One day, my flatmate* wandered in, looking flustered. ‘I really don’t know what to wear for this date,’ she said. ‘I have zero expectations’. She had her reasons for being so pessimistic: her date had been sending her mixed messages during their brief courtship, and just when she was beginning to forget him, six months later, he texted out of the blue, inviting her to an exhibition.
It was a sultry Indian summer afternoon, but she was not feeling the warmth. ‘This weather is confusing my soul!’ she complained as she scoured her wardrobe for something suitable. She finally settled on a long-sleeved Breton striped top and black jeans, and after I convinced her that she would broil in her chosen grey suede boots, replaced them with open-toed wedges. The date was abysmal. He had shown up 40 minutes late, so hung-over that they had to leave the exhibition half way through, and made several confused suggestions that included a film, a massage, a drink in a pub far-away and then going home because he felt queasy. When she came back, understandably disappointed, she said again, ‘well at least I didn’t make an effort with my appearance!’
It then occurred to me that outfits and dates are intrinsically expectant. Clothes are for the most part success orientated: the coat that weathers all storms; the shirt that secures the promotion; the mini-skirt that pulls; the deconstructed trousers that signal alternativeness. Women’s clothes especially, are designed to enhance sex appeal, even when they are masquerading as work or sportswear; a certain neckline deepens a cleavage, while a slyly positioned stripe slims a thigh. Dressing for a date with no expectations is near impossible because you go against clothing’s fundamental optimism.
What my flatmate did, was to present the most armoured version of herself. The Breton stripes are her second skin (she wears them most days), while the black jeans and boots she gravitated towards even on a sunny day gave her elegance, but more importantly, protection. It was as though she sensed her heart wasn’t safe with this flake, and she had better guard it tooth and nail. After her absent expectations had come to pass, she was satisfied that her coolly demure outfit hadn’t given too much away. How galling it would have been to wear hope on her sleeve for one with a track record of disappointing her!
Having expectations in the very early stage of a relationship has become distinctly unfashionable. While it’s wise to run from anyone who displays a calculated spouse or shag strategy in the first five minutes, the current advice that you should date without attachment or expectation, so that you avoid being hurt, is misery-making. Ironically, by censoring hope that things should go well, we repress the most magnetic part of ourselves and end up more confused and jaded than ever.
But what can you realistically expect in the first few dates? In a few words: mutual attraction, connection and respect. If you don’t have a spark, can’t hold an engaging conversation or are being mistreated, then you should feel deflated. Disappointment hurts, but allowing yourself to hope and lose, rather than expecting nothing at all, puts you in touch with the reality of the situation and your desires. Being self-aware will help you actualise something greater in the future.
*Thanks to my flatmate for lending me her story. I’m a daylight robber, not a thief in the night.