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11/30/2010

I used to think even the most horrific dates were at least worth the story. Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I always loved a good, “terrible” story I could write home about—or rather, recall with tears and/or laughter over the telephone with my friends. I’ve begun to grow weary of the bad dates with the funny stories—but I’ll admit that I haven’t completely lost my sense of humor.

I recently went on a tragic date that can best be summarized by a timely (and thus somewhat eerie) Onion article, titled “Horrified Man Looks On Powerlessly As He Ruins Date.” Just as in the article, the date began smoothly, and soon spiraled down a drain so deep, the couple was beyond life preservers.

In said Onion article, the fictitious gentleman on the date named Kevin Parker can’t help himself but to discuss one awkward topic after another for long periods of time, including ramblings about getting his oil changed and paying too much; his parents’ divorcing and his own former bed-wetting troubles, as well as moping about his ex-girlfriend.

“Summoning his strength for one last heroic effort, Parker said he began talking about his dog, found himself unable to discuss anything beyond how the pet had been his only comfort during a break-up last year, and then proceeded to spend five minutes explaining how he was ‘totally over’ his ex-girlfriend now.

“‘There was this loud, disturbing noise, and I realized it was my own voice,’ Parker said. ‘I remember looking around the room thinking, 'For God's sake, somebody do something!' Then I just sort of went numb for a few minutes there as I watched myself talk about my laundry schedule.’”

I recently found myself on a date with a “Parker” who could not stop talking about very awkward subject matters at length. Except, I was the one thinking, “For God’s sake, somebody do something!” or “Come on now, where are hidden cameras? Are they behind the bar?”

We met for casual drinks and the date started on a high note. We joked about politics, the weird people next to us at the bar and other light topics. Conversation flowed, we weren’t drinking heavily to endure the date (yet) and there were a few laughs in between. About 30 minutes in, my “Parker” couldn’t help himself.

He went into a luxurious discussion about his ex-girlfriend. He described her family problems, he mentioned twice how good the sex was with her and how charismatic a person he was with her. Yes, he used the word, “charismatic.”

I sat listening to this nonsense and wondered, “Do I have ‘therapist’ written on my forehead?”

And then I thought, “Bartender?”

And then, “Taxi?”

Somewhere in between his ramblings about where he’d met her and how he’d gone wrong, I went to my happy place and started thinking about Jewess Patti Stanger of the show The Millionaire Matchmaker. Despite her rough demeanor, I love the woman. Stanger gives a pretty spectacular guide of what not to do on the first date: Don’t mention the ex; Don’t discuss God or politics; Don’t use them for therapy; Don’t get wasted; Don’t bring up marriage or kids; Don’t talk dirty; Don’t be rude. My “Parker” broke nearly all of her rules.

I drifted between half-amusement and disdain for this guy until something he said caught my attention. He talked about how his girlfriend became a different person after they’d started dating and, in some ways, he didn’t recognize her anymore. With sadness in his eyes, he described going out with friends of hers and said she didn’t appear to interact with them as they expected. He said they noted that she laughed less.

Because there aren’t enough pop culture references in here, I thought I’d throw in a couple more. After polling friends on Facebook and tasking them to Google search with me extensively, we could not place the exact episode, but there was an episode of Grey’s Anatomy (probably in season 5), in which Meredith Grey talks about the fear of chipping away at herself when in a relationship, to the point where she might barely recognize her single self anymore. She describes it as making herself fit as one half of a whole (couple). (Sounds like every episode—right? Well, I am referring to a specific one. Ten points to whoever can pinpoint the right episode!)

I also recalled the pair of series finale episodes in Sex and the City, when Carrie symbolically loses her “Carrie” necklace in the midst of settling into a bad relationship with Aleksandr Petrovsky in Paris. She, too, is losing her identity.

By no means, do I think this tendency to lose oneself in a relationship is reserved for women. However, it appears to be a recurring theme among heroines in the modern TV mellow-drama-comedy. One could argue it’s an old theme. Interestingly, however, it troubles these modern female characters in ways that perhaps, it didn’t 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

I dated a guy a while back who was gluten-intolerant and all I wanted to do when I was around him was eat bread. Perhaps, I too, have concerns about morphing too much for my man.

Back to my “Parker:” He spoke in earnest about how he’d lost the girl he once knew, somewhere in the midst of the relationship. I was touched and a bit saddened for the both of them.

In some ways I share TV character Meredith Grey’s belief that we shift our shape, to fit together with that other person—our missing piece. It’s inevitable. We take on a variation of ourselves even in our friendships.

I discussed this idea with a friend who pointed out that the danger perhaps, arises when we change or even mute ourselves to fit with that significant other. Ideally, she said, we hope to be with someone in which you bring out the best versions of each other. I agree with her theory.

Part of the heartache with break-ups, too, is when we can’t be the person we were trying to be for that new person. We break up, and the relationship leaves us somewhat altered and bewildered versions of ourselves never to completely return to our original states. Some might call this altered state our “baggage” we carry.

Are we meant to return to who we once were? Are we better or worse for those changes?

Each person we meet impacts us and changes us, but hopefully not at the expense of losing ourselves.

Another wise friend of mine pointed out that maybe a nightmare date like the one I had with my “Parker” serves as reminder that when we get into new relationships—ones that start with healthy first dates—that we check in with ourselves once in a while and make sure we still recognize ourselves in the mirror.

If nothing else, I say, know when you’ve met a “Parker” and hail that taxi as quickly as you can.

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