Dating Bradford: Social Blunder
Half way through my recitation, I realized I had made the wrong choice of material. It wasn't that my piece about farting was pornographic, but the crowd around the campfire was predominantly over 70 or under 7, and by their deadly silence at my punch lines, I could tell I was laying an egg. I stumbled through my reading, self-editing potentially offensive phases, but finally saying, "Let's just skip to the end. Oh, can't read that either . . . I'll just sit down now."
Fifteen years prior, I had been around the same campfire with my boyfriend at the time, at this annual gathering of his family's friends. He had grown up attending the now-42-year tradition, never missing one.
Time had passed and lives had changed, but the campfire traditions carried on. The one difference this year was my return to the fold -- potentially to re-ignite a romance with my ex -- with laptop in hand to read one of my dating columns, which I thought would be a funny addition to the evening's entertainment.
Although the topic of farting is universal, my take on it was universally panned by the campfire clan. I skulked back to my tent with a consolatory margarita, trying to forget that I had somehow managed to ruin the night for 40 people and wondering where I heard that kids love fart jokes.
My old flame with the ex would not be rekindled, and his family would carry the shame of my social blunder for years. Evidently it was that bad; I didn't yet know it, only that nobody seemed willing to make eye contact.
In my New York reality, people are difficult to please but twice as hard to shock, so a social blunder such as a tasteless joke will be easily dismissed with a cutting remark or a subtle roll of the eyes, followed by a cynical "Now there's a new take on 'Kumbaya.'" But here in a redwood forest in lovely northern California -- populated by conservative "liberals" who go to church and shit -- my idea of social commentary was others' idea of a social cemetery.
In the morning when I woke, I turned to my ex -- who looked back at me with pity in his eyes -- and I knew that it wasn't over. "Whom should I apologize to first?" were the first words I croaked. We came up with a short list, saying that the less we made of it the better. However, the elders of the camp had a different plan.
"Bradford, let me have a word with you, if I may," said my host as my trembling hands tried to secure a cup of coffee before the world fell on my head. "What you did last night was very upsetting for us, and we think the best thing for you to do is apologize to the group over breakfast."
So much for making less of it, I thought, and snuck into the bedroom of my ex-boyfriend's mother -- with whom I have remained close throughout the years -- only to find her wiping her eyes and shaking her head at me. "Bradley," she said in her formal upper-crust Boston accent, "I know you aren't a bad person, but you really blew it this time. Nobody wants to think of those things at the campfire. What you read was really, well, it was awful, Bradley, just awful."
Seeing her -- my friend, who invited me as the guest of her family -- so upset and carrying the weight of my embarrassment, got me completely choked up, but if I started crying, I knew I wouldn't be able to do what I had to do.
"Are they all seated yet?" I asked my ex and his mother from the safety of her bedroom. He peeked out the door and said, "Mary is the last; she's just getting her pancakes and will be at the elders' table in less than a minute."
"OK, places," I said, and my cohorts scuttled out to sit on the deck with the 40 others. I took a deep breath and grabbed a wine glass and a knife.
Clang, clang, clang! "I have an announcement to make," I said to the breakfast crowd. "Last night my choice of entertainment was inappropriate for the setting. I'm sorry for this; I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone. I had meant to sing a song, but couldn't find the courage to do it a cappella. If I may, I'd like to try and find the courage to sing it now."
"Is it a nice song?" Came the question from the lady of the house.
"Yes" I said, "And it comes from my heart." Then I launched into the most soulful rendition of "Landslide" (the Dixie Chicks version) I could muster, my hands shaking and my eyes closed the whole time -- letting all the embarrassment pour out of me in my voice and belting my woes into the forest like a sacrificial lamb bleating its last bleat.
Afterward, people thanked me, saying, "That took guts," or "Nice try, but next time stick to a lower register," and I was finally able to make eye contact again. I felt the burden of my mistake lift, but knew the experience would resonate as one of the most embarrassing of my life.
We all make mistakes. In the past I would have disappeared before breakfast and never faced these people again, but somehow I managed to be a grownup and deal with it. Maybe knowing me when I was younger helped them to forgive me. Perhaps I will even be invited to return another year -- although, truthfully, I'm not sure I could.
It got me wondering how other people deal with embarrassing social blunders in their dating lives. So I ask: When you find yourself in a social pickle, how do YOU swallow the brine and swim your way out of the barrel?
(Photo: Bradford Noble)