Fifth rule: Don’t say stupid stuff in an attempt to make connections. (Translation: Be subtle, thoughtful, and tactful).
One time Kay invited me to a gathering at her house. The excuse she used to get me there made no sense at all so I should have seen the real reason, but I was blissfully ignorant until I arrived at her house for brunch with 10 people I didn’t really know (refer back to rule 3 – and consider that I am an introvert who is uncomfortable in large groups of strangers). The only people at this gathering I actually knew were, Kay, Mac, and their one year old– who had to take a nap. Basically I shrink into invisible mode and spend the next hour or two in agony. Toward the end of this particular gathering, several of the couples had left, leaving one other couple and the lucky single guy. It gets slightly more comfortable for me at this point because of sheer numbers but I’m looking for an excuse to leave. Kay, bless her heart, turns to Mike and says “Do you like dogs?” He responds something about his parents having dogs, so she excited jumped in “Reenie has dogs!” Oh gosh. Now I wanted the floor to swallow me up. Instead I waited a second or two (trying to preserve some shred of dignity), stood up, loaded the dishwasher and made my escape as soon as possible. There is simply no recovering after a statement like that.
Kay was trying to make a connection but instead of helping make that connection, it was just so obvious and made it feel so artificial and downright uncomfortable. Setter uppers need to watch out for this as it is really easy to fall into. Sure, bring up something the people being set up having in common, but go for subtlety and don’t get overly excited.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am going to admit right here that I have broken this rule. And I don’t even feel bad about it. It was months into game nights with JP and Lee and JP still hadn’t asked for her phone number. We were going out after softball. Lee had ridden in my car but I wasn’t going straight to the restaurant. JP offers tentatively (which was a HUGE step for him), “I could take you.” I jump into my car and peel out of the parking lot (not terribly subtle). My sister in law and partner in setting these two up says loudly to her husband, “Get in the car, get in the car!” He shoots Lee an “I hope you’re okay!” glace and follows her direction. Neither of us was tactful for subtle there—but I will say that it was the night that JP and Lee finally talked and started going out!
But back to why subtle, thoughtful, and tactful are such a good idea: recently someone I barely know tried to set me up with a son of her best friend. So there I was, at work, eating a sandwich and trying to write a project timeline in my humble little office. My cell phone rings. I don’t recognize the number so I figure I’ll listen to the voicemail and see if it merits attention. A few minutes later I listen, and oh what a voicemail:
“Hi Reenie, it’s Mary (we teaches the special ed girl in my religious ed class but I wouldn’t say we are particularly close otherwise). Put this number in your phone xxxxx. There’s this guy named Ryan I want you to meet. He’s the son of my best friend. Call me back.” As she goes to hang up, you can hear peals of giggles – so you know she’s out to lunch with said friend and they think they are being SO clever. Subtle? I think not.
I call Mary back an hour later, not sure how to avoid the inevitable (you know I can’t say no, even to a ridiculous set up). As Mary answers, I can hear lots of laughter. The ladies are still together. Mary is clearly SO excited to be part of this fabulous plan. She says her best friend is Cam, who has been through her life for many, many years, through thick and thin. Cam has a son Brian, who is 34, Catholic, single and despairing of ever finding a great Catholic girl who practices her faith. On my end of the phone, I can hear Cam feeding Mary information about him “Tell her he’s an engineer with a good job.” “He’s an engineer with a good job, hey, your dad is an engineer.” Mm hm. Mary to Cam: “Her dad is an engineer!” Cam: “He designs radars!” Mary: “He designs radars and is just a dear, dear guy.”
Somehow, over the course of this 5 minute conversation, the plan develops (without any actual input from me). Sunday. We’ll meet at Mass and then all go to lunch afterward. Cam yells in the background “Tell her I’m buying lunch!” Mary: “Camille is buying everyone lunch! Won’t this be great!?” More giggling into the phone. “Oh I can’t wait for you to meet him. Okay, we’ll see you then!!!”
Sunday rolls around and there we were, at this cafe, after Mass. Mary introduces me to her friends, Cam, Cam’s husband, and Ryan. It is awkward (he makes no eye contact and appears to be praying the ground will open up and swallow him—I could relate!), we proceed into the cafe. As Ryan walks just ahead of Mary, she turns and whispers loudly to me “He’s really shy!” to explain his awkward behavior. Um, he can hear you. And Ahhhhhhhhhh. What the heck am I doing here? Subtle? Tactful? No. Not at all.
So we arrive at a table set for six. Mary grabs my arm “You sit in the middle, right here in the middle.” This makes no sense to me because it seems to me that the foursome (who are friends) should sit together. I end up moving down one to facilitate that. Cam grabs her son’s arm, “You sit here, across from Reenie,” she said excitedly. Really? We couldn’t have figured that out without that awkward intervention? Really?
This leads me to my next rule — it’s best not to involve mom. Even if mom is involved in the set up, I can tell you from recent experience, there is nothing more awkward than brunch with mom for a first meeting. Don’t do it. If your mom isn’t involved… don’t tell her either. Really all of this is better without your mom.
Since I know you’re dying to hear how that one turned out (and you’re totally bored with the rules anyway)… brunch was awkward. But sometimes I even impress myself, and I have to say I am amazingly good at rising to the occasion in the face of awkwardness, particularly if someone is more uncomfortable than me. Though I was uncomfortable, this guy made it really easy to switch into rescue mode. I smiled and pretended this was the most natural and comfortable thing. I asked him questions. We talked about his job. A lot. And a couple times during brunch, while we were just sitting there managing a normal, adult conversation, (and I was pretending this was comfortable), I caught Mary and Cam exchanging excited grins and winks as if to say, “Hey LOOOK!! They’re TALKING!” One time Cam even gave Mary a “thumbs up.” I wanted to die. Right. Like I said, don’t involve Mom. Too awkward.
And then I asked about his family. And he talked about them, a lot. I have to say, I’m good at asking good questions and giving people room to talk. But I do think, at some point, even in the face of awkward set ups, it is helpful if the other person reciprocates. He obviously didn’t understand that me asking half a dozen interested questions about his job was the perfect lead in to him asking “So what do you do?” Alas, that never happened. He has no idea what I do. Same for questions about his family. He mentioned a sister, I asked the obvious question “Do you just have the one sister?” So I learned a lot about his family (not to mention being at lunch with his parents). When he finished talking about them, it fell silent. Perfect opportunity to say “Tell me about your family.” Nope.
There’s a handy tip gents: When you’re on a date or a set up or whatever you call these situations – ask questions. It makes it a lot smoother when one person isn’t the only one asking questions.
Lucky for Ryan, Mary tried to help out. “Reenie has a big family, how many siblings do you have Reenie?” A few minutes later, Mary’s husband thought he’d help Ryan out too, “Reenie, did you tell him about the slide at your parent’s house?” Nope, somehow that never came up as we discussed Ryan’s job at length. So Mary’s husband talks a bit about how he knows my dad and the slide and then conversation moves on to other things. It was really awesome to realize they brought up those little factoids to spark conversation because those are literally the only things they know about me. (See rule 3) They don’t actually know me well enough to even pull the awkward line about dogs! (A mixed blessing really).
The moral of this particular story leads me to my sixth rule: If it sounds awful, you don’t have to agree to it. I am particularly bad at this one. But seriously, I should have stuck with my gut and told Mary that I would be open to meeting this guy but would prefer coffee with the two of us rather than brunch with people watching. Especially his mom and her excitable BFF. Seriously, Reenie, learn to say no already.
Or another time, that time my acquaintance set me up with her cousin? Right. For our first meeting, he thought the natural history museum would be fun. I wanted to die just thinking about a date at the natural history museum. But I felt bad nixing the idea and went along with it… and let me tell you, it was awful. One of the worst first dates ever… because let’s be honest, it isn’t like you’ve got a ton to discuss there at a lame natural history museum they haven’t updated since I last visited at age 12. “So hey, dinosaur bones.” “yup.” I shudder to think I agreed to this regardless of the fact that this awkward first meeting was at this awkward museum with a person who I already knew was awkward (at least on the phone) Righto. Take it from me, if it sounds awful, you don’t have to agree with it.
To the single people out there – I’m not saying you shouldn’t be open to being set up. In fact, since I haven’t met anyone on my own, I feel I should give set ups a fair chance. I’m trying to be open to new and interesting ways to meet people. BUT it is okay and probably wise to put some limitations on that. No to brunch with mom. No to a first date at the natural museum. No to chasing a man down in the car. Have some standards.