"My soul is elsewhere, I'm sure of that. And I intend to end up there." -- Rumi

Friday, July 29, 2011

How (Not) to Date a Western Girl

There are reasons why I don't date very often.  It is because when I do, all too typically the evening ends up going a lot like this...

I meet Zaza my first evening in Tbilisi.  I was walking around not doing much of anything, and had actually just decided to head back to my hostel and maybe grab a beer in the Common Room.  A decent-looking Georgian man stopped me and asked for the time -- "Romeli saatia?"  (Okay, he had some serious male-pattern baldness and truly terrible teeth, but that's kind of like saying men in China are usually Asian.)  I told him it was ten o'clock -- "Ata saati," and as soon as he heard I was American, all bets were off.

At the onset, he seems like a decent enough fellow (they always do).  We chat on the street for a few minutes, pretty much the usual script I can recite more or less by heart now.

"Yes, I'm from America.  Washington, DC.  Yes, that's the Capital.  I'm living in Georgia teaching English... yes, for a whole year.  I came to Georgia to experience a new culture.  Yes, I like Georgia very much.  Yes, I like Georgian food very much.  Yes, I like Georgian music very much too.  No, I have not been to Svaneti yet.  Yes, I know I have to go.  I am thirty-one.  No, I am not married.  Why not?  Because no one ever made me want to be.  Oh... we'll have to see."  (That last is in reference to the assertion that I should marry a Georgian man and stay here forever.)

After all that's out of the way, he wants to go for a walk with me through the Botanical Gardens.  Now, it is 10:30 at night at this point, and as luck would have it, I've been to Tbilisi's Botanical Gardens.  It's not so much a garden as it is a park -- a large, lovely, and wooded park on the top of a hill.  It's isolated, and has plenty of twisty paths that seem to be seldom-traveled.  With a big smile, I tell Zaza that I don't think the Gardens are a good idea tonight, but suggest getting a beer at one of the dozens of lovely outdoor cafes that pepper Old Tbilisi.  He agrees after some reluctance (after all, the Gardens are soooooo beautiful at night) and we start to walk.

After finally finding a cafe (he keeps trying to go off the main drag to God knows where, while at least twice more bringing up how beautiful the Gardens are at night; I really do need to see them, and shouldn't we go), I order a beer and he orders... mineral water.  Okay, awkward, but there's nothing that says he has to drink if he doesn't feel like it.  Still, I have to question saying Yes to a drink when you aren't going to have one, thus setting your partner up for the uncomfortable situation of drinking alone while you look all virtuous and pure, over there with your mineral water.

But after we get settled, it actually turns into a pretty decent conversation.  We chat about travel, and literature, and our families.  He tells me he sometimes runs tours up in Svaneti, and I ask if he might be able to help out with something for me and my friends.  He buys my beer, I consent to handing over my phone number, and he walks me back to the hostel.

I suppose all warning signs were there from Night One, so I should not have been terribly surprised at the next 24 hours.

In the middle of the afternoon I get a call.
"Mary!  Where are you?  What are you doing!?  I want to see you!  Can I see you now?"
Big sigh.  Great start, dude.  "Hi Zaza."
"Mary!  What are you doing!  I want to see you now!"
"Well, I'm afraid you can't see me at this very moment."  (I resent the idea of coming on command with no prior request or even warning, and also am on my way to McDonald's and an English-language bookshop/coffeehouse.  I'm not putting that aside for anything.)  "I have no plans this evening.  How about we meet at 7:00?"
"7:00?  You cannot meet now!?"
"No.  I cannot meet now.  I can meet at seven."
"Oh... okay!  I will pick you up at your hostel, yes?"
"No, not at my hostel.  I won't be there.  Meet me at the glass footbridge, okay?"
"I cannot come to your hostel?  Why not?"
Sigh.  "Because I will not be there.  I am out.  Meet me at the glass bridge.  All right?"
".... Okay!  I will meet you!  I am very excited!"
"I can tell.  Okay, see you at 7:00.  7:00 on the bridge."

At 6:55 that evening, as I am walking towards the bridge, my phone rings.
"Mary!  Where are you!"
"I'm wallking towards the glass bridge, Zaza.  To meet at seven.  Like we talked about, right?"
"Oh!  You are at the bridge?!"
"No.  I am not at the bridge.  I am walking towards the bridge.  I will be there in five minutes.  At 7:00.  Like we talked about."
"Okay!  I will go to the bridge!"
Holy Christ.

At 6:59, my phone rings again.  I do not answer.

At 7:01, I reach the designated Meeting Spot.  Against all odds, Zaza is already there and waiting, wearing the same outfit he had on yesterday.  We do the awkward Georgian kiss-on-the-cheek-Hello, and right from Minute One, things start to go south.  He wants to take me  to a lake, approximately 3 miles outside of Tbilisi.  He is extremely proud that he can tell me this distance in miles, because:  "Americans, you cannot understand the metric system."

For my part, I have the same problem with the lake as I did with the Gardens yesterday, and tell him I'd rather stay in the City Center. So instead we walk up the hill to Tbilisi's ruined Fortress.  It's truly beautiful up there, with panoramic views of the city below.  Zaza and I make our way to the very top of the ruined tower.  There's a strong breeze and our hearts are pounding from the climb.  It is here that Zaza takes both my hands in his, gazes deeply into my eyes, and says:

"Mary.  I think it will be very good for you to be my girlfriend."

I tell him that is very sweet, but remind him that he has known me a total of maybe three hours.  I know nothing about him, or him about me.
"But... you like me.  Yes?"
"I think you're a nice guy, yes.  But I am just getting to know you.  We are not at boyfriend/girlfriend stage here.  Nowhere near, I'm afraid."
"But... but.  But I like you so much.  You will be so good for me, Mary."

Skeptical face.
At that point I suggest heading back down into town.  For his part, Zaza has decided to show me what a good boyfriend he would be by refusing to let me climb down the mountian and ruins by myself.  After ducking and evading his grabbing hands for ten minutes, I try to explain that he is seriously throwing off both my balance and concentration, and he needs to leave me the hell alone so I don't fall.  We get to the bottom, but now that physical contact has been initated, Zaza wants to hold my hand.  I pull away gently, and say something like "I'm not much of a hand-holder, I'm afraid."  (I'm really not, by the way.)  This does not deter him.  I realize I have accepted a date with someone who happens to have the emotional maturity of a 14-year-old.

At this point, I'm looking forward to being bought dinner and maybe a very strong cocktail for this ordeal, but instead, Zaza suggests a trip on... the city bus. 

Yep.  My date has progressed from humpin' it up a mountain to... the bus.

I ask him where he plans on going, on the bus.
"Oh, just through the city.  Then we can walk back.  It will be good for you to see Tbilisi."
At this point, I realize part of the reason I am continuing to stick this out is because I have a great story in the works.

Zaza does not have any change so I pull out the tetri for both of us, and we wait for the bus.

The bus arrives, and we ride it.  Zaza continues to try and hold my hand, and I continue to bat him away.  Eventually I don't see much of anything familiar, and realize I've reached the limit of my being able to find my way back on my own.  I tell him I think we should get off at the next stop.
"Oh, is not so far.  We can ride a bit longer."
"Yeah, this is far enough."  The bus stops and before more discussion can happen, I stand and get off.  He follows me.

And so we walk.  For a long time.  The conversation is exclusively on the topic of me becoming Zaza's girlfriend, which let me tell you, got old about an hour ago.

"Tell you what.  We can have this conversation again when you can tell me ten things about me."
"Oh, no.  Is okay.  We can get to know each other after you are my girlfriend."
"Doesn't work that way Babe.  Sorry to break it to you."

At one point, we sit down on a park bench to rest, and he zooms in to try to kiss me.  I get a hand on his chest to keep the distance, but he keeps trying.  I have never in my life had to bodily fend off a grown man -- a sober man -- from trying to kiss me after I have made it well and truly clear that his advances are not welcome.  After a few seconds of this standoff, where I am so well and truly astonished that I cannot speak, I say:

"Sorry, my friend.  I don't kiss people I just met."  Sigh.  "So... cut it out.  This isn't going to work for you."
"Oh.  I am sorry.  It's just that you are so good for me.  I like you so much."
"You don't even know the first thing about me!  What can you tell me other than I am American and you think I'm pretty?  Thanks for that, by the way, but those two things are not something you base an adult relationship on."
"You are angry with me."
"No.  I'm just... Let's just walk back, huh?"

We continue back.  Perhaps trying to win his way back into my good graces, Zaza finally suggests food.  We are on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi's main street, that is covered with restaurants and cafes of every description.  Rustaveli is home to a sushi bar, for pete's sake.  It's home to the Tbilisi Marriott AND the Tbilisi Courtyard Marriott, both with excellent in-house Western restaurants. 

However, Zaza takes an abupt left and leads us through a very random park.
"Where are we going, Zaza?"
"For food.  There was nothing back there."
On Rustaveli?  No food, huh?  I sigh, my 150th sigh of the night, and let it go.

Eventually we reach the place of Zaza's choice.  It is a literal hole-in-the-wall bakery/shop selling Georgian fast food -- assorted bread-based goods that have probably been in the window all day.  It is then that I 100% just give up.

He buys me a lobiani, which is bread with beans baked in the middle, and we sit on a park bench and eat.  He still wants to talk only about how good it will be -- good for me, that is -- if I were his girlfriend.  I thank him for the food and tell him I need to be heading back.  He tells me he likes astronomy, but cannot name his favorite constellation.  But now will I be his girlfriend?

I have been polite all evening, even friendly.  I have said not one of the acerbic comments that have begged to be let free.  But on our final walk back, Zaza makes more more detirmined grab for my hand.  I've had it.

I pull away with more force than necessary. "Freaking stop it!  I do not want to have to tell you No one more time this evening, do you understand?  I don't want to hold your hand and I do not want to be your girlfriend."

At this, Zaza gets very sulky.  Apparently he is not used to his dates of bus rides and fast food on a bench, not to mention the constant unwanted pysical attention, to have the desired effect on the object (apt word choice) of his affection.

He won't walk me all the way back to the hostel (SO fine with me), and says:
"You are angry with me."
"No, I am not angry.  I am frustrated with saying No all evening.  I mean, no offense -- but I seriously do not think you have the first clue about how to date a western girl."
"Well, you can call me if you want."
"I have your number.  You called me, remember?  Three times."
"Will you call me?"
"Afraid it doesn't look good.  Goodnight, Zaza."

We part ways on that note, and I go into my hostel to have a shower and a beer.  I really, really need both.


  1. Ummm wow this is hilarious. And awful at the same time. You're right, it does make for good story material, just don't go off and get human trafficed ok?? Yikes.

  2. I am frustrated with saying No all evening.

    I met an American in Munich who was pretty sure of himself. At one point I got to say, "I don't care how horny you are, I know you speak English. Back off."