The Dating Game

I didn’t date much in my early twenties. Dating was for girls who wanted to settle down, get married and raise children, and none of these things was part of my plans. I would rather dance the night away with my friends at some seedy new wave club in downtown Detroit than spend an evening that most likely would go nowhere with some guy I barely knew.

Dating was not my scene.

Nevertheless, at 22, I found myself in an audience of young, single women on a Detroit morning TV show. The men on the “Kelly & Company” stage had been voted Michigan’s 20 most eligible bachelors out of a pool of 1,000 applicants, and we, the audience, were their potential dates for a group luncheon cruise on the Detroit River.

Unlike the other women in the audience, I hadn’t chosen to be there. I didn’t buy a ticket or win a seat. I was the assistant editor of the magazine cosponsoring the event, and my boss had requested that I go. It was my first job out of college and, even at my most idealistic and militantly feminist, I knew I was lucky to have it.

So there I sat in the studio audience, hoping desperately that none of the bachelors on stage would notice, let alone pick, me. I had abandoned my loud, funky post-punk wardrobe that day for a modest paisley blouse and long skirt, borrowed pearls, and sensible navy blue hose and pumps. I was dressed for a job interview, not a date. My goal was to blend into the walls of the television studio, and I thought I was doing a fine job.

Meanwhile, in the seat next to me was another young woman from my office, a sales assistant in a short red skirt, her shiny black curls and pink lips glistening under the studio lights. She hooted and hollered as the guys chose their dates, while I nonchalantly slumped further into my seat. I was sure all eyes would be drawn to hoot-and-holler girl or any of the other brightly dressed, heavily lip-glossed women surrounding me. I was safe, I thought.

But then something terrifying happened. One of the men on stage made eye contact with me. At first I thought I was mistaken, so I quickly looked away. When I glanced back, he was staring directly at me.

“I am a photographer,” he told the show’s cohost, Marilyn Turner. “And the eyes are the windows to the soul.”

My cheeks reddened and my heart pounded, but it was not out of newfound passion.

“Holy crap,” I mumbled to hoot-and-holler girl, praying he was looking at her and not me. She started to squeal, and I sighed with relief. It was like going to a concert and thinking the lead singer is singing to you. Only this time I was really happy he was singing to my friend.

Hoot-and-holler girl shrieked again suddenly and grabbed my arm. “He picked YOU, Kathleen! He picked YOU!”

And she was right. He was pointing directly at me, the sensible feminist in borrowed pearls and navy blue pumps. If the eyes were the windows to the soul, he really needed a pair of glasses.

I went on the group date with Picture Guy, and it was predictably painful. During the limo ride to the Detroit River, he bragged about his photography and made worrisome comments about his living situation. A man who took himself too seriously and lived with his parents was not on my personal list of most eligible bachelors. Did I mention he liked pop music?

I had an out, though, and thankfully it didn’t involve swimming to shore from the cruise ship. Since I worked for the magazine cosponsoring the contest, I was obligated to talk to the other bachelors, or at least that’s what I politely told Picture Guy.

Too bad Lenny and Squiggy weren't on the boat.

After lunch I wandered around the ship, drank champagne and made awkward small talk. I had no expectations; I just wanted to get away from my boorish date. To my surprise, I met someone remotely interesting as I made my rounds. Lawyer Dude was as apathetic about the contest as I was and mocked it openly. He was sarcastic and had a sense of humor, and he was a music fanatic. When he asked for my number, I didn’t say no. But I was sure not to slip it to him in front of Picture Guy, whose calls I already knew I would never return.

We went out a few times, Lawyer Dude and I, but there was a generation of musical distance, not to mention life experience, separating us. During a heated discussion of the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” for example, he championed the album fervently while I, who had never even listened to the whole thing, wrote it off as dinosaur rock.

Sometimes age makes exceptions for youth. In this case, it never called her again.

It was OK, though. Youth was quite happy dancing the night away with her friends.

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38 thoughts on “The Dating Game

  1. Wow, what an uncomfortable position to be in for work! And I’m glad that something good came out of it — even if it was an appreciation for your freedom!

    • Thanks, Louise. That means a lot coming from a wonderful storyteller such as yourself.

      I’ve always felt that life requires a soundtrack. It’s up to us how high we turn up the volume.

  2. What a fun job! I felt old, though, when I was reading about you dancing in seedy Michigan clubs– like a mom, I hoped you were safe. Anyway, what an awesome job. Love your musical bottom lines. And this line: I had abandoned my loud, funky post-punk wardrobe that day for a modest paisley blouse and long skirt, borrowed pearls, and sensible navy blue hose and pumps. SO GOOD. Loved the post.

    • Thanks, Christie! It was a great job. My first boss was my mentor, hero and friend. I learned so much from her — including when to suck it up and take one for the team.

  3. WHAT a pick-up line?? How did you not just crack up in his face? Oh man, I feel for you. That date sounds sooo awkward. And I’m kinda the queen of awkward social outings. 🙂

    • He was unbelievable. I dug out the magazine to look at his smug picture and just cracked up all over again. There were a few nice guys in the bunch, but many of them, as you would expect, were egotistical fools. I mean, really, who willingly participates in an eligible bachelor contest?

  4. I am just copying and pasting this first part. Sorry … I promise you will only have to endure it once. I’m Angela — new to blogging and new to yeah write. But, not new to writing. Until becoming unemployed this June (effin’ Scott Walker … oops!), I taught high school English and Creative Writing was one of those courses. So, long story short: I will always have lots to say. Feel free to curse at me if you don’t want to hear all my feedback. If you want more, let me know that too. I will glady offer even further feedback, but I’m not interested in pissing anyone off my first time on the grid. Now, on to your post …
    Being on a dating show sounds totally awful, and I LOVE the figurative language that you use to describe the situation. “Predictably painful” is awesome alliteration (see what I did there, huh? smiley face.) The story is really complete and cohesive, and you get a strong sense of who you are as an individual. I really think music is such an important current that ties people together. I once broke up with a guy by saying, “This will never work. You like the song ‘She thinks my tractor’s sexy.” He said, “Really? You’re breaking me up with me just because I’m a Kenny Chesney fan?” I explained no, but his appreciation of that song showed how very different we were because he wore Carharrt and I work Converse. It would clearly never work. Okay, I’m sure you appreciated the random story. That aside, I enjoyed your post!

    • Thanks, Michelle! It happened so long ago that I had kind of forgotten about it. As a 44-year-old, I can truly appreciate the ridiculousness of it all, but at 22, it was just a wee bit horrifying.

  5. Okay, now for a man’s perspective. What I found most interesting was your assumption that your over done friend would found more attractive than a demurely dressed woman.

  6. I loved this post! For a second, I was sure the post was going to end with you married to the lawyer. But I’m so glad you ended it the way you did. I liked that it went somewhere just a little unpredictable. Well done!

  7. What a story to tell! I love your writing here – the narrative, the details and your strong sense of self. A thoroughly enjoyable read! Well done.

    Reading this reminded me of a radio dating contest my former roommates and I won a long, long time ago. I haven’t thought about that debacle in years!!

  8. I would have rolled over and died. I love the line about him needing glasses. And cheers from another militant feminist for surviving the date from hell and getting something good out of it.

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