Dating in South Carolina

by H. Hope Jones

When I left the land of non-committal, upwardly mobile beautiful people in San Francisco, I traded my fast-paced life of IPO parties and over-stimulated sensory awareness for a more peaceful world. In Charleston, South Carolina, I knew I would find people able to commit to coffee at least one day in advance. Perhaps men would be interested in more than the sport-dating of San Francisco, where something better is always just up ahead.

I hadn't heard the phrase 'give it up' since my senior year at a Florida high school. Everyone knew that Linda had given it up too easily to Joe Junior, even if he was captain of the football team. He hadn't even promised to go with her yet. Everyone worried that no one would else would ever date Linda, now that she'd given it up. I left for a New England college and assumed that these Southerners matured into fully liberated sexual beings as I did, on my experimental spring-break road trips.

How wrong I was.

When I returned to the South, a nice man from North Carolina asked me out five days in advance. "Five days in advance," I said on the phone to my best San Francisco friend, Alison, over and over again.

"He must really like you," she replied. "Do you think he's rebounding? Or gay?"

When Bill arrived on that Friday night, he presented me with flowers. Befuddled at this gesture, I merely thanked him. Before life in San Francisco, I received first-date bouquets often. Now, my mind aflutter with the possibilities of a man bearing flowers so early in a relationship, I nearly severed a vein while trimming down the stems with a pair of scissors.

"Just give me a minute to put these in a vase," I called over my shoulder, overlooking the way he maneuvered a toothpick between his front teeth.

Over the course of the evening, Bill's brown eyes strayed to the dangling strands of beads draped around my neck. I imagined the passionate embrace that must follow such a combination of sunflowers and wandering eyes. When the evening climaxed in a friendly bear hug, I masked my surprise. Perhaps he was tired, I thought. What a great switch from being mauled on a first date!

When Bill asked me out for Date #2 within the week, I knew what it meant: we were going somewhere in this relationship. Otherwise, why else would any happening single person sacrifice two evenings in one week? "He must be practically in love to have asked again so quickly," I mused to the dateless ones out in San Francisco. "But it's too soon to know if he could turn into anything special. First I need to know if we're sexually compatible. Right?"

Bill was a good kisser. Agile but not too pushy with the tongue, skilled but restrained in his passion. When I playfully bit his lip, he jumped. A little shy, I thought. "We'll definitely be having fun soon," I informed the single friends back on the West Coast. "And about time, too. A girl could get lonely out here." They understood. Yet, at the end of Date #3, Bill failed to follow the logical order of events again.

After some enjoyable moments on my sofa, rather than lead me into my softly lit bedroom, Bill straightened out his khakis, thanked me for another lovely evening and left. I stood in the doorway for at least 10 minutes after his truck puttered off into the night. I explained to my still-dateless friends later: "He was tired. He needed sleep."

"Are you sure?" the bravest friend asked. "Wasn't this the third date?"

Her question rang through my head all night. I knew what the third date meant. That was the date on which San Franciscans consummated relationships or decided to move on. "If you don't know by now, babe, when will you?" one particularly eclectic boyfriend from Cuba had asked as he sprawled on my futon. What was Bill doing?

Date #4 revolved around a wedding reception for Bill's fraternity brother.

I decided more direct action was needed. "I haven't bought candles since Chuck and I were just starting to date back in college," said Shirley as she panted on the neighboring Stairmaster, "but I think I remember where to buy them." Ellen nodded from her treadmill and recommended a candle shop. I never thought to ask them for seduction tips. What would these women, mothers of school-age children, remember about dating, Southern-style or otherwise? Instead, I chose to light my candles that fateful evening, mist my body with Eternity, and chill a bottle of my favorite Napa Valley Chardonnay.

Bill pecked my cheek hello and said, "You look lovely tonight. Thanks for offering to cook. I brought some beer to go with the steaks."

"I actually bought sea bass," I responded. "But the beer will taste great with it. Thanks!"

As we drank Coronas before and during the feast of sea bass, jasmine rice, and fava beans, the affectionate words and looks increased. After I finished my third Corona and we had stacked the plates in the sink 'let's leave those for later,' I cooed we snuggled on the now familiar sofa. Erykah Badu crooned and Bill tapped my vertebra in time with the soft bass rhythm. Pulling back from a particularly steamy kiss, I asked, "Why don't we move into the other room?"

Something flickered across Bill's face. Passion ignited, I thought. "Why don't we indeed?" he said finally. Taking my hand, we walked into my bedroom and remained there for the remainder of a very long evening in which I learned that Southern men were not nearly as lazy as the drawl with which they spoke.

The next morning, warning bells should have sounded in my head. Bill hugged me before leaving, kissed me sweetly but quickly and said with a grave expression, "Thank you, Hope."

I giggled and said, "Thank you, too." With a coy wink, I waved him off.

And then didn't hear from him for five days.

On the sixth day, I sought the advice of Ellen and Shirley from my treadmill. Southern women have mastered certain arts. These women understand how to whisper over the whirring of exercise machinery and pounding feet.

"You mean, you've know? Has it been three months yet? Even two?" Ellen queried. Her eyebrows told me that I had messed up at some point, somewhere.

"Hope, you gave it up on the fifth date?" When I nodded, Shirley sighed. Loudly. "Honey, that may not have been the best idea. Did he make the first move at least? No? I don't want to upset you but he may not call anytime soon."

As they perspired and I sweated, the dismal reality sank in. When I called him that evening, I learned just how unwelcome my wanton behavior must have been.

"Hey, Hope! Wow, long time no talk, I guess!" Bill laughed a little and coughed a lot. "You've probably been as busy as I have."

The ending needed no explanation. When a man says he's busy and will call you back later, the meaning is the same in San Francisco or South Carolina. They will not call back within the next three months and after that, only if they have started to miss that CD that they still haven't been able to find in any record store anywhere.

I moped the cobblestone streets of Charleston for a few weeks afterwards, chastising myself for such sluttish behavior. When spring arrived, a warmer breeze came with it. I started talking with people as I walked. I had never strolled in San Francisco. I flew down Union Street and cruised through the Mission District on my way somewhere great from somewhere almost as cool. Taking time to get to know people hadn't fit into a world of constant movement. In South Carolina, it did.

I will never follow a "Three Month" rule but I have also thrown out my equally silly rules and instructed my dateless friends in San Francisco to do the same. Could it be that courtship (gasp!) has become a part of my dating habits again? If so, it only took a move of 3,000 miles, an eternal frat boy and two former Southern debutantes on Stairmasters to show me the truth.

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