Last night I was out on another first date (which, as it turns out, will also be another last and only date) and as we sat there at Chili's, talking over our respective entrees, me wondering how much longer I was going to have to sit there and how to politely call the evening to a close, I learned some things about myself.
For starters, I realized that I have come to expect men my age (and older) to behave according to (what I thought were common) rules of courtesy - to some degree in general everyday life, and most certainly in a dating scenario.
As First Date Man (hereafter FDM) went on (and on) about various aspects of his job, a small part of my brain disengaged and started thinking about why I was so bothered by the fact that when our server came to the table to take our order, though the server looked at me to go first (which is what I was expecting) without so much as a glance at me my date blurted out his order for a cheeseburger and fries before I could even open my mouth. At the time I simply blinked in surprise, ordered my salad, and returned to our previous conversation. But as the night went on, and that subtle breach of courtesy was compounded by others, I had to admit to myself that I was really bothered by it. Which got me thinking about when and where I came to expect that of men and if it's really that important, and also wondering how the guy sitting across the table from me had reached the age of 31 without knowing that you allow the lady to order first, and then about where a man is supposed to receive that (and similar) instruction, and who, if anyone, is ever going to teach him that now. Because, you know, as well as the date was going, I wasn't about to break in with a little, "Excuse me, FDM, but it appears that you are not aware that common courtesy suggests you invite any ladies present to order their meals first." Though, in retrospect, perhaps that would have gotten me home earlier.
Secondly, I realized how important consistent eye contact is to me, and what the lack thereof communicates to one's conversational partner.
Rather than consistently looking back at my eyes--or at least the general region of my face--FDM's gaze was all over the place, so much so that I felt like he was watching a little pixelated ball in a game of Pong as we talked, and my eyes were just one more surface off which the little ball might bounce from time to time, when it wasn't bouncing off the table, the floor, the ceiling, the TVs in the bar, his plate, the wall, the servers, the other diners, and (presumably so that it wouldn't feel left out) my chest. Now, of course, eye contact can be deceiving--though I resisted the temptation to play my own game of Pong and kept my eyes primarily on him as we conversed, I've already admitted that while I appeared to be giving my full attention to his explanation of the ins and out of non-profit accounting, a portion of my mind (and most of my interest) was elsewhere. And, I suppose, someone with lousy eye contact really can be paying attention even if they do not appear to be. But I guess what I'm saying is that regardless of the attention actually being paid, I realized that a serious LACK of eye contact really bothers me, and it communicates to the other person one or more of the following: a) I'm not really interested in you and what you have to say; b) there's something about the way you look that's causing my eyes to not really want to dwell on you and your features; c) I am not confident enough in who I am to match gazes with you. Being on the receiving end of all those messages last night, I determined to be ever vigilant in practicing good eye contact myself. So, here's looking at you.
But what surprised me the most--common courtesy and eye contact aside--was how turned off I was by my date's repeated use of the word "hate."
FDM commented on how he "hates" certain kinds of foods; how he had a professor in college whom he "really hated;" how he "hates" complainers (yes, feel free to delight with me in the irony of him complaining about people who complain); how there was this thing his roommate used to do that he "just hated;" etc. Each time he said he "hated" this or that, I noticed myself flinching just a little. Hate is an ugly word for an ugly sentiment. I acknowledge that the word itself has gotten pretty watered down through flippant use, the same way "love" has been diluted by people saying how much they "love" Chipotle burritos or a certain reality TV show (guilty on both counts), but I guess when it comes to hate I have a harder time disengaging the word from the full weight of the sentitment, and to be honest, I don't want to.
I can't really tell you whether it was one particular sermon or chapel message or lecture or chapter or verse, or if it was more the combined influence of several of the above, but I vaguely remember a time in my life many years ago when I determined that I would use the word "hate" sparingly, and only when truly applicable to something deservingly detestable. Since this is a matter of personal conviction, I don't necessarily expect others to limit the word in their own vocabularies, but I guess it had been quite a while since I'd conversed with someone who used the word so liberally, and though I tried to excuse it, it really tripped me up and turned me off.
Merriam-Webster says that to hate is "to feel extreme enmity toward" something or someone. Which makes me think of Genesis 3:15, when God says to the serpent/devil, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (NIV). Hate is what Satan feels toward God, and the Christ, and those given the right to be called His children. We in turn are to hate the devil and the sin brought into this world by Eve's choice. In Romans 12:9, Paul instructs us to "Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." Hate entered the world as this epic matter of good vs. evil, but in our society and speech it is so often reduced and applied to matters of personal preference and petty aversion.
Now, when someone says that they "hate split pea soup" or some such thing, I think it's pretty safe to assume they are merely expressing a taste preference and feel no actual malice toward all existing split pea soup in the world. But I think what bothers me is that, if it's true what they say, that hate breeds hate, it seems like it would be easier for a person who says he "hates" split pea soup, a college professor, people who complain, and the fact that his roommate never did the dishes to allow his "hate" to transcend matters of personal preference and enter the realm of bitter sentiment and malevolent action.
I think the fact that yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day had something to do with my ruminations. Did the hate that played itself out in segregation and cross burnings and bricks thrown through windows during the Civil Rights Era erupt in people independent of the violence of their anti-affections toward other things? Or did hate aleady have a foothold through intense hostility toward other things in life?
I don't know. These are just some things I'm thinking about today. But what I do know now is that if you want to date me, you'd better be schooled in common courtesy, look me in the eye, and leave no room for hate.