Singles: When a date’s parents are missionaries

LOS ANGELES, July 9 (JTA) — First date. He agrees to see a movie about ballet instead of “Gladiator.” You’re heartened by this early sacrifice.

After the movie, he drags you along to a friend’s birthday dinner at some Italian-sounding restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. On the way, he gets aggravated about the traffic. This you count against him.

You try to be charming around his friends, as you realize you’re on display and want to be seen as someone with good social skills. He reaches way across the table for bread. This you remember your aunt used to call the “boardinghouse reach.” You also count this against him.

He sees to it that you immediately get a shot of Ouzo, a Greek liquor he says will be good for your cold. It is. This erases his traffic temper and his poor table manners, which persist.

He sits close to you, and among the other couples, you feel like part of a couple yourself. This feels kind of nice — despite your ambivalence, despite the fact that he picked you up in a new red Mustang that seems a little ostentatious considering your last boyfriend drove a pick-up truck that seemed just right.

His friends laugh at a few of your jokes, though some you can’t quite get out over the din, what with your bad throat and clogged ears and all.

On the way home, he mentions that his father is a Baptist pastor and that both of his parents are serving as missionaries in Zimbabwe. You get a little nervous about the fact that he surely has no idea you’re Jewish. With dark features and a name like Teresa, most people assume you’re Italian or Mexican or Greek. You don’t think he’s going to take the Jewish thing very well and you’re wondering how to break it to him, or if you should bother.

You don’t remember inviting him in, but next thing you know he’s sitting on your couch telling you he’s a 29-year-old virgin. The Bible, he says, prohibits him from having premarital sex.

“So, you’ve never done anything?” you ask.

“No,” he answers. “I’ve done everything but that.”

This seems to be a rather complicated relationship he has with Jesus.

You tell him you’re a Jewess, a word you’re fond of these days because it sounds exotic somehow and doesn’t seem to have the same phonetic bite as Jew. His face registers no expression but does look a little paler somehow. You ask if he thinks you’re going to hell for not being a Christian.

“Well, the Bible does say that if you haven’t found Jesus, you won’t find salvation.”

Uh-oh. This guy is pretty serious about Jesus. Still, he looks pretty cute sitting next to you on your couch and he tells you that in a certain light, you look like the actress Madelaine Stowe. You’ve been pretty lonely lately, and that can make you overlook a few things.

Would you ever marry someone outside your faith?” you ask out of curiosity and despite the fact that this is off-limits conversational fare for a first date. He says he never would, but that someone like you would surely convert once they saw the light.

“Not gonna happen,” you say. “Not gonna happen.”

He tells you he’d like to take you horseback riding or swing dancing and wants to know when he can see you again. You ask why he’d want to bother, since you’re a heathen.

“For fun,” he says.

Fun? You suddenly feel like a game of Yahtzee or a slinky or something. You’ve already had your fun and now you want to find someone to wake up with on Sunday morning, someone who wants to know everything about your day, someone who will change your light bulbs despite the dead bugs that might be collecting in the fixtures. You don’t like to admit it to yourself, but you just might want a boyfriend.

You tell him there doesn’t seem to be much point in going out, but he says he’ll be in the neighborhood tomorrow and you’re flattered that he’d want to see you again so soon. You try to tell yourself it’s sweet that he goes to church every Sunday — and maybe it’s not so weird that he’s a virgin and that this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a latent homosexual.

When it’s time for him to pick you up, you get a nervous stomach and change your shirt three times. You put on magenta lip gloss, but decide it’s a little too Jezebel and tissue it off. You look at the clock. He’s late. An hour goes by, and you don’t know what to do with yourself. You don’t know anything except that you don’t want to be sitting home waiting for him.

You leave. You go down to the corner store to pick up a pack of cigarettes, a Diet Coke and some corn nuts, a most unholy trinity of dinner items.

Teresa Strasser is a 20-something writer and performer living in Los Angeles. She recently won an Emmy for her writing on Comedy Central’s “Win Ben Stein’s Money.”

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