A few years ago I sat at a table in a Seattle restaurant in the company of several women writers. We were “invaders”; at least back in the 1990s Washington State residents truly believed that people moving to their region was creating the rise in cost of living, etc., especially those from California. We’d all relocated there from different parts of the country because the state’s economy was one of the healthiest in the U.S. at the time. While we were all writers, we were struggling writers, and each of us was on our unique, complicated journey. Being struggling writers with a lot of history behind us was what brought us together on that particular damp, early evening. With the exception of one, we were each single. One woman began sharing details about a date she’d had several nights before. We laughed in the right places, for we all had been there, recognizing the nuances of her experience: sitting before someone she’d never met before and attempting to be engaging and engaged, and all the while taking bites of a meal. These days, dates are arranged through a third-party, and setting a time, place and date comes by way of some form of electronic communication. So this writer’s “date night” was communicated via text, and it was strictly about where and when.
Unlike back in the day, first dates are now looked upon as “hooking up.” A potential couple spends more time discussing “likes” and looking down at their mobile devices. There’s no longer the “getting to know you” through casual conversation that eventually leads to having personal knowledge about someone, i.e.–schools you attended, hobbies, places you’ve traveled, what you do for a living, where you’re from, your personal likes and your bête noires. Twenty-first century dating reflects our collective mind-set: we’ve become too shallow. People often already know details about you by merely checking online. Tracking someone’s life story online takes away the mystique and genuine pleasure of getting to know someone. But seriously; just based on human nature, we wouldn’t beam a bright light on our failures and negative traits online, so who, pray tell, are we actually getting to know (online)?
Being middle-aged and single is something none of us foresaw. Perhaps when we were younger we weren’t quite sure about marriage. But three of us were single, over 50, and had no potential prospects as far as a serious relationship. Our mouths opened like a fish, and two of us reaching for our wineglasses stopped in motion when the woman sharing details of her “date” said the man placed his cell phone on the cloth-covered table right next to his forearm. He’d pick it up or peeped at it numerous times through the first glass of wine and appetizers. She shared with us that she cleared her throat, her forehead creased with curiosity, and eventually she politely said, “Are you waiting to hear about something important?” just to remind the man that she was sitting across from him on a date! Before long, he’d excused himself from the table because he needed to “take this” (i.e., a phone call). Our conversation grew lively and animated. Each of us talked over the other, and our LOL was inappropriate in that particular downtown restaurant. Finally, we were too through when she told us, while she contemplated leaving, she stayed and endured the experience (‘because it was something to write about’).
I am reminded of this story several years later because a friend introduced me to a man who was in L.A. on business for two days. Our intro was through e-mail, and technically it was not a date, but rather two single people living on different coasts, having dinner. So a few nights ago, I agreed to meet him for dinner in a crowded, noisy restaurant on Ventura Boulevard. When he approached me my eyes went straight for his Galaxy he was holding in his hand. My first thought was how he was able to recognize me since we had never met, although our mutual friend might have given him a description. (I’d learn through our conversation over dinner that he looked me up on LinkedIn.)
Once we were seated and had ordered, I admit I kept my eyes on his cell phone he’d placed on the table, wondering when (not if) he was going to eventually reach for it to check whatever people check on their cell phones when they are in the company of another person. Through this intensely driven-by-social-networking-culture, I assumed this gentleman (and he turned out to be a gentlemen in my presence) would in due course reach for, if not answer, his cell phone.
We ate our meals, afterward coffee, and shared what the restaurant called its “black velvet cake” (OMG!). I admit I wasn’t paying close attention to time, yet I was aware that I arrived at the restaurant shy of 7:30. We left the restaurant and decided to have drinks at a bar a few doors down from the restaurant. When he walked me to my car, it was shortly after 10:00. In that timeline he not once looked at, or reached for, his cell phone.
When I shared this with a friend the following day, she said, “He liked you!”