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A Senior Moment
'First Dates'

February 5, 2017

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One peril of the retirement years can be too much free time. Combine that with a too-handy remote control and 174 TV channels to explore and you could end up, as I did, watching First Dates.

 This Canadian reality show on Slice Network has just finished filming its second season with release dates still to be announced. Season one’s action takes place in a Vancouver restaurant. The premise of First Dates is that its producer selects men and women from a long list of single applicants, matches them for some general dating objectives and has them meet over dinner for what is essentially a blind date. Over 40 cameras proceed to eavesdrop on each conversation. At evening’s end the couple is then free to decide whether or not to continue their relationship.

I found myself addicted to the drama which inevitably ensues. Which couples will make it to a second date? How would each participant present himself or herself? What qualities are attractive and which become a turnoff? What would be the focus of conversation? I had been previously hooked on Marriage At First Sight (columns April 12 & 19, 2015.) In that reality show, curiosity was immediately aroused; when a couple meets for the first time only at their wedding, would this unusual relationship be sustained beyond the honeymoon? The trouble was that I was forced to sit through the whole series before ever finding out who were on their way to live happily ever after.

This is the great advantage of First Dates. After thirty minutes I find out who made the cut. One embryonic relationship foundered when a woman forgot her date’s name; another felt the guy wasn’t refined enough and told him so. One first date began with an impatient young suitor planning their wedding details which understandably spooked his intended. Some daters talked incessantly while others had painful awkward gaps in their conversation. One bored female redirected her interest to the good looking bartender.

Watching First Dates resurrected my own long ago, but still painful, memories of the dating game. In grade seven at Toronto’s Humewood PS, I was encouraged by my friend, Charles, to phone a young classmate whom I hoped might like me. Her mother answered and went off to call her daughter to the phone. It was only after waiting an anxious 15 minutes with the receiver glued to my ear that I finally caught on that Marilyn was never going to come to the phone.

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In my grade ten year at Downsview Collegiate, Lucinda invited me to join her one evening while she babysat across the street from her home. The innocently-romantic liaison was soon interrupted by her angry –and very large--- irate father who burst through the front door and proclaimed loudly to both of us that she was being paid to watch the sleeping children not entertain a boy. I made a hasty exit while Lucinda burst into embarrassed tears.

At college in Iowa, fortunes finally improved. Being a foreign student and athlete elicited some curiosity and interest from a few coeds. In September of my second year, I arrived on campus a week early along with other Varsity football players and cross country runners for training. The entire freshman class came at the same time for their orientation week.

On that weekend, the athletes were invited to join the freshmen retreat at a majestic State park near the Mississippi River. After darkness fell, a giant bonfire was lit and singing ensued. I was sitting on top of a hill at the periphery of the large circled gathering. Nearby, I noticed a young woman on crutches. Her recent knee surgery prevented her from climbing down the hill to draw closer to the warmth of the fire. I gallantly offered to carry her down the incline. Fortunately, I managed not to drop the first year student en route. Fellow athletes, noticing my cool moves, proceeded to demand that I now lead the American crowd in singing “Alouette” with my high school French. Donna was impressed and I got that second date.

A year later I found myself being invited home by another girlfriend, whose grandmother was a stern, retired missionary newly returned from Africa. Well known by this time as a campus atheist, I failed mightily to impress Granny. A “Dear Bob” letter soon followed.

At last entering adulthood, I stepped up my dating game. In Toronto during the Sixties, many singles found their way to Timothy Eaton Church, not for religion, but to attend their Friday dances and Sunday evening discussions, a more genteel alternative to the bar scene. My initial overtures toward an attractive blonde nurse went well until her boyfriend arrived to drive her home. Persevering, I phoned her a week later for a date. Re-introducing myself, she replied with some confusion “Which Bob is this?” I felt like I was one of many suitors. Within eight months, however, we were married.

Valentine’s Day is soon upon us. Singles now have computerized dating services, face book profiles, Twitter and other digital points of contact unknown to us older folks back then. We can now add First Dates to that list of resources if you live in Vancouver. Regardless of technology, a couple still has to navigate that uncertain journey from strangers to lovers. Then as now, there are shoals along the way which can sink their love boat. Sail carefully ... but do enjoy the voyage!

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