Not that I don’t believe in the idea or anything.
[Uh, on the contrary. One day when I was in college, I walked into the very unglamorous cafeteria and saw an attractive man across the crowded room. I determined right then and there that I had to meet him. We were married a few years later.]
[And we all know how well that turned out.]
So right. We agreed to meet at 8:30 p.m. at a place near where we both lived. I’d only been there one other time, on what was quite possibly the worst date of my life.
For those of you who were with me last summer, saying “quite possibly the worst date of my life” is going some. Aside from the man who liked to tell people he was from the future and the bad kisser and the man who giggled incessantly and the man who was forgot to mention he was still living with his girlfriend at the time and the man who bit, there was one guy who was just incredibly boring.
Now, at first when I realized he was boring I thought it wouldn't be so bad. Because boring is easy to fend off and isn't, you know, biting. But after a while, after I kept trying to end the date with Mr. Boring politely, he was getting to be problematic. He sort of wouldn't let the date end in any kind of polite way.
“I would like to go somewhere else, now, and you don’t have to come with me,” I actually said. And he actually said, "Oh, that's okay. I'll come with you."
Eventually, out of ideas for what to do or how to handle the situation myself, I called in back-ups. Back-ups. And yet even after my FRIENDS joined us on our "date," he still wouldn’t go away. “I am going to go home soon,” I offered, “You can stay out if you’d like.” “No, I can go with you, walk you back,” he’d replied. And my non-confrontational self didn't have it in my to say, "WHY DO YOU THINK I WANT YOU KNOWING WHERE I LIVE?" Instead, what with friends and drinks and having had enough of dating altogether, I eventually DID just leave.
And didn’t so much mention it to him.
Anyway, despite having fled it a week or so earlier, I still liked the bar. It wasn't the bar's fault. So when I had to pick a place to meet another date – the this-is-the-last-time-because-I-cannot-take-this-anymore date – it sprang to mind.
Then on that Saturday night, as I approached the bar from my direction, I noticed a man coming in the opposite direction and I started to wonder if maybe the bar was cursed.
The guy was dressed super casually and listening to an iPod. He didn’t really seem like the guy I was supposed to meet, and I hoped it wasn’t. He was kind of hidden beneath a hooded sweatshirt and the part of his face I could make out didn’t resemble the guy who’d sent me his picture. When we crossed paths we exchanged brief glances, but then he kept right on walking and I was relieved.
I entered the bar, stopping one step in to look around and see if the man from the picture was there, and not some hoodie-clad thuggish guy.
Except a moment later, the door opened behind me and the man from the street entered. He took the hood off his head and the earphones out of his ears, and we realized simultaneously that we were each other. He was visibly disappointed. I probably was, too.
He just appeared...different from what I expected. I was pleased that he wasn’t “goofy” looking, which I was sorta half-expecting given the expression he’d had in his picture. But his face and neck were thinner and more drawn than I am generally attracted to. Plus he looked kind of sad. And with the sweatshirt giving him a thuggish look, I was very thrown.
It was not the look I expected from a Stanford MBA.
Anyway, we got a table and he took my drink order and I told him I’d like a gin and soda – it was my new summer drink – and he went to the bar. I sat, wondering if I had made the cardinal mistake. It was 8:30 on a Saturday night and this was my date? The two minutes we'd known each other weren't boding well.
He brought our drinks to the table and we engaged in painful small talk.
What is the matter with us? I wondered. He is smart and witty and...and socially adept, right? You can’t do what he does for a living and not be, right? So what if the physical chemistry isn’t setting the table ablaze? I’m still fun. He should be fun. Why is this so awful?
We’d endured about 15 minutes of small talk, when we came to the end of our drinks. A critical juncture.
He asked if we should get another drink. I don’t think he asked if I would like another drink; I think he asked if we should get another drink. He may as well have asked, “Hey, ah, do we want to keep this up?”
I thought about it and weighed the possibilities. It wasn’t going well. We had the whole night ahead of us, and if we ended the date right there, we could salvage most of the evening. I really didn't want to end up on another bitch-and-ditch date.
On the other hand, it just seemed ridculous. On paper, we had so much in common. Certainly there was something we could discuss. Why be defeatist?
“Sure.” I said.
And so we found ourselves with two more drinks, still searching for something to discuss.
How about current events, huh?
"So um..." he probably started. “I read something interesting on [important but not mainstream political blog] today about...”
And finally, I started to smile. Because not only did I know the blog -- which I figured he'd appreciate and maybe be impressed by alone -- but I could go a step further.
And because I also figured I had nothing to lose (the conversation couldn’t get worse, certainly) I interjected with it.
“Um, I’ve had [an intimate relationship] with [author of the blog you just mentioned].”
(And THAT, my friends, is how to change the course of a date.)
Oh, he was caught a little off-guard, sure. But he was also clearly bemused by the idea...and by my sharing it. All of a sudden, we knew a lot about each other. Common um, “affinity” for the same writer holds lots of implications, you know?
Basically, I hadn’t just broken the ice, I had smashed it to bits. And thank goodness. Because from there, we couldn’t stop talking. There was simply too much to say and we couldn’t get it out fast enough.
Who else do you read?...What did you think about...?...Have you [been intimate] with any other journalists I should know about (ha, ha)?...I write, too...Oh, where?...How does that work?...Humor is completely based on economy of words....I know exactly what you mean...Yeah, separated...
A few hours later, we had barely come up for air what with SO MUCH TALKING. Seriously. Talking.
But, well, okay. Eventually the conversation stalled when we found our way to a kiss. Still, right up till that moment, I had no inkling that we’d have any chemistry at all. There had been no sparks other than conversationally.
Mmmm. But the kiss. It changed everything.
Even though we resumed talking and talking and talking anyway.
* * * * *
Sadly, the next morning was rather unpleasant.
No, he hadn't spent the night or anything like that. It was just that I didn’t want to think one night of unexpected chemistry and sensational conversation meant anything. I’d been on too many dates with too many men to think that a perfectly incredible evening would be anything but just that.
I was hardening. I had learned not to expect phone calls, and to only half-expect an email. An email wherein he’d possibly request another date, but would be just as likely to inform me that aliens had abducted his dog and under the circumstances wouldn’t be able to ever see me again. Because I’m great, but you know. Aliens.
And so I awoke trying to ignore any voice of hopefulness. And then found the worst email in my inbox ever.
The man I had run out on a couple weeks before had posted his experience online, but with a rather – as you might imagine – unfriendly bent. An aware IIF found the post and brought it to my attention and I recoiled in horror as I read about Me-As-Date. His story was mean-spirited and bitter and painted me as something atrocious and ugly and boring and fat and horrible. And even though I knew he must have been fueled by sour grapes, it was still awful. I felt guilty for having treated him badly, but also like the least desirable person on the planet.
That morning I cried a lot. I felt tired and sad and the crush of hopelessness. My summer of dating had turned out to be one great big disappointment after another, and I couldn’t do it anymore. I mean, to wake up after one of the nicest nights out I’d had in months...
…and realize there was no reason to think I’d ever even hear from the guy who’d made it possible again? It left me empty.
I wanted to believe myself good and worthy company. I wanted to think that a night full of fun and laughs and repartee would be enough to warrant more of the same. But it never was. And why?
Why was it so hard? Where does it say that a second date is to be avoided at all costs? Because, honestly, I could not understand. Isn’t something good worth pursuing, even if you don’t know how it will go? Even if you aren’t sure. Even if there’s no guarantees?
Don’t you get another drink?
Mabye no, you don't.
It was early in the afternoon, not yet twelve hours from when we’d said goodbye, when my phone rang and it was him. Saying hi. Saying thank you. Saying it was fun, let’s do it again. Saying how about this evening?
And just like that, I remembered why I’d ever bothered in the first place. Why I kept trying. Why I’d put myself out there again and again. And then again. Why you do get another drink and you do tell your truth about your life and sometimes someone, someones, will find it boring but all that will dissolve when you find the one who doesn’t. Instead of rolling his eyes at you he listens and is engaged and cares and gets excited to tell you his story and then you’re so busy out-storying each other you hardly notice that it’s a year later because you still – still – haven’t come up for air.
Happy anniversary, Ish.