As I leaned forward and sent my 10-pound ball careening down the center of the lane, I could feel Blondie staring at my butt. Normally, this is a thing I love, but tonight, all I felt was supremely uncomfortable. The pins flew in the air in a jumble, but it was hard to be too excited about the strike. I was on a bad date. And not the kind of bad date where both of you recognize the badness and mutually agree to get out of there as quickly as possible with no hard feelings. It was the kind of date where, while I was repulsed, he was feeling it.
I sensed from our email correspondence that Blondie wasn’t a green zebra—more like a yellow orangutan. There was something about his manner that seemed too aggressive and far more interested in asking me how I like to kiss rather than, say, what I do, where I’m from, and what I’m looking for. But he looked attractive in his photos, and had an odd collection of hobbies that hinted at an interesting person. Not to mention the fact that I haven’t been on a date in a month and a half, and haven’t had sex since August. When Blondie asked if I’d meet him for a game of bowling, I obliged. How bad could it be? I thought. He might not be your dude, but maybe he’d make a good booty call. Something I would really appreciate while I wait to feel a real connection with someone.
As I got out of the subway and headed to the bowling alley, I got a text from Blondie. “Went to get beef jerky, be there in a minute.” Uh-oh. The thought of dried meat is hardly sexy. Especially with someone who had already broached the idea of kissing.
Still, I forged onward, and Blondie managed to beat me to the alley. When I walked in the door, I scanned the room for the tall, scruffy-haired, lumberjack type from Blondie’s online profile. Finally, someone waved. Predictably, he barely cleared my height in heels. And the photos I’d fawned over were clearly taken a decade ago. It was hard to believe this person was 30. Could he have lied about his age, too?
Stay positive, I thought. He could be really cool.
But he wasn’t. We talked for a few stilted moments while ordering drinks at the bar. “Do you smoke?” he asked.
“I actually quit recently,” I said. “It feels really good to be able to say ‘no’ to that question.”
“Oh, too bad,” he said. “Smoking is sexy to me.”
Wait, did this guy really just say that to a former smoker? That’s like telling a recovering alcoholic that the bourbon tastes especially good today.
As I stood a little taken aback, Blondie began chatting up the bartender. “How good a bowler are you?” he asked the bartender.
Uh, shouldn’t he be asking me that? Is this guy really initiating conversation with the bartender rather than me? I stood there while the two of them chatted for another minute.
And then Blondie and I headed to our lane. A minute later, he got a phone call. He glanced at the screen. “I am so sorry, but I have to take this,” he said. “It’s about a job I’m applying for. Be right back.”
I’m never quite sure how to handle bad dates. I felt the urge to grab my coat and make a quick exit, waving goodbye while he was on the call so he wouldn’t have a chance to protest. But that seemed cruel and unusual. I remembered The Juggler—the first hour of our first date was pretty terrible, but in the end I liked him and we had some hot chemistry. Wait it out, I thought. You have to give people a chance to get comfortable.
Finally, as we started to bowl, the conversation started to flow a little more naturally. We talked about our jobs and hobbies. And then we reached the conversation that, when you’re online dating, means you’ve run out of things to talk about. “So how long have you been doing the online thing?” he asked.
“On and off,” I said, being intentionally vague. On first dates, my philosophy is to keep things focused on me and the guy rather than discuss those of the past.
“I’ve been doing it forever,” he said. “I had a really bad date the other night. This girl kept saying I was ignoring her, because we went to watch football and I was talking to the bartender, who’s a buddy.” Imagine that, I thought.
“And she was a really bad kisser.”
“Well, the date can’t have been all that bad, if you got to the kissing part,” I pointed out.
“Meh,” he said. “It was mediocre.” He turned and looked me up and down, a gesture that repulsed me rather than seduced me. “How am I doing tonight?” he asked.
Is he serious?, I thought.
And here is where—and I’ll let you debate this in the comments—I turned into the bad date. It was clear from our conversation that, while gruff and totally clueless, Blondie was a nice, honest guy looking to genuinely connect with a woman, and who feels frustrated that it isn’t happening. Before I knew it, I was in full-scale Patti Stanger “Millionaire Matchmaker” mode, pointing out to him all the things he’d done wrong that make a woman feel like her vagina is dead.
“Not very good,” I said, being brutally honest. “I see why your date the other night thought you were ignoring her—you seem much more comfortable and interested in talking to bartenders than to the women you’re with. What’s that about? You should always focus your energy on the girl. Ask her questions. And never, ever answer your phone on a date. Keep that thing off.”
I got meaner. “And you should take some more recent photos for your profile,” I said. “Women should know exactly what you look like. And no beef jerky before a date.”
I don’t know what I was expecting, but the look on Blondie’s face completely changed—it was as if I’d taken a lollipop from a baby. His smile faded and he rubbed his eyes. “It’s been a hard week,” he said. “I’m going through some stuff and am feeling really out of it tonight.”
My stomach sank. I instantly wished I had kept what I’d said as internal monologue. This guy meant well. Who was I to criticize and dispense advice?
We finished bowling in almost silence. He won, but mainly because I stopped trying to let him maintain his dignity. At the cashier, we split the cost of the game.
As I headed home, I felt terrible. Not only had I suffered a bad date, but I’d made Blondie feel like total crap, too. Perhaps next time he makes plans to meet a woman, he’ll realize I have some good points. Or perhaps he’ll dismiss me as a total bitch and never think about me or what I said again.
But I want to leave these question for you guys. Did I do the right thing or was I too mean? Even though I never want to go out with this person again, not even as friends, should I write him and apologize? And, perhaps most importantly—how do you handle bad dates with grace? I could use some pointers.