Group Date: When My Life Became “The Bachelor”

by: Phil Siegel

The thing is, in the summer of 2009, I didn’t have a choice. After going on countless dates with duds, I thought I had finally found a decent guy. Unlike most men in Los Angeles, Mason had a real job: a math teacher. He had no idea what “the industry” meant. And by the look of his nose in his profile picture, I was pretty sure he was Jewish.

We had exchanged messages for a few weeks, and finally, I bit the bullet and asked him out. Mason explained that he still wasn’t totally comfortable with the online dating thing. He preferred that relationships grow organically out of friendships, like it did with his last boyfriend. Since he was currently talking to a few guys online, he decided it would be best if all of us began hanging out. Together. As friends. He believed that if romantic feelings should develop over the course of these “hang outs,” then it was meant to be. I knew right away this was destined for embarrassing failure. So I told him it was a great idea and that I was looking forward to it. What other choice did I have? Cute and seemingly normal guys don’t grow on trees.

Mason sent out a Doodle request, an online program which allowed all of his “potential new friends” to vote on a date, time, and choice of activity. Dinner at Chevy’s and the 7:30 PM showing of Julie & Julia on Friday won out.  Since he didn’t have a car, our only option was a mall and movie theater in Burbank, deep in the valley.

My life had turned into The Bachelor. How long would he and I have to stay “just friends” until he decided it was time to move to dating? I contemplated these questions as I drove an hour in rush hour traffic up to Burbank. I knew how ridiculous this was, but deep down, I wanted that rose. I was about to turn 25, and I’d never had a boyfriend. Wasn’t that more embarrassing? A group date was better than no date on a Friday night, I told myself.

Mason was better looking than his picture. He had a fit body, something you don’t normally see on a math teacher. Apparently, most of the “potential new friends” had cancelled that day, leaving just him, me, and one other guy we’ll call John. I flashed my competition a huge smile as I sized him up. Plump. Loud voice. Drove 2 hours to get here.

Advantage Phil.

I’m not a competitive person. Yet when the three of us sat down, John and I facing each other, I realized how badly I wanted to win. I wasn’t here to make friends. I wanted to be chosen, and I would not accept defeat.

Lucky for me, John seeped with desperation. When Mason said something mildly funny, John couldn’t stop laughing. When Mason talked about math stuff, John sat slackjawed in fascination. When Mason mentioned he liked Lady Gaga, John belted out Poker Face for all of Chevy’s to hear. The best way to beat him was to sit back and let him flame out. I remained cool and collected, a dapper alternative to sputtering mess across the table. I conserved my energy. I thought out my bon mots before speaking. When John raved about the Parisian scenery in Julie & Julia, I said that actually, the movie was filmed entirely in New York.

As the night wore on, I gained ground. Mason and I talked after the movie with John standing around, trying to get a word in edgewise. Finally, he threw in the towel and left.

We spent an extra half hour chatting. Mason showed off his Parkour skills by jumping over parking meters. My heart fluttered. He accepted my offer to drive him home. My heart convulsed the whole trip. I pulled up to his apartment, summoned my courage, and went in for the kiss. Mason leaned away, against the window, then got out. I guess no rose for me.

There was an email waiting for me at home. From Mason. Apologizing for the mixed signals. “I wanted to kiss you,” he wrote, “But I think we should be friends first and see where it goes.” Was this just one round, I thought? Would I have to vanquish another group of gentlemen callers next week? My common sense told me not to jump through anymore of his hoops. So I agreed to see him again. This time, just the two of us. This is the 21st century. Two gay guys could hang out as friends.

I cleared my head of any romantic notions. Maybe Mason had it right. Maybe we should be friends for now. Genuinely enjoy each other’s company without ulterior motives. I could use more gay friends like him. I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I could relax this time.

For hang out number two, we saw a double feature of Labyrinthe and The Dark Crystal. I snuck a sandwich in with me. We sat in our seats, him talking, me eating. Mason asked if he could try my sandwich. His hand grabbed mine and he took a big bite, caressing my fingers as he chewed.

Wait. Was that flirting? I shrugged it off.

Within three seconds of the lights going down, Mason’s hands were on me. Brushing my armhair. Snaking around my shoulders. Grabbing at my chest, my thighs, and places in between. He was very friendly. I had no idea what was going on, but I liked it. I couldn’t tell you what the two movies were about. I was involved in a four hour grope-a-thon. It was so romantic! I kept thinking, “This is what having a boyfriend must be like.”

I drove him back to the valley, traversing Los Angeles County. I slipped a piece of gum in my mouth when we got on the 101. My mind prepared for all likely scenarios – hardcore make out, maybe more, maybe I spend the night, or maybe a soft kiss with a declaration of love. I pulled up to his house. This time, no courage was needed. I waited for Mason to jump me like he did in the movies. He didn’t. We sat there for an extended moment, nodding. Mason said good night and left. Did I misread the signs? I didn’t give up hope. If he felt compelled to grab me in a public place, then there had to be romantic interest.

I asked him out a third time. We went to a gay line dancing bar, and he kept his hands to himself. What a gentleman. What happened to Mr. Grabby Hands from a week ago?  Was this a hang out session or a date? I pulled up to his apartment, our familiar set up. I had to get to the truth. I went in for the kiss. Mason leaned away, against the window. History had repeated itself, and I wanted answers. “What’s going on?” I asked him. I waited for an answer, an explanation for this topsy-turvy non-courtship courtship. He shrugged his shoulders.

A week later, I received another doodle request from Mason. The group was leaning towards California Pizza Kitchen and District 9 this Saturday. I stared at the invitation. There had to be better, I told myself. You don’t hear about people meeting through group date. (Well, not outside Utah.) I deleted the message and never spoke to Mason again. I wound up seeing District 9, by myself. This time, I enjoyed the movie without any awkwardness, or groping.

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