Date Night: THE smallest GESTURE…

Oftentimes, women give men such a hard time. We set expectations that are un-realistic and seemingly impossible for men to live up to. And we hold on to these standards as though these minimum requirements are the gateway for any gentleman to become a part of our lives. As a single woman who is striving to learn all that I can during this period of singleness so that I can one day be a good wife, it surprises me when a man teaches me some elemental truth about womanhood that I somehow missed along the way.

Here goes:

So I have this friend. No more, no less, just a friend. Of the 4 years that I’ve known him, he’s only loved one thing: Popeye’s Chicken! No, but seriously, all jokes aside—He has always been a dedicated fan of Popeye’s. Nevertheless, this past July I was excited to let him know that Rock Hill, SC was finally on the map! Regardless of the trash he’d talked about my city, we were now getting our very own Popeye’s Chicken Restaurant. Combining this information with the fact that I lived there, who wouldn’t love Rock Hill?

Two weeks ago I had gotten off work late and ended up spending and hour or so in Carolina Place Mall. I usually hang out on Wednesdays after work just so I don’t have to go all the way home and drive back to Charlotte to attend bible study. It was raining all evening, and by the time I left the mall, I had already changed my mind about going to bible study. It had been a long day.  I was tired.  Even still, at 7pm  I was not in the mood to go home with any fake intentions of cooking. Though, I love to eat, I have found that I don’t enjoy food much when I’ve invested the time it takes to actually prepare a decent meal. It just doesn’t happen. After dodging raindrops in the mall parking lot trying to find my car, I settled in my front seat soiled, tired, and hungry; very much in the mood to be gluttonous and have a good meal. Immediately I thought of my friend: the Popeye’s connoisseur. For months I had been promising him a trip to the new Popeye’s Chicken that opened on Cherry Road. I was so excited to let him know that we finally had a Popeye’s I remember sending him pictures during the building’s construction back mid-summer. As long as I’ve known him he’s been a fan, but now that the establishment had been open for almost 5 months and we hadn’t gone to eat like I promised, I was getting nothing but hell from him.

Since a long day at work and a rainy evening don’t bode well in my opinion to be the perfect date combination, as I leave the mall I call my friend to see about grabbing something quick. No fuss, just chicken. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so why not?

He answers the phone. “Hello”. A tiredness I can already hear in his voice even though I haven’t asked yet about his day.

I was tired too, but I force a cheerful voice thru my blackberry speakers:

“Hey dude! What’s going on with you?”

Man,”  he begins.

I shake my head. After the 8 hours that I had, plus this rainy weather and hunger in the pit of my stomach, I wasn’t in the mood to hear about what had him down.

I cut him off. “I was calling to see whether you wanted to go get something to eat. I’m still in Charlotte and since its raining I figured we could go to Popeye’s right quick”.

Man, today was a long day…,“ he begins again.

Now, I know that he’s been waiting on this invitation for months, so it trips me out that he’s not jumping all over the offer that I just made. How could he be turning me down? [Shouldn’t all guys be immediately responsive when girls do the inviting?!?]

I try convincing a bit. “I know you really want to go, and since this weather sucks, I want something good to eat. We should go. I’m serious, I’ll come pick you up.”

He’s hesitates and finally explains: “Man, Krystal I really had a long day. I’m tired.”

well, I’m tired too but that’s why we should go”, I explain further. “We can have something good to eat and both go back home.”

He wasn’t feeling my plans. Not tonight anyway. Which ultimately meant that his day just had to be far from stellar. So as many women do sometimes, I take advantage o f the situation and lay the guilt and blame at his feet, not my own: “Well, since you’re too tired to go to dinner with a friend, I guess I’ll have to grab some Chinese food or something.” [That way, if the conversation came back up, I could at least say that it wasn’t my fault that we hadn’t spent any time together. He was the one who didn’t want to make any Wednesday night moves!]

I’m smiling because I can hear his smile through the phone. He quickly defends his position:

“C’mon Krystal,” he begins, “don’t even try that. You know how much I love Popeye’s. And any other time I would go, but today just hasn’t been the day. I’m tired.”

Yeah, whatever, I say, with sorrow dripping from my lips. [If you’re going to pour it on ladies, why not make it awfully thick!]

He’s quiet now. I know he’s thinking about my invitation. He’s too considerate of a guy not to have heard the forced disappointment in my voice.

“And anyway,  he argues further, “how can you call me at the last minute talking about let’s go to Popeye’s?”

“What do you mean?” my bewilderment multiplied by ten to show exaggeration. “I just wanted to go eat, now you’re saying you’re too tired to come out with a friend. And I was going to drive too!”  It’s strategy, but someone has to do it!

He defends again. “Yeah, but If it were ME calling YOU, you wouldn’t allow me to call you at the last minute talking about ‘let’s go eat’. You’d want advance notice. You’d want to know where we were going, right? I’d have to schedule a date with you. Women expect guys to be on point when ya’ll get asked to go someplace, but when it happens in reverse ya’ll women just treat us any kinda way. Naw man, that ain’t right!”

I smile because we’ve been here before.  The quintessential battle of the sexes.  We used to always discuss how seemingly double-standards exist between men and women. Its often that the the expectation of one sex is being gauged against the behavior of another with neither men nor women really sure on how clear behavior patterns should be when it comes to gender roles in relationships.

He says again:

As a woman you wouldn’t allow me to call you talking about ‘Let’s get Popeye’s’. I ‘d have to call and extend a dinner date. I’d have to do it right. So don’t just think its okay to treat me any kinda way… EVEN IF we’re just going to Popeye’s.”

He’s laying it on thick now. I know he’s right. It was a shabby attempt at a dinner invitation, so I’m being quiet. “See how women do, he says. “It just don’t make any sense. And you calling me talking about ‘I’ll drive’. C’mon, you need to do better.”

He was absolutely right. I should have done better.

The art (and burden) of courting properly often rests on the shoulders of men. And it isn’t a fair load for them to carry. It really isn’t justifiable for women to have such high expectations of men, especially when we don’t try to atleast give those same considerations when we are doing the “courting”. And It’s not to say that I was officially “courting” this good friend of mine, but his point was made loud and clear. Why couldn’t I treat him better? Why shouldn’t he be allowed the decency of advance notice and having official date-night plans made? That wasn’t too much to ask. I would expect nothing less of any man who wants to partake in some of my precious time, I should show the same respect for him and his time as well.

Fast-forward two weeks and the weekend is ending. I had promised him we were going to go eat and another week had gone by. Now it’s Sunday evening and I have been secretly making plans for this friend and me. Because I am making up for my half-assed invitation two-weeks prior  (sorry for the swear, its just for effect!) I’d like to make a day of it and really spend some time with him–quality time. I have tons of plans! I’m super excited. He’s going to love our outing. He sent a text on Saturday reminding me of my commitment. “I want my chicken.” is all it said!

I laugh as I read it thinking: Ol buddy, if it’s chicken you want, it’s chicken you’ll get!

As far as I was concerned the chicken itself was the easy part. I wasn’t cooking it, so why stress about it. My objective at this point was to focus on the circumstances surrounding getting the infamous Popeye’s chicken to this amazing man. He sends a text message the next day advising that Tuesday evening was the only time he had off this week. What? Tuesday evening? No, I needed a full 8 hours for what I had planned! I need a Saturday. I let him know my dissatisfaction with his schedule. This wasn’t happening. I was a little peeved. My plans weren’t going to work out with a simple Tuesday night at my disposal. At this point, this whole thing was about waaayyyyy more than chicken. It had grown to be about all women everywhere. It was about us really living out the standards that we so often require. I cannot expect certain dating behaviors from men while if I’m not willing to do those things myself. Nope, he wasn’t going to rush this moment for me. If I was going to do it, I was going to do it right (even if his schedule was ruining my plans). In my opinion, I needed more time. He didn’t know the plans I had for us, but I was rather hurt that his schedule didn’t permit me going above and beyond like I had planned. It’s okay, I assured myself, a real woman knows how to re-group. I had to work within the allotted time he had available. I could revamp my plans, he’s worth it…., right?

Sunday night I’m northbound on I-77 having a discussion with my sister about this impromptu TUESDAY night date. I am busy on Tuesday evenings so I know whatever we do, it will have to be around 9pm. My sister advises me: maybe we should stop by Popeye’s tonight. We head down Cherry Road and pull into Popeye’s. I go inside and ask for the manager. Coming up with a gameplan as I enter the lobby. It’s official. Plans are underway!

The Set Up

After some last-minute shopping, since I only have Monday to get things in order, I feel good about my date plans. It wasn’t what I originally planned for him, but I’m going to take the time and consideration to do it right. He asked for chicken and I want to make sure he gets it. I mean, after waiting four months for me to find the time to take him to Popeye’s, Tuesday should at least be a night he’ll always remember!

The same manager I met with Sunday night, Bryan Savage, asks me to come back Tuesday morning just to ensure that all the plans are perfected. He advised me that there were stipulations to this romantic evening. He’d love to have us come to dinner at Popeye’s, but no candles (because they are smoke-free) and no alcohol (because they don’t serve alcohol). Okay. I can work with that. He explains that he is off that evening, but he will make a special trip back just for me, if necessary. He introduces me to the cook that is scheduled to work. Tells me that I have to be in the dining room no later than 10pm. They close the dining room at 10 so he’ll allow me to set up my table early, go pick up my guy and have dinner, but I need to be back before they lock the dining room doors. “Got it” my only response. He’s direct and very informative and I like guys like that. He gave me a number to call if  I had some concerns or questions that may come up throughout the day, but all is well on my end. its Tuesday morning and I cannot wait until 9:30 that night! Its going down!

I’m a little nervous when I pull up to his place at exactly 9:25. Thinking that is better to be earlier than late on date-night. Surprised by the anxiousness I feel, but I recognize it as nervousness all the same. See, it’s usually the woman on the other side of the door waiting to be swooned, waiting to be impressed by the guy. I feel the pressure now that I’m sitting in the car and I know he’s expecting me. Typically it’s the guy that has jitters in his stomach about whether he chose the right cologne, whether his car was cleaned thoroughly enough, whether his date-night music is on-point for the mission he’s trying to accomplish. But not this time. It’s a woman that is leading tonight. I have to consider all the little things that could make or break this romantic evening. (And yes, I did also make the perfect date-night music playlist just for the evening!) Women are prone to making sure they don’t over look the finer details, so I wanted him to enjoy and appreciate tonight’s dinner. I wanted it to be as close to perfection as I could get. It’s just chicken for goodness sake, but why shouldn’t he enjoy tonight like a king while eating food that he loves. I take a deep breath and get out of the car. I think about my date-night checklist as I walk across the street to his front door. Everything seems in order. I’m satisfied. I knock quickly and think: Dang, I probably should have put on a bracelet!

 I’m playing the guy’s role tonight. So I have to point out that he wasn’t ready when I got inside. He was fussing about not knowing what the plans were. He’s all uncomfortable about not knowing where we’re going. I laugh because I know women are the same way. “How do I know what to put on if you won’t tell me where we’re going” he calls from the bedroom. I’m not tripping on him about not being ready, though. Tonight is my night and I politely rush him along because we have to get where we’re going by 10pm.  We are in the car, we make small-talk as I rush down the road. He’s fussing about my poor driving skills and I’m thinking I really should have blindfolded him. I tell him about the blindfold that I left behind. “Me, sit in here blindfolded? Please, not the way you driving”. Whatever, its my night, so he’ll just have to tolerate it tonight. when we arrive, I leave him in the car for a few seconds while I go inside to ensure all is well with our table. The Popeye’s team members are just as excited as I am to finally get the date started.

The Date

As I open the passenger door for him to get out, I remind him of how long its been since I promised him dinner. I remind him that some things, regardless of what they may be, are well worth the wait (an adage that I’m sure will come up again f we spend any more time together!). As we cross over the drive-thru lane, he can already see the candlelit table in the center of the dining room. He’s smiling. He’s shaking his head. He’s looking at me and laughing now because he can’t believe what I’ve done. He’s having his moment of elation in the parking lot, but we can’t stand here all night–we have to go inside. I rush him forward. When we get inside, he’s not the only one lost for words. The Popeye’s team members working that night had taken it upon themselves to meet us in the lobby! Everybody is all lined up. “Good Evening, and welcome to Popeye’s”, they greet us in unison. Damien is laughing. He’s looking at me tripping out, disbelief still rolling around in the mental recesses of his mind. But he knows it has to be true because here we are about to have a candle light dinner in a fast-food restaurant.  But not just any restaurant. This is His love, His #1, his Popeye’s Chicken! He’s touched, I can tell from the look he’s giving me. As I push in his chair and touch him tenderly, I can tell he’s getting a bit emotional. Not to the point of sappiness, because that’s not an O.G. move at all, but its pure gratitude in his eyes.   I’m touched too because emotion wasn’t a reaction I was expecting. I expected him to laugh and clown because that’s what he does, but raw emotion? I’m smiling still because I appreciate the gratitude  he’s showing. I’m glad that he is comfortable expressing the fact that he’s touched and that my gesture meant a lot to him. The more I sit and   consider it, I have to check myself because the sincerity in his eyes put a heaviness on the date that I wasn’t expecting. I wanted to ask him what he saw when he looked at me, ask him what he was thinking about at that moment, but serious talk was for later. Now was a time for chicken!

A young woman greets us at our table. She’s carrying a pad and paper. She formally introduces herself: “Good evening, My name is LaToya. I’ll be your waitress this evening.” Both Damien and I are blown away. I mean I mentioned it to management, but I didn’t expect this kind of treatment. She explains that she’ll give us time to look over our menus. (yes, I made “mock” menus from a few Popeye’s to-go menus they had). Who wants to stand in line to order when you’re on date night? A few other guests are in the dining room watching us. Damien keeps shaking his head smiling at me. I take a deep breath, so far so good!

***

The entire evening was amazing. I cannot express enough gratitude and thanks to the Popeye’s team members for Tuesday evening. They went above and beyond my expectations. Not only did LaToya take our order and plated our dinner on the plates that I brought in, but Assistant Manager Tom brought our food out himself. He expressed his gratitude for us sharing our evening with the Popeye’s family. It was a gratitude that should have been extended from us as patrons of this establishment, but every employee made us feel like superstars that night. They made us feel like we were the most-important customers they’d ever had. We even got to meet a man we’ve coined “Master Chef Jojo”. The gentleman that cooked our food came out and greeted us. He told us that he hoped we enjoyed all that he’d prepared. Of course, Damien is all excited because to him, JoJo is the primary person in the room. What’s a Popeye’s Chicken without the man that’s in the kitchen dropping the world-famous Louisiana style fried chicken, he reminds me!  In my opinion the night was splendid. We may have been sitting in the middle of a Popeye’s Chicken restaurant, in little Rock Hill, South Carolina, with cars passing by the windows ordering drive-thru service, but with this kind of stellar treatment happening inside the dinning room, you would have thought we were in some expensive, grandeur French restaurant with world-renowned chefs.

The entire team made us feel more than welcomed. We became a part of the Popeye’s family that night. The service far surpassed the level that I was expecting. I knew they’d be nice, of course, I expected that. But I couldn’t have asked for better treatment and considerations. Because of their love for their jobs and a genuine  passion for people, I was able to pull off date-night without a hitch. They even gave me a hard time when I got up to go to the drink fountain to refill my own water glass! They wanted so much for my date to be perfect, that they insisted that I let them know when I needed anything, including water!

As the evening drew, Damien and I begin to realize that our date was turning out to be a pivotal moment. Not just in our relationship, but in our lives. It was a little thing that I had done. I set up a romantic dinner in Popeye’s Chicken dinning room but look how many people it affected. Look how much love we gained that night. The Popeye’s Team Members had been excited to share our night with us. They were full of laughter and love as we ate dinner. They embraced us with their support and thoughtfulness. They were professional, considerate, and just amazing. It was the best experience we’ve ever had in a quick-service establishment.  Our master chef, Joseph “JoJo” even came back to the table and told us about his wife. Told us that he was lucky to be blessed with such love in his life and he wished us both the same. Jojo encouraged us to not to take life or each other for granted. We’re smiling because we knew that he didn’t have to be encouraging. He didn’t have to personalize our visit with Popeye’s Store #11359, but because he did go the extra mile–Because he felt it important enough to embrace us and impart wisdom gained from his experience in marriage and relationships, we appreciated him all the more.

I cannot write the full impact of the exemplary service we received. And though it sets the bar far too high for any other quick-service restaurant to ever compare, it went beyond just employees at work. Nicole aka “Whitney” took pictures for me to scrapbook for later. She even uploaded a quick video onto my Facebook page of our arrival at the restaurant. No way can that just be her doing her job. No way can she say that was because she was at work. She along with all the other team members working that night, did so because of LOVE. On the ride home Damien and I both kept reveling in how amazing our experience had been. How lucky we were to share our night with an awesome crew. I may have initiated “Popeye’s date-night” but it was the Popeye’s Team Members who really made it what it was. You would think that Damien would have been at a loss for words about our night, but not at all! He kept singing praises about the team members, especially Chef JoJo! The entire discussion on the ride home was about the Popeye’s crew. I had to remind him that I did have a little something to do with the events of the evening! (*smiling!) But he wanted to give credit where credit is due. And if not for each of the employees that night, I woudn’t have been able to pull off such a fabulous dinner date! (I would love to list their names here, but I am not sure how they’d feel about being on the world-wide web. But I have every intention of writing a letter to the corporate office to let them know of the best Popeye’s Team ever!)

I must admit to also feeling bad because I wanted the evening to be about Damien feeling appreciated and loved. I wanted it to be focused on him, but through the selfless efforts of every Popeye’s team member, we both left with the feeling that we should be doing more to help others. Their considerations took our mind off of “self” and shifted our perspectives. All the way home we talked about how amazing the world would be if everyone took the time to just give more than what was required. if everyone took it upon themselves to do something nice for someone else, like the Popeye’s Team Members we were lucky to have met. During our date-night we became a part of the Popeye’s family. We will always love each and every one of them. There aren’t enough “Thanks” will recompense for the love we felt on Tuesday night.

But as for the task at hand. Did I accomplish what I intended?

 Resolution

I can only ask him how he felt that night. I personally know I was walking in the clouds the entire time. People always remind you of the “joys” of giving. The good you feel when you’ve done something considerate for someone else, but how many women take that to heart when it comes to playing an active role in their dating life? How many of us ever take the time to really be a part of setting the tone in the relationship?  I mean, I know its 2013 and women are strong, independent, and blah, blah, blah. I get it. I am that chick, so I understand, but even so, I am probably still the most hard-core believer that a man should lead–that he should always initiate a proper and true courtship. Unfortunately we/I find that far too often men make failed attempts because we/I haven’t specifically shown him what it is that we’re looking for as we date. How does he really know what it means to properly date me if I’ve never properly dated him? All of us have met guys that let us down. We complain about not being taken out on real dates.  You know, those dates that make you feel uber-special. The ones that show your guy took the time to make the date matter, to make the night perfect. The moments we love because it wasn’t just spending money or going someplace fancy, the date mattered most because he thought of YOU while he was making his plans.

What I’ve learned from my friend Damien is that we complain about the lack of dating standards all the time, but women have done nothing to change them. If I’ve never treated him as king or at least opened the doors to the possibility, how would he ever know how it’d feel to potentially make me his queen?  And why would he want to? And no, I’m not saying that every man you meet is worth you treating like a king every time you go out,(I don’t want you broke because you’re trying to give the royal treatment to some dude every Saturday night), but those men who have the potential to be your king should occasionally be reminded of that. YOU, yes, YOU (ladies), should make him feel like he’s worth it. I can imagine it takes a lot to ‘keep things interesting’ while dating for long periods of time. I can imagine it becomes expensive for him to make sure that you’re still having a good time after months and years of courting. When men take us out, it does take planning; it does take insight and ingenuity; it does take finances to ensure that he’s giving us the royal treatment. As much as we appreciate those dates he’s treating us to, we should make a few date-night plans of our own. Take it upon yourself to “trade places” like Usher told us years ago!  As I’ve learned from my friend Damien during a romantic evening at Popeye’s Chicken, Rock Hill, SC—taking the time to do something special for him goes a lot farther than you simply sitting on the receiving-end of this game we call “courtship”. Ladies,  what you do doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top. Sometimes, it’s the smallest gesture that makes him feel loved and appreciated all the more!

*** note: I didn’t give this man tickets to the Superbowl, I didn’t buy him a boat,  but I do think he had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Men are so used to being the ‘giver’ in relationships, its quite refreshing for them to be on the receiving end occasionally! Do something special for someone who deserves it. The experience is totally worth it!

Good Luck Ladies, and keep smiling!

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2 thoughts on “Date Night: THE smallest GESTURE…

  1. MsSelfConfident says:

    I am so in love with this concept of your surprise plan! It is amazing……obviously, I need to step my game up! I appreciate you sharing…….and I wouldn’t change a single word in the story!

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