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Who’s on First?

Are you dating or "just friends"? Maybe the other person changed the rules. Then again, maybe you just haven't been paying attention.

It was only a little past 11, and the Union was almost empty. Expecting a quiet lunch, I chose a table where I could look out the window at the Quad. No sooner had I set down my tray than a familiar face materialized in front of me. “Expecting someone, Prof?” It was Mark Manasseh.

“Not at all. Pull up a chair.”

He sat down with a plate of something I didn’t recognize.

“What’s that? Some kind of taco?”

“Haven’t you ever had a gyro?” he said. “It’s like a Greek taco. Gyros have been around a long time.”

I shook my head. “Food has changed.”

“Food isn’t the only thing that’s changed,” he said, and lapsed into a moody silence. He chewed meditatively.

“So what else has changed?” I asked.


“You said food isn’t the only thing that’s changed. What else has changed?”

“Oh. The rules. They’re always changing them on you in the middle of the game. I can’t tell who’s on first any more.”

“Who’s ‘they’? Has the Faculty Senate changed the graduation requirements again?”

“No. Actually I was thinking of a girl.” He played with his gyro, then looked up. “I guess I’m not being very clear.”

“Clear enough. Girl changes terms of relationship, guy confused. You don’t have to explain.”

“Maybe I should. We’ve talked about this kind of thing once before, and I could use the perspective of an, um, older person. Do you mind?”

I shook my head. “I have time. Being so old, you know.”

He reddened. “I only meant — ”

I laughed. “I know what you meant. Go ahead.”

“There’s this girl. Molly. She’s a friend. But that’s it: Just a friend. You know, we talk and do things together. But I talk and do things with all my friends.”

“Do you talk and do things with them the same way you talk and do things with Molly?”

“Not exactly. She’s a close friend.” He paused. “But just a close friend.”

I smiled. “Just very close.”


“And a girl.”


“When you talk and do things with her, are other people included?”



“But I do things just with other friends, too. Like I told her.”

“Like you told her? How did the subject come up?”

“I’m still trying to figure that out.”

“Suppose you tell me what happened.”

“Well, we were hungry, so we were having a pizza together at Molto Alimento.”

“Just because you were hungry.”

“Why does there have to be another reason? Can’t friends eat a pizza?”


“Anyway, we were almost done when she said something about how we’ve known each other for almost two years. I said yes. She said we’ve had a lot of fun together. I said yes. And then she said some other stuff, I don’t remember what — you can’t listen to everything a girl says or it would wear you out. I think I must have said yes to that, too, which was probably a mistake. The next thing I knew, she was talking about how a girl needs a commitment or something. And I guess it took a few minutes for what she was saying to sink in, and I asked ‘What do you mean?’ And she said ‘commitment’ and spelled the word. And I said ‘It’s not like we’ve been dating or anything.’ And she said ‘What do you call it when we’ve been seeing each other exclusively for two years?’ And I said ‘What do you mean exclusively? I do things together with lots of other people.’ And she said ‘Not with other girls you don’t’ and I said ‘Girls and guys both’ and she said ‘What girls?’ And I said I couldn’t think of any and she asked me why I was holding back and I said I didn’t know what she was talking about and then all of a sudden she was crying and she left the table and the waiter brought the check and he looked at me like I was dogmeat and I couldn’t find her and so I went home, and I keep trying to phone her but she won’t return my calls and it’s all I can — I mean I — well — ”

He looked embarrassed and took a deep breath. “So that’s why I say she changed the rules.”

“From what to what?”


“What did she change them from, and what did she change them to?”

“From friendship rules to dating rules.”

“But that’s not exactly what she said, is it?”

“What do you mean?”

“You quoted her as asking something like, ‘What do you call what we’ve been doing?’ So she thinks you’re the one who’s trying to change the rules.”

“But I never said we were dating!”

“But weren’t you?”

“Don’t I have to think it’s a date for it to be a date?”

“Do you have to think a car is a car for it to be a car?”

“This isn’t like that.”

“Mark, when two people of opposite sex enjoy a social activity, it’s called a date.”

“But it wasn’t romantic.”

“Not all dates are romantic, but any date is potentially romantic. That’s why steady dating produces expectations, especially among girls. Life is short. Why should they waste their time dating guys who aren’t serious?”

We were never romantic.”

She thought you were.”

“Yeah, well, I guess that’s true.”

“And are you so sure that it makes no difference to you that Molly is a girl? Would you worry like that if some guy wouldn’t return your calls?”

“But she didn’t say we were dating either. Not before. Once someone asked if we were dating, and she answered before I even had a chance. She just laughed and said, ‘Oh, no, we’re just friends.’ See? She did change the rules on me.”

I sighed. “Mark, these days neither girls nor guys seem to want to admit that their dates are dates. But they have different reasons for not wanting to, and those reasons kick in on different occasions.”

“What do you call the reasons? Start with girls.”

“I’m not sure, but I think one common reason girls today don’t call dates dates is that guys today think ‘date’ means ‘sex.’ The idea of dating as courtship has almost disappeared.”

I don’t pressure girls for sex.”

“Does she know that?”

“She ought to. She knows I’m a Christian.”

“I’m sure she knows that sexual intercourse outside of marriage is contrary to Christian principles. But a lot of so-called Christian guys do pressure girls for sex. How does she know that you won’t?”

“I haven’t pressured her yet, have I?”

“But you say you aren’t dating, remember?”

“Oh. Well, yeah.”

“She might think that one reason you haven’t pressured her for sex is that up to now she’s gone along with the myth that you aren’t dating.”

“Maybe,” he admitted.

“There’s another reason.”

“What is it?”

“Often girls these days don’t call dates dates because guys these days are so afraid of commitment. You won’t say that one doesn’t apply to you.”

Mark shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“You see, the girl may feel that the only way the guy will ever court her is if he doesn’t have to admit that it’s courtship.”

“All right, I see your point. What do you say are the guy reasons?”

“We’ve already covered the first one,” I said. “Girls are right — guys these days are afraid of commitment. It’s part of their fear of growing up. And there’s another reason. Fear of failure.”

“Fear of failure?”

“If you’re ‘just friends’ and she says no to pizza, it’s no big deal. But if you ask her on a pizza date and she says no, it’s humiliating. To relieve the pressure, guys don’t call dates dates. That’s related to another girl reason. Most girls don’t want to humiliate guys, so if the guy doesn’t call it a date, they go along with him.”

“Stop. You’re bringing back memories of junior high school.”

“That’s just it. Some guys never quite get past that stage.”

“Are there any other guy reasons?”

“There’s one more, but we’ve covered that one, too.”

“We have?”

“Sure. You mentioned it yourself.”


“Right at the beginning of the conversation. You said that the rules of relationships have changed and that you can’t even tell ‘who’s on first’ any more.”

“It’s true.”

“Of course it is. Pressure for sex, fear of commitment, fear of failure — all those things have changed the rules of relationships. Add to those things the feeling that men and women are adversaries, and things look pretty grim. No wonder guys aren’t willing to call dates dates. They don’t know what they might be getting into.”


“The problem is that not calling dates dates doesn’t work either.”

“Why not?”

“Think of your dinner with Molly.”

“Oh.” Mark thought a moment. “So does anything work? What are the moves of courtship?”

PART 2: The Moves »

Copyright 2002 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

J. Budziszewski

Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.

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