This post is part of the Blogs of the Round Table at Critical Distance, on the topic of "Challenge".
Julian Luxemburg waits anxiously in his apartment for his date to show up. She never will. We know this, and since we're sitting in Julian's subconscious he likely knows it too, deep down, but we have to go through the motions anyway. We're in a narrow kitchen with a small dining table off to one side.
Intimate, you might say.
Everything is in place and there's nothing left to do but wait. It's a simple space, but carefully tidied and arranged for this moment. The table's set for two, with empty wine bottles forming a candle holder and flower vase. Soup bubbling on the stove, crusty bread, and a decent drop of Merlot.
Because he wanted everything to be nice for her.
Because he's lonely and wants to get inside her knickers.
The clock loudly ticks away minute by minute; hour by hour marking out our impatient vigil. For me it's only twenty minutes, but spending even twenty minutes in Julian's subconscious is challenging — as challenging and uncomfortable as anything I've experienced in games to date. I can set myself up with a glass of wine and try to revel in beautiful anguish, but the subconscious is too intimate a vantage point to maintain the illusion. It's ugly in here, and I squirm at familiar prejudices and self-delusions. "I really need this date," he reflects.
She's late. I'll just have a glass of wine while I'm waiting then.
God knows the Japanese can't hold their liquor anyway.
I was stood up once, and waited for hours in the rain. He was always late. I later learnt that five hours would have done the trick, and that almost seemed worth it to catch a few moments with such an ethereal creature. Ten years on and I would still wait for him given the chance, feigning tragic romantic elegance. So let's not pretend I'm any better at this, but Julian's self-loathing rings much louder.
At 27 years old Julian's life might as well be over. Dead end job, no girlfriend, drinks with his mates the only bright spot in his miserable life. So many good intentions to break the cycle, but always ending in the same old habits. Even this date was set up by someone else. At least Jerry's looking out for his sex life.
The bread and tapenade are tasty. "I'm good at this," Julian latches onto the thought where he's successful at something.
We're sold a dream of what it means to live and be happy, but society as I know it actually functions mostly on keeping us unsatisfied. We're better consumers that way, but we have to keep chasing simple goals and ideals. Things will be better when I find a new job, lose weight, find a lover. Everything will be okay if I just don't have to be alone any more. Why doesn't anyone love me?
Not for the shagging, just someone to hold.
I still want the sex though.
The pressure of romantic dreams can smother sparks before they even have the chance to ignite. In Julian's case he puts himself in a bind where the only choices he sees are to cast himself as a lonely romantic, staying at home reading Byron, or to "give in" and pick up a random woman at a club. A form of Nice Guy™ dilemma where caring less about people feels like the only way to succeed. Meaning get laid, of course.
I should get out and meet new people.
After enough drinks anyone kisses anyone.
The challenge of Dinner Date, for me at least, is being confronted with something pitiful and misguided, but simultaneously relatable. I know this tune, sung by lonely single friends, or hummed deep in my brain's recesses during darker moments. I know the weaknesses, prejudices and delusions. No matter how much I analyse them and begin to understand where the thoughts come from they don't go away completely. If I can't even fully believe myself when I tell me I'm full of it, how can I convince anyone else they're focusing in the wrong places?
She probably isn't coming.
I'll just wait a little longer.