During my long drive to work this morning, my mind wandered waaaay back to my earliest dating disasters. Generally kids in my generation didn't exactly go on dates, but instead couples would emerge from mixed-sex groups that would hang out together. I did, however, go on two dates early on-- both disastrous. Because I lived abroad and traveled a lot during this period of my life, my early dating stories are perhaps a bit more exotic than most.
The first disaster occurred during the summer after 8th grade, when I was fourteen, and living with my parents in Africa. That summer my parents and I spent a lot of time with another family, who had a fifteen year old son (we'll call him "the son"). I thought the son was adorable. He was tall and had that peachy complexion blondish teenaged boys have. I was always a sucker for that peachy complexion when I was a teenager. The other reason he was adorable was that he liked to read. I didn't know too many boys my age who liked books. I decided I was in love when the son spent one family outing at the beach reading P.G. Wodehouse. But it seemed hopeless, because whenever I tried to strike up a conversation, you could tell he just wanted to get back to his book.
About half-way through the summer, an unusual event occurred. I was to be left alone for a week because my father was traveling on business and my mother had to return to the United States unexpectedly due to my grandfather's illness in the hospital. That Saturday afternoon, I was wondering what to do with myself when I got a call out of the blue from the son. He was calling to invite me to have dinner at his house, followed by a dance at the American Club.
The son insisted on having his family's driver pick me up. Most middle-class families in most African countries, including most Americans, have staffs of household help because the disparities in wealth are so great. (That's the subject of another whole post. It's a bad scene when people who are trained as nurses have to work as housekeepers instead.) It was, however, highly unusual that he would have his driver pick me up. He only lived a quarter of a mile away and kids generally walked to and from each other's houses. It seemed kind of weird and extravagant but he insisted. I figured it was some sort of romantic gesture. The son's parents had gone out for the evening, but we were going to have their leftovers. We ate on the porch, with the family's cook serving us our food. This was again another highly unusual thing because generally members of the household staff don't wait on kids. I could only assume that he must have arranged for this because he really liked me.
Thus confident that the son must be thrilled to have me there, I prattled on throughout dinner attempting to make whatever passed for sparkling and witty conversation among fourteen year olds. But I couldn't help noticing that he didn't seem very interested, didn't have much to say in response, and kept looking at his watch. Yet, my brain told me that my reading of his cues must be wrong because, after all, he had made a big production out of this whole thing.
After dinner, we got a ride with another guy and his mother to the dance at the American Club. This event was for people of all ages, but there was a sizeable group of people in our age group, most of whom I didn't know because they were slightly older and had been at boarding school the previous year. Anyway, a couple of English sisters arrived. They were aged 15 and 16, and they were blonde, and cute, and fun, and voluptuous (the latter being something I most definitely was not). They apparently knew the son already and bounded right up to him. My previously apathetic date perked right up and off they all went to the dance floor. I didn't know anyone but it was a mixed group of people dancing so I awkwardly tried to join in. Eventually I gave up and basically assumed my position at the wall as a wallflower, while the mother who had driven us to the club made matters worse by trying to cheer me up. (Note to adults: If you notice a young teenager being dissed by her date, do not acknowledge that you have noticed it unless the young teenager brings it up herself first.) The evening seemed to drag on forever, and of course I was stuck there because I didn't have my own transportation, but the evening finally ended with a very close slow dance between my date and the younger English sister to the strains of "Careless Whisper" by George Michael. After that final indignity, the mother finally took us all home. As I was being dropped off, it was quite a struggle, believe me, to squeak out, "Thank you so much for inviting me, son. I had a wonderful time!"
When my father came back, he said that he had heard that I had gone on a date with the son. He asked me how it went and of course, I said, "Oh, just fine." My dad then commented that the son's father had mentioned that he wanted to have his driver pick me up because he was concerned about the safety of me walking around the neighborhood in the early evening. My dad mentioned that the son's parents had been very concerned in general about me being all alone that week while my parents were away. That's when it started to click that this had been an event most likely arranged by the son's parents and forced upon the son against his will.
And yet the whole thing got even worse. A couple weeks later, I was mostly done licking my wounds, when on another Saturday morning, the phone rang and my dad picked it up. He came in and said, "Happy, it's the son. He wants to know whether you want to go swimming with him this afternoon."
Me: "Tell him that I can't."
Dad: "Well, don't you want to talk to him?"
Me: "No, could you just please tell him that I can't go?"
Dad: "What should I tell him about why you can't go?"
Me: (exasperated) "Just tell him I have other plans."
So, what does my father say? Does he say that I am not feeling well or that I have other plans? Oh no. My father decides that he will try to make me seem really cool by telling this boy that I can't go swimming with him because I was busy writing a book. This had to be the lamest excuse I have ever heard, and I was just absolutely beside myself with embarrassment. From then on, I avoided the son like the plague until we went our separate ways when school started in the fall.
To this day, I still go, "AAAAARRRRRRGGGGH," and bite my wrist whenever I hear "Careless Whisper."