I Love Fake Dating

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
They said, You’re a good dancer, and so is your
. 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;

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.