I’ve dated pretty regularly in Miami since moving here in 2010. I’ve gone out with everyone from millennials to mid-lifers and been disillusioned in Miami’s hidden dives and Collins Avenue five-star lobbies. I’ve also been dumped by bus boys and CEOs alike.
I’ve been hooked into OKStupid, swiped through Tinder, and I’ve even paid for a month of Match.com. For many of my single friends and me, dating in Miami can be summed up in one word: disappointing.
But is there something we can do to mitigate our disappointment? It may be time for those of us on the singles scene to start thinking about managing expectations.
What if grabbing a drink was really just grabbing a drink? At the bar all could be equal — I don’t owe them anything, and they don’t owe me anything. Could we drop the initial calculations of who’s going home with whom? The underlying crackle of sex is exciting and certainly a motivating factor, but it can also be toxic for those trying to manage expectations on a date. If sex is the primary focal point, then it automatically sets up an expectation that may or may not be met. And this singular focus can warp the date, stripping away the pleasantries of getting to know someone in favor of moving headlong into a waiting bed.
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When sex becomes the hub of a date, people have split attention. They’re both present at the bar and thinking forward to the liaison. With this divided attention how can we really be absorbed in each other’s stories? Maybe not every date is meant for deep conversation — certainly several of my own have moved expediently from bar to bedroom. So in the end, the date could conclude with you unsheathing a condom or it may not. But if you’re worrying about how it’s all going to end you’re not enjoying the process.
I see going on a date as a privilege. I get to experience something so many people don’t have the time or luxury to do — grab a drink. And shouldn’t gratitude play a part? Here I am at the bar with a date rather than working a second shift, rather than being alone in my hotel room on a business trip, rather than collapsing over my doctoral dissertation. I think starting from a place of gratitude might actually be an ideal foundation for a date.
Gratitude and happiness have a symbiotic relationship, so what I would really be creating is an aura of contentment.Who wouldn’t want to step into that?
I can just sit there, and let myself grow engaged and open and surprised. This would mean dropping the baggage of lookism. I wouldn’t judge their uncool T-shirt as soon as they walked in and they wouldn’t evaluate my low-cut dress. So many of us are doing easy math in our heads just based on what our date is wearing. Although, fashion is art and fashion is important, it shouldn’t throw up barriers.
At this theoretical happy hour, no one is scheming to see how far they can push the sexual boundaries. No one is networking or angling for a business connection. When it comes to dates, it’s arguably time to turn the resume off, leave the strategizing at the office and keep the business cards tucked safely away in suit pockets. When you are managing expectations on a date, there is no one is objectifying her (insert salacious hint here) or emasculating him (insert question to determine what car he drives here).
The ideal date stems not from archaic gender roles but from unadulterated openness and curiosity. It’s not about what you can get from someone but what you are comfortable sharing with them. With this philosophy, the conversation can freely veer from careers, to books, to racism, to food, to sexual trends. And there’s also something notably absent: I’m not thinking “Is he good boyfriend material?” “Will he text tomorrow?”
And he’s not thinking “I wonder how I can get her into bed?” “And what is she into?”
It’s just two people sipping the end of their drinks, chatting. This conversation goes on so long that the bartender is wiping down the already-clean bar. And you are the only two left. You gather your things and push through the air-conditioning suction of the bar into the muggy Miami night. And, oh, the sidewalk, so much is decided on the sidewalk. I say, “It was so nice talking to you.” And he says, “Yeah, it was a great night.” We hug. Then, we each turn in separate directions and head down the sidewalk to make peace with our empty apartments.
Dr. Katharine Westaway teaches women's and gender studies at the University of Miami.