Board Game Date

—Monday, November 14, 2011—

Aside from man himself, there is perhaps no game more dangerous than the dating game. It eats some of us alive, spits us out and carries on to the next unsuspecting victim. I don’t like to think of it as a game, but there’s no denying that even the language of love is laden with competitive references.

“That guy is such a player.”
“Did you score last night?”
“There’s a lot of talent on the floor.”

It’s exhausting how books like The Game, and the social rules associated with dating, are so pervasive these days. One of the reasons I started this project was to show that dating doesn’t have to be about games. People can be honest with each other, and with themselves, and dating will still be a beneficial experience. In fact, I’d say the winning percentage is higher for those who avoid the game altogether.

On this date, there were no games except for the ones on the table.

I was running a little behind, so I called Sadie on my way to Common Ground in the East Village to find that she was already inside. I realized that I hadn’t taken a picture of myself yet, so I paused to do that. I felt like a jackass whenever I took one of these pictures in public, but since it was for my legion of fans, I swallowed my pride and snapped one.

Board Game Date 1

Entering the bar, I greeted Sadie and shook her hand. After ordering a drink, we found seats in a more comfortable section. Common Ground was known for being a board game bar, something I did not know existed, but I was lucky enough to find Sadie, who knew all about it from her time living in the area.

To be accurate, Sadie found me. She stumbled upon the OHD site and contacted me, saying that she would be a willing participant for this date. We exchanged a number of messages starting back in July of 2011 but it wasn’t until earlier that month (November) that plans began to materialize. We chose a subdued Monday night to get our game on, and so there we were, straight from the office.

For our first round of drinks, we virtually ignored the board game theme of our evening. It was important to have a fair shake before battle, so we spent some time verbally shaking each other’s hands, getting acquainted with one another.

Sadie wanted to know if I was competitive, and while I considered myself a fairly competitive person, recent years of learning to mellow out had taken the edge off a bit. I’m sure growing up in a very athletic town and playing various sports had contributed to that combative attitude.

Having grown up only one town over from where Sadie attended college, there were a number of kids from my high school who had gone to school with her. Also, since Sadie was from Connecticut, she likely knew some kids who went to my school in Southern CT. We played the name game to see if we knew anyone from our homes or colleges, or even the improv theater where we had both taken classes (maybe she would know Walking Date — she didn’t).

In fact, we already knew that we had one person in common — Nina, the Open Mic Date — who had lived with Sadie when she first moved to the city. They had gone to college together but didn’t know that they’d both reached out to the same guy with a dating project (me), until Nina and I had already gone out.

It was an incredibly small world we lived in and it appeared that Sadie and I knew several people in common. I was not surprised — that kind of thing happened in the Northeast all the time.

In discussing the merits of urban versus suburban life, I learned quickly that Sadie was likely smarter than me and did not let people slide if she disagreed with them. She was confident and honest in conversation. It was obvious that she didn’t play around.

In talking about why I stopped being an athlete when I went to school, we discovered that we both hosted college radio shows. This was really cool — I don’t think I’d ever been out with a woman who had had a radio show in college. She had a few different shows, as had I, and hers were a little more talk oriented than mine. If I had to do it now, I would run a very different show, likely involving more dialog. Radio was my first love at Fairfield, and even after I defected to the improv crowd, it remained a great best friend.

In chatting about the recreational sports we had played as adults, I mentioned playing for my company’s basketball team, which led us to discussing our jobs. Sadie worked as a grant manager for a charitable organization, and had previously worked for the IRS. The latter gig meant that she actually somewhat grasped what I did for work, since it related to financial compliance. I appreciated her understanding since almost no one had any idea what I did, sitting behind that desk all day.

Sadie had been so outgoing about this whole experience that it was no surprise we soon talked about dating while on our date. She questioned me on how I thought of board games as a date theme. It sounded like something fun to do and I thought that was all you really needed for a good date. A little friendly competition would add a playful element too. Playful competition — that must be the part of the dating game that people enjoy.

For those of us who are competitive, the idea of getting a phone number or a date satisfies that desire to win, and if we can flirt in the meantime, it is fairly fun. If dating is a game, then flirtation is a dance — there are no winners or losers, and you only come out on top if you both look good. I’d like it if more dates were extended dances.

We grabbed another round of drinks and then broke out the game that Sadie had brought — Pentago. The box told us that it only took 30 seconds to learn but a lifetime to master. Sadie explained the rules to me — arrange five balls in a row, rotate a square after each turn — seemed simple enough. We played a practice round, which she let me win, and I thought I had the hang of it.

As we played, we talked about music and about what she used to play on her radio show. I told her that I liked all types of music, so long as it was done well, and that I could be a snob about music at times. Despite that, there was some terrible stuff that I genuinely liked. She asked me for what I found to be the best worst music, or what my guiltiest pleasure might have been. I didn’t have a concise answer, but I felt that the entire genre of pop-punk summed it up best. I would always love power chords, palm muting and nasally vocals — not matter how juvenile I knew them to be.

All the talk of radio and music got us on to the more interesting topic of podcasts and storytelling, as heard on the much loved program, The Moth Radio Hour. We each dished on our favorite podcasts and I told her about the storytelling class I had taken with Adam Wade earlier that year. I even went as far as to summarize the story that I told for the class, which was all about my own doubts holding me back from being forward with women. It had a happy ending, but it was basically a sad sack story of a guy who was too shy to act on his romantic instincts.

While that guy still showed up now and then, the whole OHD thing had really helped me get over it. Ultimately though, I still liked a woman who took charge, which was probably why I never had much appreciation for traditional gender roles where a man did all the courting.

The worst thing for me to hear was, “I was waiting for you to kiss me.” Come on, ladies — don’t wait!

Sometimes, most of the time, I was scared shitless or simply trying not to offend someone. On an actual date, a woman would never offend me by kissing me. It was possible that I might not be ecstatic about the choice to kiss me, but the chances that I would feel taken advantage of, or attacked, were virtually zero. I will venture to say that the same could be said for most men.

We got to talking about OHD and whether or not it made dates better or worse. I found, at that time, that it made most everyone a little less nervous and a bit more open, since there was less at stake. By and large, there was no relationship hanging in the balance. It was like a dating scrimmage.

Take for example, the very conversation we were having. This very open and honest talk on dating — we wouldn’t have been having it without OHD. Our very context had led us to talk about so many interesting things that we would have likely avoided on a typical first date.

Finally, in the midst of an engaging dialog, I distracted Sadie enough to win a game against her. I had been losing every single one of them up until that point and felt more or less like an idiot. We had taken some pauses to play quietly, when the games were intense, but other times, we talked right over the action. Now that I had won one, Sadie was paying even greater attention.

I almost beat her a second time, but she stole the victory at the last moment. Damn. Inevitably, the conversation consumed us enough that we stopped playing altogether and decided to get food. Sadie knew of a Mexican grocery store that sold burritos nearby, and I wanted to be there as soon as possible.

With burritos ordered, and two beers requested, Sadie and I grabbed seats in the rear of the store. I asked how long she had been doing the single thing. About a year, she said. She liked the independence of it and she was very content on her own.

Now, I believe that people enjoy their independence and are happy on their own, but my immediate thought is always, “Sure, but what about sex?” Everyone misses that, don’t they? It’s not like you just flip a switch when you decide to be independent. I kept my mouth shut, but the question lingered.

Our food arrived and the woman who served us dug out two cans of beer from a hidden box in the back of the refrigerator. As she poured the illegal beers into styrofoam cups, Sadie said to her, “Thanks, we won’t tell.” To which she replied, in Spanish, “I can’t [do this], but no one looks.” That lady had the keys to my heart.

Post-burritos, we walked to Union Square to catch trains home. Sadie mentioned independence again, and dating bubbled back up, so I asked her, “As a blunt, pragmatic woman, who has been single for a year, how do you deal with sex?” I’d have been more surprised with my courage to ask that question if I hadn’t had that last beer.

Sadie laughed and said that she liked sex and had it when she wanted to. And just in case, she had a vibrator. It was a response I would have expected from someone who enjoyed being single and had remained that way. I was glad I asked her. I felt validated. Those people who suppressed their sexuality were a little crazy, right?

Beneath Union Square, we crossed through the subway’s turnstiles and walked over the platform to where the N/Q/R platform stairs were waiting to separate us. Sadie was going downtown, me uptown.

“Well, thanks. I had a great time,” I said.
“Yeah, me too,” she replied.

I learned forward for a hug, but I saw that she was going in for kiss. A quick adjustment was made, and before I knew what was happening, we were making out like two single twenty-somethings on a subway platform. This wasn’t just some cursory kiss goodnight, this was the kind of public kissing that parents shielded from their children’s eyes.

Damn, I liked a woman who took change.

After a minute or two of kissing, and at least one downtown train missed, I quarter-jokingly said, “Looks like you missed a train just to kiss me. Sure you don’t want to take the uptown to beautiful Queens?”

Sadie smiled, “I can’t tonight.”
“Okay. Another time maybe,” I said as I kicked the nonexistent dirt beneath my feet.
Before parting, she assured me, “We should hang out again, in whatever capacity.”

Looked like we had a rematch on our hands.