ON MY MOST RECENT, and final, fake date, we dressed as though for a wedding: suit and tie for me, little black dress for her. We danced, we drank, we whispered wisecracks. We amused each other, we showed off. We made an effort, and complimented each other for it. It was a night when I thought that she at 26 and I at 31 had grown into ourselves completely, a night when I noticed that her eyes were inky mirrors of the evening sky, petroleum pools dotted with diamonds. But it was no one's wedding, and certainly -- most absolutely -- not ours. It was an orchestra concert, and I had free tickets. When, at one point, she dropped on bended knee and said, Will you marry me? I laughed instead of cried; I may even have yawned. As midnight rolled around, she dropped me at my apartment, and after promises to talk soon, we went our separate ways, the moon finished its rounds, and no one felt the need to lasso it for anyone.
At the concert, people buzzed, Aren't you the cute couple? They said, You're a good dancer, and so is your lover. And we smiled. No one needed to know: It's fake. Not fake like one of us was fooling the other, being disingenuous, being a dick, as though halfway through the risotto, I'd change into pajamas, brandish some Cracker Jack, and whip out a GameBoy -- Sorry, you thought this was a date? Nor was it arrested development, playing at being adults. It was neither of these things, and yet, in a way, it was both. It was fake dating. It was what I did last year.
Deliberately embarking on a fake date is revolutionary. Fake dating is saying, Let's get to know each other better without even expecting that goodnight smack. It's saying, in this day and age of the three-date rule, Let's have a preseason. We should have seen it coming. Because we're crazy now. We're crazy self-conscious (thanks, ad industry), we're crazy self-absorbed (thanks, pop psychology), we're crazy obsessed with finding fault (thanks, talk radio), and we're just plain crazy crazy (thanks, bovine growth hormone). Today, the idea that we could be crazy about a person sounds, well, crazy. Without trotting out the well-known divorce statistics, let's just say we've upped the ante on romantic expectations while simultaneously expecting to be disappointed. Fake dating begins to look rational.
Many people meet their spouses either in college or soon after, and so, for those entering their 30s more unattached than the day they were born, dating is, while frequently better than in younger years, something definitely different. There may be a long string of failed romances, even divorce, within our own pasts and those of the people we meet. Close friendships within intimate circles may be more fulfilling, more honest, and more progressive than troublesome relationships. Is a fake date any more fake, really, than what transpires on a 'real' date? If we consider our motives, biological or otherwise, who are we really fooling with the flattery and the flowers? (We all know, of course, what flowers demand of bees.)
On that final fake date, we didn't exactly go our separate ways, alone to separate beds. I went to mine, all right, and she to hers, but hers may not have been empty. She has a boyfriend. This, I knew. In a way, this made it the ultimate fake date. It wasn't the wind-up to anything, it just was: fun and unencumbered, without momentum -- momentary. Inertia is underrated. You may enjoy yourself more when you're not concerned with where things are going. Of course, inertia can also be frustrating. The true test of a fake date is whether you're happy to leave when your date disappears into her house and the door, which was never really open, closes in your face. In this, I sometimes caught myself with a foot in the door.
My final fake date was the last of many fake dates with this woman. We started fake dating because there are only two things to do when you meet someone already committed -- move on or try to move them onto you -- and we wanted a third choice. When I met her and got to know her, I found her attractive. Slim, dark, and quiet, she was someone you wanted to whisk to Tangiers, place in a caf? with strong drinks and weak ceiling fans, and meet all over again. Hers was not a mystery you could walk away from -- you had to run or stay. I chose the latter. My friends thought I was crazy. But because of that decision, I learned a new kind of relationship. I could let her know I found her attractive, as a compliment, not manipulation. She thought I was interesting, and she could let me know that, as a curious woman, not a come-on. This went on for some time, until we had learned just about everything we were going to learn about each other with our clothes on. And probably more than if we'd taken them off. The question that dawns on everyone at this point, however, is the same one that occurred to Harry and Sally: Can men and women ever really be friends? Was the fake orgasm good for him, too?
I've tried not to fake date since the night I was fake proposed to. No man could listen to Meg Ryan in the diner and go home and have a good night's sleep. But I retain a certain fondness, a self-righteousness. Dating was never supposed to be anything more than a formality, a parlor game, and now we've made it everything. We're so obsessed with scoring we don't stop to listen to the band in the stands or dance the Macarena in the end zone. It's too bad. Fake dating is the only time when something fake may spur more honesty. More than once, my dates confessed things they never would have had we been heading home together. The kind of things that would have been way too much for 'lovers' to handle. Of course, this learning process is the reason for fake dating in the first place. Perhaps now I'll learn there is something to be said for not knowing, for the sweet veil of ignorance. 'Taking the plunge' they call it, when a relationship leaps into motion, but having fake dated, it may only seem like swimming in the shallows.
Reprinted from Before the Mortgage (#5), a witty zine packed with well-observed essays aimed at the twentysomething set. Subscriptions: $10/yr. (3 issues), from Christina Amini, Box 68, Ross, CA 94957; www.beforethemortgage.com