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by C. Jeanette Tyson

     Forget the elections. If you can. The real test of strategy these days seems to be in the sexual/culinary politics of dating.
     Yes, itís been a while since Iíve engaged in that particular contact sport but I remember a time when a date meant dinner. Of course back then dinner did not also mean seventy dollars for a sitter, shortchanging the freelance project that would pay the property taxes, or for-going a cozy evening in pjís on the sofa with cheerios, Little Bear and two cuddly kids. Back then even a bad date trumped all the ways I was wasting my time.
Not so anymore. The singles game in your forties is a huge psycho-socio -economic drama that plays out interestingly on the culinary stage. Sabers are drawn on the very first line.

    Consider this:
     Phone rings. I answer. I hear an unfamiliar male voice: Hi Jeanette, this is Fred. You donít know me but Amy thinks we ought to get together and I was wondering if youíd like to... have coffee sometime

     Oooh. Translated that means: I owe Amy a favor for some reason you donít need to know about but I donít want to waste a lot of time because chances are you have thick ankles or some hair thing going on that Iím not going to like. 
     Unfamiliar male voice quickly adds: Or lunch, lunch is okay. 
     Translated: Hey, I donít want you to think Iím a shallow cad. Iím a decent guy, after all, despite the fact my ex-wife found deeper satisfaction with the pool boy. Iím mature enough to give you a chance even if you do have thick ankles. Also I make a lot of money, babe, more than enough to buy you salad and a glass of iced tea.
     Gee, how could a girl refuse?
     Granted, these days coffee is something of a financial investment but itís hardly romantic. Coffee is something you do with old college professors and other people with whom you have a limited number of things to talk about. Coffee is finite, what are you going to do, order another triple whipped soy chai with nutmeg? Isnít the whole sweet point of dating to give yourself over to possibility? To let the twin streams of fate and desire sweep you along (and hopefully not dump you out?)
     What about this: guy asks girl for a drink, but he asks her to a south-of-the-border style hacienda a bit off the beaten path. The patio, with its tropical plants and ochre and eggplant colors, is lush and sensual. The wine list is long. Conversation flows, the atmosphere seems charged, as if lightning is about to strike, thunder about to roll; other people, other noise fades away. Then he looks at his watch. Not once but twice. 
     Woman: Is there somewhere you need to be?
     Man: No, no. I made reservations for dinner in the other room. Would you like to stay?
     BINGO! Romantic yet practical or vice versa, who cares, here we are, back in the clear full-mooned sky of possibility. Here we are, closing the place down at midnight. Here we are, two people on the planet who havenít gone all weird, or if we have, at least weíve gone more or less in the same way.
     No matter where you started, letís say you make it this far, to a full-fledged dinner. Then comes the time when he comes over to your house to partake of something youíve created with your own hands. Maybe itís set up as a casual thing; he brings a video, you throw together a salad but call in pizza. Maybe you have on blue jeans or maybe a sexy dress but no shoes. Maybe you light a few candles or maybe you keep all lights blazing.
     In the dating game, dining in ups the ante because everyone knows youíre only a room or two away from the bedroom. If this happens early enough, say the third or fourth date, it could be a big turning point in the whole drama. If this happens at the third or fourth date, youíre going to spend the whole next day burning up the email with your girlfriends because no ballgame anywhere is ever going to come under more next-day armchair scrutiny. Everyone is going to want to know what you had for dessert.

     Picnics are a wild card. They score high on romance in an Oklahoma ! sort of way but thereís also no way out. In their studied casualness, they put on a lot of pressure. They bring economics into the situation; itís roasted chicken not Jeffreyís, after all. And  if itís too remote, they rob a girl of a chance to wear great shoes. Always risky. Then thereís the whole outdoor sex thing. But thatís a pretty advanced scenario for me at this point. Generally Iím willing to give a picnic guy points for attempting a difficult maneuver.
     Three meals a day, snacks, coffee, cocktails, popcorn; itís a new and complicated language Iím learning, with unpredictable tense changes, difficult pronouns, layers of meaning.
     At least breakfast still means breakfast.
     I hope.

C. Jeanette Tyson is AustinMama.com's beloved Foodie-in-the-Field.


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