Over the past year of online dating, I’ve never once ridden in the car of any of the guys. Part of that is due to the distancing we’re doing since the pandemic; I haven’t been in the close space of a car with very many people. With online dating it’s normal practice to meet for the first time in a public place– never letting someone you don’t know come to your home. For every date, or meet up, I’ve driven myself to the destination and that has felt both freeing and tiresome; freeing because I had an escape without having to depend on someone else for transportation; tiring because I have to go to all the effort of being sure the car is filled with gas, properly maintained, the route is planned–or pulled up on GPS, and I accurately judge how long it’ll take given traffic and unforeseen changes.
Back in my day of dating, the guys came to your home in their car–which could be the car they’d bought with money they’d earned from summer and after-school jobs, or their Daddy’s car (because we didn’t think of it as the Mama’s car–that was the seventies!) or even one that was borrowed. A few guys may have been given cars–but not many of the boys from my community would have been that fortunate. Since I didn’t have brothers, I wouldn’t have thought about what the guys did to prepare for the date. But I did have a male cousin, Allan, who was four years older and when I decided to write this post, I contacted him. I was fortunate that Allan has a generous heart, then and now, and so he let me tag along with him, my older sister, and older cousins. He was like the brother that I’d always wanted– to help me figure out the world, help me understand guys since I was a clueless female who mistakenly believed guys thought like girls.
When I talked with Allan and complained that I was tired of all the effort of “getting there” to meet the online guys for dates, he showed me no sympathy.
“Well now you see what we went through back then,”he said. “The first date was on us to plan and we hoped we had enough money for gas.”
I confessed that I hadn’t thought about that when I was a teen. I’d focused on being ready to answer the door when he showed up, wondering how awkward it would be for him to meet Mama, and sometimes Daddy– when he wasn’t working second shift in the factory.
The most memorable dating experience I with Allan was when we triple dated; I was sixteen and in the tenth grade. Allan and his girlfriend thought it would be fun to include me and my friend, Delores. Allan asked his neighbor to get one of his buddies and they would pair up with us. The cars were bigger back then and the models before 1968 didn’t require seatbelts. That Saturday night Allan and his girlfriend sat close in the front by choice, and we sat close in the back because we had to– but actually it wasn’t bad!
I couldn’t remember what kind of car he had. It was interesting to learn that he and his mother, my Aunt Inez, had purchased a car together; I never knew that. They’d gone in 50/50 because Allan needed a car to get to school and his part-time job; Aunt Inez needed one for her Saturday route selling Rawleigh household products like her sister, my Mama. It was a 4-door 1965 Chevrolet.
I don’t remember much about that date except that we had fun in our small group in the cozy confines of that Chevrolet. I felt safe being with Allan and knowing he was a good driver. There had been other dates with guys who drove too fast and while I’d been scared, I didn’t have the nerve to say so; it could have been riding with the guy in the candy apple red GTO; or maybe it was with one of the guys who’d go to Harper’s Crossroads for late night drag racing on that straight stretch of a rural road.
The cars were more interesting back then; the colors were varied–not like the monotonous whites and silvers we drive now. They were two-toned and some of the cars were ragtops. I liked the sporty ones and remember once riding with a guy in his Dodge Charger. I could quickly spot that one in the parade of Saturday night drivers circling Hardee’s in Sanford, hometown fun, cars filled with girls looking for cars filled with boys. When we finally went out, I was on Cloud 9. But soon I discovered there was a disadvantage to dating him; he was the son of a Chatham county dairy farmer and had to go home early in order to be up at 4:30 to milk the cows. That Charger didn’t look so good after that!
She remembered the triple date, the guys we were with and that we were in fact in tenth grade. But what she said about her other experiences of dating, when I wasn’t with her, surprised me.
“What I remember most was that Mama made Cindy go with me,” she said, referring to her sister who was four years younger. “She would be in the back seat so we didn’t have much privacy!”
I couldn’t imagine having my younger sister tag along, in the car hearing every word we said, wondering what she’d go back and tell my parents.
“When we’d ride around Hardee’s, I’d tell her to duck down in the back so no one would see her,” Delores explained. “But she’d pop up and wave at people and laugh. She thought it was great fun.”
I laughed until I was in tears, my mind’s eye seeing blond-headed Cindy popping up and imagining how embarrassed Delores would have been. We agreed that her mother sure knew how to keep her from getting into any possible trouble!
Besides the intimacy of being in a car with just your date, there were also memories of the sound and smell of that experience. When I talked with my older sister about what that was like, she reminded me of how much we enjoyed the music– listening to the 8-track tapes that sounded great. One of the groups she loved, The Tams, a black soul group from Atlanta, never sounded as good on our stereos at home. That reminded me of the guy I dated who’d play Three Dog Night. With the choices we have now for listening to music that sounds good– even an Alexa Dot, the feeling of really hearing the music for the first time, riding in his car, is a distant memory.
Sometimes the guy would be wearing a favorite cologne– which for my sister was Jade East, and for me was British Stirling. If that was the case, then that memory of riding in the car, hearing the music, would always be carried in that dizzying scent of a man’s fragrance.
But for all these good memories of riding in his car, all this sentimentality, there were realities that remind me why I feel more in control driving myself to these meet ups. I don’t have to depend on him for transportation home. If the date goes poorly, I can make up an excuse to leave quickly. I’m not in a situation like girls could get in back in our day–with guys becoming aggressive or driving too fast. There was no way to call or text for help– no cell phones, no Uber to rescue you. If you had called your parents from a pay phone, you would hope they were at home because the landline was the only option.
Now, I see the positives and negatives of riding in his car. In my not-so-distant-memories, I recall the enjoyment of riding with my husband. He would drive and I focused on the scenery– not having to pay attention to the road, able to get lost in a daydream without worrying about speeding tickets–which had been the case several times. The best were the day trips when the smell of leather upholstery was mixed with the aroma of a well-timed stop at Starbucks, the dark roast tasting good on a cold morning drive. The closeness of that space, the sound of a favorite CD or an interesting story on NPR, and the hours of driving toward a shared destination– are things I miss.
And hopefully, one of these days, I’ll know that experience again when I ride with a new him in his car.
What About You?
Do you have special memories of what it was like to date? If you’re online dating now, how is the experience different for you?
Are there people in your life that you’d like to get their perspective on a shared event, a shared time in history? I challenge you to call someone this week and see what new insight you’ll discover.