Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Awkward first date conversation ... with another man.

A few weeks ago, I was placed in the situation of making chatty introductory conversation one-on-one with men I had never met before. While it certainly wasn't for a "date", it had all the awkward feel of one. On our own in the kitchen, both of our female companions had vanished and left us staring at the floor in awkward silence.

I was the first to arrive at the party, resulting from my continued inability to calculate how long it should take me to drive from one end of the city to another. The hostess and I had a few brief minutes to sit and talk, which was pleasant: she and I seldom cross paths now and we enjoy the speed of each others' thinking. We talked about her boyfriend's job search and the upcoming trip she was taking.

Being conversational, I asked about one of her friends upcoming business ventures -- something like a beauty salon, but younger and hipper than the image of Fifties-era housewives in conical hairdryers. The hostess demurely explains that the plans are on hold, owing to the suicide attempt of the would-be proprietress. "Oh!" say I, genuinely shocked at both the attempted deed and at the strange place the conversation had found itself.

First to arrive at the party was a friend of mine, who had brought her current "friend" with her. I say that in quotation marks because they hadn't dated long enough to actually become "boyfriend and girlfriend". In conversation with me earlier in the day, she had referred to him as "that guy I'm dating", which implies a continuing motion (running, jogging, etc.). That makes it the middle ground, just above "we've been on some dates", implying a series of isolated events. Later, I was corrected by her from calling it a "relationship", but I think I'll continue using that term for similar connections in the future, as it encompasses all matter of sincerity and acquaintance.

After my friend arrived, we made introductions. "Tom" and I shook hands. Within moments, my friend and the hostess had vanished from the kitchen. I don't even remember seeing them leave, yet here I am alone with Tom. It would seem that they've gone to share immediate news, such as "ok, you've met him-- what do you think?" Or perhaps they've just gone to tour the house.

"Sooooooooooo...," I helpfully break the ice with.

We're standing at loosely perpendicular angles, because face-to-face is too confrontational for a party. He's shorter than me by about a foot, so I lean against the kitchen counter to collapse my presence a bit (and for my own comfort). He has the body-shape of someone who exercises with some purpose. Ordinarily, I wouldn't notice such a thing, but my mind is now working overtime trying to piece together small-talk.

Tom works as a graphics design artist for a food production company here in town. I call to mind all the experiences I've ever had with them, but our conversation is extremely forced. He mentions some sport he's rabid about, but I have nothing concrete to offer on that subject. It's far too soon in the converation to fall back on talking about our mutual acquaintance, so we spend a lot of the time in silence, sucking beer.

Is it obvious what religion he is? No. Hmmm... His freshly cut hair, combined with a seemingly-careful choice of shirt and pants may mean he's conscious of appearance, or simply that he's conscious of going to a party to meet "her friends". He seldom makes eye contact with me, even while listening.

I'm speaking to him about something, when suddenly he reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone. I notice this, but don't even think about it; I often pull my phone out of my pocket simply to check the time or to see if it actually WAS my phone ringing a few minutes ago, instead of just a trick of the ear.

But while I'm speaking to him, he smiles and begins to tap continuously on his phone keypad, the universal sign that he's now composing a text message. Noticing this and noticing that Tom makes no effort to explain or apologize, I am taken aback. It's been a long time since I've encountered a behavior so openly rude.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I wouldn't dream of multi-tasking conversations right in front of someone else. Perhaps that's just the style nowadays, though it certainly isn't among my friends. People usually explain or wait for a lull in the conversation to begin texting, and even then it's usually a quick message. After all, there are live people in the room.

Having been so affronted, I'm not really in the mood to think positively of him. During the rest of the evening, I avoid having any further contact with him. That's easy enough to do at a party when other people are present. My friend brought Tom along because she liked him and she's known him longer than I have, so I just let it be.

Luckily, just after the texting, the second "couple" arrived. "David" came with an acquaintance, who promptly also disappeared. I take a beer outside, talking to David as I go. We sit and have conversation. He's a poet, which is interesting. We can chat about hobbies that don't make any money. What styles of poetry do you write in? "Well, right now my poems are embracing the dark side, after my time in the psych ward." Ah. I see. My senses get overwhelmed so I move back inside for more chips and salsa.

Eventually, the party takes on a "how do I lose this person I brought?" vibe, which isn't usually what smaller parties of mostly friends feel like. By the end, David's arrival partner has driven him home, bemoaning the drive with an intoxicated and amorous guy while she's on her celibacy fad. And not many days later, Tom is spending all day texting my friend, trying to "work things out" after a supposedly mutual breakup.

Ahh, young love!

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