Monitor readers share their dating sagas

There are few pursuits in life like the pursuit of romance. In honor of Valentine's Day, we asked Monitor readers to share some of their best - and worst - dates. Due to the volume of letters, we are able to publish only an edited sampling. But clearly, Cupid's arrow strikes - or goes astray - when we least expect it.

Key ring to my heart One day, I returned from lunch to my job at a nursery and met a man who stood out to me as the most handsome customer I'd ever assisted. We chatted briefly as I helped him load compost into his truck, quickly discovering many common interests. Uncharacteristically for both of us, we agreed to get to know each other better over dinner the next evening.

When I got off work the next day, I hadn't had enough time to change out of my dirty work clothes before he came to pick me up. Normally I'd have felt embarrassed by my appearance for a first date, but I just chuckled to myself that I felt so comfortable with this man.

We went to a nearby beach to take in the last rays of light before going to dinner and could not have planned more romantic surroundings. We strolled along the water's edge while a stunning sunset painted enormous brush strokes of pinks and orange across the sky.

That night at the restaurant, they were giving out little plastic heart-shaped key rings to commemorate Valentine's Day, an observance that had previously held little significance for either of us.

We both still have those little heart key rings; my husband's is still on the dashboard of his truck, where he put his that night, four years ago. - Jennifer Iams-McGuire

Got the ex-boyfriend blues I was a senior in high school, on a first date with a girl I really liked. No need to identify her. Let's just call her Medusa.

We went to a cozy Italian restaurant that set me back $40. I had a small (cheap) pasta, she ate a 10-ounce filet mignon. It was lovely. She seemed pleased. Later, we stopped for a video to watch at her house. She suggested "When Harry Met Sally." I hinted for James Bond. We settled on "The Blues Brothers."

At her house, we popped in the movie and snuggled on the couch. Things were going well.

Then, the phone rang.

"Hi Briiiiiian," she cooed as though Brad Pitt were on the line. "Oh, nothing . . . Just watching a dumb movie. I'm sooooo glad you called."

Brian was her ex-boyfriend. Then Medusa proceeded to wound me for the rest of my adolescent life: She disappeared into her bedroom and talked to him long distance for two hours. TWO HOURS. I should have left, but I didn't. I watched the movie - alone.

When Medusa finally reappeared, she said it was getting late and that I should be getting home. I left. Not even a good-night peck on the cheek. Walking to my car, I spotted a rock in her driveway. Still fuming, I kicked it, slipped, and fell in some mud. I was wearing white jeans.

The moral: Never wear white on a first date. - John Christian Hoyle

Airing his feelings On Wednesday, Nov. 20, 1985, my boyfriend and I were going to celebrate our first anniversary of dating by going to lunch at the Chicago Yacht Club. He called me just before noon and told me to look out the window of my office suite on the 37th floor.

There was an airplane flying over the Chicago lakefront with a 200-foot banner waving proudly, "Dear Linda, I adore you. Love always, Michael."

I hurried down the elevator to meet Michael (who became my husband seven months later) and to share this special moment with him. On the street, dozens of people stopped to see his airborne profession of love.

Our gaze was interrupted by a cranky Chicago cop who gave Michael a parking ticket, and called the FAA to report a plane flying too close to shore.

Determined not to let this spoil our day, we went as planned to the Yacht Club and had a wonderfully romantic lunch, basking in the glory of the message flying over us.

But because of the cop's call to the FAA, it somehow got broadcast over the AP wire. An FAA agent questioned the pilot when he landed. He did not, in fact, violate any FAA regulations. But it created a lot of ruckus!

We were pictured on the front page of the Chicago Sun Times with an article entitled, "Love plane swoops Loop" and in The Chicago Tribune with another article called, "Love takes a flyer and stirs cop's ire."

People still come up to us and say, "Aren't you the guy who flew an airplane in the Loop for your girlfriend?" - Linda Fine

My parents, the stalkers When I was 13 I met a boy for a date in London. He thought I was very strange, because I made him walk such a long and winding route to the cinema - but it took me all the back alleys I could find just to shake off my parents, who were shuffling close behind.

They thought I was too young to meet a "strange boy" in the city. We saw "Terminator 2" - an appropriate title for our relationship: I was so embarrassed I never saw him again. - Julia Bennet

Is this seat taken? I had been after Robert for months. But he always said he wouldn't date a co-worker.

I had season tickets for the ballet and even showed them to him. He mentioned that his mother had taught classical ballet during summer park programs for inner-city youths. And she made sure her children developed an appreciation for dance, particularly ballet.

Delighted, I mentioned that I had a ticket for Monday's performance and that the seat next to mine was always empty. We could get something to eat after work and take in the performance. I got the same old brush-off: "No, Phyllis, I don't think it's wise for co-workers to date."

That afternoon on the drive home, I told myself to give up on Robert. He wasn't interested.

The next Monday I ate a lonely fast-food meal and walked to the theater. The lights went down and the performance began. I was completely enthralled and barely noticed when someone sat down in the seat on my right.

A few seconds later I felt my hand being grabbed and gently squeezed. Startled, I turned an indignant gaze to my right and found myself staring into Robert's amused face. I gasped and he started chuckling. We couldn't talk at that point, but we continued to hold hands. I was so overwhelmed I blocked out everything that was happening on the stage. During intermission I asked how he had found me in that huge theater. He said he had sneaked a peek at the ticket I had shown him earlier.

We dated for two more years. We have now been happily married for eight years. Understandably for me, that "first date" was the best ever! - Phyllis Duffin Pennamon

A "Titanic" elbow Running late, we raced to the warmth of the Centennial Lakes Cinema, where the air was already heavy with the scent of fake butter. I reached for my wallet.

"I've got it," he said. "My dad gave me some free movie passes. Besides, I want to pay for you."

"Wow," I thought, "what a gentleman." This first date was going much better than I had expected. Settling in our seats, he whispered, "You are going to love this movie."

"We'll see," I murmured. I had avoided seeing "Titanic" for almost two months for expressly the same reason most giggling teenage girls gave as the explanation for their eighth viewing: Leonardo DiCaprio. I did not want to spend three hours gazing at America's newest teen idol but, always up for a hopelessly romantic love story, I was willing to give the film a chance.

I was enjoying the movie up until the scene in which Kate Winslet poses nude for the "artist." Embarrassed, I glanced at my date's face. There was a small smile twitching at the comers of his mouth.

My effort at enjoying the rest of the movie fizzled with the words "Iceberg, right ahead!" Unable to stomach even the slightest bit of violence or suspense, I cowered in my chair, hands over my eyes, barely breathing.

My date, taking inventory of the scene, attempted to put his arm around my shoulders. Clunk. His right elbow connected squarely with my left temple. For a moment I saw stars, and I'm not talking about Leo and Kate.

"Oooohhhhh," I moaned, the screen swimming before my eyes. By that time, his arm was confidently encircling my shoulders and he was just bursting with manliness, I was sure.

Why isn't he apologizing for his clumsiness? It soon became obvious to me that Mr. Smooth was completely unaware of the hit-and-run incident, so I let it drop. Feeling a bit woozy, however, I had a hard time enjoying the end of the movie.

All too soon, we were pulling into my driveway. With the exception of a brief moment of clumsiness, I was pleasantly surprised by the way our first date had gone. We sat in silence for a few moments.

"Well..." I said. "I had a nice time. Thanks for taking me."

"Me too. I can't wait 'till we can go out again," he replied, suddenly shy. Then, as I turned to go, he said, "Wait, um... Gimme five!"

Perhaps I'm still groggy from the blow to the head. No. I turned and realized he was serious. "Gimme five!"

I reluctantly reached over and slapped his upturned palm and watched his expression change from happy to reverent.

What a way to end the evening. I couldn't help but wonder why on earth this first date was so incredibly ... odd. Jenny Sawyer

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