Excerpt from 121 First Dates

by Wendy Newman

You’re on a date. You like where this is going. He’s funny, he’s cute, he’s asking you about your life, he’s telling you about his, and you see no red flags (not even a pink Post-it note). Yay!

A couple of hours in, he talks about how every year he spends Christmas at his aunt’s house in Lake Tahoe. Oh, yeah, the whole family goes up; it’s a big deal. The place has five bedrooms and there’s always plenty of room; there’s a hot tub; you can ski in and out of the property; and they own a bunch of snowmobiles and everything. Then he says, “Do you even like snowmobiling? My mom and aunt would like you.”

It’s your first date. It’s August. Did he just invite you to Christmas?

Fast-forward to your second date. You discover you both love Elvis Costello. You tell him your favorite song is “Blue Chair” but no one ever knows that one. Your second favorite is “Shipbuilding.” He doesn’t have a favorite, but he likes yours. Then he says, “I’ve never known a bigger Elvis fan than me. It would be so fun to see Elvis with you.”

Is Elvis even playing in your town soon? Is he asking you to see Elvis Costello with him?

It’s your third date. You learn he not only surfs but he spent a summer teaching children how to surf. You know how to boogie board; that’s it. You express your love of boogie boarding, and he says, “Oh, that sounds fun, but there’s nothing like surfing. Surfing and boogie boarding are different. And you seem athletic; I’m sure you have the core for it. You’d be a natural. I think it would be fun teaching you.”

Did he just promise to teach you how to surf? When are you going? Where will you learn? Will you stay overnight? Is he talking about a romantic weekend away in Carmel?

Nope. I’m sorry, my love, but he wasn’t. He did not invite you to Christmas or to see Elvis Costello or to spend a romantic weekend in Carmel.

Men do this thing and they don’t even know they do it. Alison Armstrong calls it Photoshopping.

He’s in front of you but he’s picturing you in all kinds of scenarios in his life to see if you’ll fit. He’s “Photoshopping” you into these scenarios. The problem is, they do this unconsciously and (unfortunately for you) out loud. They have no idea how tempting and easy it is to listen to what they’re saying and take it as plans and promises of a future together.

Remember back when you were a little girl and you had a paper doll? The paper doll had paper outfits you could try on her. Maybe a chef’s hat or a policewoman’s uniform or a nurse’s uniform or a skirt and briefcase. Imagine he’s trying you on in his life like you tried different outfits on your paper doll. He’s trying to see you fit in his world. It’s how he can seem like he’s coming on too strong. Or how you could seem to come on too strong with him when he’s making these comments out loud and you’re running with them as a plan.

It’s unfair and kind of rage-inducing, and I’m sorry. They don’t do it on purpose. They don’t do it to hurt us. But know this: if the invitation doesn’t have an exact location and a date attached to it, it’s not real. I’d say wait for a phrase that sounds something like this: “Would you like to go see Elvis Costello with me at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on September third?”

That’s how you know it’s a plan or a promise.

Instead of getting frustrated with him or overexcited and coming on too strong when he’s playing paper dolls with you, you can think instead, “Oh, good, he’s seeing how well we fit together, so he most likely likes me,” and leave it at that.


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