Christian colleges tend to have very strange cultural rituals. One of these rituals was the ZATS. The zero-attachment time spending. To the real world, this is know as going on a “date,” because any less specific of a description would indicate an expectation of marriage. More specifically, ZATS are usually treated like a “blind date.” Especially when the RA of your dorm section arranges the date activity for you in the form of a group date. Which is really the worst possible situation you could put someone like me into, because I am the Queen of the Awkward Ladies.
The ZATS is also very indicative of what kind of friendship you have with your roommate, because your roommate got to pick your date for you. If your roommate hated you, she could pick someone awful; if she loved you, she could ask out your crush for you.
My roommate freshman year was Olivia. Olivia and I got along great until about halfway through the school year and everything kind of went downhill. But we were both so passive-aggressive in our understandings of how to deal with someone we lived with that we never worked out our problems with each other. She left after our first year (I think she lost her scholarship? I would not be surprising seeing as how she almost never went to class). However, our section’s ZATS was during the fall semester when Olivia and I still liked each other a good deal. We talked over who we wanted as our dates and set out to get them. I was successful in getting her crush for her, while I suggested Ben for myself. Who was apparently already taken for the ZATS. I hummed and hawed over who else to pick out, so we had to resort to StalkerNet to find somebody.
StalkerNet was what everyone called the Student Directory. These were in the days before Facebook and before any proper wireless internet set-up in the dorms. However, StalkerNet truly lived up to its colloquial name.
It featured the following:
- Full name
- Student ID photo
- Student email address
- Current dorm room number
- Mailbox number
- Home phone number
- Home mailing address
Creepy, amiright? This was accessible to all students, no login required as long as your computer was plugged directly into the college-provided Ethernet. The search filters were incredibly useful though since the dorm sections were separated by sex. Just pull up everyone in Reid Hall section A, second or third floor, and there all the freshman men were ripe for the picking. Olivia and I scrolled through several pages of men but without much success. I was just too bashful to be so bold enough to say exactly what my type was. It had already been a courageous feat for me to tell her about Ben. I don’t think I knew what my type was back then, except for tall. I always knew that I liked tall. I could go head over heels for baby blues as they usually reminded me of Kristoffer’s beautiful eyes.
Just a few days before the scheduled ZATS, Olivia came back to the room announced that she got Adam for me. We pulled him up on StalkerNet.
“Okay, sure, he’s cute, I guess,” was my reaction. He seemed to be the tall skinny sort with ash blonde hair. He lived in Cooke, the other freshman dorm, which is probably why I’d never seen him before. He was in one of Olivia’s classes, but I don’t remember which one, nor do I remember what he studied, or anything about him really. Or even what he looked like (I don’t remember his last name so I couldn’t find him a picture of him to assist me with a portrait for him). I think I tried to block it all, including him, from my memory.
The Friday night for the ZATS arrived. Olivia introduced us, and then this giant group of freshman kids piled into a couple of white 15-passenger vans to head to a bowling alley. Adam and I talked off and on throughout the car ride, but I was definitely nervous. This was my first, first date after all and I didn’t have a fucking clue what I was doing.
The bowling alley was one of those places that did cosmic bowling with the black lights and the dance music blaring. Adam and I did pretty well together as we got our shoes and picked out bowling balls, alternating between chatting to each other and with the group of friends we were with. That is, until we were assigned our bowling lanes. Apparently there were a few people who cancelled last minute and there were an odd number of couples. Adam and I were that final odd couple and given two entire bowling lanes to ourselves. Twenty minutes in or so, we ran out of things to talk about. And we apparently we’re creative enough to have fun with the fact that we could take over two lanes. So we bowled. And bowled. And kept bowling in almost complete silence until our pre-paid allotment of games ran out. Awkward.
Soon after we finished our two games, I found my friends and made myself like glue to their sides. But even that felt a little awkward because my closest friends from my dorm section were Devyn and Leah and I don’t think either of them had gone bowling with us. I felt too embarrassed, felt too much like it was my fault that the date hadn’t gone well. Clearly, I was horrible. There was no other explanation. First date in and I’m already destined to be alone. Forever. I avoided the lane Ben was on lest he catch a whiff of my forever-aloneness. Everyone else still had a lot of game time left. Adam and I kind of just hung around the vicinity of each other, but always talking to other people for the rest of the night. I desperately wanted this night to be over, he probably did too.
Eventually it was. The van ride back we didn’t sit next to each other or talk to each other. In fact, anytime we saw the other person for the next four years of our college experience, we ignored each other. At least I know I ignored him, whether or not he remembered who I was is not really my concern. Luckily, we had chosen entirely different paths with dorm choices, majors studied, and friend circles that I very, very rarely saw him at all. Tactical avoidance mission was successful. And I think it’s almost needless to say – but I never went on an organized ZATS date ever again.