Jen Doll | Longreads | April 2019 | 18 minutes (4,598 words)
According to those jaded but constant belief systems that keep the worst romantic comedies in business, the third date is the make-or-break one. In these busy times, the idea goes, by date three you’ve spent enough time together to determine if either of you is a serial killer, or hiding something very bad in your closet (metaphorical or otherwise), or has the tendency to type “hehehe” when laughing by text. And if the relationship by date three veers toward make rather than break, well, finally the “rules” have lifted: It is THE MOMENT to get naked (not at the restaurant, please). The thinking is based in some combination of propriety and sexual policing and also sheer time management: You haven’t put so much energy or effort into this budding romance that uncovering an in-the-sheets incompatibility ruins your entire life — but it’s also not so soon it’s considered “rushing in,” which, when applied to women, of course, means “being too slutty.”
No matter that “slutty” is an outmoded, sexist concept and that you should sleep with a person if and when you feel like it (and if and when they consent), I grew up with “the third date’s the sex date!” pressed upon me as, if not law, then at least a kind of informed ideology: Do it then to uncover any latent micropenises or irrecoverable technique problems; do it then to get it over with because would you look at that elephant in the room?; do it then to get the rest of your relationship started; do it then because by the third date, what else is there to do?
So, when it came time for the third date with a man I’d been seeing — a guy who lived in upstate New York, which meant our third date would be more of a weekend visit; did each night count as a date, I wondered, or was it the whole package, a kind of Club Med situation with dinners and entertainment included? — there was a certain amount of buried internal stress and anticipation related to the event. Not that I was going to go get a Brazilian, or anything. I was in my 40s. Those days of paying a stranger to rip large swathes of hair from my nether regions had blessedly gone by the by. (Yes, I said “nether regions.”) But in my brain, a place far more difficult for strangers to reach, my thoughts were going a little bit wild. I’d been dumped earlier in the year, I’d gotten back up and shaken myself off, I’d tried again, and I’d actually met someone. But how many rounds of the dating game was I prepared to endure? If things went in the direction of “break” — what next, not only for me and this guy, but maybe for me and anyone? This is what rom-coms never really tackle: What happens when you get so tired of dating, so disappointed by all the prospects, you just give up?
In the absence of answers, I sought to occupy myself. I took a train to Beacon, New York, a town about an hour away from where my date lived — he’d pick me up there the next day, and our third date would begin — and met some friends I was just getting to know. We watched a poet read from her impressive collection in a garden, surrounded by trees and flowers and sunshine. I wasn’t even so sure how I felt about poetry readings, but I liked this version of me, trying new things, with different people. I bought several of the poet’s books, and had her sign one, even though I’d not known much of her work until that moment.