The Most Disappointing First Date Behavior

Maybe it’s all a wash.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Look, you could read that headline and expect to see anything in the essay that follows from arriving half an hour late to bringing your pet tarantula Archibald to dinner. The modern dating landscape is nothing if not a wellspring of fresh hells, now solidly cemented in the minds of the actively dating population who currently suffer them. By comparison, the bad dating behavior I’m about to get into might seem like small, very dirty potatoes, but I’m telling you, it speaks volumes. The worst first date behavior I’ve encountered is a man showing up to a date in dirty clothes.

Literal laundry. Filthy tee-shirts, wrinkled khaki shorts, flip flops — one guy showed up in actual bathing trunks. I’ve been on a date with a guy who was wearing the same old concert tee in three of his profile photos and wore it to meet me as well, causing me to wonder if he was light on shirts and if we should have met at a Mervyns instead of a bar. Hair, if they had it, was unkempt, appearing to be fresh out of bed despite dates taking place at three in the afternoon. I always knew enough to keep my distance from these disheveled miscreants so I can’t offer a description of how they smelled, though one can surmise.

The amount of pre-date preparation the men I’ve gone on dates with have exerted is alarmingly low. It’s as if they did little more than pause their video game, rinse their mouth out with room-temperature Gatorade, and walk out the door. I stopped dating about two years ago for reasons that I’m certain are quite clear by now but I have such vivid, jarring memories of men showing up to go on dates with me looking like they thought they were on their way to help a friend move.

The larger theme here is effort, or a lack thereof. Dating, as it involves two people at a bare minimum, is an even playing field. Two people have agreed to meet for the purposes of finding out if there’s any romantic or sexual attraction present between the two of them, and that situation might suggest an even amount of deference should be paid to the way one looks physically. Otherwise let’s all just wear yoga pants and have done with it. I’ve been on an extremely high number of dates where I’ve met men who’ve put absolutely zero effort into their appearance while it took me two hours to leave the house.

I showered. I washed my hair. I shaved things. I put lotion on every part of me. I blow dried my hair. I flat ironed my hair. I put on a full face of makeup or what passes for a full face of makeup in my house. I switched my belongings from my main big purse to my little date purse. I composed an outfit. I put it on. I composed a different outfit. I put that on. I got deodorant on that outfit and thus composed a third look. I took a Lyft to the date instead of walking because I didn’t want to arrive sweaty and smelling of gym towels. I made an effort, do you understand? I respected this person, this situation, and treated it with a level of importance I felt our encounter required, otherwise why don’t we all just resign ourselves to the blissful ease of singlehood from here to our finals days? I know exactly when the throw blanket on my couch was last laundered and honestly it has better conversation skills than an alarming percentage of my dates.

It’s the imbalance. The insult of it all. How dare they? The complete lack of effort and respect displayed in my direction kicks our dates off to a deficit-filled start. Anyone wearing an actual stained white tee (it’s happened more than once) is going to have to convince me he’s my actual goddamned husband in order to make me ignore the fact that I made an effort and he made boxed mac-n-cheese an hour ago. To whom should I direct my Sephora bills? I’m not made of money and these men are, for lack of evidence to the contrary, made of auto mechanics’ rags.

Is it me? Am I attracting dirty sock energy? What gives? Clearly I can’t be that invested in getting to the bottom of an answer if my solution for avoiding further encounters with creatures from the laundry pile was to simply delete my dating apps and instead adopt hobbies that have since brought me joy and income. I think I’ve netted out alright, but it still doesn’t answer the question.

Why would a man show up to a date looking dirty, unkempt, sloppy, and totally okay with his disheveled appearance?

This behavior is perplexing at best and maddening after your 50th or so encounter with it. The lunacy in dating knows know bounds, but what’s always confused the bejesus out of me is, aren’t they supposed to care? Otherwise what are we even doing here? The very act of setting up a date must by its very nature involve some interest in the task at hand, otherwise why not just stay home with Call Of Duty PornHub Seamless Drizzly ESPN and a call it a day?

Dirty Clothes Dates communicate a few things to me, and they do so instantaneously. Literally before even shaking their hand or engaging in an awkward oh-hey-hi-hug so the surrounding human beings don’t stare at our first date like anthropologists starved for subjects, a man’s messy appearance has told me any combination of the following:

No thank you. To think of the difference in first impressions if only he’d put on a clean button-down shirt and run of brush of some kind through his hair. I wouldn’t have to waste time acquiring all of this unsavory knowledge and we could instead start in with whether or not we make each other laugh. Pity.

I speak of these behaviors in the past tense, of course. I haven’t subjected myself to the niceties of dating in quite some time, and I’m all the happier and less revolted for it. I do look forward to meeting someone out in the wild one day, in some situation where the painfully obvious and pointless dance of online dating played no part. Perhaps it will take place at a party, where he’s had to dress for more people than just the woman he doesn’t care he’s on a date with. Or in a professional setting, where a certain dress code is required. Or maybe we’ll meet on the street one day, and he’ll just be the kind of person who maintains an awareness of when pants need to be washed. I can’t say for sure, but I do know that when I meet my partner, concerns about his access to a washer/dryer combo won’t ever enter my mind.

If you’re reading this and you happen to be male, first of all hello and welcome. And second, make an effort. You know what, make more than “an effort.” I’d like us to stop asking the bare minimum of men and who am I if not someone willing to put my Medium where my mouth is. Make a lot of effort. Dress nicely. Be clean. Smell good. Put forth an appearance that matches the effort of the woman you’ve made plans to see. And if you don’t feel motivated to do so, dare I say you shouldn’t have made those plans in the first place?

Maybe if we required a certain amount of effort from the single, heterosexual male dating population, they would think twice about booking dates they couldn’t give two hoots about. Maybe this would lead to a higher quality of dates overall. Think about it, if you don’t actually care about the thing you’re about to do, do you have any motivation to do it well? Or will you just go through the motions until this thing you don’t care about is over? I’ve encountered some shocking behavior in my time but nothing will ever crumb my cream cheese as much as a man’s indifference for wasting a woman’s time.

To some degree, this is my fault. I could have helped. I should have helped. The second these living, breathing Linuses walked in the door, I should have walked out. I should have been their instant consequence, their punishment for not showering since yesterday. But I didn’t. I stuck it out, had two glasses of mediocre wine and then made some excuse about late dinner plans with friends or a big project at work. That was my mistake. I could have saved time, and perhaps made a difference in this world, if I’d firmly and clearly communicated to men who showed up to dates with me in dirty clothes that their afternoon would be better spent doing their chores. Maybe my walking out before these dates ever began would have been enough to communicate that dating, though twisted and distorted by the modern world, is actually quite clean and simple.


Shani Silver is a humor essayist and podcaster based in Brooklyn who writes on Medium, a lot.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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