It was my first date in college. I had just turned 19. He was a returned missionary, 4 years old than I was.
I had been on dates before. Ok, so only three. And two of those dates were with guys who were kind of dating other girls (they were those high school Mormon dating situations where you’re not supposed to date exclusively so people went on dates with others while dating one person more frequently. I fit in the “others” category).
Back to college. As noted, I wasn’t super experienced with dates and I was extremely nervous. But the guy was nice enough. In fact, I’m still friends with him (at least Facebook says we are) so I don’t tell this story to incriminate in any way (and trust me, this is the toned-down version of my seven-page memoir version).
It was a nice fall day and it was Homecoming time around the BYU campus. Several people were going to homecoming activities. My date told me a group of friends was kind of doing their own thing for homecoming and invited me to come along. It was just a game night, maybe a movie, something fun. I asked what to wear. “Casual” was the reply. “Jeans or khaki casual?” I inquired. “Um…khaki probably.”
So after agonizing about what to wear all week, I dressed up in my early 2000s best–khakis and a jean jacket (listen, I’ve never been a fashion guru. It was “nice” for a date, in my mind). When he came to pick me up, he brought me flowers (first mistake for a then-non-flower-loving girl, but we can forgive). And he was wearing khakis and a blue button-down.
And so we went. Walking, of course, because date-man didn’t have a car. This was, after all, BYU campus, where people could live their whole college existences without a car (I was spoiled and could not. Thank you old “Silver Shift” my ’88 Subaru).
Anyway, we headed to his complex and to the common room. No one was there. He assumed we were too early. So we went to his apartment and ate dinner. We went back about 20 minutes later. I can still remember descending the stairs into the common room and rounding the corner. The room was no longer empty. Nay, there were about 20-30 people in the room–all dressed in Tuxes and formal dresses. My heart panicked. My date just walked right in and started greeting people. And introducing me. We sat down as I tried not to notice the other gals in their peach and purple and pink flowing and beautiful dresses stealing glances at my now not-so-nice khakis and jean jacket. I pretended nothing was out of the ordinary. But it clearly was. Some whispered and asked me why I didn’t have a dress and if I needed to borrow one from them for the activity. Thus ensued some painful hours of feeling completely and utterly out-of-the-loop, foolish, and very unfashionable and uninformed.
What I surmised from others is this was called “Plan C”. They didn’t really want to go to the expensive activities on campus, but they did want to have a homecoming party. So they planned this. Now, obviously my date didn’t know it was a formal event. He was only in a button-down. And clearly it was only in an apartment complex common room, so perhaps it wasn’t as bad as if we had gone to an actual dance.
But I was still mortified and, true to Liz fashion, I probably cried about it later that night and added the story to my newly-started “awkward date” file.
I could just end the story there. It’s funny/sad enough. But that would leave out the best part, which includes my grandma.
My Grandma Helen passed away a year ago this week, and I still miss her dearly. My grandma and I were great friends and I knew a lot about her life. I had interviewed her for a journalism class and wrote a 20-page history on her. I scoured records and other memorabilia from her life and wrote a 40-page biography of her life for a history class. And I used one of my favorite stories to write an article about her for The Friend magazine.
Yet in the past year, I stumbled across a stack of some of her stories hand-written on yellow legal pad paper that I had never read before. As I was transcribing those papers one day, I found this gem written by her:
|Helen in her teenage years,
at the lake
“My first date was at 14. I was too young, but my parents knew the fellow who was in our ward and neighborhood. It was a stake dance and formal. My date forgot to tell me it was formal. I wore my best brown dress, which I never liked. I’ve never worn brown since. After that evening, mother made me a red taffeta formal which I never wore again. Not until high school did I make some formals for myself.”
Those simple eight sentences left me chuckling and yearning for more at the same time. In all my grandma’s stories, I’d never heard of an awkward date. I mean, look at the gal–she’s too beautiful for that kind of thing, right? I wondered how she felt. What was her initial reaction? Did she play it off well? Did her date apologize? Did she cry when she got home?
I can’t ask her that now, of course, but 10 years after my own casual vs. formal dress mix-up, I discovered that perhaps I am not the first.
Although I may have worn that jean jacket a few more times, and although my mom didn’t make me a formal to make up for it (does she even know this story? she does now!), whenever I think of my awkward date, I now think of my grandma, too. And I would take any awkward date for those kind of memories.