Coffee, dinner, or a hike

Hey, I’m Ray, bustin’ in here with my say. About dating. I don’t know. What’s the deal with hiking? Why do so many profiles say, “I’m into hiking”, with people offering that as, like, a first date? I don’t think anyone’s really thought this through.

See, it’s not that I’m lazy or that I don’t like nature, or just hanging out while walking. My shrink says that the thing about hiking is similar to being in a car. You don’t look at each other. Then he goes on about non-verbal communication, how that’s more stressful. That’s true, actually, though I find talking trouble enough. It’s like a first session, I told him: if he’s not on his game he won’t ask the right questions, show enough interest, or worse, he’ll ask a question that shows he wasn’t listening, like the time I asked this guy how his wife was doing after he’d previously told me she died. Doh! Yeah, good thing the onus was upon my shrink to talk right the first time we met. Me, I just had to show up and be myself. I never thought I had to impress him.

But I digress, got off the path of what I was saying, which is what can happen when you’re on a hike, which is why I’ve got a problem with this whole hiking trend. So, it’s safer, says the shrink. As in a car, you’re flanking each other, or you’re walking in a line, one behind the other. Don’t have to look at each other, see anxiety in the other’s eye. I get it. But it’s a commitment. Seriously, a hike—on average, what people call a “hike”—is not just a ten-minute jaunt around the neighborhood. It’s an hour, or two, in a park, on an open field, or a plain, in the woods, or some shit like that. Safer? Yeah, not if you’re with some creep intent on stabbing you out of sight or earshot. How about that kind of safety, especially for women? Anyway, even if it’s not dangerous in that way, it’s still a problem of commitment.

Take me. See, as you might guess, I’m apt to say the wrong thing from time to time, offend people. And that’s easier to do than ever these days. So what if you’re on a hike, in the middle of a field or somewhere, and not at the beginning or end of the hike but right smack in the middle, and you say something that the other person thinks is shitty like…oh, I don’t know…I can’t remember all the wrong things I’ve said. I can’t keep track. I say ‘em everyday. On a “hike” you’re stuck. You’re in the middle of nowhere, still in earshot with no buffers as you turn tail and walk away. That wouldn’t be me, of course. I’d be the one standing in the field, holding out my hands maybe, calling out, saying “what’s the problem?”

See, a coffee date is easier, has more exit routes, more buffers. By that, I mean you got the gentle buzz of the shop, or just that fact that there’s people around so you’re less likely to call out or hear some smack being called out to you. Or, if you wanna get out without a fight, you can just quietly edge away, make an excuse, say you gotta be somewhere. Coffee? That could be any amount of time: fifteen minutes? A half hour? Three, if you’re hitting it off. Me? I had one date that lasted five minutes, though not because she left. On that one I bailed, pretended I needed a bathroom, then I slipped out. I’m not proud of it. That was shitty, I guess.

But that touches on another thing: catfishing. You know what catfishing is? Everyone does. My shrink didn’t, which was a change—me schooling him, I mean. He knows everything. He knows about gaslighting, which is a term my ex used to use, saying something about what I did to her. I didn’t get what she was saying. She didn’t talk properly. Or I didn’t listen. Who knows? My shrink says the latter is probably true, as he thinks I don’t listen; I don’t “take in” as he puts it. Well, I took that in, I suppose. Still, I told him about catfishing, the problem of people—mostly women, from my point of view—not being who they say they are, or more specifically, not looking like they looked in their profile pictures. Take this woman I went on a date with, and not a coffee date or a “hike”, but a proper date—like a dinner date.

I selected this place that wouldn’t have been a problem had she looked like her goddamned picture. It was called—get this—“Fat Lady”, or it had those words in its name. You’d think the managers would’ve thought through that one, but no matter. It’s a good place. Good food. Anyway, on this date, our first date, I get there first and I’m waiting in the front area, looking out for her. When she walks in she gives me a big smile, walks up and gives me a hug. It took me a moment to react because at first I didn’t recognize her. I mean, there had to be at least a twenty pound difference—maybe thirty—between image and reality. But we sit down, have a meal and talk, and in the dimmer light of the restaurant I’m thinking that she looks kinda cute, and the conversation isn’t bad. She’s asking more of the questions, which is good. Towards the end, she’s asking if I wanna hit a bar afterwards. I gotta admit, she was doing more of the groundwork, and I was feeling alright. I’m not sure what was going on with me exactly, but then she did this thing, said something that threw me off my game.

My game. My shrink and I talk about that concept too. My game, his game; everyone’s game. Well, I fumbled, made a mistake. No such thing, he says. Words are actions too. They reveal the unconscious, and also what is conscious. Was I conscious? I don’t know. She remarked on the restaurant name, said it was weird. I think she was relaxed by that point, didn’t know what she was saying. I know I didn’t, so I said something wrong. I smirked, I guess, and said “seems about right to me”. She set her drink down, her smiled at once ghosted. She reached for her bag, signaling her departure, though she didn’t leave at that moment. She just got quieter. The room quieted just a tad also, as if everyone in the room had heard me. By the front entry there was a logo, a cartoon image of a fat waitress holding a plate. Even she seemed like she was shaking her head, giving me disapproval.

I should’ve gone on a hike.

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