I recently went to Door 51 – a magnificent pub, by the way; their drinks menu is awesome – with a group of new Irish acquaintances. We were getting to know each other in the typical way, swapping stories and laughing, and I was describing one of my more nightmarish first dates when one of the girls caught me completely off guard.

“God, that’s hilarious,” she said, giggling. “You know. I don’t think I’ve ever had a ‘first date.’”

I couldn’t even believe it. I have stories coming out of my ears, and I’m not even the most social of butterflies; some of my friends back home seem to have different dates every week.

Someone else verified this. “Irish don’t really ask each other out on ‘dates,’” she said. “It’s more laid back than that, I think. I’ve never heard of someone asking someone out on a first date. People just kind of start going together...”

I was astonished. Conversation moved on easily enough, but I fell behind the group for a little while, trying to wrap my mind around a culture that had no first dates. I recalled the long, giddy hours my friends and I spent in the States, choosing outfits and endlessly fixing our hair. A world with no first dates – no dinner-and-a-movie, no Broadway shows, no film festivals, no basement concerts.

It seemed impossible. They were messing with me: the naïve American girl, just new enough to the country to believe something so outlandish.
And yet… my thoughts turned to some of the Irish guys I’ve met over the course of my last six weeks here. They’ve all seemed pretty self-confident; they were certainly cocky enough to steal phone numbers and dances, and they were genuinely friendly and fun to talk to. I’ve received texts from some, been friended by others on Facebook, and even been invited back to a few house parties. But I’ve never received stronger overtures than that. Was it possible that no girl ever did?

I recently read an Irish Central article called “Irish American Women are True Man Eaters,” which made a biting argument that American women are impervious to the charms of Irish men. I’d found it amusing, if a little melodramatic. But this seemed to put this in a different light. In a country without first dates, how can anyone make judgments about American women at all?

Here’s a fun fact for you Irish men – a typical American girl, when in an unfamiliar country, will not leave her friends and follow you to a club or a house party at one in the morning. It’s sweet of you to ask, but don’t be surprised if she declines. She doesn’t know you; she doesn’t know your friends; she barely knows the bus system. She’s probably just looking for a fun night of dancing, and trying to make a few new Irish friends along the way. So, by all means, friend her on Facebook and get her number – but she’s not going to go anywhere in the middle of the night, even if your motives are innocent. (It’s equally unlikely that you’re magically going to start “going together.”)
That is what dates are for. They’re banners of interest flown in the daytime or early evening (which is important: it gives the girl control over her ability to get home), allowing real conversation and creating trust. Additionally, they signify that the guy isn’t just looking for one thing (the later the invite, the less likely he’s in it to get to know you). Without a first date, how does any of this happen?

Yet I have yet to see an Irish guy ask someone to coffee, or to the UCC short play festival, or to weekend jazz at the Gresham Metropole Hotel – anywhere, in fact, where two people can get to know each other without the thumping bass of Usher in the background.

I’m not even stating that initiating a first date is the guy’s responsibility; I’ve invited my share of cuties to the local Starbucks back home, or to an outdoor movie, or something along those lines. Girls are more than capable of doing the inviting (and the paying, come to that). It’s just that the guys seem to be doing all the complaining.

American women are man-eaters, are they? Why don’t you try inviting one to dinner? I guarantee her culinary habits are as normal as yours.