On a light note, in early 2017 my wife Ellen and I unavoidably overheard a passing conversation after we had run an errand and then meandered to lunch at an outdoor table at Karsen’s Grill in Old Town Scottsdale. A man I’d guess to be in his early fifties was coming along the sidewalk toward us as he talked to someone on his hands-free smartphone.

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     Just as he passed our table he said to the person on the other end, “She’s dating four guys now and she doesn’t like any of them.” Then his voice faded as he continued walking.

     His comment got me to thinking out loud with Ellen. Was he talking about his daughter? Or his sister? Or a neighbor? Without knowing, he was most likely talking about his daughter because there was a tone of fatherly concern in his voice. As a father, that’s my guess.

     Then I wondered about whomever he was referring to:

  • How could she date four guys at the same time and not like them, at least enough to go out with them?
  • Was it possible that she liked the four of them roughly equally, with one’s weaknesses being balanced out by the strengths of the other three?
  • Did each of the four guys know she was also dating the other three?
  • Does it take four guys to satisfy her needs?

     Of course, I’ll never know the answers to these questions. But I’m likely to continue to ponder them for a while.

~ ~ ~

     Sometime later I posted the above story on my Facebook page, with this note to my friends, “If any of you have likely explanations for this puzzle, please sound off in comments!” Three of the comments included alternative ways of viewing the overheard conversation:

Jean Theresa said, “She might consider them to be just friends and her father (if that’s who he was) thinks she’s dating them. Or maybe she has just had a date or two with each . . . good not to put her eggs all in one basket, but four baskets could make for a complicated ride.”

Eileen Gentile wrote, “Maybe he was talking about someone he is dating and was trying to wrap his brain around her dating three other guys at the same time. This is all foreign to me since I started dating Jim when I was 16, dated only him for two years, and have been married for fifty-five years.”

Then Cory MacDonald really got into this with an extensive quote:

“And to complicate it further, terminology has changed. From the way my 25-year-old son explained it to me, there’s “dating,” “seeing each other,” and “going out.” “Dating” is the most casual of the three, really more like friendship with the potential of a make-out session here and there. “Seeing each other” is a little more exclusive to one person, but it’s understood by both parties that it’s still not a truly committed relationship. “Going out” is a one-to-one committed relationship. So, when you hear “dating” in reference to today’s terminology, it’s a casual thing. I think one of the younger people needs to do up a chart for us to follow. 

     So there you have it. If you are as out of it as I am on modern dating lingo, we are duly updated! I wonder if the guy whose phone conversation Ellen and I overheard as he walked by our table is still in the dark on all this. Probably.

     You never know what you may inadvertently hear when you’re out in public. But once you do and it burrows into your mind, you can’t unhear it. That’s what lawyers and judges worry about when a witness blurts out an inappropriate remark in the presence of a jury—such as, “She’s dating four guys at the same time and she told me she doesn’t like any of them!” The judge then orders it stricken from the record. But the jury has already heard it, and they can’t unhear it.

     Of the thousands of things we inadvertently hear people say, few of them leave any impression at all. But this overheard snippet over that January lunch at a sidewalk café became extra food for thought after it entered my brain and percolated there. A perfect example of a meandering and a mulling.

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