Many of us have found ourselves pondering how to escape a bad date. But most of us likely haven’t faced legal action because of it.
On Wednesday, May 17th, Austinite Brandon Vezmar became a new Internet sensation. The Austin-American Statesman broke a story about Vezmar suing his date for texting during a showing of The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2.
The story broke wide almost instantly. The AV Club called him a hero. The website Birth.Movies.Death referred to it as “the greatest unintentional advertisement for (the famously anti-texting) Alamo Drafthouse”.
Film Twitter errupted into rapturous applause; they had finally found the hero they had been waiting for. Even Guardians director James Gunn took notice.
Why stop at suing? She deserves jail time! https://t.co/c41MWGz74M
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) May 16, 2017
Even Tim League, owner of the Alamo Drafthouse theaters got involved, offering Vezmar a gift certificate to cover the cost of his ticket.
However, an initially amusing event took a dark turn almost instantly.
The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! *5 seconds later* We regret to inform you the duck is racist
— Pixelated Boat (@pixelatedboat) June 12, 2016
(Kinda like that except with stalking and harassment…)
What seemed like a man taking a stand against rudeness with a hint of Austin quirkiness took a darker turn – and provided an example of risks women face when dating.
Lawyers, Guns and Money OR: The Worst Best Way To Handle A Bad Date
The event that Vezmar would later call “a date from hell”1 started fairly prosaically. Vezmar and his date had met over the dating app Bumble and agreed to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. They met downtown, had a slice of pizza and he drove his date’s car to the theater. Approximately 15 minutes into the movie, Vezmar’s date “activated her phone at least 10-20 times in 15 minutes to read and send text messages,” according to the complaint. Incensed, Vezmar insisted that either she stop or leave the theater. His date chose to leave… and didn’t return. Taking her car with her, his date decided to bail and leave him behind.
His date, for her part, insists in a statement to the Statesman that “I had my phone low and I wasn’t bothering anybody. It wasn’t like constant texting.”
At this point, it’s a fairly typical bad date and bad behavior – the kind that theaters like The Alamo Drafthouse have famously mocked.
Later, according to the paper, Vezmar contacted her and asked that she reimburse him the cost of the movie ticket. When his date refused, he filed a complaint with the Travis County Small Claims Court and became a minor Internet sensation. It was vital that he go through with his threat because, in his words:
While the damages sought are modest the principle is important as Defendant’s behavior is a threat to civilized society.
Let that wash over you for a second. We’ll be coming back to it.
His date, for her part, said in a statement to KVUE-TV:
I did have a very brief date with Brandon, that I chose to end prematurely. His behavior made me extremely uncomfortable, and I felt I needed to remove myself from the situation for my own safety. He has escalated the situation far past what any mentally healthy person would. I feel sorry that I hurt his feelings badly enough that he felt he needed to commit so much time and effort into seeking revenge. I hope one day he can move past this and find peace in his life.
Once again: a fairly typical he-said/she-said regarding the aftermath of a bad date… at least prior to the lawsuit. One could argue as to whether her leaving the theater was justified; ditching one’s date without ready means to get home is shitty behavior. Claiming to feel unsafe for being told to maybe stop texting seems a bit extreme.
But as more information became available – much of it from Vezmar himself – it became clear that his date… may have had a point.
The Completely Rational Behavior of a Completely Reasonable Man
As the story went viral, Vezmar created a Twitter account to share his side of the story – including messages between himself and his now ex-date.
To dispute claims that he harassed his date’s family for the money, he also shared screenshots of his attempts to contact her, apparently contacting anyone with her last name on Facebook before finally using Spokeo to track her down.
1/2 My ‘harassing’ message to Plaintiff’s family. All identical. Needed address for small court filing. Didn’t have it. None replied. pic.twitter.com/ufNR4GFfuf
— Brandon Vezmar (@BrandonVezmar) May 17, 2017
For his part, Vezmar feels that going to these extremes was perfectly justified. In an interview with Texas Monthly, he stated:
“I thought to myself, ‘No, there’s no responsibility here. It’s not her friend, it’s her. It’s not her phone, it’s her. It’s not me, it’s her,’”
Moreover, as far as he was concerned, it was a great date… for her.
“I think that this was probably a really great date for her. I was really nice. She seemed to be having a great time up until the point when I asked her to stop texting. I bought her pizza, drove her car—I thought that this was a fun, nice date. I wasn’t actually interested in seeing her again very early on, but she was nice, the conversation was light. I felt comfortable continuing the date. I don’t think that this was a bad experience for her. I think this was a bad experience for me.”
This, of course, makes total sense; women are known for fleeing great dates without so much as saying goodbye. Just as it makes complete sense for someone to spend hundreds of dollars in order to sue their date for ditching, under the premise that their behavior is, again, in his words, a threat to civilized society.
Vezmar’s conduct – the threats of legal action, the stalking and increasingly over the top rantings on the topic – provide credence to the idea that it wasn’t his criticizing her admittedly rude and inconsiderate behavior that led to her fleeing a bad date.
Unless one is absolutely amazing at compartmentalizing, your general attitude bleeds into literally everything you do. The fact that he’s willing to not just sue but attempt to leverage public attention in order to punish a woman he feels wronged him is a solid indicator that he is not the great date he believes himself to be. Taking the time – and not insignificant cost – to use the legal system as a means of seeking revenge against a bad date would seem to be a strong indicator that she had reason to trust her instincts and bail.
But the absurdity of Vezmar’s actions are actually less disturbing than the underlying motivations behind them.
The Violation of the Dating Contract
Before the tabloid show Inside Edition arranged for his date to repay him the $17.31, Vezmar had made it clear that this was about women not behaving in the way he feels they should.
There was no question that this was about punishing people who, in Vezmar’s mind, broke the “rules” of how women are allowed to behave on dates. From his interview with the Texas Monthly:
“Here’s what I think: I think the implicit contracts in dating need to stop, because I think that men are being exploited by people like the defendant,” Vezmar explained. “I purchased these movie tickets in advance because the movie was sold out, or selling out, everywhere. This was one of the last places I could get tickets. So out of convenience, I purchased two tickets in advance on Fandango. I think the implicit understanding on her part—in fact, I know—was that this was a date, the ticket was a gift, and she didn’t owe anything. That was an assumption she made, because she believes that those are the rules of the game. She has taken advantage of that. She’s taken advantage of someone else’s courtesy and generosity.”
His expectations of what is and isn’t allowed on a date have been violated and so he’s taken it upon himself to force her to behave as he wants. The money isn’t the issue; if it were, he wouldn’t have decided to spend nearly 30 times what he hoped to recoup from her. It wasn’t even the hope of winning; as one lawyer friend told me, Vezmar would have been lucky to find a judge who could stop laughing at him long enough to dismiss the case.
Instead, it’s about forcing her to acknowledge him, respond to him and allow him to dictate the terms under which she’s allowed to behave. Even when Tim League offered to comp him the price of a ticket, Vezmar didn’t accept. He had made his desires clear: he wants the money from her… and an admission that he was right and that she misbehaved. And he was more than willing to try to leverage not just the legal system but also the attention of millions in an attempt to get his way.
“If she called me up right now—and didn’t even apologize—and just said, ‘Here’s your $17 for the movie ticket, I recognize that you bought me a ticket and that ticket was not mine, and after what I did with it I was supposed to compensate you for the ticket,’ this would be over,” he said. “Over!“
Is A Man Not Entitled To Dictate The Behavior of His Date?
Part of what makes talking about this issue difficult is how easy it is to get distracted by the surface details – texting during a movie, how awful – and ignoring the larger pattern of social behavior. One of the ongoing issues that many, many women deal with is having to navigate around the bad behavior of men, especially men who show interest in them.
You can’t, after all, swing a stick without running into examples of men on OKCupid or Tinder who go from “you’re so hot” to “you’re an ugly bitch and I wouldn’t fuck you with a borrowed dick” at the drop of a hat. Even agreeing with a man when they compliment her is enough to send some men into a tailspin. By not letting them be the arbiter of what is appropriate, she has violated the “rules” and must be punished.
One consequence of these “rules” is that all too often, women who advocate for their own safety or act on their instincts are told that their behavior is “rude” or “inconsiderate”. Leaving a bad date when someone’s attitude or behavior sets off one’s Spidey-sense becomes something that must be justified before strangers with no actual investment.
The narrative becomes about how she should have excused or allowed his bad behavior – he didn’t mean it that way, or he must have been driven to it. Similarly, she has to reject or refuse him – if at all – in a specific way. If she is too vehement, then she is overreacting; if she isn’t emphatic enough then clearly she was ok with it or allowed it to happen.
Even now, stories of Vezmar’s behavior get responses of “well, she did deserve it.” The anonymous readers excuse increasingly threatening behavior because we let the delicious narrative of “correcting bad behavior” overwhelm the facts of the situation. Vezmar gets to try to enforce his will on a woman who “defied” him and pretend he’s the hero in the process.
It’s taken as writ that a man is entitled to a woman’s time, attention and specific behavior; that by existing, she has agreed to specific rules and it is on men to enforce them by any means necessary. But of course, bringing this up tends to send these utterly sensible men into paroxysms of rage:
When asked about critics who called his actions regarding Textgate an act of entitlement, Vezmar was quick to dismiss the very notion in a message to Chicagoist. “Entitled? ENTITLED TO WHAT? To buy other people things? To not be able to enjoy a movie? To be disrespected? The premise of the question is absurd, and only the most hopeless Progressive could even conjure it up. This is man hate WRIT LARGE,” he wrote to us.
Making Dating Worse Again
As absurd as Vezmar’s behavior is from a distance, it remains part of the background radiation of women’s experiences, especially when it comes to dating. In a world where women already get attacked for turning men down, we have men who think nothing of going to court in order to force a woman to behave the way they want. The fact that sites that should know better call him a hero should be a moment for pausing and self-reflection; do we want to encourage what is ultimately infantile behavior at the cost of the safety and comfort of others?
And at its core, this is childish behavior. Instead of eating the cost of the ticket, chalking things up to a learning experience and complaining to his friends over beers, Vezmar sunk hundreds of dollars and untold days into a tantrum. He harassed a woman into giving him more attention – on television yet – and tried to dress it up as a quest for great justice2.
The fact of the matter is, Vezmar is another example of someone who’s upset he’s not allowed to dictate a woman’s behavior and will hang the flimsiest of excuses over his desire to punish her. Portraying her as the face of one of the sins of modern living is the fig leaf over his desire; it helps ensure that he’ll get the Internet mob to declare him a hero when he’s pissy at being rejected.
In doing so, he becomes part of a system that makes dating worse. Now more women are left wondering if their Tinder date is someone who’ll take rejection in stride… or who’ll take increasingly baroque steps to avenge themselves from being a bad date.