GOING to the movies on a first date.
It’s a practice so entrenched, it seems written in the wind, but the truth is that it’s the very worst way to get to know somebody, and the very best way to accidentally rub your groin along the backs of eight strangers’ heads as you squeeze past them to get to the bathroom. Call me a romantic, but I don’t enjoy that.
Nobody knows quite why we go to the movies on a first date.
We just do it because we are taught we must by American cinema. The entire Hollywood system seems to aggressively encourage movie-going as a first date, almost as if to ensure its own survival. We see the excitement and romance play out on screen our entire life — the drive-in dates of classic movies such as Grease; the fumbling, shadowy lust in the teen films from the ’90s we weren’t quite old enough to watch yet — and we assume this is what a first date should be: the perfect chance to get to know someone, in the literal sense if not the biblical one.
Movie dates are not like this at all.
Movie dates are sitting in a dark room for two hours. Movie dates are about not being able to talk to your movie date at all, which is quite an early stumbling block, considering talking is still the single best way to get to know somebody. Movie dates are sitting not across from but next to your date and also next to some stranger, and directly in front of a stranger, and behind a stranger, and being surrounded by strangers, in the dark, all frontwards facing and sharing your first date experience with you.
Sure, you’re probably going out to dinner afterwards (maybe?) but you’ve got to hit the snack bar, right? It’s a first date! The traditional movie snack is, of course, popcorn, which is the very worst food to consume on a first date. (If your date orders a choc-top, this is a sting operation and she/he is a Fed.) The only way to eat popcorn is to shovel it gracelessly into your mouth, unless you’re the type to cradle the popcorn in one hand and place single kernels in your mouth one at a time (in which case this date is clearly a sting operation, and you are a Fed).
Do you know what saps energy from human beings? Darkness. Prolonged periods of darkness. This is not a metaphor. Going to the movies makes you sleepy, which is not an ideal state to be in on a first date. And when the date ends, you are thrown back into normal light, which cuts through your retinas now. You know how small and beady somebody’s eyes look after they remove their glasses? That’s what your eyes look like the very first time your date sees your face, post-movie. Also, you’re picking popcorn shards out of your teeth, and so is your date, only they are attempting to dislodge the pieces with their tongue, and talk to you at the same time. It’s not going well.
Anyway, this isn’t about you. One of my first date movie experiences had the romance chomped out of it when the man sitting directly behind us opened a bag of devon. Slices of deli devon, wrapped in butcher’s paper, and shoved in a bag designed only to rustle. Now, the dead stench of devon in close, airless quarters is terrible in its own right, but when teamed with the visceral shudder that comes from hearing that devon being chewed loudly, sloppily, and within centimetres from your ear, it’s a real mood killer.
Another first date of mine involved watching a film about a mother grieving a dead child; the rawest 90 minutes of cinema I have ever sat through. My date sobbed loudly throughout most of it, while I wept in a manly, silent fashion. I have completely blanked the film from my mind in what has to be a coping mechanism, but I’m quite sure I went home alone and hugged myself to sleep that night.
The entire movie date seems designed to fail, but if you are lucky enough to make it out of there with any of the night’s romantic promise still lingering in the air, and decide to go for a dinner or a drink afterwards, you are compelled to spend the next portion of your evening discussing the film you both ignored each other for two hours in favour of. If the film was great, you cycle through all the plot points, and best lines like a human highlights package. If it was terrible, you tease the inherent shitness of it, which is admittedly much more fun, but adds a discernibly meaner mood to the date. The problem is, most movies aren’t great or terrible. They are OK. Most movies are OK.
Congratulations, lovers, you’ve just had an OK first date. At least the second date will be a blast by comparison.
Although you may still have popcorn stuck in your teeth.
– Nathan Jolly is a Sydney-based writer who specialises in pop culture, music history, true crime, true romance and where the old Australia’s Wonderland rides are now. Follow him