It happened again a few days ago when I was eating dinner at one of the nicer restaurants down on East Bay Street. The crowd was a mix of people clearly out for a business function (I was one of those), some well-heeled tourists taking in Charleston cuisine, and a few families and older couples out for a celebration or maybe just a nice evening on the town.
Over at a corner tables, one couple stood out. The young woman was pretty and probably not quite old enough to order a drink. She was wearing a stylish dress (you could almost call it a cocktail dress) and high-heels, and she had clearly taken a lot of time with her hair and make-up. She was sitting at the table on an obvious date with a guy about the same age as her, only he was in ratty blue jeans with a rather rumpled looking t-shirt and apparently hadn't combed his hair in days.
This was hardly the first time I'd witnessed such a mismatched young couple. In fact, in nice Charleston restaurants down on the Peninsula, it seems to be par for the course--and it's always the guy who's in the jeans and sneakers. And I always want to know what the story is.
Maybe there's an innocent explanation, like the guy asked the girl to go out for dinner and he was thinking pizza and she was thinking five-star meal. But that would be more likely if you saw the two in a booth over at Andolini's.
Is this their first date? Is she sitting there checking her watch, mortified at his uncouthness and running through the line she's going to use to drop him like a hot rock at the end of the night? Or maybe this is date number twenty and she's resigned herself that "that's just the way he is" and figuring maybe he'll change someday when he finally grows up. Could it even be possible that she digs his casual style?
It's times like these that I become aware of my rapid advancement into middle age. At one time, even several years after I had gotten married and was thankfully no longer part of the dating scene, I understood the ground-rules: where you would go for a casual date and where you would go when you wanted to drop a bundle and really impress a girl. I understood what one should and should not wear for such occasions, and certain basic principles like never saying, "yikes!" when you first look at the entree prices, and never saying at a Mexican restaurant, "I think I'll just have a taco a la carte" after your date orders the seven-plate combination dinner. (This actually happened to The Wife on a first date in college, which helps explain how even a sloppy, absent-minded barbecue nut like myself seemed a catch when I finally came along.)
Increasingly, I get the sense that the rules are changing, but I'm not exactly sure how. I know we've gotten to be more casual, and rare is the restaurant today that will kick you out if you aren't wearing a coat and tie. But, are jeans and t-shirt acceptable attire for a dinner date these days, or is that guy just a punk?
My instincts say "punk", and I hope his young date soon finds herself a more worthy companion. But I'm not 100% sure anymore.
Before long I'll stop even wondering and just mutter into my Scotch, "Jesus . . . the kids these days!"
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