So my 16-year-old son had a “sort of” this weekend.
It was something I was all too familiar with. And it came rushing back, the young teenage me, navigating choppy and uncertain waters.
His “sort of” came to light in a conversation while he was out running Saturday morning errands with me, something he rarely ever does. When I suggested he come with me, he practically didn’t even object — which should have been my first tip-off that something was up.
As we were leaving our first stop, things came into focus. Without looking up for a second from his phone, he volleyed out a conversation starter.
“Hey, my friend and I were thinking of going to the movies this afternoon,” he said in that forced conversational way that kids do when they’ve been thinking of how to casually phrase things for 20 minutes.
He sounded as natural and spontaneous as Walter White explaining why he had a second cell phone.
I asked the seemingly intrusive details of what movie, what’s it rated, what theatre and what time. He reluctantly offered answers.
I processed it all, and told him it was fine for him to see that movie, but warned him that I’d heard that it was one of those comedies that turns out to be not all that funny — that he’d already seen all the funny parts in the commercial.
He said he heard that too, but that “they” still wanted to see it.
Then I crossed a privacy line he was probably hoping I wouldn’t.
“Who are you going with?” I asked, as friendly as a TV “good cop” detective in an interrogation room. I was so smooth I may as well have handed him a cup of coffee.
I had a hunch, and I was playing it.
“A girl,” he answered, as casually as a guy sitting on a winning lottery ticket.
Bingo. The suspect had just confessed.
When I asked if it was a date, he said “sort of.”
“It is,” he said.
“Are you paying for her?” I asked, and when he announced that he thought he would — or at least, he thought I would — then it was agreed that it was a date.
I learned that she had a name, that she went to his school, that she lived near the movie theatre and would be meeting him there … and that was about all I learned. And so, I pressed a little more.
“Are you still seeing that other girl,” I said, referring to a former classmate who was now a home-schooled girl that he had visited once or twice.
“Yeah… sort of,” he answered, with the openness of the head of the National Security Agency when asked if maybe the government might still be collecting random citizen text messages.
I looked at the clock in the car. As it turned out, we were going to finish the errands just about in time to head right to the theatre. I asked if that was all right, or did he need to go home first. He assured me he was good to go.
Then I looked at what he was wearing — his basic uniform of sweat pants, a t-shirt and flannel shirt and a beanie. I realized this was more likely a “hang out” session than a make out session. And so off we went.
There were plenty of things I could have told him about my early teen movie dates. Back then, movies were pretty much the date location … and since it preceded me having a license or a car, it was also the only real chance for enough privacy to consider kissing a girl. But I thought, why rush it?
So I dropped him at the movies … looking around to see if I could figure out who she was. Before he got out of the car, I asked a question I already knew the answer to. “So, do you want me to come back at a certain time? Or should I wait for you to call or text me?”
Want to guess?
As for giving him some advice, I could have told him to apologize for the way he looked and to tell her he had been helping me and hadn’t had time to change. I could have told him to make sure to tell her she looks nice — even if she was dressed like him. I could have told him to take a couple of breath mints with him.
But the second I gave him cash, he was already half out the door, without any of my advice.
He walked inside and I could see he was scouting the lobby looking for her.
That’s okay, let him figure some stuff out for himself. I’ve already figured out that the only advice he’s going to take from me right now is not anything I offer — only what he asks for.
Besides, I’m not an expert. More experienced than him? Yes, but having been married twice (and now dating again) I’m still learning myself.
Fortunately, I’ve learned a few things I didn’t know when I was his age.
I’ve learned that clean fingernails and decent shoes get noticed and that the opposite can sink the ship. Too little cologne is better than too much, but it’s got to be the one that works for you.
If you carry a handkerchief with you all the time, that one time in a hundred that it’s needed — and you have it — will never be forgotten.
I know it’s nice to take a woman somewhere nice, but it’s more important to be nice. I know it’s nice to tell a woman she looks pretty, but it’s way better to make her feel pretty.
If you don’t look a woman in her eyes she’ll think you’re a jerk, or that she’s not pretty, or you’re looking at someone else, or you’re lying, or any number of things.
But if you do look her in the eyes, she’ll know you’re interested. And you might see what’s behind her eyes.
I’ve learned that, unlike a younger woman, a woman in my age range will actually eat if you take her to dinner. But she’ll swoon if you make her dinner, or help her salvage a dinner party that got away from her.
I could have told him any of that, but he didn’t ask. Someday, maybe I will. Although I know from personal experience that some of those things are only learned by getting them wrong the first time.
Sometimes the second too.
A couple of hours later, I got the call that he was ready to be picked up. I asked if she needed a ride too, but he said she was just getting ready to leave.
The fact that he had called before she left tipped me off.
When I picked him up, I asked how the movie was. He said it was kind of funny, but that I was right, it wasn’t great.
Then I asked how the date was. He said “fine.” I asked if he had kissed her. He said no. I asked how come. He said they were really more like friends.
I said that was fine. Then I asked if he at least had a good time.
“Yeah,” he said, added nothing.
We drove home, the silence only broken by the Classic Rock radio station we both enjoy.
“You hungry,” I asked?
He thought before answering. “Sort of.”
Mike Brennan has been a Pulitzer Prize-nominated newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, an investigative journalist, a nationally touring stand-up comedian, a joke writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a morning radio host, a professional auctioneer for numerous charities, an editor, and a film and TV script consultant. He is currently working on a romantic comedy screenplay, and a humorous book on being a father, called The Tooth Fairy Doesn’t Pay for Yellow Teeth. He has lived in the Valley for 19 years, and has two teenage sons. Contact the author.