Monday 14 September 2015

It's Just Coffee, But...

A reader pointed out the absolute hellish torture "just a coffee" can be if you have almost nothing in common with a fellow, even if that "almost" is shared religious faith.

Personally I am skeptical, but then I was forced to examine my whole culturally-underpinned attitude towards the café. There may be whole swathes of society who never go to cafés, just as there are vast crowds of women who would never be caught dead in a betting shop.

Embarrassing secret: whenever I imagine a new chap asking a reader out for coffee, the scene in my head is always the parish hall at St. Paul's R.C. Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, aka "the Harvard church."

There is the strong possibility that there are communities of adults in which, "Hey, let's have a coffee" would be a weird thing to say. A feminist decontructionist would have a field day with the middle-class, urban, Global North assumptions of my blog.

What this is all pointing to is class/social origin. As I currently believe in democracy, I don't believe in class hierarchy. In fact, British class chippiness makes me want to vomit, whether it's a high school drop-out whining about "posh people" or a titled alcoholic putting on airs. However, I acknowledge that my assumptions are what I suppose would be widely recognized as "urban, middle-class." Frankly, I would prefer to be considered a bourgeoise, and that crashing noise was Benedict Ambrose fainting in horror. My German-American grandma's people were utterly bourgeois before the 1929 Crash, and I'm wistful about it. All that lovely money and servants, too. Sigh, sigh.


It's not speed-dating, but would an hour in café quietly assessing a man's fitness as a suitor actually kill anyone? No, but if he doesn't understand the concept of "it's just coffee", there could be an embarrassing conversation ahead.

Who is the chap most likely to think an appointment in a café actually means more than two well-disposed people passing the time of day, calling a truce in the War between the Sexes long enough to see if they have anything in common?

Situation A. It could be the chap who has been hanging about, making awkward conversation, for weeks on end, making you feel more and more uncomfortable because he is soooo boring.

Situation B. Or it could be the chap who thinks any meeting with a woman naturally ends in sex.

With extreme reluctance, the existence of such characters makes me release my grip on the absolutism of my rule, "It's just coffee."

The thought "it's just coffee" is supposed to encourage the skittish girl to stop hearing "Marry me?" every time a big lumbering male says "Coffee?" and to stop rejecting every single man who shows a flicker of interest in her because he doesn't resemble her fond imaginings of what The Perfect Man is like.

However, this is not to say that some women cannot tell before an hour's conversation over coffee, that they and the men who will eventually ask them for coffee do not share core values. 

As long term readers know, I am pretty obsessed with married couples sharing core values. And although a shared and active interest in Catholicism is one of my core values, it may not be one of your core values, even if you are a Catholic, capisce? For example, your central core value may be artistic talent. You may be the sort of woman who will put up with anything, as long as your man is producing really stellar paintings. Heaven help you, but if that's your core value, that's what it is.

Finding the spouse who will make you happy (and whom you will make happy) depends on an authentic, humble, nonsense-free examination of who you really are right now. It is not a good place for blame. No blame. No name-calling. If some guy makes you feel guilty about your core value, e.g. 'Oh, you are such a wonderful woman except for your outrageous obsession with animal rights", then refuse to see him as a potential suitor.


So if you meet a man who hangs around long enough to let you know that A) he has a crush on you and B) he does not share your core values, there is no need to go out for coffee with him. Indeed, it is kinder not, only now you might have the embarrassment of explaining why. You don't actually ever have to explain why, of course. You can keep saying "No, thank-you" like a parrot. It's your right.

Scooter: Would you like to have coffee some time?

You: No, thank you.

Scooter: Why not?

You: No, thank you.

Scooter: It's just a coffee, for Pete's sake.

You: No, thank you.

However, if you are in a kind and courageous mood, you can give an explanation.

Scooter: Would you like to have coffee some time?

You: No, thank you.

Scooter: Why not?

You: I'm an animal rights activist, and I wouldn't feel comfortable spending an hour with a man who hunts down and shoots living creatures for fun.

Scooter: Aw, come on.

You: I appreciate the invitation, but no thank you.

Your core value may be slightly embarrassing of course. For example, if your core value is belonging to a certain community, and a chap who doesn't belong asks you for coffee, and just the thought of talking to a guy who doesn't belong to your community for an hour freezes your blood, then expressing this is going to be tricky. Still, you are under no obligation to tell him.

Scooter: Would you like to have coffee some time?

You: No, thank you.

Scooter: Why not?

You: I'm a Roman Catholic, and I wouldn't feel comfortable spending an hour with a man who isn't himself a Roman Catholic.

Scooter: Have I fallen into a time-warp? Is this Glasgow in 1985?

You: I am never, ever, putting out.

Scooter: Bye.

Personally, I think this is too harsh. A coffee is just a coffee, and a good way to make business contacts, acquaintances, all kinds of social relationships---unless the guy has been hanging around for weeks making his romantic interest clear.

I had a blind coffee date with a guy the student who set me up with him called "Professor George." It was a successful coffee date because I soon discovered that Professor George's core value was not love-of-academia but Greece. Professor George, who almost never set foot inside a church, assured me that the One True Faith was the Greek Orthodox, and that is when I knew Professor George and I were never going to have another date. It took only an hour, and no hearts were broken. Sadly, both Professor George and I were very embarrassed because neither of us went thinking "It's just a coffee." Silly us. We might have been great additions to each other's Rolodex.

In contrast to Professor George was Zeke (not his real name). Zeke took quite a shine to your dear Auntie, as she was a sweet, fluffy little thing in her early 20s, despite the fact that Zeke's core value was Jewishness. Zeke was rather down on the religious side of Judaism, but he used to tell me hopeful stories in which the Catholic heroine converts to Judaism out of love for her devoted Jewish boyfriend. So I never did have coffee with Zeke ("Aw, come on") although he was very nice indeed. He never made me feel rotten for saying I could only ever date a Catholic, possibly because he knew deep down that he could only ever marry a Jew.


The other situation is the guy whose core value is sexual sin to such an extent that he tells you before he even asks you out for coffee. In such a situation, don't have coffee with him. Even a squirrel has the brains to run away from a hunter, once it hears the gun go off.

Amusingly enough--unless he is trying it on with you there and then--this guy transcends all national, class and religious boundaries. All over the world, at all times, in all places, there are men scheming to get sex for free. Well, maybe not in all places. But in all villages, towns and army bases. There are some women like that, too, of course. Occasionally a hacked-off man tells me a funny story of advances thrown his way by some good-time girl who is not just there for the dancing/food/sunshine, know what she means, nudge, nudge.

Throughout history, of course, men have been hit on by prostitutes. It frequently happens in books, too, and the men generally turn up their collars, mutter "No, thank you," press a few coins upon the damsel (if they are moved by pity) and skitter off into the rain.  I once knew a young man who was solicited by hookers when he was on the way to my school prom with his date. They made opprobrious remarks about my poor classmate and predicted that he would have a better time with them than with her. Naturally this was absolutely horrible, so why am I crying with laughter? Dear me, go now and read something pious and worthy.


  1. You usually qualify "it's just coffee" with "don't go if the guy is mad, bad or dangerous". Mr Sexual Opportunist is certainly dangerous, and possibly mad and/or bad too, so you've covered your bases with that one. Mr Boring Guy is POSSIBLY mad (I have noticed that there is usually something Not Quite Right with the really boring ones. I am not counting men who experience normal levels of "approach-anxiety" in this category.)

    I have been trying to spread the idea that women should accept dates with any men who are not mad, bad or dangerous -- a decent guy deserving a shot and all that. Apparently it is pretty common for guys to get shot down. Even good guys.

  2. For the first time in my life, I just noticed something. Why do we describe a woman's polite "No, thank you" as an act of aggression? When we say "No thank you" to a party invitation, the hostess doesn't smack herself in the head and think, "Shot down!" A man isn't an airplane dropping bombs of destruction, and a woman isn't an anti-aircraft gun. So what gives?

    1. I think because often it's ruder than "No, thanks".

    2. I think it's worth keeping in mind that just because a man describes the way he was turned down as being rude, doesn't mean it was. In my experience men who are turned down, no matter how politely, will sometimes bad mouth the girl to others. I saw this happen to my bff many times despite the fact that she was extremely polite and often too forgiving,

      Aussie girl in NZ

    3. Yes, absolutely. A hundred years ago, boys were brought up not to do this. It is really ungentlemanly and uncharitable and....I can't think of enough adverbs and adjectives to describe it. Those boys deserved to be turned down, and it would be nice if the other boys told them that.

  3. A normal man doesn't care that much if a woman tells him, "No thank you," to a date, especially if he has had the sense to ask a cute woman out early in their acquaintance, before he has convinced himself he is madly in love with her.

  4. Sort of off topic, but your last paragraph reminded me that two of the major summer music hits in the US revolve around the idea of guys in relationships fending off advances from other women -- "Honey I'm Good" by Andy Grammar and "Cheerleader" by OMI.

    OMI is apparently able to turn down these offers because his girl is just so great:
    All these other girls are tempting
    But I'm empty when you're gone
    And they say
    Do you need me?
    Do you think I'm pretty?
    Do I make you feel like cheating?
    I'm like no, not really 'cause
    Oh, I think that I've found myself a cheerleader
    She is always right there when I need her.

    Whereas Andy flees the scene of temptation by remembering his vows:
    You look good, I will not lie
    But if you ask where I'm staying tonight
    I gotta be like oh baby, no baby, you got me all wrong baby
    My baby's already got all of my love
    So nah nah Honey, I'm good
    I could have another but I probably should not
    I've got somebody at home, and if I stay I might not leave alone
    No, honey, I'm good
    I could have another but I probably should not
    I've got to bid you adieu
    To another I will stay true

    I'm just amused that both songs celebrate the guy's fidelity while emphasizing that he *could* be getting another girl any time he wants. I asked my husband if he's had ever had girls throwing themselves at him like this since he got married...he said no. ;)

  5. Go to the coffee date if he's not mad, bad or dangerous - okay, I'll think of it if I should get asked out. But what if you are asked for coffee by a nice guy you already have a crush on, but you already know that a) you don't share some important core values (he is not catholic) and b) you will spend at least two sleepless nights afterwards? But he is a friend of friends and generally quite nice? Would you say yes of no to coffee? I think the problem is not a) but rather b), as I am growing too old for sleepless nights, they are so exhausting...

  6. My problem with the "it's just coffee" is that often times it's not just coffee. It turns into two, even three hours of chat, with a walk, with me thinking, " he must be interested in me, why else would he spend all this time with me?" I'm working on my "leave em wanting more, early depature moves, but it's hard when the conversation is good.
    Anyway. Then, they may never call again. And I think, "certainly you knew in the first 40 minutes if you wanted to see me again. Why waste two hours of my life if you didn't want to see me again?!"
    This happens to many women I know. I first was frustrated at being used for "practice" until another friend pointed out that they are actually using us for Therapy.

    Of course I'm not referring to coffee dates only. Many guys don't want to schedule coffee dates, they want to "grab a bite". Which makes me more reluctant because dinner generally turns into said therapy session.

    1. After an hour, go. I know it's hard. But go. It is important for the woman to be the first to say, "Oh, shoot. Gotta go." Go, go, go. No walkies. You're too busy for a walk. He wants to go for a walk, he's gotta schedule a new date.

      Coffee--one hour. Lunch--one and half hours, max. Dinner--two hours, maybe three, but then you really have to go home because you have a pile of work to do before you go to bed/you have to get up at six.

  7. It's just a coffee. Go to make a friend, not to secretly interview a potential husband. Drink hot milk and stay off the internet for two hours before you go to bed. If not being a Catholic is in fact a deal-breaker for you, I'm not sure why you have a crush on him! Lots of girls are fervent about their faith, but they are totally okay with marrying a non-Catholic as long as he's Christian (and not hostile to Catholicism). I am not like that myself, of course, and once I stop being myself up for being a "bigot", I never got a crush on a non-Catholic again.

  8. As for "shot down" , I suppose men use it because of manly associations...
    But once, when I was traveling for work, a client sent a flower arrangementhead to my hotel room as a hearty welcome to their region. As we were traveling (me and work companion) and set to fly the next day, I hated to leave them, and hoped I could maybe drop them at a hospital or nursing home to cheer someone.... But we got to the next town too late, in time only for a late dinner.
    So at restaurant, I say a mother and daughter (50s and 70/ for sure) dining at a nearby table. I asked work companion, should I offer them the flowers? We agreed and I fetched them from the rental car. Stopped by their table with a short explaination and offer..... And they said no! Who says no to flowers?!
    I go back to my table, utterly confused and my work companion wincing saying, "Shot down!" Yikes. That is how it felt!

  9. Maybe they had allergies. Or maybe it was considered very bizarre in that region to be offered flowers by complete strangers. If my mother and I were at a restaurant (being younger than your couple there) dining, we would be very surprised if strangers offered us a bunch of flowers. We are not allergic to flowers, so would we take the flowers? I suppose to be polite I might take them off your hands and then get rid of them later, unless we were going somewhere after supper. In that case we would probably say no to your pretty white elephant.

  10. What if it's a Situation A, the guy is Catholic, you've known him for 10+ years, and he asks you for coffee once a year - despite being shot down every year because the attraction is not remotely mutual? Is there a better way to say "No thanks...just like the other ten times you asked"?

  11. I'd stick with "No, thanks." It's only once a year, so at this point you might as well think of it as an annual tradition.

    1. Sometimes I think a swift kick in the pants might be a good option - - luckily, I've restrained myself thus far.


This is Edinburgh Housewife, a blog for Catholic women and other women of good will. It assumes that the average reader is an unmarried, childless Catholic woman over 18. Commenters are asked to take that into consideration before commenting. Anonymous comments may be erased.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.