Quality of Life: Social Gaffes from Dating Chaps


Erin sm.jpg

Please don’t take the use of chaps in the title to mean that this is going to be about S&M. I don’t plan on talking about sex at all because sex isn’t nearly as funny as the courtship rituals that surround it, especially the odd permutations and mishaps that surround those rituals, at least for me. An all-ladies Oscar party spent in analysis of Harvard men and my own recent experience have led me to the conclusion that dating for me will never be smooth, and that maybe all the weirdoes I’ve dated thought that I was the crazy one.

First, I have a type. Plenty of people out there say that they don’t have a type. In California, the bisexual, “I don’t have a type – I love everyone,” line was much in vogue. I’ve bought into that line myself, except my outlook tends toward the more misanthropic “I don’t have a type – I hate everyone.” So, my Californian lipstick lesbianism aside – a column pillorying women wouldn’t be nearly as much fun based on my experience – I do have a “guy type” and that type is the geek.

I once wrote a paper examining the etymology of the word “dork” as distinct from geek, and had a jolly good time filling it with references to genitalia; the basic thesis was that dork was a term much more associated with males than females because of its derivation from a reference to the penis. Word play aside, in my mind a geek is smarter than a dork. Dorks are more idiotic. Geeks are entertaining purveyors of arcane knowledge. In the Bay Area, geek typically meant you were good at some sort of “techie” discipline: math, science, engineering, or, possibly, music. I have only ever dated one guy who was not expert in one of those categories, but he made Augustine’s Confessions read like the Kama Sutra, so he had other talents.

A very good place to start would be my first boyfriend in second grade, Tony Riglioni. All in all this was a very successful relationship and I can only recall one major gaffe on his part, which being a full two years older than I was, he should have had the maturity to avoid. Tony had a peel and stick Ewok sticker set that he wouldn’t let anyone play with, not even me. Ewoks were my favorite, more than Carebears, My Little Pony, and Transformers. Maybe not more than She-Ra, but she holds a special place in my heart. The biggest fight Tony and I ever had was over his not letting me play with his Ewok stickers. He needed to learn to share.

I managed nearly ten trouble free years until my junior year of high school. I would spend every lunch hour and rehearsal break chatting with Mark William, the semi-autistic musician extraordinaire in my high-school band. He was the year ahead of me and as his graduation approached I grew frantic – what if I never heard from him again once he moved to New York and how would I live without him? I soon hit upon the brilliant idea of sending him a graduation card/love note in which I poured out all my deepest feelings. Thank goodness I don’t have a copy of that note today. His reaction was better than I expected. He managed to say thanks for the card, and then moved to New York and I haven’t heard from him since. I learned that sometimes you can share too much.

Junior year of college was a bang-up year for Erin and social gaffes. I cornered my best friend, engineering major Kevin Silverman, and asked him if he wanted to go out sometime, expecting him to say no, and when he slyly replied, “Do you mean long term, or a nice dinner?” I furiously ordered him to get out of my car. Then, I pretended the entire conversation never happened. That wasn’t the craziest thing I ever did to Kevin though. That would be the time I had Kevin’s roommate let me into their place so I could redecorate Kevin’s room. I had the nerve to be angry when I found he’d piled everything up in front of my door the next day. Now, I never assume I know what someone’s reaction will be.

He wasn’t my only social gaffe that year. In a fit of spring fever I started dating literary John Sutter, who I couldn’t say more than two words to without starting a fight. Our first date will probably continue to live in my head as my craziest date ever. We argued about the restaurant – he wanted one Siam Royale, while I wanted Krung Siam. We argued about whether the movie was depressing or uplifting. We argued about which teahouse to go to and where to go afterwards. After a rather pleasant drive to the coast, a charming walk on the beach, and some steamy windows, I decided I had to use the restroom. Then. We started driving home, but I had to go, so I screamed at him to stop the car so I could use the bathroom right by the side of the highway. It was 3 a.m. and I didn’t have time to make it to the bushes. I dropped trou and did my business, yelling at John to toss me some napkins. The fact that we had a second date must have been a sign of our desperation to date anybody. Omens ought to be trusted, and when nature calls, answer promptly and don’t keep her on hold.

I met Turkish Grad Student at a dance class. He was what we liked to call “a sketchy grad student.” He was getting his Ph.D. in physics and spoke in the most adorable accent. We were getting along swimmingly until he mentioned on the third or fourth time we met up for coffee that he had a long-term girlfriend…in Japan. I cooled after that. Whenever I was at his apartment, he would show me hundreds of pictures and give me cups and cups of strong coffee and tea. Eventually, I would beg off to spare my bladder and come down from my caffeinated jitters. Some things need to be said early and sometimes culture does make a difference, especially in how you choose to entertain.

Senior year was again trouble free. I was fine until I found myself graduated, teaching during the day, and spending the evening far from my friends with lots of free time. Online dating seemed like a good idea. I would have been better off trying to date the guy who always hit on me at Starbucks. Greg Pullman was a Midwesterner in the military, a Catholic convert, and lived 1,000 miles away. When his ship came in, he called me. I suggested a Japanese place near his base and within 5 minutes of talking with him realized it was not going to work, even though he was an engineer. He was annoying, and when the sushi came I took my chopsticks and chomped away, silently laughing at his ineptitude and refusal to ask for silverware. I’m still paying back negative karma from that date.

I find myself coming to the end of my column – I’ve made this week’s twice as long to avoid staring at my quarter page mug shot – and I don’t have the space to devote to the boy who loved his dog too much and would kiss him (with tongue, though mostly the dog’s) in front of me; the Russian math student who’d been a chess champion in the motherland and wore his jeans high and his shirts tucked; or the boy I hope will decide he’s in grad school and not junior high and make a move already. My roommate says I send men mixed signals, but is it any wonder when even the preliminary steps of a relationship involve embarrassing myself or embarrassing him? Is it all me? Is it the geeks I choose to date? I’m thinking it’s time to break out the lipstick and hit the lesbian clubs.

I know, I know. It’s me. But if anyone out there has helpful hints on how to break the geek cycle email me at earcherd@law.harvard.edu.

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