At 72, I've had my first date.

Which is quite remarkable when you consider I was a bachelor until I was 26 and have been a widower now for many years.

Actually, during my single status, I've gone out with women hundreds of times. This is not a matter of bragging; it simply attests to my longevity. And, like everyone in the same sort of situation, I considered that I was out on a date.

But I realize now it was something else. It was more of an enterprise. I was acting as an entrepreneur, an entrepreneur of romance: setting everything up, making all the arrangements, following through on some overall plan and design that I had envisioned -- and investing some capital to carry it all out.

But, fellows, let me tell you something, you don't know what a date is until somebody takes you out.

I get this call from this girl I'll call Helen (Why not? That's what her name is). "Harold, Helen. What are you doing Wednesday night?"

"Wednesday night? Nothing, as far as I know. No, I'm not doing anything."

"Good. I'm taking you out."

"Taking me out?"

"It's your birthday. So I'm taking you out."

"Well, golly, thank you . . . It's very nice of you."

And I really thought so, too. But it really didn't hit me until maybe 15 or 20 minutes later. A girl, a feminine type person, was taking me out!

As a matter of fact -- and I suppose this really dates me -- I never had even gone Dutch on an evening out with a member of the opposite sex. Well, maybe once in a while in the exuberance of the moment, I had spent a little more in some spot than I'd fully intended and had to "borrow" some change from my date to enhance the tip, but that was as close as I'd ever come to Dutch treating.

The immediate grand feeling about being "asked out" doesn't, however, have a monetary connection. It comes from realizing that somebody thinks enough of you to contact you personally -- after all, there are so many other people out there -- and invite you to spend the evening with them! What a fabulous phenomenon!

And not only that, you aren't going to have to bother about any of the details of the evening, which would just happen magically. The fact that I didn't know exactly where we'd be going, what we'd be doing, made everything that much more titillating and deliciously suspenseful.

She called me the next evening to say she had decided a dinner-theater would be just the thing for the birthday celebration. What did I think? "Why, that would be just fine," I murmured. Specifically, she said, what she had in mind was "Guys and Dolls," which some dinner-theater company in Alexandria was putting on. Was that okay?

"That sounds great," I murmured some more. Actually, "Guys and Dolls" is far from my favorite musical, but it's fun being gracious -- especially when I'm being catered to.

Helen called me again a couple of nights later. "Some terrible news. They've canceled 'Guys and Dolls.' I made the reservations -- but there's no show now. I just got a call about it. I suppose they weren't doing enough business. I'm sorry."

"Don't fret about it," I consoled her. "It wasn't your fault."

Actually, I didn't mind in the least that this happened, and not only because I wouldn't have to see "Guys and Dolls." On other occasions I've had to tell Helen that some plans I'd made for an evening together had gone awry and no matter how artfully I tried to explain what had transpired I always came out feeling like something of a dope. Now I didn't have to feel like something of a dope, or any dope at all. It was a heady sensation.

"Suppose we just go out and have dinner Wednesday?" she offered tentatively.

"That's just fine," I declared promptly, losing no time to make plain my tolerant and understanding nature.

We went in her car. She not only drove, but she opened the door for me first. It was drizzly and foggy, the driving wasn't easy. Me? I was settled back in my seat, comfortable and relaxed.

"I know how much you like spaghetti so I thought we'd go to an Italian restaurant," said Helen.

"How nice."

"I must have talked to at least a half dozen people. I wanted to make sure we went to a real fine place. There's a restaurant on Ramsey Avenue that came out ahead. That's where we're going. I hope you'll like it."

"I'm sure I will. And it was certainly thoughtful of you to go to the trouble that you did."

We entered the restaurant and Helen said, "It's nice, isn't it? -- don't you think?"

"Oh, yes," I assured her. "It is very nice."

"The ambience -- it's just right, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is."

I'd hardly got the first forkful of spaghetti into me when she was inquiring, "Well, how is it?"

"Fine. Just fine. It's good."

I'd tried to put her at ease forthrightly, but three fork twists later she was asking, "Is it okay?"

"Great. Simply great."

"Good."

I couldn't help but think that was a most appropriate word. In all the times I'd gone out with a member of the opposite sex, I'd never had it so good.

No problems. Nothing to be concerned about. There was somebody on hand, a genie, and an attractive genie at that, to make sure that everything -- from spaghetti to salad to beverages -- went exactly the way I wanted it.

Helen was determined to stay on top of things and make sure everything went right. She immediately took the bill when the waiter placed it on the table. I, with pleasure, let her go through the exercise. Maybe, it occurred to me as if from afar, I shouldn't have had that extra cup of coffee. But I didn't want anything to arouse me from this dream.She faltered only once during the entire evening. The tip. She was a little flustered and didn't know exactly what it should be.

"Oh, $3.50 ought to do it," I declared in a matter-of-fact, masterful way.

I suppose I could have offered to drive back in the still miserable weather, but why ruin what had been such a splendid evening? And give up the enchantment of having the car door opened again for me for the ride back?

"It was," as I whispered to Helen when I got home, "a lovely evening."