Foodie Calls

Two recent surveys have identified what is being depicted as a “new trend” on the dating scene:  the “foodie call.”  It happens when one person goes out with another person that they really aren’t that interested in — just to get a free meal.

foodie-call-istock-fudfoto-696x392The two surveys of heterosexual women were conducted by Azusa Pacific University and the University of California-Merced, and the results were published in the journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.  The participants were asked questions about their personalities, the views on gender roles, and their views, and personal histories, with “foodie calls.”  In one survey, one third of the respondents admitted to going out on a date just to get a free meal, and in the second survey 23 percent of the study group admitted to a “foodie call.”  The research also found that the majority of respondents were aghast at the concept of a “foodie call” and believed it to be moderately to extremely unacceptable.

What are we to make of “foodie calls”?  Speaking as someone who enjoys a good meal from time to time, I don’t think being motivated, in whole or in part, to go out on a date to get a good meal is incredibly egregious behavior.  I also think, however, that people who go on “foodie calls” might be selling themselves short, and I wonder if they ultimately find the meals very satisfying.  Spending two or three hours with somebody you really have no interest in and making cheery chit-chat that entire time would be exhausting, and is a pretty high price to pay for some fine dining.  Meals are supposed to be a pleasant, shared experience, and having to work hard to maintain a conversation would tend to interfere with your enjoyment of the cuisine.

As for the guys who’ve paid for the “foodie calls” — well, if the person you’ve asked out starts negotiating with you about the only restaurants that would be acceptable destinations for the date, you might just want to be on guard.

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Small Talk, Big Talk

The New York Times recently published an interesting article pleading for an end to “small talk.”  Written by a man who is dealing with the end of an important relationship and a plunge back into the dating world, it tells of an experience in Costa Rica that convinced him that we should focus more on “big talk,” and his successful experiments in doing so on first dates and, most recently, in the workplace.

The thrust of the article is that small talk — talking about your commute, or the weather, or the local sports team — is a meaningless time-waster, and everyone knows it.  Why not move directly to the big stuff, and really learn something important about the person you are talking to?  So the writer has taken to asking first date questions like “What’s the most in love you’ve ever felt?” and “What place most inspired you and why?” and, during a business trip, asking a new colleague “Why did you fall in love with your wife?”

Businessteam at a meetingIf this is a new trend in social interaction in America, I’m glad I’m happily married.  I’m also glad I don’t work with this guy.

I happen to think that small talk serves an extremely useful social purpose.  Some people are eager to share intimate details about their lives with the world at large, and no doubt would welcome intrusive personal questions from somebody they just met, but most of us don’t.  If I were on a business trip with a brand new colleague and they asked me a question about how I fell in love with my wife, I would find such a question incredibly presumptuous and off-putting, and I wouldn’t answer it.  Sorry, but it’s going to take a while for me to decide whether a workplace colleague will end up a close personal friend.  And it’s hard for me to believe that at least some women who were asked “What’s the most in love you’ve ever felt?” on a first date wouldn’t groan inwardly, question whether they’ve been hooked up with a creepy potential stalker, and head for the exits as quickly and gracefully as possible.

Small talk allows you to get to know a person before you decide whether to broach weightier topics.  Sure, the substance of the small talk might be meaningless, but the nature of the small talk can tell you a lot about the person across the table.  Does the person have a sense of humor?  Does the person seem thoughtful or thoughtless, smart or dumb, well-mannered or crude?  Is the person so self-absorbed and egotistical that they end up talking entirely about himself?

And that last point is an important one.  People who immediately ask questions about “big talk” topics clearly want to share their own deeply personal experiences; they no doubt ask the pointed questions with the expectation that they will get the same question in return and then launch into their own stories.  There’s a fair amount of conceit in that; the lives of complete strangers just aren’t that compelling.  Small talk prevents me from being awkwardly inundated by the intimate affairs and feelings of people I don’t know.

I come down strongly in favor of small talk.

Aged Dating

Recently we were out for dinner with the Bahamians at one of the better local restaurants.  As we enjoyed our meal, a 60ish woman who knew our friends from years before stopped by our table to say hello to them.

The woman was wearing a skin-tight black mini-dress that ended about six inches above her kneecaps, with an exposed shoulder and stiletto heels.  It was the kind of skimpy, clingy outfit that demanded a supermodel’s figure, and this woman didn’t have one.  It obviously wasn’t a comfortable ensemble for her, either.  Throughout our brief interaction at the table, she was tugging the dress up toward her exposed shoulder, and tugging it down at her hem, trying to limit the overexposure of her permatanned flesh.

So why was this middle-aged woman wearing an ill-fitting garment that looked like it was hard for her to take a breath?  She explained that she had gotten divorced and was out on a date with a new guy, and made some rueful observation about how the dating world was tough for people our age.  Then her date appeared at the doorway and she went teetering unsteadily away, adjusting her dress, again, and touching up her bleached blonde hairdo.

It was an awkward moment.  Kish and I didn’t know the woman, but we immediately felt both sorry for her and . . . confused.  Sorry for her, because she looked ridiculous and miserable, and confused, because she apparently recognized that fact and elected to wear an outfit that wasn’t close to being age-appropriate, anyway.  Evidently she was  desperate for male attention, but did she really think that wearing something that left nothing to the imagination was the way to achieve that goal?  Her outfit seemed to say a lot about her confidence in her personality and other attributes and about her sense of what middle-aged men are looking for on a date — neither of which was positive.

It was a depressing encounter on a lot of levels.  It made me appreciate, once again and for countless reasons, how very lucky I am to be happily married.

Wherefore Art Thou, Cheap Date?

Saturday afternoon Kish and I went to see a movie.  The tickets cost us $10 a pop.  $10 to see a movie?  We’ve apparently crossed one of those product cost thresholds; theaters must feel there is no longer meaningful price resistance to two-figure ticket prices.

We shelled out the $20, but I found myself wondering about high school and college kids looking for the proverbial cheap date.  Unless you go to a second-run $1 cinema (with the change in price thresholds, maybe now it’s a $5 cinema) going to the movies certainly doesn’t qualify.  Between $20 for tickets and the standard inflated candy, popcorn, and soda prices, going to the movies has become an expensive proposition.  In this time of high unemployment among young people, how many kids have $35 to blow on a few hours entertainment?

Bowling is a perennial cheap date option — but many bowling alleys have gone upscale, with video screens, elaborate sound systems, disco balls overhead, and strobe lights down the lanes, and the prices for a game have increased as a result.  And you’ve got to drive there, which means you’re burning some of that $4 a gallon gas.  During the fall you can go to home football games on your student ID and make do with reasonably priced food from the band booster concession stand, but what do you do the other 47 weekends of the year?

I’m guessing that kids these days spend a lot of time in their parents’ houses, watching videos and playing video games.  Having somebody over to your parents’ house seems more like awkward hanging out than a date; I always thought the appearance as a couple in public, where your friends could see you together, was an integral part of the true dating experience.  Staying at your parents and sponging their food doesn’t exactly seem calculated to produce much self-respect on the part of the would-be couple — and it’s got to be exhausting for parents who have to come up with lame excuses to go down to the basement every five minutes or so to make sure nothing untoward is going on down there.

Maybe modern would-be Romeos and Juliets are just resigned to making do with less, or maybe they just “go Dutch.”  Either way, it’s too bad.  There was fun and inner value in the cheap date; I always felt good when I took my girlfriend out and paid for her movie and popcorn out of my own pocket, from my earnings at whatever job I had at the time.  I always thought my girlfriend appreciated being treated, too.  It’s sad to think those positive feelings aren’t being experienced by today’s jobless, house-bound youth.

Guys and Gifts

The other day Kish and I heard a report on NPR about the controversy with respect to President Obama’s gift exchange with the British Prime Minister. Apparently the Prime Minister got the President a beautiful, handcrafted pen holder made from the timbers of some famous ship and a seven-volume biography of Winston Churchill, probably in hand-tooled leather binding. The President only got the Prime Minister a boxed set of 25 movie DVDs. Some Brits are up in arms about the discrepancy in the quality, and thoughtfulness, of the respective gifts. Frankly, they have a point.

I think it is clear what happened — Obama is a guy, he picked the gift, and he botched it. Every guy who has ever tried to pick out a special gift had experienced the unique reek of failure that comes from picking out a wholly inadequate gift. Typically, you either have totally misjudged the quality/seriousness standard against which the gift would be measured or you picked something that seemed like a good selection at the time but, in the cold light of day at the time of gift-opening, obviously seems to be grossly inappropriate. I remember one Valentine’s Day a girl I had been seeing for a while got me a very nice shirt, and I got her some liquor-flavored lollipops. To be honest, I had forgotten about Valentine’s Day, and it was a panicked last-minute purchase, probably made at the corner liquor store near her house. The gift was a dismal failure on both the quality and appropriateness grounds — her gift obviously was far more expensive and thoughtful, and my gift, which I had rationalized as being kind of fun and different, clearly gave her the impression I thought she was a lush with a sweet tooth.

So, I can understand why the President committed this faux pas. He probably thought the Prime Minister was going to get him something like an Arsenal T-shirt, or a Bobbie hat, or maybe a Big Ben paperweight. When the president picked out the DVDs, he probably thought that The Wizard of Oz and The Godfather were great movies that any guy would want in their DVD collection. I’m sure that President Obama’s heart sank when he opened the gift and saw the antique pen set and fancy biography. In the meantime, Prime Minister Brown probably had that fixed smile and glazed expression that people get when they are expecting something nice and are disappointed but don’t want to show it. Don’t worry about it, President Obama! Every guy knows how you feel. The next time, just make sure that a dollar limit is agreed to in advance, and try to get Michelle to make the ultimate gift selection decision.