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Trial Balloons

Screen shot 2014-03-09 at 12.13.27 PMI had the most Oakland of Saturdays this weekend. After a run through the Trestle Glen hills, I made a pot of coffee and typed emails. Within half an hour I was on my way to the farmer’s market with Amara, and doing the broccoli wave to friends Michelle and Gary while ogling farm-fresh eggs. Then it was popping back into my studio for another cup of coffee before walking to the Oaklandish warehouse sale, dancing to the DJ’s song choices while we waited in line, and then taking the scenic walk home around Lake Merritt. This was followed by a cup of coffee and three hours of writing at my local pub, and then West by West, a free music event at a local brewery that proved to me the 90’s are back with a vengeance (mini backpacks, chunky Mary Janes with socks, updated gecko pants and flannel, flannel everywhere).

Just as I was pondering topping off the most Oakland of days with a burrito from my favorite taqueria, my friend Carolyn’s group of friends and I were talking about our days, and I made the mistake I often make in these moments, which is to mention writing.

“Ooo! What are you writing about?” they asked politely. I hate this question because I wind up feel pretentious for bringing it up.

“Dating,” I replied, trying to make it sound boring. The married couple was immediately uninterested, but the single guy sitting with us perked up. He went from being drunkenly distant to having coherent thoughts on the subject.

“I was just on one of the worst dates of my life,” he told me. How could I resist that opener?

“Tell me about it!” I encouraged.

We’ll call this guy Theo. He met a girl on OkCupid who seemed pretty cool. They’d exchanged a few messages, then had a few phone dates. Clearly, they had mental chemistry, and they wanted to meet up to see if anything physical would happen.

We paused here to discuss “phone dating.” I’m on the fence about it. A phone date gives you higher expectations and hopes for an in-person meeting. It’s akin to text flirting before you meet — same problemo. As Theo put it, “It makes the let down even worse if it doesn’t work out.”¬†Thinking back to Adam, who I phone dated during 50/50, and then had a fizzling out non-relationship with quickly, I couldn’t help but agree.

Theo continued his story. They’d met at a dark bar, and tucked themselves into a corner, and been a little touchy-feely in terms of hands on kneecaps. Then, the jokes began. Or were they jokes? The girl referenced her husband without context and didn’t say if she was kidding or not. She referenced rough sex. And then she said gleefully, “I hope you like fisting!”

Theo was confused. Was she simply floating up “trial balloons” to gauge his reaction?

“Wait, back up,” I cut in. “Trial balloons?”

“Yeah,” Theo said. “It’s like, you float an idea and see how it goes. A ‘Hey, maybe this…’ and if no one responds you yank the idea back down. They do it in politics a lot.”

“And it happens on dates a lot,” I surmised.

“Yep. It’s how you feel someone else out.”

But he wasn’t sure if he was being trial ballooned, or if this was too much. Was he being a prude for thinking this was moving quickly in a direction he wasn’t ready for? He backed up the conversation to more “getting to know you” topics, and the girl kept pushing forward into well-internet charted territory. Theo eventually decided this wasn’t his scene and cut the date off, politely mentioning he needed to catch the train.

The girl was not happy. She guilted him for not staying at her place that night, and sent him a long text the next day about what an [expletive] he was to which he responded with, “That’s fine.”

“What’s funny,” I mused, “is if you had gotten to know her a little more and then she pressured you to fist, or mentioned she was really married or whatever…if you liked her, it might not have mattered. You’d have been like, ‘Fisting? I’m in. Let me watch an instructional video about that!'”

Theo agreed. After capturing his story, I said goodbye to everyone and headed home. Even better than an Oakland day was a new dating term…but that burrito still had my name on it.

Trial balloons: know when to float them, and when to keep them tucked away.

 

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