Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Mandy was named after a Barry Manilow song. It didn't do a thing for her love life. Somehow, Barry Manilow's name didn't seem to evoke the same images as, say, the Rolling Stones. It didn't help that "Mandy" was a song about rejection.

It wasn't that guys didn't like Mandy. She was very popular with men. They all confided in her, shared their joys and sorrows with her, and told her all their tales of unrequited love. They just didn't think of Mandy in that way. She was a very good friend, practically a sister, to a whole lot of men. They just weren't sexually attracted to her.

There was the other bunch, of course, who thought that telling you their first name counted as foreplay. Mandy had already been on a few too many of those dates. She got better and better at trusting her own instincts, which also meant she had fewer and fewer dates. By the time Glenn and Patti introduced her to Eugene, Mandy was just about ready to join a convent.

Eugene came as a nice surprise. He also came with his own collection of Barry Manilow tapes. Already Mandy knew that this would not be the usual sleep-and-run kind of date. Eugene had to be a decent guy. He also didn't even try to kiss her on the first date! Of course, it's hard to work up a lot of passion after a round of miniature golfing at King Putt's, but still.

Their second date, to Strikes & Suds bowling alley, was rather pleasant. Eugene wasn't unduly competitive, and seemed genuinely interested in whether or not Mandy was having a good time. Dating Eugene was a lot like going out with her brother, but Mandy knew that it took a while to build up a relationship. Perhaps the sparks would come, and even if they didn't, she could still have fun in the meantime.

Eugene took Mandy to see her beloved Cubs play in a Spring Training game, and bought her a Cubs hat (although she already had one) and a Cubs baseball. Although the hat was overdoing it a little bit, Mandy enjoyed the attention. Here they were on their third date, and Eugene was only now holding her hand.

Mandy and Eugene did something together every week. Mandy worked second shift at the nursing home, but her days off rotated. One of them was always spent with Eugene. He didn't call her at work so that she wouldn't get in trouble. Instead, they made their plans before the end of each date. Mandy hardly had time to think in between dates. At least she was dating someone, even though it was really hard to think of Eugene as a boyfriend.

One night they went to dinner at Glenn and Patti's house. Mandy knew that the couple considered setting up Mandy and Eugene as one of their success stories. Eugene continued to be polite and considerate. Tonight, though, it didn't quite feel considerate. Eugene wanted to take Mandy home before she was ready to go. He didn't claim that he himself wanted to leave, but rather that he knew Mandy had a long day tomorrow and that he wanted to get her home. He was insistent -- to Glenn and Patti -- that it was time to go, not addressing Mandy on the matter at all. Although she was displeased about the situation, she told herself that Eugene was the first man she had dated in a long time to care about her needs instead of his own, and she just wasn't used to it. Mandy agreed on the details of their next date, scheduled for her next day off.

The next date was somewhere between pleasant and boring, but Mandy's concerns about Eugene were forgotten. The following week, though, Mandy just didn't want to see Eugene. It wasn't that she particularly disliked him. After seeing him every week for eight weeks, she just needed a break. Being with Eugene felt more like going steady in high school, with your own brother, than dating. On top of that, Mandy just needed time alone. She liked being alone; that's why she had her own apartment. She couldn't call Eugene and feign an illness to cancel the date; that would by lying. So Mandy did the next best thing: she turned off the lights and pretended she wasn't home.

Eugene didn't take this well. After pounding on the door a couple times, he left. Mandy tried to breathe a sigh of relief, but thought better of it. This might not be over. She left the lights off, just in case. It wasn't long before Eugene was back with reinforcements. Mandy heard Patti pass her bedroom window saying, "She probably just fell asleep. You know how hard she's been working at the nursing home. I'm sure she's quite all right." Mandy knew that this was being said as much for her own benefit as Eugene's. So with suitable pillow wrinkles on her face, Mandy answered the door.

Patti gave Mandy a sympathetic look and abandoned her. Eugene gushed about how worried he was -- he was all set to call 911. Mandy pretty much repeated what Patti said outside her window. Happy that all was well, Eugene suggested that of course they should still go on the date. When the date was over, he gave Mandy a very chaste peck on the lips -- their first kiss.

By now, Mandy was really pretty tired of Eugene. It wasn't that he wasn't basically a nice guy; he was. He was always a perfect gentleman, which was such a refreshing change -- really. She couldn't even imagine him as a sexual being. He did seem to have her best interests at heart, even when he went a little overboard. Aside from being vaguely bored, there was nothing concrete that Mandy could put her finger on. She just didn't want to go out with Eugene any more. Now she just had to figure out a way to end the dating.

It wasn't going to be easy. Eugene wanted to go out with Mandy. He saw no reason to stop, and Mandy had a hard time coming up with one that sounded polite. After all, Eugene wasn't really a creep; he couldn't just be callously dumped. Nor was it likely that he would immediately move on to his next conquest.

Mandy started with the semi-direct approach. She told Eugene that she couldn't see him next week. She waffled, though, when Eugene asked her why not; she made up a story. Naturally, then, they had plans for the following week instead. At least Mandy would have her first real free time in a while. But Mandy's joy was tempered with the knowledge that it was temporary; she and Eugene still had plans for a date, even if it wasn't right away.

She started thinking that maybe she could survive an every-other-week thing. But that would be dumb. Why force yourself to date someone you don't want to? Mandy had never taken an assertiveness training class, though. She could be aggressive when her self-preservation was at stake. But she had no clue how to get rid of a "nice guy" -- well, a nice guy who was a little too nice and actually gave her the creeps sometimes.

At the end of their date, Mandy tried to avoid planning another date. Eugene asked if there was someone else she was seeing. No, of course not! Mandy felt like she and Eugene were moving too fast, even though they were actually going nowhere. They'd not yet even French-kissed, and Eugene'd never touched anything but Mandy's hands and shoulders. Still, it seemed to Mandy that Eugene was way more attached to her than she was to him, and than she'd ever be to him. There were just no sparks for her at all. Eugene was nice to do things with, but they really had nothing in common to talk about. Although Mandy had always considered herself overly romantic and nostalgic, she couldn't imagine celebrating an anniversary of their first date, or telling her children about this period in the life of "mommy and daddy." In fact, as much as she wanted children, she just couldn't fathom having them with Eugene.

Mandy didn't know how to tell him any of this. She figured guys could probably take rejection easier if there's another man than if they were being rejected and there's no one else on the horizon. Guys were such fragile little things. Since creating an imaginary boyfriend was beyond her, Mandy told Eugene that she needed a break. She wanted some time alone to think about stuff. Eugene wanted to know what she had to think about, and why it excluded seeing him. This was not going to be easy.

Mandy didn't have any real answers, and she knew it, and Eugene knew it. Eugene very nicely and politely demanded a reason why they should stop seeing each other. Mandy was too polite to tell Eugene that he gave her the creeps sometimes and wouldn't take no for an answer. And since she was right -- Eugene wouldn't take no for an answer -- they dated some more.

Eugene remained respectful on their dates, and continued to show interest in Mandy's enjoyment. He talked about the things she wanted to talk about, let her choose what they did together, and never tried to do anything that Mandy didn't want done--except continue dating. When Mandy tried again to end it, she could tell that she'd genuinely hurt Eugene's feelings, after all he'd done for her. He looked like he was going to cry right on the spot. And they continued dating.

Finally, Mandy called Eugene's answering machine at a time when she knew he wouldn't be home, and left a message canceling their date. Breaking up one date at a time was the best she could think of. Mandy received a call at work that night from Eugene asking why she canceled the date. The telephone call only surprised Mandy because she was sure that by now Eugene knew that she wanted to dump him. But she stuck to her guns; she couldn't go out with him on Tuesday.

Monday, Eugene actually came to where Mandy worked to see her. He somehow managed to combine polite, pathetic, and perturbed in his quest to change Mandy's mind, but she was firm. She couldn't go out tomorrow. He tried to convince her to go out her next day off instead -- the following Monday. Mandy refused to make a commitment to date him next week. She wasn't going to see him this week; right now, that's all that mattered. He finally left, with no date for tomorrow and no date for the following week. Mandy's stomach felt queasy instead of relieved. She tried to ignore the feeling and enjoy her day off. Right.

When Mandy returned to work Wednesday, Eugene had sent her flowers at work. Everyone told her how lucky she was to find such a guy in this day and age; no one ever sent them flowers. Truthfully, no one had sent Mandy flowers before either. Under any other circumstances, it would've been a sweet gesture. Instead, Mandy felt awful about not liking the flowers and not trusting Eugene. Why couldn't she just be appreciative, she asked herself. No wonder she never had dates. Look at the kind of person she was! She was lucky that Eugene had stuck with her. Mandy really didn't feel very lucky, though.

The following day, Eugene showed up at Mandy's work again, where everyone commented about the lovely flowers and how lucky Mandy was to have him. Mandy wanted to puke. Eugene again asked if she wanted to go out the following Monday to see the latest Star Wars movie. She turned him down, even though she thought it made her look ungrateful and undeserving, not to mention stupid.

Clear out of left field, Eugene asked her if she was seeing Hugh again. Hugh was a loser whom Mandy had mentioned in passing during one of their first dates. She was surprised that Eugene would remember him. She was even more surprised that Eugene would think she'd ever want to see Hugh again in this lifetime. There was no reason to mention Hugh's name.

Mandy's denial only served to plant Hugh's name in her co-workers' brains, next to the image of the ever-so-nice, clean-cut Eugene who sent Mandy flowers. Some of them had even heard stories of this chapter in Mandy's unwritten Dates From Hell anthology. The next night at work, Eugene brought Mandy take-out sweet & sour pork, her favorite. She was overjoyed that he didn't mention seeing each other again at all. He didn't actually have to, though; now Mandy and Eugene were seeing each other every night -- where Mandy worked.

Eugene was never at the nursing home for too long, just long enough to make a good impression on Mandy's co-workers. They were happy to see that finally Mandy was in a decent relationship. Finally a guy was interested in Mandy for herself. What a lucky girl! He brought her flowers and her favorite dinner, took her out every week instead of expecting to watch television at her house between her cooking dinner and breakfast.

Sunday night, the night before her day off, Eugene again mentioned wanting to see her the next night. Mandy again declined. She had no "good reason" to give Eugene. She just didn't want to spend Monday with him. Eugene slipped Hugh's name into the conversation again. "You know I'm not seeing anyone else," Mandy responded with a hint of anger. The damage was done, though.

Tuesday, after Mandy's day off, Eugene again showed up at the nursing home with extra crispy chicken. Mandy wasn't there. Eugene was quite convincing in his display of concern--after all, they'd all heard stories of what a loser Hugh was. Maybe he really did go to see Mandy, and, well, Eugene decided he should go to Mandy's apartment to check on her. Of course he had to break into the apartment, to see if Mandy was all right. Naturally, his fingerprints would be in the apartment; he and Mandy were dating.

When the police later questioned Mandy's co-workers, they attested to Eugene's good character, and mentioned this loser Hugh whom Mandy had dated in the past and who might have planned on seeing on her day off. It goes without saying that Eugene sent a wonderful flower arrangement to the funeral home. For a while, he even made sure that there were always flowers in the vase on Mandy's grave. Eugene was such a nice guy.

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