The First Shall be Last by
(58 Stories)

Prompted By First Dates

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Here I go again, quibbling with terms.  “First Dates”: just what does that mean?  Both “first” and “date” are not so obvious.  At least to me.  I’ll start with early encounters, and I do mean early: 1956.

There is something liberating about a “date” when, from the outset, both know that there can be no future.

Second grade.  True confessions.  I made out with Susan in our classroom cloakroom.  Not exactly a “date”, to be sure, and perhaps the result of a dare.  But it happened.  Before witnesses.  Remember “Clue”?  J’accuse: Tom in the cloakroom with chapped lips.  Two take-aways: (a) turns out girls don’t have cooties, and (b) this mushy stuff is not at all bad.  Oh, and I still can picture Susan vividly.

Same year, a bit later. Melba.  Now this probably constituted a date, objectively, but I don’t remember that we saw it that way.  A movie.  A Saturday afternoon matinee, of course, but, then, we were, what? Seven years old? “The Ten Commandments”.  How’s that for a date movie? And we saw it all the way through, except for rest room and concession stand breaks (it was, of course, a very, very long movie.)  I don’t remember any cloakroom-like activity, though.

Now what was going on in 1956 that might explain this early start?  I really have no idea, but I do remember that it was that year that the city started fluoridating the water supply.  And, perhaps, fluoridating leads to all sorts of dating.

Dating in my teenage years was complicated by the fact that I attended an all-male boarding school.  I went home for school vacations and summers, of course, but as a consequence of being absent for the school year my public school circle of friends faded into the background.  Fortunately, there were a number of us private school kids, male and female, in the same situation so we hung out together.  No dating, really, just good companionship.  And a bit more.  We were hormonal teenagers, after all.

“Dating”, as such, was essentially non-existent during the school year.  Our school collaborated with neighboring girls’ schools for a handful of dances each year.  These were stilted affairs – really group blind dates – made all the more so because the live music for these events usually was provided by our school’s Dance Band, of which I was a four-year member and leader my Senior year.  The Dance Band was modeled on the swing bands of the ‘40’s – think Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey – and we played largely the music popular in their heydays.  Now playing that kind of music was terrific but it was entirely out of place in the ‘60’s.  But no matter.  We just played slow stuff so that couples could, well, you know.

Fortunately, I did have an opportunity to participate occasionally, and one such dance was memorable. The protocol was that our school would send a list of attendees to the girls’ school, and the girls would pick their “dates”.  With no prior knowledge of these match-ups, we arrived on campus and were escorted to an area to await summoning for the “big reveal” – the introduction to our date for the evening.  On this occasion as I walked toward my destiny an attractive youngish faculty member leaned in and whispered to me, “You’re in for a big surprise.”  Now, that’s not necessarily the most encouraging of sentiments under the circumstances and I wondered just what I was in for.  But she was right: “Zoe” was a delightful exchange student from Britain.  There is something liberating about a “date” when, from the outset, both know that there can be no future.  We were free to simply enjoy one another’s company, and we did. I don’t remember her face now, but, then, we were two ships passing in the night.

My memory of college years dating is a bit fuzzy.  Most if not all relationships grew out of casual and serendipitous introductions, and pinning down a “first date” is difficult.  Even my senior year when I met the woman who would become my first wife. That year the entire campus went co-educational – actually “coresidential” was the term – including our House of about 350 residents.  I was buttonholed by a House mate to help him move a refrigerator for a couple of our new female residents soon after the semester began, and things evolved from there. Nancy and I used to joke that we lived together before we even met, let alone went out, and I guess that was true.

And then.  There’s no good way to put it, but let’s say my marital experiences were, well, we’ll leave it at “multiple” including the one that produced singlehood again about nine years ago.  And after a two-year hiatus I found myself DWS: Dating While Senior.

No reason to get into specifics, but it can be quite a “through the looking glass” experience.  I was fortunate and found someone quite quickly, and we’re still together now seven years later.    But an earlier potential match turned into another memorable date.

When we first met over coffee Laura and I talked about tango.  Some background: at a college reunion some years earlier, a classmate organized an introductory class on tango, and it was great fun.  Laura had noted in her profile that she was an aficionado, and that was part of the reason I reached out.  Anyway, she mentioned that her tango club was holding a Halloween “milonga”.  Costumes were encouraged.  I was intrigued in part because I thought, well, I’ll probably make a fool of myself as a pure novice but in costume and masked, what’s there to lose?  So we made a date.

This was 2012.  I decided I would go as “Oven Mitt”, proprietor of Oven Mitt’s café (Tag line: “Always Just Right”).  I wore a chef’s tunic plastered with labels promoting the café, such as “Proudly serving only 1% milk” and “We knead dough for those who don’t”.  And a full Mitt Romney mask.  The event was great fun.  I was just as inept as I had feared, but the group could not have been friendlier nor more welcoming.  And Laura and I, realizing that geography made continuation highly unlikely, just enjoyed ourselves.  Just like Zoe and I so many years before.  Seems that when first dates are by circumstance last dates as well, and known to be such, they can be very special.


Oven Mitt and Mystery Lady




Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Quite an interesting list of first dates from that first smooch in the cloak room (I’m not sure that counts) to being oh-so current on Thanks for sharing all these conceivable variations of datings, Tom.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Great story — as usual — Tom. I particularly like the fact that, rather than focusing on just the high school/college time frame, you span the whole chronological range of dating experiences.

    Indeed, I was going to say that age 7 is way too young to be speaking of dates, but then I recall being miffed when my “girlfriend” Katy (immortalized in my “Mustang Katy” story a few years ago), who was a year older than I was, jilted me by going off to first grade when I was still in kindergarten. So who am I to question your accounts, especially when your encounters sound a whole lot less platonic than mine were at that age?

    And thanks for commenting on the other end of the dating spectrum too. My wife and I, though we had known each other since we were twelve, had our first date when we were over fifty. No need for details, but one does not consider going to the sock hop and then the malt shop at that stage, Or worry about whether her parents are still awake and waiting downstairs when you take her home.

  3. Marian says:

    This is a great recap over the years, and it’s amazing how fluid the idea of dating can be. I love your sense of fun about the various aspects of dating. became a thing when I was almost 50, and I just couldn’t get into it then, but should I be single again as a senior, who knows?

  4. Suzy says:

    Tom this is such a great story on so many levels, starting at age 7 (fluoridating the water as cause for wild behavior? Hah!), and taking us all the way up to DWS with So much fun to read! I’m smh (shaking my head) at the prep school protocol for dances, of girls picking out their dates from a list of attendees. Did they get pictures too, or was it just based on whose name they liked the look of? Your date with the discreetly pseudonymed “Zoe” sounds delightful and leaves much to the imagination. Indeed, your whole story is made more intriguing by all the things you DIDN’T say. Maybe you could write an anonymous version where you spill it all. We would never know it was you. 🙂

    • Suzy, always a good idea to maintain a bit of mystery here. At least for the moment. And for “Zoe”: well, recall Blazing Saddles. The character Gene Wilder played first appears in Sheriff Bart’s jail, drying out. He introduces himself thusly: “My name is Jim, but my friends call me . . . . Jim.” Zoe is/was Zoe. And yes, she was delightful. Re the protocol for picking and choosing, I don’t think pictures were involved, and I don’t know what other info, if any, was provided. I do know that oftentimes there were situations when one of my schoolmates had a friend at the girls’ school. I suspect that there may have been information sharing about who to pick and who to avoid.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Tom, your stories make me laugh. What a precocious little guy you were. I can’t believe The Ten Commandments was an early date movie for you. I remember that one well as being extraordinarily long. You have certainly tried every type of first date. So interesting. And I love your Mitt Romney getup.

    • Thanks, Laurie. Yes The Ten Commandments was a bit of an odd choice. I think it might have been as simple as the fact that the theater where it was playing was within walking distance. I noticed that it was shown again recently on some obscure cable channel. I watched briefly, relished the memory of the first time. And changed channels.

  6. Risa Nye says:

    Tom, I see your “Ten Commandments” and raise you “Our Man in Havana” (and thanks for your comments on my long-ago date at eight). Both nominated for the worst first date movie, junior division. I enjoyed reading this dating-through-the-years saga from cloakroom to social media. Perhaps there will be another prompt to address those areas that are left up to our imaginations? Or. . .

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