Sunday afternoon. Four of us — the single women at the baby shower — are hunched in a corner drinking Bloody Marys and ignoring a chorus of cooing over a Winnie the Pooh breast-feeding pillow. "All night long he talked to me through the bloody cat," Julie complains. "'Does Mummy like to snuggle? Isn’t Mummy funny?'"I snort my drink all over her winter-white skirt. She brushes it off without thinking and continues: "I bought leather knee-high boots for this guy?"
Every woman who has ever stumbled through an awkward evening with Mr. Very Wrong shares the common language of humiliation. Nothing is as humbling as trying to present yourself in the best light (candlelight, to be sure) only to have the evening go wildly off course. At some point during the date, the fluorescent lighting of mismatched pheromones switches on and you’re willing to give up the whispery hope of your first child to be home in bed with a bowl of popcorn. After all the preparations — picking a new outfit, shaving legs, straightening hair, applying a fresh coat of Viva Glam, and scanning The Globe
for a quick fix of potential topics of conversation — a date gone wrong is frustrating. Not only a waste of time, it's almost always embarrassing.
The market is saturated with books on How to Find a Man. There's plenty of confusing advice out there on the do's and don'ts of dating. Everyone hears the success stories. Everyone knows the recipe for an ideal date: one nice guy plus a great-hair day, a cup of good lighting, remove five pounds, a sprinkle of new perfume, and a liberal splash of Stoli vodka. That someone actually manages to cook up a date like this is rare.Playing with Matches
is for women who, let's face it, have much more experience with recipes for disaster than recipes for romance. We know that there are more bad dates out there than good ones. Intellectually, we also know that these misadventures build character. As Mom says, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?
The act of hanging out with someone to see if sparks fly is an integral part of learning who we are and what we like. A test run with different types of people teaches us to communicate and explore our own personal love limits. Can I cuddle with a man who blows his nose in a cloth napkin? Do I like to spank my lover? Do I have something in common with the director of a funeral home? Does a pierced nipple bother me? How about a pierced scrotum?
Women know about the X factor. No matter how carefully you pick your dates, plan the location, choose the menu, and pack your purse, the X factor can throw everything off balance in an instant. It can be anything: a tipsy grandmother, an impertinent dog, even a deep-seated fear of chocolate.
With our friends, we rejoice in the dates that provide such entertainment — embrace our misadventures, share the pain, and find the humor. We need something to remind us that no matter how awful our dates were, there's always someone else with a worse story. In the winter of 2004, I hosted a number of Bad Date Dinners, inviting small groups of close friends and acquaintances to share gruesome dating details over comfort food. At the end of every evening, people walked away with new friendships and cheeks stained with tears of laughter.
An initial e-mail request for tragic dating stories garnered well over two hundred replies. Women from around the world contributed their hilarious tales to this book. For close to a year, stories from Ireland, England, Asia, the United States, Australia, Germany, France, and, of course, Canada popped up in my inbox. Women in bars, overhearing conversations about this book, piped up with their stories. At my gym, where I'd placed a call for bad dates, a woman accosted me on the weight machine with a terrific story about sleeping with her sister's boyfriend, who also happened to be her
There are bad dates from every decade between 1950 and 2004. Some are outrageous. Others will seem innocent to our postmodern ears. But these are the dates that women from all ages and all countries chose to send in. It's what they remember, dozens of years and dates later, as being a "bad date." These stories are ones that women have carried with them, tucked deep in a pocket of their emotional purse.
One woman, for example, wrote of a trip she took in the early 1950s. Twenty-one years old and single, she started her trip in Wolfsburg, Germany, where she was asked on a date by a young German man. They went for a drive, ending up at a lookout over the city. "As we sat looking out at the lights," she wrote to me, "Albrecht’s long right arm slipped in behind me and he began making moves. The cars had only bench seats at that time, so he moved over to be close to me. I was horrified when I realized what his intentions were, so I pretended to be fascinated with the car and began asking questions about what the various lights were on the dash. Really stupid questions!" She ducked out of the passenger-side door and moved around to the driver's seat. After this dance continued for a while, Albrecht got the hint and took her home. Fifty years later, she writes, "It’s a date I don’t like remembering."
Some of the dates are painful. Most are very funny. All are real. The generosity of the women and men who contributed to this book stuns me, and I will be forever grateful. To those people, thank you. You shared all the nasty and delicious details, were beyond patient with me, and, as a result, turned tragedy into comedy. To keep up my end of the bargain, names and details were changed not only to encourage all the juicy tidbits but also to protect the not so innocent.
Many of the pseudonyms were picked by the contributors. One woman, saddled with an old-fashioned name, always dreamt of being called "Meadow." Another chose her late grandmother's name because, as she explained, "I think it’s been a while since she rolled over in her grave." Others were chosen to reflect a characteristic in the woman whose story I am sharing. The rest were pulled from baby name Web sites.
Before we go any further, I must add that any embellishments are my own. And any similarity to another
person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
As a newspaper and magazine journalist, I've heard some bizarre stories. But nothing compares to what comes out during an evening with girlfriends and a few bottles of wine. My friends and I learned early on to laugh at ourselves in love. We collect anecdotes — I've even been known to write down details I want to remember while my date is in the bathroom.
Like so many women, and as a survivor of countless terrible evenings, I consider myself an expert. I've dated an overweight manic eater who picked fights, and an anaesthetist who really did put me to sleep. I've gone out with a man who carved my name into his arm, and a man who tattooed his own name on his bicep in case he ever forgot it. Every new bad date made me swear off men forever. Until, of course, I was asked out again. Today, my good bad stories are legend among friends and family. "Don't worry," people say as they listen to someone else's recent misadventure, "at least he didn't carve your name into his arm."
Bad dates happen. Every night, another woman returns home reeling from a missed match. Finally, these women will be able to seek succour in the humour of shared experiences when there's no one to call at 2 a.m. Playing with Matches
will make you laugh, cry, and thank the dating goddesses that at least it didn't happen to you.
Excerpted from Playing With Matches by Amy Cameron. Copyright © 2005 by Amy Cameron. Excerpted by permission of Anchor Canada, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.