls managed to keep arranging to be standing near the same one of us, the shorter one near me, the taller one near David, and then arranged us to be sitting the same way at Friendly's. My memories of the night are hazy otherwise, with the blurring of time (I can't even remember "my" date's name, and can only describe her in general terms -- short, dark hair to just past the shoulders, pretty face, hazel eyes, not fully come into curves yet). But in hindsight, some of her physical mannerisms, where she looked, etc. seem like they might have been vaguely flirtatious or at least welcoming of reciprocal attention -- in a nutshell, that she was paying attention more to me than to us.

On realizing it was a date, I hoped my total obliviousness wasn't rude or hurtful or anything. I don't imagine "my" date was heartbroken or even upset; she probably never even gave the night another thought after it was over. (And how much investment could she have had in a boy she knew would be going back to deepest darkest Lawn Guyland in two days anyway?) But she might have been hoping for some kind of reaction or expression of interest or appreciation. If it's any consolation to her, had I had the slightest glimmer of the date nature of the night, I would certainly have frozen up in shyness and been completely non-reactive, or not have gone at all, so at least we had a pleasant evening between peers.

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