Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Stress to Impress

My parents’ friends have always liked me. Maybe it’s because I know when to say “Please” and “Thank you,” or maybe it’s because I was a cute baby with especially fat cheeks they could pinch, but outside of the occasional complaint that I didn’t pass on a phone message, they’ve had nothing but good things to say about me.

In fact, one of my mom’s favorite pastimes is telling me how handsome her female friends think I am. I know that whenever I run into one of them at a wedding or event that it’s only a matter of time before my mother calls to relay their glowing report.

And while I appreciate the confidence boost, I’ve had to explain to her that because her contemporaries are married and have kids who are older than I am, their flattering opinion could never change my dating life from resembling an episode of Seinfeld – a show about nothing.

“Let me know when you start hanging out with Mrs. Robinson,” I’d say.

Last winter, though, the goodwill I had garnered over the years finally paid off. Having just moved to a new city, I barely knew anyone, and I was spending most of my nights driving around aimlessly, hoping to find a Subway where I could pick up dinner.

But that all changed after one of my mom’s oldest friends suggested I get in touch with her niece, Emily, who happened to live in the same area code. We exchanged a few e-mails, and she postponed on me once, but we were eventually able to connect.

As we settled in at the Thai restaurant of her choice, I was still unsure if it was a date, or if she was simply doing her aunt a favor. Not that I cared…she was prettier in person than her pictures I’d stalked on Facebook, and when it took us 45 minutes to open our menus because we were talking so much, I had to smile at my good fortune.

Over the next several months, the chemistry we had that first night continued to grow. She quickly accepted my over-the-top obsession for Texas Longhorn athletics, and I slowly got used to her affinity for singing random dialogue as if she were in a musical. Sharing the same sense of humor, we laughed constantly, and there were very few occasions when I didn’t feel completely at ease.

That is, until it came time to meet her parents.

Because I’ve had fewer relationships than Screech Powers, I have only been “presented” as the boyfriend once, and that was when I was a freshman in college. But being so young, it was a relatively low-pressure experience…I was nothing more than the non-threatening boy their daughter was hanging out with.

This was completely different, though. At this age, you’re not just going to football games or dancing at fraternity formals anymore…there are playoff implications here, and you are only introduced to someone’s family if there’s a chance for bigger and better things.

My knack for getting adults to like me was going to be tested like it never had before.

Adding to the pressure was the fact that Emily had recently come home with me for a weekend and met my parents. To say that they liked her would be an understatement. She charmed them with her personality, and – without any hint from me – brought them the perfect thank-you presents. They were so impressed that I think the first thing my dad did on Monday morning was call his lawyer to have her added to the will.

With the standard now set so impossibly high, I had to devise a way to match Emily’s performance. Knowing that her parents were friendly with my parents, I decided to use that to my advantage.

So when it was finally showtime, and we all sat down to dinner, I tried my best to relate as much of the conversation back to my mom and dad. Like a salesman staying on pitch, it was Jeanie-Stoller-this and Joe-Stoller-that. I figured that even though I might sound ridiculous, at least they were consistently being reminded that I came from a good family.

But when her father asked me what kind of job I thought the President was doing, my strategy reached a dead end.

Seeing how I know next to nothing about politics, I had no idea how to answer. I felt as if I was playing Trivial Pursuit and landed on green for a “Science and Nature” question about the intricacies of photosynthesis. And after three minutes of incoherent rambling and Beavis & Butthead “Uhhhs…” my ignorance was proven out.

Had Brian Fantana (Anchorman) been there, he would’ve turned to me and said, “Take it easy, Champ. Why don’t you sit this next one out…stop talking for a while.”

Luckily, her parents were as nice as they could be, smiling and nodding, as if I had made some sort of valid point. But inside, I felt like an idiot.

With my tail tucked firmly between my legs, I kept to myself for the next little while, hoping to not fuel the embarrassing fire. And it was during this period of quiet reflection when I remembered that we often date people who share similar characteristics with our opposite-sex parent: guys seek out girls like their mothers, and girls seek out guys like their fathers. So I was curious to see what I had in common with Emily’s dad.

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that outside of the fact that we both wore glasses and we were both white, I simply didn’t measure up.

He was very cultured, asking about different wines and how certain entrees were prepared. His intelligence was obvious, as he spoke knowledgably about a wide variety of subjects. He clearly got his news from a channel that wasn’t ESPN.

I started to wonder if Emily had taken me on as some sort of charity case.

Over the next few weeks, though, I licked my wounds and said my daily affirmations. And when I heard that her parents would be in town again, and that I was invited to join them at their favorite Mexican restaurant, I was determined to make a better impression.

The night got off to a good start, and my confidence only grew with each sip of my swirled margarita. But I was still a bit on edge, bracing for the conversation to veer towards something I was utterly clueless about.

Then, out of nowhere, like a gift from above, the discussion turned to…

Fantasy football.

Because Emily is in a league, her parents wanted to know more about it. And having played with my friends for over a decade, this was right in my wheelhouse. I explained the way the draft works and broke down the scoring system. I talked about the effect the internet has had, and how we used to have to wait for the Tuesday paper to see if we’d won or lost. I was on a roll.

And then her father asked me how much I paid to be a part of my league.

Now, I freely admit that I pay a decent amount of cash for my entry fee. It’s not obscene, but it’s not cheap, and it is definitely more than I would prefer to spend. And the moment the figure came out of my mouth, I knew I’d made a mistake by saying it.

I promptly tried to justify it by mentioning how I split a team with a friend, and how it allows me to keep in touch with everybody, and how it makes following the games more interesting, and that if you spread it out over the five-month season, it’s really not a bad entertainment value. But it was too late.

“That’s a lot of money,” he said, shaking his head.


When I recounted the story to my mother the next day, she calmed my fears, assuring me that Emily’s parents were some of the warmest, most non-judgmental people she’d ever met.

And honestly, that has been my experience with them, too. Despite the fact that I have portrayed myself as an uninformed, irresponsible gambling addict who risks too much change on a make-believe competition, they have been nothing but welcoming and accepting of me.

Their kindness will once again be tested in the coming weeks, as Emily has invited me to go home with her to California to celebrate New Year’s. Staying in their house, on their turf, I hope I can somehow summon the magic that allowed me to charm all of my parents’ friends into thinking I was a good guy.

But considering my track record, I should probably pack some of my baby pictures, just to be safe.

1 comment:

  1. BRENT!! No need to worry; if she loves you, they will love you, regardless of your lack of knowledge or your "gaming addictions". Smile, be your charming self, and relax! She would not be bringing you home if she didn't have enough faith in you that you would succeed. Women are intuitive and we will not disappoint our parents if we can help it, so don't worry... she thinks you sparkle and i'm sure they do as well.


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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?