Whatcha thinking about?

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Even Radiohead's Hail to the Thief never got me past that stupid question.

Whatcha thinking about? is the question that always ruins my third dates. To this day, I have never made it past a third date, and it's all because of that stupid question.

I've tried a lot of different strategies in an attempt to get past the question, but each strategy has failed in a manner more spectacular than the last. Every time, my third dates end the same way: we listen to a little music, we have a little wine, she asks me what I'm thinking about, and then the date's over.

So, I wish I could tell people how to succeed on the third date. I really do. But, at least, I'll describe my failed strategies in the hopes that someone will find it helpful to at least know what not to do. And perhaps, some day, somewhere, one of you will make it past the third date.

Strategies I have employed when asked what I am thinking about

Telling the truth

The first few times I was asked this question, I simply answered honestly. Honesty comes pretty naturally to me.

So there we'd be, sitting on the couch, listening to an album I told her she just had to hear. I usually put on a cool new album on the third date, for three reasons: 1) it establishes that I have good taste in music and am therefore a pretty cool guy; 2) it's not so distracting that it's hard to transition into making out; and 3) if the date starts to get boring, at least I'll be listening to good music, which is kind of like doing homework for the next girl I date.

Eventually, there would be some kind of silence, and she'd put her hand on my leg and smile at me, and ask "Whatcha thinking about?"

And I'd smile and turn to her and answer honestly: Time travel. Because I'm always thinking about time travel. Who isn't?

"What?" she'd ask, looking confused, smiling uneasily as though I was about to deliver the punchline.

"Well," I'd explain, "I was just thinking about how history would have turned out if I could have travelled back to the year 60 and given Queen Boudica a few machine guns. Then the Celts would have defeated the Romans and become the dominant civilization in the British Isles. Shoot, they might have become strong enough to resist the Norman invaders a thousand years later, and then the English language never would have existed. So you'd be preventing this horrible massacre by the Romans, but at the same time, Shakespeare would never have written his plays, or maybe he would have, but they'd have been written in, like, glyphs."

"Oh." she'd respond.

Then there'd be about twenty minutes of silence, which I'd use to think about traveling back to Nevada in 1847 and letting the Donner party participate in taste tests of various brands of pizza. Would they be able to be objective at all, or would they just give every brand of pizza full marks? Then again, that might really screw up modern history, so maybe I should just give pizza to the party members I knew were going to survive. But the drawback there is they'd probably start shooting each other due to the pizza shortage, so that might not work, either.

Finally, she'd speak again. "Well, I'd better be going," she'd say, and I'd never hear from her again.


Ah, Jen. Those jeans looked so terrible on you.

After a few failed third dates, I figured that I'd better start lying whenever I heard that question. The problem is, I'm not a very good liar. Like I said, honesty comes pretty naturally to me. For example, when people ask me my name, I always say "Rob," because that's my name. I never say "Greg," because that's not my name.

It's like they say: honesty is the best policy. It keeps things simple. If I had to answer to Rob, and Greg, and Timmy Timkins, and all the other names I claimed were mine, it wouldn't be long until I slipped up and embarrassed myself. That's why I just go with the truth. It keeps things simple.

But "Whatcha thinking about?" is the exception that proves the rule, I guess. Because girls just don't seem to want to know that I think about time travel so much.

So, anyway, sometime in about 2004, there I was, sitting on the couch next to this really cute girl Jen, listening to Our Endless Numbered Days by Iron and Wine.

"Pretty good album, huh?" I asked.

"Yeah, it's really groovy," she replied. That response struck me as odd. "Groovy?" Was she being ironic? And yet she said it with such a straight face. I began to imagine travelling back in time to the early 1960s and identifying the first person ever to say "groovy," and then walking into that party and saying "Don't say that. That's a really stupid word. I never want to hear that word again." Would that have been enough to wipe out the word forev -

And, suddenly, I felt her hand on my leg. "Whatcha thinking about?" she asked.

I was prepared. "I was just thinking about how good you look in those jeans."

"Really?" she asked, smiling.

But that made me think about keeping things simple. How was I going to remember that specific pair of jeans, and to always tell her she looked good in them? So I panicked.

"No," I said, sadly, "that was a lie. I have to be honest with you, Jen. Those jeans look terrible on you. You're not overweight, but put those jeans on, and it's like I'm on a date with a fat girl. They're just really, really unflattering."

"Oh," she said.

About twenty minutes of silence ensued, during which I thought about traveling back a couple years and telling Jen not to buy those jeans, because, in 2004, we would be going on a date, and I didn't want the date to be ruined by her poor jean-shopping habits. I wondered how she'd react. After all, it would be a little presumptuous to tell a girl that I'd be going on a date with her in two years. She'd probably think I was crazy. And then when I met her two years later, she wouldn't even agree to go out with me, because she'd think I was crazy for doing something I hadn't even done yet.

Finally, Jen broke the silence. "Well, I'd better be going," she said, and I never heard from her again.

Lying better

Ah, Tara. You knew way too much about sports.

A year later, I was on a third date with this girl Tara. As per precedent, we were on the couch, listening to Feels by Animal Collective. Tara was sipping a glass of White Zinfandel, and I was drinking an O'Douls with the label peeled off and an MGD label glued on. It had taken me a while to glue MGD labels onto all my O'Douls, but I really didn't want Tara to know I was drinking non-alcoholic beer. She'd probably think I was trying to get her liquored up so I could take advantage of her. And while that was true, my real reason for avoiding alcohol was because tonight was the night I was going to get past that "Whatcha thinking about" question.

"Pretty good album, huh?" I asked.

"Fuckin' A," said Tara. I didn't know people still said "Fuckin' A," but I decided to just go with it. It's not like I could travel back in time and stop that one from existing. I don't even have any idea when that phrase originated. Maybe I could travel back to, like, the 1600s, and try to revise some German dictionaries so that ficken no longer meant "to plant," and then the word "fuck" never would have come into existence. But then we'd probably just use "shag" instead, and Tara would have probably just said "Shaggin' A" instead, and that would have been, at least, no better, and maybe wors -

That's when I felt her hand on my leg. "Whatcha thinking about?" she asked.

"Sports!" I exclaimed.

"Really?" asked Tara, intrigued. "So who do you like for next Sunday?"

"Um... the Packers." I said. I realized it was a dumb thing to say the moment I said it. I didn't know what sport she was talking about, or who the Packers are, or what sport the Packers play. Damn it, I don't know anything about sports. Immediately, I thought about traveling back five minutes in time to correct my mistake. But then again, Tara would probably have thought it weird if I had jumped through the window five minutes ago and yelled "Rob, it's me, future Rob! Tara's about to ask you a question. Don't say sports! Tell her she looks good in those jeans! She actually does look good in those jeans, this time!" That would probably have totally weirded her out. Plus, there's a chance that it could create some kind of paradox, and either I'd have to kill future Rob, or he'd have to kill me, in order to keep the universe from imploding. Either way, I'm pretty sure it would ruin the date.

I thought about that for about twenty minutes, and by the time I looked over, Tara was already gone.

Telling her there's a spider on her head

I didn't even bother dating for about six months after Tara. What was the point? Eventually, the girl was just going to ask me what I was thinking, and the date would be ruined whether I told the truth or not.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized my thinking had been really uptight on this issue. I had only considered two options: telling the truth, and not telling the truth. But what if that was a false dichotomy? What if there was a third option? Maybe I could try some kind of diversionary tactic.

With my confidence newly restored, I went out on a couple dates with this girl Megan, and finally, we came to that all-critical third date.

Ah, Megan. I'm sorry I kept smacking you on the head.

So there we were on the couch, listening to Boxer by The National. She was really into it. It was a great album, really. And I was thinking: this is it. This is my night. I should have done this years ago. I wished I could take a time machine back to 2004 to tell myself "Rob, this is future Rob, and - okay, this is weird, but just go with it. If a girl asks you what you're thinking about, just tell her there's a spider on her head. Trust me on this one." I don't know what I'd think if I heard that from myself, but I think I've always understood that one rule of time travel is that you always trust your future self. Of course, someone could misuse that rule in order to manipulate you. For example, I could put on a Nixon mask and travel to the 1960s and say "Nixon, it's me, future Nixon! Stealing from the Watergate Hotel is definitely a great idea!"

And just like that, Megan's hand was on my leg. "Whatcha thinking about?" she asked.

"Jesus Christ, Megan, there's a giant spider on your head!" I yelled, just as I had rehearsed.

"What? Get it off! GET IT OFF!" she screamed.

I frantically brushed at her hair, pretending to exorcise the imaginary spider.

"There. I got it," I said.

"Where is it??" she asked, alarmed.

"I, um, I think I killed it and it fell behind the couch," I said.

"Oh." she said.

I was elated! I had got past the question! Nothing would stop me from getting into those beautifully-fitting vintage jeans now!

"So, what were you thinking about?" Megan asked. Uh-oh.

"Oh my God, there's another enormous spider on your head!" I yelled.

"AHH!" Megan shrieked. "GET IT OFF!"

I slapped at her hair, much the same way, and announced, "There. I got that one, too."

"Rob, no offense," said Megan, "But I don't think I want to hang out with you. There are too many spiders in your house." And she left.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Megan is very popular, because now when I ask girls out, they say "Oh, wait, you're the guy with the spider infestation, right?" So, I really haven't been on a date since. And it's all because of that stupid question, "Whatcha thinking about."

But I do wish I could travel back in time and tell myself to give up on the spider idea. Seriously, life would be so much better with time travel.

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