Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Playing games

The matchmaker calls me herself one day to tell me about my new match. "I have a good feeling about this one", she says. "You two have a lot in common." Then she refuses to tell me anything else, insisting that she wants the magic to unfold naturally like a blossoming flower.

She's a bit much sometimes, that matchmaker. I mean "blossoming flower"? Gag.

But as much as I dislike her greeting-card philosophy of love, I am also tempted by it. Who doesn't want magic? Magic is seductive. Magic is entrancing. It's romantic and elusive and effervescent. It's exactly what I'm paying her to find for me.

With that in mind, when I arrive at the coffee shop where I'm going to meet Guy, I'm not only cautiously optimistic that he could be a good match…I'm incautiously optimistic. I order my venti mocha 2% half-caf no whip with the confidence of a woman who knows that love is right around the corner. I haven't even met the guy yet, and I'm already grinning ear to ear like a fool.

"Jen?"
"Yes! Guy? It's so nice to meet you!"
"You too," he says.
"Is this table okay? Do you want to sit near the fireplace instead?"
"Here's good."
"The matchmaker was very secretive about you," I say. "But she said that we had a lot in common."
"Really?"
"Yeah. And she refused to tell me what, so I'm very curious. What hobbies do you have?"
"Reading."
"I love to read! I'm in two book clubs and I do a lot of reading in addition to that. Sometimes four books a week! What kind of books do you like?"
"Mysteries."
"Me too! Do you have a favorite author?"
"Agatha Christie."
"Oh, she's wonderful!" I say. Then, knowing that I sometimes have a tendency to dominate conversations, I wait so that he has the chance to share his opinion.

Strangely, none is forthcoming. He's sitting across the table, patiently waiting for me to say something.

"Do you have a favorite sleuth?" I ask.
"Yes."

I wait.

To no avail.

"Which one is your favorite?" I ask.
"Poirot," he says.
"And his little gray cells! He's awesome."
"Yes," he says.
"Murder on the Orient Express is one of my all-time favorites," I say.
"Mine too," he says.
"I totally didn't see that ending coming. Did you figure it out?"
"Of course."
"I'm very impressed! How long did it take you?"
"Red kimono."

Wait a minute. I'm thinking. Am I in the middle of a strange variation of a game of Questions?

Questions is a game where you and your opponent have a whole conversation saying nothing but questions. If you say a statement, a rhetorical question, or a something that has already been asked during the match, your opponent gets a point. The trick with the game is that, typically, somebody will ask you, "Do you want to play questions?" and the match has started without you knowing the rules or even realizing that the game exists.

I'm starting to feel like my laconic friend Guy is playing a game with me where I ask questions, and he finds a way to answer them in no more than two words. Unfortunately, I had really hoped to play the game where my opponent and I have a conversation with the intent of learning something about each other.

Have you ever played that game? It's called "First Date".

I don't particularly like being roped into a game where the rules are unclear, so I'm wary that Guy is playing me. But as I keep asking questions and he keeps being tersely friendly, I can see that he isn't being adversarial. He's smiling and listening intently to everything I say. No, I think he's just shy.

I'm more sympathetic of that. Shy people have a really hard time playing First Date.

And it isn't like I'm the world's best conversationalist either. I have plenty of moments in my life where I'm socially awkward. Sometimes I take some time to warm up to someone. And even if I don't do everything right the first time, that doesn't mean that I'm not worth getting to know. If I expect my dates to cut me a little slack, I should show them the same courtesy, right?

So I make the conscious decision that since I know he's shy, I'm going to give him a few dates to feel more comfortable. As I find out (one question at a time), we do have a lot in common, especially a love of trying new kinds of food, so we make plans to go to the International District for dim sum.

That date goes a little better. He's worked up to three-word answers, and we have a really interesting discussion listing all of the uncommon foods we've tried. ("...Ostrich. Buffalo. Alligator on a stick…") I decide to give him another chance. He's getting better, I tell myself. He'll come around. I can be patient.

During the third date, however, he is only managing four-word answers, and my patience is dwindling. I'm still starting every conversation, and I'm running out of things to talk about. Shouldn't he want to know things about me? If he really liked me, I wouldn't be able to shut him up. Shouldn't he be a little bothered that his main contribution to this date has been to slurp his bubble tea?

And where, exactly, is all that magic I was promised? No romance. No mystery. No effervescence. "Blossoming flower?" My foot.

By the time the waitress puts my food in front of me, I've managed to work myself into a seething heap of resentment.

I gave you plenty of chances! I think as viciously stab a clove of garlic. I am sick of pushing the conversational boulder up this hill. I ignored your really annoying personality quirk out of the goodness of my heart and you didn't have the decency to guess that I didn't like this about you and change it to please me. I need to date someone with more relationship skills than that.

"How is your bulgogi?" he asks.
"Good," I reply.
"You're good with chopsticks," he says.
"Thanks."
"Is something wrong, Jen?"
"Nope."
"Hot pot next time?"
"No, thanks," I say.
He thinks for a bit. "Are we finished, then?"
"Yes," I say.

And that was the end of that.

You may think I was too abrupt with Short-Answer Guy, but we'd been through the course of an entire dysfunctional relationship in three dates, and honestly, there just wasn't anything else to say.

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