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The 12 Best Dates in Fiction

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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Gogol and Moushumi

Childhood family friends meeting after a long estrangement as adults at a bar, segues to dinner.

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“They meet at a bar in the East Village, a place Moushumi had suggested when they’d spoken on the phone. It’s a small, dark, silent space, a single square room with just three booths against one wall. She’s there, sitting at the bar reading a paperback book, when he arrives, and when she looks up from its pages, though it is she who is waiting for him, he has the feeling that he is interrupting her. [About an hour later...] He hadn’t planned to take her to dinner. He had intended to go back to his apartment after the drink, and study, and order in some Chinese food. But now he finds himself saying that he is thinking of getting something to eat, did she want to join him?”

A classic, tried-and-true, nearly can’t-fail first date: meet at a bar you know and like. You’re maybe not sure if you want to commit to spending the time it takes (and the money, perhaps) on a full meal with someone. Notably, Gogol allows Moushumi to split the bar tab with him but insists on picking up dinner, making an ambiguous meeting between old family friends definitely a date.

Instant Love by Jami Attenberg

Holly and Christian

Taco Bell drive-through and couch make out.

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“When Christian is done blaming his dad, they drive through the drive-through and get Nachos BellGrande and a bunch of tacos and two Pepsis, and then they go to his house and eat it and then make out with their awful taco breath. Sometimes they drink beer and then they have beer breath. Tonight he has promised vodka, but that doesn’t really taste like anything at all.”

This date is more casual than drinks and dinner, and Holly and Christian are teenagers, so it’s totally OK for them to go to Taco Bell. You might get a bit more creative with your taco provider, or make them yourselves, but otherwise tacos and beer and some couch make out sounds like a wonderful second or third or thirtieth date to me.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Amy and Nick

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“We do silly things, like last weekend we drove to Delaware because neither of us has ever had sex in Delaware.”

Then they have sex in Delaware, just over the state line, in the car. In general, don’t be like Amy and Nick from Gone Girl, at all, in any conceivable way whatsoever. Please. However, the idea of doing something spontaneous just for the sake of doing it together—We’ve never been to Flushing, let’s go to the food mall or We’ve never been to Coney Island, let’s ride the Cyclone—is a wonderful date idea. The sex in the car is your call, of course.

Citrus County by John Brandon

Toby and Shelby

Public library and the flag store.

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“Toby accompanied Shelby to the public library. He knew she had something he needed, something that would fortify him, but he didn’t know if it was something she could offer or that he could accept. He didn’t know how to mine another person for something good.”

Toby and Shelby are in middle school, so they don’t have a lot of options. They visit the library so that Shelby can email her aunt in Iceland; then they go to a flag shop so Shelby can pick up… a flag. It’s an errand date! Risky at times (grocery store, probably OK; Bed Bath and Beyond, never not stressful) and probably not a first-date plan, but if your errands involve the library and a flag store, definitely go for it. Just try not to secretly kidnap your date’s younger sister and hide her in a bunker; it makes things awkward.

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver

Mel and Terri with Ed and Laura

Double date at Mel and Terri’s house.

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“There was an ice bucket on the table. The gin and the tonic water kept going around, and we somehow got on the subject of love.”

Two married couples are on a double date at one couple’s home. Unfortunately, the gin runs out before it even gets dark. But you probably don’t live in a Raymond Carver story, so you’ll probably just drink and talk and maybe play Taboo and have a great time. It’s like going to a bar, but if you’re a little farther along on your date number (five or so?) and more relaxed, you can actually hear each other, and it’s a good way to introduce your date to your friends.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

Narrator, Julian, Evelyn and Mitchell

Jazz Brunch at the Washington.

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“Jazz Brunch at the Washington, once held weekly in a lush ballroom to hundreds of Manhattan’s elite, has in recent decades been moved into a small cove on the basement level and done up like a high-class speakeasy. Maybe in Fitzgerald’s time, jazz music was a call to revolution—chaotic, arousing, and ever changeable. It disturbed the natural order, it tore up the old millennium, with its absurd wars and its drudgerous Puritanism; it declared reckless independence once and for all. But in our era of anthemic dance beats, power chords, and casually rhymed profanities, jazz music has become quaint and old-fashioned, appreciated only by those who were born too late—namely, the three of us.”

A well-established weekly ritual, however amazing and indulgent Jazz Brunch surely is, might not be the best place to introduce your new boyfriend to your two best friends, but it would be a great date for just the two of you.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert trans. Lydia Davis

Emma Bovary and Léon

Carriage ride in Paris.

Madame_Bovary_1857_(hi-res)“‘Keep going!’ said a voice issuing from the interior.
The carriage set off again and, gathering speed on the downward slope from the carrefour La Fayette, came up to the railway station at a fast gallop.
‘No! Straight on!’ cried the same voice.”

It’s actually really hard to list literary dates that don’t involve an affair. Particularly in the classics, characters meet at large social gatherings (Darcy and Lizzy at a ball; Romeo and Juliet a house party; etc.), there aren’t many scenes of dates as we know them today. Except with affairs: Anna and Karenin, Lady Chatterley and Mellors, Humbert Humbert and Lolita (I couldn’t quite bring myself to include The Enchanted Hunters as a date spot on this list). This scene is wonderful because Emma and Léon have nowhere to go, given the illicitness of their encounter, so they get in a carriage and keep paying the driver to drive aimlessly around Paris while they “rendezvous” in the back. Your rendezvous need not be illicit for this example, and if you can acquire a horse-drawn carriage, go for it; if not, a yellow cab is a perhaps less romantic but equally suitable chariot. Get in, say “just drive,” and see where you end up.

“Brokeback Mountain,” Close Range by Annie Proulx

Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist

Camping.

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“There were only the two on them on the mountain flying in the euphoric, bitter air, looking down on the hawk’s back and the crawling lights of vehicles on the plain below, suspended above ordinary affairs and distant from tame ranch dogs barking in the dark hours.”

Hopefully you don’t have to take to the mountain to hide the true nature of your relationship, and things work out a little better for y’all than Proulx’s couple of cowboys. A night in the great outdoors, maybe with some sustenance slightly more ambitious than a can of beans, a good fire going and plenty of time to talk about any and everything sounds like a pretty great date. Bring two bedrolls if you want, but one was enough for Ennis and Jack.

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

Sally Jay and Jim Breit

He asks her to pose for his painting.

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“Later on somebody told me that there isn’t a girl in the whole world who won’t take off her clothes if she’s convinced she’s doing it for aesthetic reasons, but at the time it seemed to me I had taken one more giant step.”

“I spent deep, peaceful afternoons there in that farmhouse-studio, posing for him throughout the long, cold winter with the rain outside and the fragrant warmth of glowing woodfires burning and mixing into exhilarating smells of turpentine, canvas, and oil paints. Gradually it began to seem rather an anticlimax just to get back into all my clothes after lying around with them off for so long, and I found I was staying longer and longer in my dressing gown after the painting session was over, while the light faded, the firelight flickered, and we sat drinking white wine.”

Sally Jay is an American girl in Paris, and she meets artist Jim Breit at a cafe. He asks her to pose for a series he’s painting of the muses, and they end up in a very sweet relationship. At least until he abandons painting for mobiles, which Sally Jay is not as into. If you are in Paris and a kind, attractive artist asks you to pose for him, that is a totally acceptable date, especially if you’re a gal like Sally Jay, a woman “hell-bent on living.”

“Flaca,” This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

Yunior and Flaca (Veronica)

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“We park across from the map dealer and go to our bookstore. Despite the proximity of the college, we’re the only customers, us and a three-legged cat. You sit yourself down in an aisle and start searching through the boxes. The cat goes right for you. I flip through the histories. You’re the only person I’ve ever met who can stand a bookstore as long as I can. A smarty-pants, the kind you don’t find every day.”

The book is called This Is How Your Lose Her, so we might not want to follow Junot’s general example too closely, but a bookstore is a wonderful place for a date. They are full of possibility (the travel section!) and clues to that person’s taste (Ayn Rand? Goodbye!) and personality (do they ask you what you recommend? try to force their taste on you? linger or seem impatient?). And if you’re lucky, a cat.

“Having a Coke with You” by Frank O’Hara

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is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them

I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

This isn’t fiction, of course, but it’s the perfect poem about a perfect date.

Plus:

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