In the initial stage of dating, the guidebooks say we should stay positive — put our best foot forward. If that’s the case, Dan* and I both committed epic fails.
I met Dan at a friend’s birthday party. His tall, lithe frame instantly got my attention, and his pleasant personality held it. We talked long enough for me to learn we both loved the outdoors, solitary adventures, and cats. He used to ski competitively, which I took as a sign that he might understand my own drive to compete in the duathlon (run-bike-run). I decided I wouldn’t mind spending more time with Dan. He gave me his card, I e-mailed, and we set a date.
He was an absolute gentleman. He picked me up in his large SUV. (I’m not too keen on gas-guzzling vehicles, but I was glad that I didn’t have to drive anywhere.) We had a lovely light dinner at a tapas restaurant in Berkeley. Conversation flowed nicely. He opened doors. He didn’t try to kiss me, and he asked to see me again. He waited in front of my building until I was safely inside. I floated up the stairs, thrilled to have met such a charming, intelligent, and, yes, handsome man.
In the days to come, everything went awry.
The week after our Friday night date, Dan and I e-mailed every day. We shared the minutiae of our workdays and even made loose plans for date two: an afternoon stroll around Lake Merritt in Oakland, where I live. On the weekends, the area is alive with activity, with people of all stripes running, walking, and biking around the lake, or picnicking, dancing, and even tightrope walking in the adjacent park space. A Lake Merritt walk with a new date seemed like a fun, low-pressure way to get to know each other.
Unfortunately the positive momentum crashed around midweek, when our e-conversation turned to bikes. He expressed his unease at bike commuting (understandable), and then proceeded to list everything cyclists do that irritate him while he's driving.
“They take over the whole lane!"
"They ride the wrong way in the bike lane!"
"They run red lights!” he wrote.
All of these complaints and more I’ve heard before. But I had never heard what came next.
The gentleman that served me slivers of smoked salmon and charmed me with thoughtful conversation just days before wrote, when explaining the challenges of bicycling in city traffic, that hitting a pedestrian is "more fair" than "playing dice" with a car.
I read the note over and over, assuming he had either made a twisted joke or I had seriously misunderstood. I’m still not sure what he really meant, but regardless, it seemed acceptable to him to hit a pedestrian while riding a bike.
I immediately thought of Sustchi Hui, the 71-year-old man that was hit and killed by a rapidly descending cyclist in a San Francisco crosswalk. The cyclist ran a red light and barreled into pedestrian traffic. The incident generated some heated words against the cyclist that hit Hui and cyclists in general. Even those of us that ride respectfully were suddenly at fault.
Dan knew that I am a runner and cyclist. He knew that I spend a ridiculous amount of time on my bike, much of it in the company of cars. On Saturdays alone, I usually ride four hours or more on hilly roads throughout the San Francisco Bay Area’s eastern side. What Dan didn’t realize was that the car-bike collisions experienced by my club mates and myself have heightened my sense of bike advocacy. After riding head first into the side of a maroon Honda Accord that made a swift illegal U-turn, I became very interested in my city’s efforts to keep the roads safe for bicyclists, pedestrians, and cars.
I had to speak up. Dating rulebooks be damned.
“Hitting a pedestrian is never okay,” I wrote. I wrote and wrote some more, countering his criticisms and the off-the-wall comment.
Suddenly, I was less excited about date two and my supposed gentleman. I imagined him in his large SUV, cursing at cyclists and pedestrians. (I know that’s not fair, but my mind wanders.) Could he really understand my time-consuming, expensive hobby? My anticipation over this budding friendship and potential relationship fizzled with a simple email. I wondered how much we really had in common after all.
I didn’t cancel the date. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, so I worked to let go of my irritation. Maybe it’s just a misunderstanding, I thought. Maybe I’m being too hard on the guy. I can be super-critical of new dates, as if I’m just waiting for them to screw up. Eventually, I find some character flaw that deems them unacceptable: an odd habit, an opposing opinion, back hair.
As much as I wanted it to, the infatuation never came back. I wasn’t floating up the stairs anymore. A walk around the lake suddenly sounded tiring, not playful. I wondered if I might catch a cold in the next few days.
Turns out, date two mutually fell apart. We agreed to talk in a few days, but I didn’t hear from him for two weeks.
“I don’t think I want to date anyone right now,” he said.
Or did he just not want to date me, a woman that called him out on his B.S. just days after the first date?
So maybe I did break the “rules” by expressing my opinion and challenging his so early in the relationship. I’m glad I did. I realized that cycling is more important to me than I thought — more important than a date with a gentleman that doesn’t respect a mode of transportation and sport that I love. Next time I seek out a date, I’ll make sure he has a positive attitude toward me as well as those lovely two-wheeled machines.