I hate dating.
I would like that to serve as backstory for doing what I did. I hate dating. I hate the small talk, I hate the questions about the mundane, I hate the slightly more complex questions about serious topics—like political issues where both of us mention super PACs yet neither of us know what they are. I feel a compulsive need to be better than myself. It is a lie. It is a horrible, horrible lie where we present false versions of ourselves to mask what wretchedness lies beneath.
Dating is the worst.
I needed a victim.
Planning this excursion gave me an inkling of what serial killers go through, luring their prey into unmarked vans, Buffalo Bill-style. Let’s call my victim, “Sam,” after my second-favorite American Girl Doll, and fourth-favorite beer. I met Sam on OkCupid, an excellent website to find broke actors looking for love and the occasional handjob. I messaged Sam and asked him for coffee. He agreed and asked what I had in mind. I told him not to worry about it. Sam said he was excited to meet up. Sam was cheerful and optimistic. The first stage of my plan was going surprisingly well.
I had contacted the American Girl Place a week before to make sure that adults were allowed to attend the afternoon tea service. The website had a disclaimer that insisted I only click on the reservations button if I was an adult aged 18 and over. I cackled heavily at that, but noticed the website didn’t mention anything about age restrictions. I called the Chicago location and spoke with a chipper woman on the phone to confirm my reservation. Let’s call her “Addy,” after my favorite American Girl doll and favorite American design award.
“But it will be adults at the meal,” I said to Addy.
“That’s fine!” said Addy. Addy was so friendly. “We don’t allow kids to attend tea by themselves, an adult needs to be there to pay.”
“You don’t understand,” I said. “There won’t be any children with us.”
Addy paused at that. “Um, I don’t think there’s a rule against tha—“
I hung up as soon as I had confirmation and pressed the reservation button for the American Girl website. The date coincidentally fell on Friday, April 1st.
I met up with Sam that afternoon outside of Water Tower Place, a shopping mall packed with tourists eager to witness the political corruption and shopping that Chicago is famous for. Sam was so friendly—he gave me a hug! He was nice! He asked what I had in mind! I told him that I had booked a reservation with the American Girl Place for an afternoon tea service that was taking place in less than five minutes.
Have you ever watched hope wither and die on a man’s face? Because I have, and it’s very sad to witness firsthand.
Sam asked if I was serious. I assured Sam that I was. Sam asked if this was an April Fool’s Day prank. I assured Sam that it was not, staring at him calmly with the blank, lifeless eyes of a shark. I was deadly serious. The American Girl Place was my destiny. Sam gave a small nod and we walked into the store.
I realized the magnitude of my error as soon as we entered the store. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting the store to be that pink. The American Girl Place is overwhelmingly pink. As a customer, you are enclosed in a packed, uncomfortable space where everything is as pink and effervescent and glittery as Barbie’s hypothetical asshole.
Merchandise is stacked from the floor to the ceiling, featuring doll furniture and doll clothes and doll transportation—guaranteeing that your doll will live better than you do. Sam seemed more resigned with each step; he spent the journey looking around with the confused, defeated expression of a cult member that thought he was just joining a neighborhood church and now it was too late to back out. It was a three-minute walk from the entrance of the store to the cafe located on the second level. I know that it was three minutes, because I timed what had to be the longest walk of my life. It was at this point that I was starting to have severe misgivings—who was I to force someone to do something I knew they would hate? That should be reserved for dictators. And golf enthusiasts.
Our waiter greeted us at the entrance of the American Girl Place Cafe, making any plans of escape impossible. Let’s call him Felicity, after my third-favorite American Girl doll and third-favorite 90s TV show. Felicity looked over the pair of us, asked if we were expecting anyone else, and then asked if we would like to sit with a doll at our table.
Apparently, at the American Girl Place, you are allowed to bring your own doll. And if you do not have your own doll, they will supply one for you! Immediately off to the entrance of the cafe is a wall stacked with smiling American Girl dolls in historical dresses. Do you know that moment in “The Matrix” where Neo takes the red pill and wakes up in cryogenic goo, surrounded by pods entombed with lifeless corpses? That’s what that creepy-ass wall of dolls looks like. They stare out at you, begging to be chosen and escape their shiny pink prison. Sam and I chose a Josefina doll and took her to our table.
Sam looked at me as I secured Josefina to our table and tried to smile. “So…do you have any hobbies?”
God love him, Sam had adapted the attitude of a man in a war zone who was determined to behave rationally. He asked about my interests without once raising his eyes from our table. As my interests involve educational, girl-powered merchandise, I decided to fill him in on the history of American Girls. Originally owned by Pleasant Company, they sold out to Mattel in 1998, which had to explain the influx of pink in the store. I mentioned that I had the original dolls created by Pleasant Company, which had a much higher retail value than the Mattel dolls, but Sam didn’t seem that impressed.
Felicity brought our tea service and Sam shoved a scone in his mouth, glancing around his surroundings in desperation. “Look,” said Sam as he pointed to one of the other tables where a small girl sat with a baby doll. “That doll doesn’t have any hair.”
That’s a Bitty Baby doll, I corrected silently. Of course they don’t have hair—they’re designed for those kids unwilling to read about the badass historical adventures of American Girls and who would prefer a slobbering baby. I wondered if telling him this would be rude—our date was going so well.
“That’s a Bitty Baby,” I said, unwilling to let him live in ignorance.
“Oh,” said Sam. “Do you know the names for all of these dolls?
As Sam prayed for the sweet release of death, I looked over the cafe. It was packed with mothers taking their daughters out to eat, and divorced dads surreptitiously drinking one of the many beers available on the menu while their daughters pretended to feed pastries to their dolls. Waiters moved silently throughout the room, smiles plastered to their faces and ready to cater to any request. I was…impressed? The intent of this article was to complain about dating and describe the suffering of poor Sam, but staring across the restaurant, I realized how rare it is to see a corporation that caters exclusively to little girls. This pink behemoth provides merchandise to suit every interest and whim, something that even Disney is not able to achieve (particularly when it comes to marketing “Star Wars” action figures). It’s odd that there are so few places that place worth upon the expectations of a child.
I was about to comment on the value of a corporation that accommodates to little girls, but Sam had tossed aside his napkin and mentioned that he had plans later tonight he couldn’t get out of. We finished our meal and Sam walked me to the store entrance. I told him I had a lovely time. I told him that this was the first date I’d been on where I was completely honest, and this freedom had enabled me to act like my true self. He gave me a brief hug and told me he’d call me.
He hasn’t called.
I hate dating.