Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

I had a huge crush on a girl during my senior year of college.  We had a class together and even though it wasn’t a huge lecture hall, she always seemed out of reach, either a couple of seats too far, or a couple of rows in front or behind me.  She ended up joining myself and some of my friends for a group project, but even then, she was kind of in and out, barely there at all.  None of us in the group were upset at her.  She was responsive, she got her work done, and she probably felt like an outsider since the rest of us were already friends, she just did her work independently of the group.  Naturally, I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to capitalize on  this group project to get to know her better, but one of the girls from the group did get her number when we started the project, so it wasn’t a total loss.  Now, I wasn’t going to take the number and ask her out, since that would be an invasion of privacy, but I was able to plead with my friend to contact her about my upcoming birthday that the rest of the group was invited to.

It was expected that she would politely decline, but instead of that being the end of the conversation, she asked my friend for my number.  She felt so honored that she was invited, that she wanted to get dinner with me at some later date to  make it up to me.  This was probably the best outcome that I could have hoped for, and it wasn’t even a scenario that I had accounted for.  Instead of trying to get to know her in front of all my friends at my birthday party, I would have the chance to get to know her in a more intimate setting.

She made good on her word and she called me a few days shortly after my birthday.  She apologized profusely for not making it to the party.  At this point I didn’t even care, but she wanted to explain, and unfortunately, that explanation took all the wind out of my sails.  It turns out that her boyfriend, who was out at sea, was in town for that weekend so he understandably was the higher priority.  I didn’t know she had a boyfriend, but I tried my best to not express any visible disappointment.  She still wanted to get dinner with me so I obliged and we set a date.  I figured that I might as well turn this girl who was a mystery to me for so long into an actual person, whether she was attainable or not.

I assume that we chose TGI Fridays as our dinner destination because we had just gotten out of college and not because it was either of our favorite restaurant.  She gave me a hug when she walked in, and we waited for our table.  I tried my best to keep my composure and make the conversation as smooth as possible, but I was extremely nervous.  When it came time to place our orders, I decided to order a steak, even though I’d never ordered a steak at TGI Fridays before.  It wasn’t incredibly expensive, but in retrospect, it’s weird that I ordered that, especially knowing how nerve wracked I was.

We talked about college and where we were headed now that we had graduated.  Her plan was to become a lawyer, and my plan was to become the next great filmmaker.  She was going to move back in to her mother’s house while she studied for the LSAT, and I was going to stick around Irvine, writing scripts, and hopefully making short films.  She mentioned how her boyfriend was in the military and that he wanted to be a doctor when he was  done with his service.  They had already planned it all out.  She would become a lawyer and she would support him while he went to school, until he could support her.  It was a very noble plan, and I had no intention of trying to get in their way.

Finally, the food arrived and I started to eat my steak.  After a few bites, I shoved a rather large chunk of steak into my mouth, chewed it a few times, and tried to swallow it.  It wasn’t working.  I tried to wash it down with some coke, but to no avail, I was choking.  I didn’t want to try to give myself the Heimlich Maneuver, or at least, not in front of her.  I wanted to excuse myself from the table but I couldn’t speak, and I didn’t want to interrupt her in the middle of whatever she was saying.  I was stuck, and I was terrified.  While I knew that we weren’t going to ride happily ever after into the sunset, I still didn’t want to look like a complete idiot in front of her, and here I was, not able to eat a steak without almost killing myself.

I ended up forcing it out on to the floor without giving myself the Heimlich, but at this point she was aware that I was choking.  She was obviously startled, but she tried to casually brush it off to save me from any more embarrassment than I was already feeling.  We were able to continue our conversation and enjoy the rest of the night.  We started to hang out regularly after that incident but things never aligned for us to start dating, even though she had friends who definitely preferred me to some of the other guys that she would date later.  I should’ve learned from this instance that I shouldn’t put so much stock in to that first encounter with a girl, but it’s I can’t help it because I’m such a dreamer.  I’d like for whatever girl I’m seeing to think I’d kill myself to be there with them that night, because it almost happened once, but I also hope that it never happens again.

I could easily skip over the chapter of my dating life that encompasses my early 20s.  There were a fair share of crushes and an equal number of rejections from said crushes.  It was an extremely long learning moment and I thought it was going to never end.  While I didn’t necessarily have problems talking to girls in college or in the years after, I had trouble asking them out, or making it clear that I wanted to date them and not just hang out.  A lot of the experiences kind of blur together but I remember one thing in particular very clearly.  Being obsessed with Julia Roberts romantic comedies or Sex in the City was a huge turn off for me.

I couldn’t immediately recall why.  The first thing that came to mind about my younger self is that I must’ve been especially elitist at the time, since Julia Roberts and Sex in the City were very much in the mainstream.  On top of that, romantic comedies, starring Julia Roberts or otherwise, and Sex in the City skew towards a female audience, so they’re naturally something a guy scoffs at.  I know that I didn’t fault girls for liking  “girly” films and TV shows, and I remember having some sort of respect for Sex in the City, perhaps because it was on HBO; I don’t think I’ve actually seen a whole episode.  I eventually realized that these oddly specific films and this TV show became a surrogate for my failures and not because of my elitist tastes.  They were a common trait in a lot of the girls that rejected me and because of that, I probably thought there some sort of warped feminist message in them, not that I’m particularly familiar with either.  It was why girls went to brunch with friends over going on a date with me.  That’s what I told myself.  It wasn’t them or me, it was Julia Roberts and Sarah Jessica Parker’s fault.

I eventually got over that.  It’s nice to see how far I’ve come since those days in the early 2000s, but it’s strange to connect how pop culture has been part of my dating process from the beginning.  I’ve always tried to be about finding a quality person with a good sense of humor and that sharing a love for the same kind of music or films would just be an added bonus.  It took a long time to realize that I was lying.  My humor, my interests, all tie in to my favorite bands and my favorite films.  There’s not much you can do to separate the two.  It’s not that I need someone that likes all the exact same things, but there needs to be some common ground.  Besides, I haven’t met a single Pavement or Replacements fan that I haven’t gotten along with.

When I first started my online dating experience, girls would ask me if I went to a lot of concerts. Based on the girl, I would tailor according to what I thought they wanted to hear.  My answers would range from a simple “Yes, all the time” to “I used to go to a lot of shows but I think that I’m starting to slow down.”  Neither answer was a lie, but the former is definitely a lot closer to the truth than the latter.  I think I believed the latter when I said it, hoping that whatever girl I said it to would somehow quell my love of concerts in some other way.  It might have worked, but I’d most likely end up at my usual spots, or waking up at odd hours trying to get Radiohead tickets.

My initial tendency on a date is to try to make things go as smoothly as possible, which is not necessarily a bad goal to have.  Unfortunately for me, when I started going on these dates, I was trying too hard, to the point where I started compromising who I was just to please some person that I had just met, and had no mutual connections to.   I wasn’t lying, but I was shuffling my interests around to better my chances.  This is not a bad initial strategy, but I was pretty awful at keeping up the charade, so it probably wasn’t the best strategy for me.

For instance, I once went on a first date with a girl at a wine bar.  It was a cordial date.  No sparks were flying, but it was far from a disaster.  While we didn’t have a ton in common, we were getting along, we were laughing, and then “Jenny and the Ess Dog” by Stephen Malkmus started playing overhead, and I had to bring the conversation to a halt.

“Sorry, but I really love this song.” I said.

“Oh don’t worry about it.” she replied.

I believe she asked a couple of questions about what we were listening to.  Instead of answering them quickly and moving on, I went on about Malkmus, then about Pavement, then probably about indie rock as a whole.  She graciously allowed me to go on and on about music, even though I know she didn’t appreciate music on such a geeky level.  In fact, I was trying to shy away from the subject all night until fate decided to intervene.  It didn’t sink the date but instead of following my plan of showing her what similarities we had, I spent a good 5 to 10 minutes highlighting a huge difference that we had.

We kept in touch and I tried to see her again.  We tried to set another date but her work proved to be quite a controlling mistress.  I know that if she really wanted to see me again, she could’ve made more of an effort, but I’ll stick with her story that work was swallowing her whole.  She was working at an advertising agency in LA so it was entirely in the realm of possibility.  While she wasn’t a perfect match, it sticks with me that I probably killed some of my momentum with my Stephen Malkmus tangent.  I’ve moved on happily since then, but it’s a reminder that I can’t run from who I am, whether it’s hating on movies and TV shows in my early 20s to nerding out about “Jenny and the Ess Dog” on dates at 30.