COURTSHIP, PART 1: WHO’S ON FIRST?
WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR
MEN AND WOMEN TO UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER?
It was only a little past eleven. The
Union was almost empty. Expecting a quiet lunch, I chose a table where I could
look out the window at the Quad. No sooner had I set down my tray than a
familiar face materialized.
"Expecting someone, Prof?" It was Mark Manasseh.
"Not at all. Pull up a chair." He sat
down with a plate of something I didn’t recognize.
"What’s that? Some kind of taco?"
"Haven’t you ever had a gyro?" he asked.
"It’s like a Greek taco. Gyros have been around for a long time."
I shook my head. "Food has changed."
"Food’s not the only thing that’s changed," he said and lapsed into
a moody silence. He chewed meditatively.
"So what else has changed?" I asked.
"You said food’s not the only thing that’s changed. What else has
"Oh. The rules. They’re always changing
them on you in the middle of the game. I can’t tell who’s on first anymore."
"Who’s ‘they’? Has the Faculty Senate
changed the graduation requirements again?"
"No. Actually I was thinking of a girl."
He played with his gyro and then looked up. "I guess I’m not being very clear."
"Clear enough - girl changes terms of
relationship, guy confused. You don’t have to explain."
"Maybe I should. You and I’ve talked about this kind of thing
once before, and I could use the perspective of an, um, older person. Do you
I shook my head. "I have time. Being so old, you know."
"I only meant - "
I laughed. "I know what you meant. Go ahead."
"There’s this girl, Molly. She’s a friend. But that’s it - just a friend.
You know, we talk and do things together. But I talk and do things with
all my friends."
"Do you talk and do things with them the same way you talk and do things with Molly?"
"Not exactly. She’s a close friend." He paused. "But just a close friend."
I smiled. "Just very close."
"And a girl."
"When you talk and do things with her, are other people included?"
"But I do things just with other friends too. Like I told her."
"Like you told her? How did the subject come up?"
"I’m still trying to figure that out."
"Suppose you tell me what happened."
"Well, we were hungry, so we were having a pizza together at Molto Alimento."
"Just because you were hungry."
"Why does there have to be another reason? Can’t friends eat a pizza?"
"Anyway, we were almost done when she said something about
how we’ve known each other for almost two years. I said yes. She
said we’ve had a lot of fun together. I said yes. And then she said some other
stuff ...I don’t remember what - you can’t
listen to everything a girl says or it would wear you out. I must have said yes
to that, too, which was probably a mistake. Next thing I knew, she was talking
about how a girl needs a commitment or something. I guess it took a few minutes
for what she was saying to sink in, and I asked, ‘What do you mean?’ And she
said, ‘Commitment’ and spelled the word. And I said, ‘It’s not like we’ve been
dating or anything.’ And she said, ‘What do you call it when we’ve been seeing
each other exclusively for two years?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean
exclusively? I do things together with lots of other people.’ And she said,
‘Not with other girls you don’t.’ And I said, ‘Girls and guys both.’ And she
said, ‘What girls?’ And I said I couldn’t think of any and she asked me why I
was holding back and I said I didn’t know what she was talking about and then
all of a sudden she was crying and she left the table and the waiter looked at
me like I was dog meat and I couldn’t find her so I went home. And I keep
trying to phone her but she won’t return my calls and it’s all I can...I mean,
I... well . . ." He looked embarrassed and took a deep breath. "So that’s why I
say she changed the rules."
"From what to what?"
"What did she change them from, and what did she change them to?"
"From friendship rules to dating rules."
"But that’s not exactly what she said, is it?"
"What do you mean?"
"You quoted her as asking something
like, ‘What do you call what we’ve been doing?’ So she thinks you’re the one
who’s trying to change the rules."
"But I never said we were dating!"
"But weren’t you?"
"Don’t I have to think it’s a date for it to be a date?"
"Do you have to think a car is a car for it to be a car?"
"This isn’t like that."
"Mark, when two people of opposite sex enjoy a social activity, it’s
called a date."
"But it wasn’t romantic."
"Not all dates are romantic, but any date is potentially romantic.
That’s why steady dating produces expectations, especially among girls. Life is short. Why should
they waste their time dating guys who aren’t serious?"
"We were never romantic."
"She thought you were."
"Yeah, well, I guess that’s true."
"And are you so sure that it makes no difference to you that Molly
is a girl? Would you worry like that if some guy wouldn’t return your calls?"
"But she didn’t say we were dating either. Not before. Once someone
asked if we were dating, and she answered before I even had a chance. She just
laughed and said, ‘Oh, no, we’re just friends.’ See? She did change the
rules on me."
I sighed. "Mark, these days neither girls nor guys seem to want
to admit that their dates are dates. But they have different reasons for not
wanting to, and those reasons kick in on different occasions."
"What are you calling reasons? Start with girls."
"I think one common reason girls today don’t call dates ‘dates’
is that guys today think ‘date’ means ‘sex.’ The idea of dating as courtship
has almost disappeared."
"I don’t pressure girls for sex."
"Does she know that?"
"She ought to. She knows I’m a Christian."
"I’m sure she knows that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is
contrary to Christian principles. But a lot of so-called
Christian guys do pressure girls sexually. How does she know that you
"I haven’t pressured her yet, have I?"
"But you say you aren’t dating, remember?"
"Oh. Well, yeah."
"She might think that one reason you haven’t pressured her for sex is
that up until now, she’s gone along with
the myth that you aren’t dating."
"Maybe," he admitted. "There’s another reason."
"What is it?"
"Girls these days don’t often call dates ‘dates’ because
guys these days are so afraid of commitment. You won’t say
that one doesn’t apply to you." Mark
shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "You see, the girl may feel that the only
way the guy will ever court her is if he doesn’t have to admit that it’s
"All right, I see your point. What do you say are the guy reasons?"
"We’ve already covered the first one," I said. "Girls are
right - guys these days are afraid of commitment. It’s part of their fear
of growing up. And there’s another reason: fear of failure."
"Fear of failure?"
"If you’re ‘just friends’ and she says no to pizza, it’s no big
deal. But if you ask her on a pizza date and she says no, it’s humiliating. To
relieve the pressure, guys don’t call dates ‘dates.’ That’s related to another
girl reason. Most girls don’t want to humiliate guys, so if the guy
doesn’t call it a date, they go along with him."
"Stop. You’re bringing back memories of junior high school."
"That’s just it. Some guys never quite get past that stage."
"Are there any other guy reasons?"
"There’s one more, but we’ve covered that one too."
"Sure. You mentioned it yourself."
"Right at the beginning of the conversation. You said that the rules
of relationships have changed and that you can’t even tell who’s
on first anymore."
"Of course it is. Pressure for sex, fear
of commitment, fear of failure - all these things have changed the rules of
relationships. Add to these things the feeling that men and women are
adversaries, and things look pretty grim. No wonder guys aren’t willing to call
dates ‘dates.’ They don’t know what they might be getting into."
"The problem is that not calling dates ‘dates’ doesn’t work either."
"Think of your dinner with Molly."
"Oh." Mark thought for a moment. "So
does anything work? What are the moves of courtship?"