Dating 1010: Theory and Methodology of Car Doors and Sweet Nothings

(Originally ran on January 5th, 2004 as "Dating 1010: Theory and methods of car doors and sweet nothings")

Ladies and gentlemen, I have experienced a colossal epiphany!

(Insert stock footage of raucous munchkin celebration)

Over the break I read a book called Winesburg, Ohio, by a guy named Sherwood Anderson*. It’s a fascinating group of stories set in a small town circa 1915. I was amazed as I observed the simplicity of life portrayed in the book. Carriages were used instead of cars, newspapers instead of televisions, and computers only had 10-gig hard drives.

But what shocked me the most were the descriptions of dating customs. Whenever anyone in the book went on a date, all they’d do is go walk around the streets together at night. From what I could gather, the best-case scenario for a 1915 night on the town was the following:

7:00- Walk around town

8:00- Make out

They never did anything else. No dinners, no movies, no bowling. They’d just

wander around the streets until about 9pm, then call it a night. Then they’d go out the next night and do the same thing. The sidewalks must have been extremely crowded on weekends. If couples decided to go on a double date, they would really jam up the walkways. Senior Prom must have been nothing but hundreds of youths wandering the streets hand-in-hand, like they were in some kind of bad McDonalds commercial.

Of course, if the couple really got to liking each other, it was time to move on to the next level. At this point the whispering of "sweet nothings" came into play. I have always wondered what "sweet nothings" were, and finally concluded that they were the kinds of words that came only in a moment of specific inspiration, like the words one uses when addressing an Amway salesman. But thanks to the Winesburg account, I now have a line guaranteed to incite romance from even the most frigid of hearts.

According to George, the protagonist of the novel, a prospective courtier must grasp the shoulders of his prospective love, look deeply into her beckoning eyes, then mutter "lust and night and women." Then he’s home free. It’s right there on page 188. Who knows where I’d be today if I’d had that line to use over the years? Walking around? Sweet nothings? What about theme dates and cell phone etiquette?

Instead I’ve been left to figure out the enigma that is twenty-first century dating in Cache Valley. In 1915, the practice of chivalry was a given, even if it only had to be maintained for an hour while wandering around under streetlights. But today such practice is the source of heated controversy.

I will now throw the ice bucket of wisdom on the flames of the infamous "door-opening" controversy. It is a subject I was compelled to address during my days writing in Salt Lake, and I see a similar need here in Cache Valley. It is the mistaken impression of many that a guy seeks to open doors for his date because he thinks she is incapable of opening the door herself. Such treatment, it is thought, abbreviates the independence of the woman and renders her, as Marx might have said, "an appendage to a machine."

But this assessment could not be farther from the truth. Guys put an emphasis on opening the door for their dates because they know it is one of the few operations they can execute successfully. Many guys will practice in their driveways for hours before a date, opening and closing car doors. When a man opens your door, he is saying, "look at the skill with which I open this door. Observe how I operate the handle with ease. I am the very zenith of manliness, eh?"

Not that opening a door is an easy procedure. When approaching the door of, say, a restaurant or meat locker, there is always the danger of winding up on the wrong side of your date, thus opening the door directly into her face. Such incidents are bound to put a stink on even the most well intended evenings.

Which is why I’m advocating the simplicity of 1915. Let us toss aside the red tape and excess baggage of modern courtship, and spend our evenings pacing the friendly streets of Logan. Maybe for a little variety we can bring along a yo-yo or some hedge-clippers for selfless gardening opportunities. Just remember that when the goal is genuine affection, the key is "lust and night and women."

*Now dead.