It’s a night every little girl dreams about. The preparations beforehand are seemingly endless – picking the perfect ensemble, planning every last detail of the evening’s events, and making sure every inch of your person is precisely plucked, shaved, waxed, groomed, and coiffed. Then there’s the anticipation. The jangling nerves, the bouncing butterflies, and that thunderbolt that hits right in the pit of your stomach when you realize the big event is less than five minutes away.
I’m talking, of course, about the first date in a burgeoning relationship, and while tradition dictates that it should probably precede all the other activities that characterize courtship, in college that’s just not the case.
From childhood, young girls are told that finding romantic satisfaction is the key to contentment. Disney movies preach procuring a prince as the answer to all a young girls’ problems, and the romantic comedies we college females guiltily cry over on lazy Sunday afternoons with our girlfriends aren’t much better. From perky pop music to classical paintings, our collective human culture is saturated with stories of courtship, romance, and love both lost and found.
But, what happens when you’re trying to date in a place like Isla Vista? A place that’s about as far removed from the fairy-tale forests and romantic castles of yore as you can get. College students don’t lock eyes underneath a starlit sky; we check each other’s assets out from opposite sides of a party. Sweet serenades and courtly carriage rides are replaced by slurred come-ons and early-morning walks of shame. Coitus often comes before courtship, and if you feel fireworks when you touch each other, you should probably go get tested at Student Health. Not to mention the fact that a lively game of beer pong – while fun in its own right – is not nearly as conducive to romance as most guys seem to think it is.
Suffice it to say, the University of Casual Sex and Beer may not be the best environment for that quaint concept known as romance, not mention the even quainter idea of courtship. In fact, even though I’ve had my share of collegiate relationships, I had pretty much given up any hope of ever having that proverbial perfect date by the time I met my current boyfriend.
In fact, my expectations for our romantic liaisons didn’t extend much past the prototypical pizza and beer scenario, and I considered it a sign of his ceaseless chivalry when he would make sure that I got the last Blue Moon from a mini-fridge full of Keystone Lights. When he was cool with me calling him “honey” in front of his friends, I knew I had someone special on my hands. But, after three years of living and learning the ways of collegiate courtship, I knew not to hold my breath for any Disney-esque romantic displays.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My boyfriend is an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, considerate, and kind man. He is no Neanderthal, and in fact, he’s a pretty cultured guy. And yet, we managed to make it almost a full month before embarking on anything that could even be called a conventional date. There were just too many other things to do with our time and money. And although we had been to movies, concerts, and many a party together, none of it was quite like the candlelit dinners of my childhood dreams.
Of course, when we finally did do the whole candlelit dinner thing, it was fantastic. It was everything a girl raised on a steady diet of fairy-tales and romantic comedies could have hoped for. We had a romantic dinner at a great restaurant, saw a thought-provoking movie we couldn’t stop talking about, and he even took me shopping. It was better than anything Disney could have dreamt up, that’s for sure.
But, as amazing as it was, I have to admit that there was something just a little bit strange about seeing my laidback lover all gussied up and gazing into my eyes over a dimly lit table. Gone were the pizzas and beer, the loud roommates and bad T.V. Gone were the distractions of our daily lives. It was just the two of us. And although it was really nice, it felt just a bit affected after years of telling myself that candlelit dinners were best left to enamored puppies with big plates of spaghetti and meatballs. Still, there was something special – dare I say, magical – about being able to tune out everything else and just spend some alone time with the guy I adore.
At least until his roommate started calling to see when he would be home to party. Suddenly, our illusions of intimacy were gone. Isla Vista’s notorious nightlife was calling, and as much as were enjoying the charade of real adults on a big-kid date, it was clear that kegs and costume parties were beckoning us back.
So, our evening didn’t end with a carriage ride. There was no orchestral accompaniment to the goodbye kiss we shared in the restaurant’s parking lot, and there certainly weren’t fireworks when he bid me adieu at my car. He didn’t tell me all about the sweet sorrow of parting, and I didn’t think to summon any woodland creatures to wave goodbye to us as we drove away after our meal.
After we got home, he went out with his friends and I went out with mine, and in classic I.V. fashion, we met up just in time to crawl into bed together at the end of the evening. The sweet scent of the stale beer someone had spilled on his shirt perfumed the air, and the light streaming in from my neighbors’ still-raging party lent the little room a golden glow. As we cuddled under the covers after doing things no good Disney heroine would, the sweet symphony of shouting and soused socialization from next door filled the room.
It may not have been an atmosphere conducive to the kind of courtship I dreamed about as a little girl – OK, so it wasn’t even a great atmosphere for falling asleep – but, it worked for us: on both counts.
I guess in the end, Isla Vista really isn’t a great realm for the romantic. Dating just isn’t done with white horses and red roses around here. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have great romance. After all, sharing a strand of spaghetti is great and all, but nothing says “I adore you” like sharing the last Blue Moon in the mini-fridge.