Playing With Matches

by Jennifer Garstang October 31, 2012


By Jennifer Garstang

My date and I lay on the sun-kissed sand, listening to waves lapping the shore. We cuddled up, enjoying a well-deserved rest after a game of Frisbee toss. Two of our fellow beachgoers made stunt kites dance across the sky, and a flock of pelicans soared overhead in a graceful V formation. I looked at my date’s contented smile as he gazed up at the sky… just in time to see his smile transform into a look of horror. He cried out, rolling sideways, but he was too late. The pelican projectile hit him squarely on the cheek.

In that one date, he scraped his ankle on a rock, a billiard table ate all of our quarters, and, of course, he got poop-bombed by a pelican…and we both agree that it was one of the best dates of our lives. No, it’s not because he and I had never been on a decent date (I know that’s what you’re thinking, you snarky people). It’s because he and I made it wonderful.

He could have spent the whole time sulking about the pelican poop. I could have wasted time feeling terrible that things had gone so wrong. But instead, he reacted as gracefully as anyone could when they have a large bird turd on their bare skin, and I laughed and found a clean napkin in my purse to help him wipe it off. As we made our way back to a nearby coffee shop to wash up, rather than kvetching, we rehashed our adventure: me marveling at his quick reflexes (which had saved him from taking that turd in the eye), and him animatedly sharing what went through his head as he watched the bird-crafted missile fall right toward his face.

You see, the secret to having a great date is summed up by a delightful Yiddish phrase: “A bi gezunt,” which translates loosely to “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” A date is not about having everything go perfectly. It’s about spending time with another person you enjoy. If you spend your time worrying about everything going exactly according to “plan,” you won’t be focusing on the important part: the person you’re with. In that case, even if everything is going perfectly, it’s probably not actually going as well as you think.

To illustrate this phenomenon, let’s contrast the date of “The Pelican Incident” with another date from back in my college days.

We’d met in ballroom dance class and bonded over adventures at Hillel. So, when he asked me out three weeks after my first boyfriend and I had broken it off, I gave a whole-hearted yes. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as he made his way up the driveway on the night of our date. Then things started to go terribly, horribly… right.

He’d baked me two heaping plates of chocolate chip cookies, insisted on holding every door, and always walked street-side (proving that chivalry is not dead, but can be rather annoying when used to excess). We had an incredible sushi dinner, returned to his place to watch “When Harry Met Sally” (to be fair, this was my idea, not his) on his massive 150-inch TV, and danced a rumba by candlelight (his idea, not mine).

An hour or two after this perfect, magical date, I sat on my sofa crying. My roommate came out, put an arm around me, and asked what was wrong. My response: “I think I made a huge mistake breaking up with my boyfriend, and I’m probably failing all my classes, and I’m pretty sure I’m dating a serial killer!”

I was definitely wrong about the first two statements, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a serial killer. He was just a sweet guy with a misguided notion of how to create the perfect date. The problem was, he didn’t really take me into consideration. I felt like I was playing out a rehearsed script that had very little to do with who I was. He must have told me I was beautiful a hundred times, but we had very little real conversation. Nor did he stop to think about my need to recover from a recent breakup, or the fact that I had expressed a desire to take things slow. So, when he told me he wasn’t seeing anyone else until he knew where this was going, my answer was (though I didn’t tell him in that moment) “this is going nowhere.”

I never went out with Ballroom Dance Guy again, but I am still seeing the Battler of Bird Turds. We’ve been on many dates since, including some that went exactly according to plan AND were incredible. But the date of “The Pelican Incident” will always hold a special place in our hearts. Because when you’re really there with the other person, even pelican poop can’t ruin a perfect date.


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