Should We Mourn The Death Of The Very First Date?

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Any first date can be stressful — or downright horrifying. But what about the very first date of your life? Is this rite of passage about to go extinct?


Tom Matlack's description of his daughter's first date ever sounds straight out of Norman Rockwell: a dashing seventeen-year-old meets the family, then takes 16-year-old Kerry out for "a romantic dinner" and has her home by 9:30. My first date, at the age of 14, was considerably less adorbs — we went to the mall, where we got so bored that we eventually sat and watched an entire instructional video at an electronics store. That said, it was definitely a Date — he specifically called and asked me out, and our admittedly meager social outing wasn't couched in the vague language of "hanging out." Nor did we hook up. The formality of our (one and only, in case you hadn't guessed) proto-romantic encounter is striking in retrospect, especially since some of my later actual relationships began far less formally.

Kerry's date was apparently unusual for this day and age — she told her dad that "only three girls in her class of 125 had boyfriends, and [...] the rest had to put up with guys who only wanted 'friends with benefits.'" But the supposed rise of hookup culture may not be the only reason for the decline of the traditional date. I'd argue that over time, it's become harder to tell what a date even is. The advent of texting has made the pre-date phone call all but obsolete, and hang-language threatens to replace the ever-awkward question, "would you like to go out with me?" Some positive social changes may have made dating murkier too — back when the genders were more strictly segregated, social interactions between them had better-defined rules. Now hanging out with a guy can just as easily be a friend thing as a romantic thing, and it's not just teenagers who sometimes have trouble telling them apart.

Of course, traditional dating culture left out a lot of people — and today, bigots are still trying to keep gay teens from taking their dates to the prom. And as someone who hates phone calls and likes being friends with dudes, I'm not eager to roll back either the technological or social changes of the last few decades. There is, however, something to be said for teenagers learning to treat each other well, a lesson it seems like Kerry and her gentleman caller have learned. That doesn't have to mean being all boyfriend-and-girlfriendy — not every teen necessarily wants that. But it does mean being clear and polite and not making the other person just "put up with" whatever it is you do want. Dating is one way for people to learn these values, but it's all too clear that it's not perfect. Today's teens are pretty smart and savvy — maybe they can come up with a better method.


The First Date [Good Men Project]

Image via Steve Cukrov/


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I have only decided in retrospect that my first date was a date, and only because it technically qualifies. But it sure wasn't my intent.

It was my senior year in high school, and I thought I was just going to see a movie that no one else I knew wanted to see with some guy. I did this all the time with friends, female and male, and the outings definitely weren't dates. So when this guy who was home from college on winter break suggested we go see this movie together, it didn't strike me as anything date-like.

I got an inkling we were on different pages when he turned up on my doorstep, looking all spiffy and smelling all nice, and assuming I had a car. Er, no. He first used the word "date" when I figured we'd better just take a bus to the nearest cluster of shops and theaters — as in, gosh, not an auspicious start to the date.

"It's not a date," I said, but he didn't hear me.

So, there was some bad Chinese food, and there was me sitting as far away from him as possible while still remaining in my seat at the movie theater (the movie we wanted to see wasn't playing there, so we saw something crappy and forgettable), and there was some froyo, and there was a lot of me refusing to let him pay for stuff because it was Not. A. Date. Even though he clearly wanted it to be. Even though he wanted another one. Even though it was pretty weird for a near-college graduate to be down on his knees begging a high school student to see him the next night. That was the first time I felt oddly guilty about not liking a guy as much as he liked me. I stood my ground, refused to kiss him, and made it through an uncomfortable ride home.

This guy and I continued to have to deal with each other until he went back to school. He did, and I went on with my life.

And then I started hearing that I'd gone out with him pretty regularly while he was in town. Um, what? I made sure the rumor mill reverse-ran with the message that we'd had dinner and seen a bad movie, and that it was hardly a date. I mean, we'd taken the BUS. That seemed to take care of that.

Except that for the next several years, whenever he met anyone who knew my name, he'd talk about how we dated. Our association got longer and more torrid each time. By the point he was helping out an old teacher with a school club and noticed my brother's last name in some school bulletin, his story was that we "went out for a while," but he wanted something serious and I just wanted to fool around. Now, no one who'd ever met either me or the guy was buying it, but it was still pretty bizarre.

Eventually, I ran into him at a function, and brightly talked about all those funny rumors about how we used to date. Wonder where those came from? I'd never seen anyone physically backpedal before. Punch was spilled. It was pretty entertaining.