Everything is wrong with me
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
the party bus and the eight levels of dating
At 3pm on Saturday afternoon, just as I was walking back to my apartment with my take-out breakfast in hand, I got a call from my buddy Hal. Hal is the brother of my old college roommate, Bill, he of Baldwin Brothers fame. Since Bill is from an NJ town just outside of NYC, I have gotten to know many of Bill’s hometown friends, including his brother Hal, as they often venture into the city.

The situation was this: Hal was in from NJ and Bill was flying down from Boston. Every year, these guys, their dad, and their dad’s friends get together to a touristy tour of NYC, chugging beers the whole way. Hal ostensibly asked me to join him and Bill on a drinking odyssey. The best part? It would be in a party bus.

Like most young men who enjoy sitting, drinking, leather, and shiny things, I love party buses. There is no better way to travel for a night on the town, really. It’s a totally self-contained unit, a true party on wheels, complete with cooler full of beers, comfy chairs that seat over a dozen, good tunes, and up close views of the vibrant nightlife and streets of NYC. If I had the money, I would rent a party bus every time I went out in the city. I can’t think of much that would make me happier that doesn’t involve narcotics and sexy bisexual ladies. And I guess the hope is that the party bus WOULD involve narcotics and sexy bisexual ladies, but you get it.

So Hal and Bill called me to join them in this party bus. They would not be partaking in the touristy activities (The Rockette’s Christmas Show, the Empire State Building, etc), but instead would be either drinking in bars near these places or driving around the bus drinking, before finally heading back to their NJ town to drink the night away.

I can’t express how much I was for this impromptu Saturday afternoon drinking tour. But my plan was to only stay for a little while, because I had (gasp!) a date that night. I was meeting my date for dinner later on that night and figured I shouldn’t get too bombed before the date (seeing as I’m a romantic and all). However, when after eight or so beers Hal suggested that I join them the rest of the evening, going all the way back to NJ with them in the bus, I knew that the date must be postponed. I was see-sawing until Bill put it best: “Dude, you’re in NYC with this girl all the time. How often are we in town and how often are we in town with a party bus?” Done deal.

So I called the lovely and wonderful Cara to explain the situation. Cara and I met a few weeks back, so she’s familiar with me and my steez (read: getting drunk and messing up). I rang her up at 6pm, three hours before we were supposed to meet.

Me: “Cara, listen, I’m sorry but I think I have to postpone the date.”
Cara: [genuinely ok with this, but surprised] “Um, ok. That’s cool.”
Me: “Oh, great. I’m really sorry, but it’s just that something came up last minute.”
Cara: [concerned] “Is everything ok?”
Me: “Yeah, yeah. It’s just that, and I didn’t realize this when I asked you out tonight, my buddies Bill and Hal are in from out of town and they have this awesome party bus and we’ve been drinking for a while, so I think I’m gonna go back to Jersey with them tonight.”
Cara: [confused] “What? Party bus?”
Me: “Yeah, you know, like a big ass limo-type bus filled with beer and booze. I had no idea they were doing this.”
Cara: [putting it all together, growing agitated] “So you’re going to get drunk in this bus with them tonight?”
Me: “I know it sounds stupid, but it’s an awesome bus. And really, you and I are in NYC like 300 nights a year, so we can reschedule anytime. But how often do you get to ride in a party bus, you know?

Wrong answer.

Since those words left my mouth, I have regretted them. Not only because I didn’t get to spend any time with Cara that night, and instead woke up on a couch with a vicious hangover, but also because Cara and I were at a very delicate point in our relationship: about to enter the vaunted 4th Level of Dating.

Modern dating can be divided into eight levels, which cover everything from the first time you see your love interest all the way up to when she’s helping your mom serve the deviled eggs on Christmas. These Eight Levels of Dating of below, with examples for those of you who are slow.

Level 1: Pre-Dating
This isn’t really dating per se, but rather the initiation of contact. For example: you’re at a friend’s party and see an attractive girl across the room. You ask the host, a mutual friend, who the girl is and once you get the word that she isn’t crazy and hasn’t had sex with any former or current NBA players, you approach. You try to make witty conversation but are limited because you took one too many Xanax before the party and are convinced that every time you speak to this girl you’re spitting on her face and in her hair.

In the days after the party, you spend most of your energy emailing the mutual friend to ensure that sometime in the near future you seemingly coincidentally hang out with this girl in a large group and in a casual and secure environment (with alcohol). She obliges, mostly because she feels sorry for you, but also because you threatened to hurt her family if she didn’t.

When you see the girl next, you are in tip-top shape: you have put on cologne, trimmed your pubes, made sure not too drink too much or take too many pills, and have done enough cocaine to cripple most teenagers (therefore you are the most fascinating person on the planet). You see the girl and are on fire – joking, laughing, making fun of others, hiding your incredible racism – and at the end of the party, you say something like “We should hang out sometime.” Lulled into a false sense of security, she gives you her number (though you secretly would have preferred her email address, because you are eons better in print than in person/over the phone). Congratulations, you may now move on to Level 2.

Level 2: The Explicit Invite Period
Level 2 is merely an extension of Level 1. But in Level 2, everything is more explicit, deliberate, and intentional. You call the girl after a few days to invite her (and her friends) to a bar where you (and your friends) will be hanging out. She agrees to come (and to bring friends).

Prior to her arrival, you share with your friends the battle plan: divide and conquer. You will talk to your girl and you expect your friends to at least partially entertain her friends. Knowing that they are drunks and incapable of actually doing this properly, you either a) bribe them with drinks at a later date or b) threaten them, reminding them that you haven’t been with a women in a while and have a lot of pent up sexual aggression, which, coupled with your astounding fat boy strength, can be devastating to the faces and/or genitals of said friends.

The girl arrives at the party. The good news is that you’re more confident, having secured her presence at the bar without your mutual friend, and she’s more comfortable, assuming that despite what her friends have said, you will more than likely not take her into the alley and make her whip your bare ass with your belt while you sing Boy George songs. More talking, laughing, and drinking. Things are going well.

Two variables about this period: 1) you may or may not get a kiss (or more); and 2) it may take more than one Explicit Invite to advance to Level 3. But fortunately, the gods are smiling upon you. When at the end of the night you suggest meeting for dinner sometime during the week, she accepts. You spend the next few days wondering what the hell happened to her in her childhood for her to consent to spending time with you alone. Probably some terrible, terrible things.

Level 3: The Weekday Date Period
Dinner or some other date variation on a non-prime night (Sunday through Wednesday; if you can get a Thursday, it’s a good sign). Also, in Level 3, what may have been obvious before is now official: you are courting this girl.

Level 3 is the make or break period. Studies have shown that around 70% of dates do not get past Level 3. The reason for this two-fold. First, it’s very hard to hide behind alcohol at 8pm on a Tuesday evening. You’re pretty much on your own here – for the first time in the courtship. Of course, you could hit the booze, but getting drunk or drinking too quickly will only prove that you are not a man unless you are intoxicated (which is of course true, but should not be known to the girl until month three of the relationship) and will invariably lead to you sticking your hand down your pants halfway through the entrée.

Second, a dinner requires around two hours of one-on-one time (as mentioned above, with little alcohol). During these two hours, you must prove to the girl not only that you are not into strangling during sex, but also that you are intelligent, well-liked/respected by your peers, witty, and generally a great person for genital-to-genital contact. Quite a tall order.

But again, the stars are aligned. Perhaps it’s because the margaritas are just strong enough to make everything a tad easier or perhaps it’s because her hair is so astoundingly pretty that you just want to choke on it, it matters not. The date goes well. You get home and recount the date to your roommate, who, because he is high, can not appreciate the significance of the evening. So you retreat to your bedroom with a bottle of wine to feel warm and listen to Elvis Costello. In the parlance of our times, “It’s on like Donkey Kong.” Congrats, old man – it’s on to Level 4. Welcome to the big leagues.

Level 4: The Weekend Date Period
If you’ve made it to Level 4, you’re doing something right. Level 4 means that you are hanging out on a prime night: Friday or Saturday (and possibly Thursday).

Also, it means that the pressure is (mostly) off. To secure a weekend night of a woman in New York City is a substantial accomplishment which only means that she may like you in return. I know, I know – I can’t believe it either, but all signs point to yes.

This is the most formal date yet. Moderately-but-not-too romantic dinner date followed by drinks at a bar that doesn’t host English dart league matches (think less “pub” or “tavern” and more “lounge” or something with a one word name). You do reasonably well, except when during dinner the waitress gives you the wine cork to check the wine’s aroma, instead of smelling it, you put it in your mouth to suck on it, unsure of how that whole process works. However, the girl finds this endearing, which is good. You only hope that four months from now, when you come home covered in piss, blood, and gin, she will find that endearing too.

This one of the longer periods. This doesn’t mean that once you graduate to Level 4 you’re only hanging out only on weekend nights, but rather that if you get two or more Level 4 dates under your belt, intersperse those with some weekday dates and group things, and voila – you’re dating someone. She’s not technically you’re girlfriend (and won’t be until Level 6), but you’re kinda/sorta/somewhat dating her. You’re still single, but those days may be numbered.

Also, making love, if it has already not happened, becomes a realistic goal. And considering my personal circumstances, there is absolutely no way I should have written this. But, I am high. So let’s just move on…

Level 5a: The “Yeah, She’s Kinda My Girlfriend” Period
Level 5b: The Weekday Evening Sex Period

Once you successfully get past Level 4, you’re onto Level 5, which is divided into two parts.

This is arguably the best Level, because, well, you pretty much have a girlfriend. It’s still not official yet, but you both know it’s true. There is near daily contact and you’re hanging out with her three nights a week, one of which is a weekend night. You will even stay over her place during the week, which is a monumental step in any relationship. You’re introduced to her wider circle of friends, who grill you with questions about everything from your musical tastes to what you do for a living to “I read something on your site about how you jerked off with an uncooked chicken breast – is that true?”

That’s the social aspect of Level 5 (5a). Concurrently with 5a, there is 5b: you are entering a realm of sensual delights. The sex is abundant and free. You are comfortable enough to call the girl at work at 5pm on Wednesday to say, “Hey, listen – I just found out that my roommate is going to be working late. Do you wanna come over after work to have sex in the kitchen? Because I don’t think we’ve done that yet.” And she agrees. Finally, everything is right with the world.

Level 6: The Love Period
Love. Sex. Girlfriend. And at this Level, the notion of having a girlfriend is a great and wonderful thing. You will tell your mom about her, who will sigh in relief, secreting thank the Lord above that you are telling her about your love for Bruce or Tad. You will take weekend trips where you will lay in bed naked, watching pay-per-view movies, eating pizza, and drinking wine. You will laugh and wonder how this feeling could ever end, because you are stupid with love.

Sadly, it does end. Sooner than you think, too. This level is an inherent dilemma. On the one hand, it is great because you feel better than you ever have. On the other, it’s bad because it’s all downhill from here. You’re only hope is to stay in this Level for as long as possible, although you have no control over these things. And since you’re not a good person, God and Fate are going to gang up on you and usher this period out the doors as soon as possible. I guess you shouldn’t have committed all those hate crimes back in the late 80’s.

Level 7: The Cracks in the Façade Period
You’re still in love, of course. You worked hard for this relationship and things are still very good between you and the girl. But you wonder…why does she have to talk to her mother every day, even when you’re on vacation? Is that really necessary? And she really takes a very long time to order at restaurants, even though you both know what she’s going to get. And why does it matter that you spend more time talking with your buddy John about the potential assist numbers for Rafer Alston than about your relationship? I mean, what’s there to talk about about the relationship? And why does she get all huffy when she calls you and you’re so high you think you’re talking to King Arthur? I mean, a man’s gotta have his fun.

Level 7: the beginning of the end. Also, the beginning of the rest of your life.

Level 8: Malaise
Routine has taken over. Sex in the kitchen on a Wednesday evening has been replaced by ok take-out food and “The Notebook.” Spontaneous weekend trips whose sole purpose was to get it on in another state are replaced by going to weddings of extended family members and more than likely not having sex (too tired “after such a big dinner and long drive”). Blowjobs are something you see every day on your computer and but in real life only on your birthday, Christmas, and anniversary. Going out with the guys, which was once a common occurrence, is now arranged and orchestrated with a diligence usually reserved for the Rose Bowl Parade. The idea of having a girlfriend, which once made you blush with delight, has lost its luster. The idea of having a mistress, however, sounds pretty good right about now. But you know you could never do this. You are in love. Right?

And this, folks, is how you get married. She might bring marriage and though you’re averse to it initially, you start warming to the idea. You think, “Well, maybe getting married is just the change of pace we need. Maybe it’ll give us the spark that has been missing for some time.” And so you get married. And that’s all she wrote.

A loving relationship is like a pair of jeans. When you first see the jeans in the store, you decide you need to have them and so buy them immediately. It takes a while for you to break them in and for you to feel comfortable in them, but in a matter of time you’re strutting around town looking and feeling great. You wear them all the time, get compliments, and they slowly become a part of you.

But as time passes, the jeans slowly begin to break down. The cuffs get frayed, there may be a tear or two in them, and they start to smell funny. But you keep on the wearing them, mostly because they’re your number one jeans and you’re attached to them. But also because you remember how long it took you to break in these jeans and you’re not ready to do that again to a new pair, which will more than likely not be as good as this pair anyway. So you keep wearing them. Forever. Or until they fall to pieces. Either way, it ain’t pretty.

And so just as Cara and I were about to enter that oh-so-important Level 4, I informed her that spending time in a bus getting drunk was more important than spending time with her. Smooth move. She politely said, “Well call me next week” and – god bless her – has agreed to see me again. So this time, I’m going to do something special for her. I’ve been doing push-ups every morning in preparation for the date and I have prepared a short dance number which will express my regret. I stayed up until 4:30 in the morning last night banging it out, and I think it’s going to be pretty good. If I had to describe it, I would say it has the moves of Prince in the “Bat Dance” video but with George Michael’s look from the “Faith” era set to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”.

So wish me luck. I don’t often get past Level 3, so I am willing to go the extra mile for Level 4. Even if it means dancing. Or arson. Or murder. Whatever really. Now back to the dancing.

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