What with the holidays and all the time I’ve dedicated to emotionally decompensating, I kinda forgot to keep dishing on my first dates.
My fifth Tinder date was with a nice man we’ll call Victor Vegan. Victor was a few years younger than me, a bit wan, but otherwise decent looking. The main thing he had going for him was that he was a musician, composer, and academic with a faculty position at a local college. I suppose we had a lot in common, in the sense that we both had administrative responsibilities we liked to complain about. But I’m not sure the inefficiencies of Banner software and the Blackboard course management system are what you want to be talking about on a date. We also had some things not in common, and they were to be the end of us.
I went out with Victor three times over the course of about three weeks, and, cutting to the chase, I was the asshole in this relationship. I learned a lot from it–namely, that I knew nothing about dating–but I still feel bad about how I handled it.
My first infraction was that I agreed to go out with Victor mostly because my long-distance thing with J* had started to sour. J* stood me up when he visited my city, and so I forged ahead with the next man to show me some interest. I met Victor at the same coffeeshop where I had met J*, and I recall genuinely enjoying his company. But I still can’t say whether it was true interest in him or merely relief that I had actually managed to put on grown-up clothes and leave the house that day. The date’s big bonus was that J* was trying to call me while I was on it. I allowed the date to continue because I liked the thought that ignoring J* would drive him nuts (it didn’t). Coffee turned into a walk, and the walk tumbled into an early dinner.
It was at dinner that I started to have concerns. Victor was ostensibly straight, but he kinda seemed like he might be gay. There was something about how he carried himself, and he ordered the girliest drink I have ever seen a grown man consume. But mostly it was his backstory. Although he was politically progressive and working in academia, he had grown up in the rural South in a fundamentalist Christian family. Tall, height-weight proportionate, gainfully employed straight dude with most of his original hair–and he’s still single? It struck me that he might still be in the closet, even to himself.
My second concern was Victor’s preoccupation with food. He was vegetarian but considering a return to veganism, and he took a rather evangelical approach to juicing. The only person with whom I have ever had such a lengthy conversation about food is my niece, when she was eleven, and we talked for an hour about the pros and cons of various types of candy. (Unless it’s Red Vines, Circus Peanuts, or Mary Janes, there are no cons.) And yet, here I was with Victor, discussing ingredients, preparations, sourcing, ethics, the finer points of garnish, and on and on and on. The oddness of this becomes even more acute when you realize that I don’t cook. In fact, I haven’t had a working oven in eleven months, and it hasn’t made a lick of difference in my eating habits, which rest solidly on salads, prepared meats, frozen things in boxes, and my aforementioned love of candy. I have long had a problematic relationship with food–body dysmorphia and obsessive dieting, in particular–and I am suspicious that some people use vegetarianism or veganism to mask disordered eating. (See: Orthorexia.) I have certainly enjoyed the social caché that comes with dieting, so I know how structured eating can slip into disordered eating. And I have worked hard to be ok with my body at its present size. So Victor’s preoccupation with food struck me as unhealthy–for me.
Even so, I agreed to a second date, this time at a nice restaurant of his choosing. We had a good enough time, and thankfully discussion of his $16 veggie burger occupied a smaller percentage–perhaps one-third–of the conversation than it would have on our first date. Then we went for a walk. Somehow he managed to lead me to a secluded park bench, and next thing I knew his tongue was discussing vegetarianism with my tonsils. His aggressive approach to making out did not suggest so much a straight man overcome with ardor, as it did a gay man trying to assert heteronormative masculinity. For me, the kissing was rote, though I hoped I would get into it eventually. I never did. I leaned away, and he leaned in. I leaned back further, he leaned some more. If he had not had his arms around me, I would have fallen off the bench altogether. He was totally oblivious to my disinterest.
Back at the car, I committed my second dating foul, when he asked me if he could make me dinner at his apartment. I will pretty much do anything for a free meal–well, almost anything–so I immediately said yes. He was a nice guy, what’s the harm? When I told my friend about this, she had a slightly different take.
“You know you agreed to have sex with him, right?”
“Wait, what now?” I asked, surprised.
“Yeah,” she explained, as if to a child. “When he asked you to come to his apartment for dinner, that means sex.”
“Huh,” I said in wonderment. “I did not know that.”
I was still pining for J*, who by this point was applying for jobs in my city, but my friends had put my dating life in receivership. I had to keep dating other people, and lord knows who was going to be next. So while I wasn’t feeling it with Victor, I felt like I needed one more date to figure out if there was any potential.
Let’s just pause here to assess: You know you’re bad at dating if you’re a straight woman and you can’t quite figure out whether a gay man with an eating disorder is your one true love.
The third date was for tapas, then a movie, and thankfully it provided all the clarity I needed. The other thing that Victor and I didn’t have in common was being super-green. I like the planet, I really do. I recycle, I try to limit my driving, I support environmental causes, I use my own bags. But I also like clothes to smell clean or, if not clean, to not smell like people juice. Victor was very environmentally conscious, and his commitment to the planet became apparent as we sat next to each other in the theater. He clearly used one of those hippy-dippy green detergents that doesn’t contain chemicals, which means they also don’t clean for shit. He smelled like sebum, which is basically people juice. And if you don’t wash your clothes regularly, or you use crap detergent, it can get pretty vile. By the time the movie was over, I was nauseated. By the time we reached my train stop, I was ready to make a run for it. I could still smell him on my clothes when I got home, necessitating a shower and a trip to the grocery store for peppermint ice cream to help drive his oily scent from my brain.
I ended it with Victor not long after, and I did a terrible job of it. I had no experience with breaking it off with someone, and I didn’t know how to go about it. We had never spoken on the phone, so I didn’t like the idea of calling. I worried that he would be excited that I had expanded our communication repertoire, and then disappointed that our first phone call was also our last. We had never exchanged email addresses, so it felt like a violation to write to him at work. That left text message, the bluntest epistolary instrument this side of the tweet. I wrote him a lengthy text in which I tried to be kind, but I sent it after too much silence. He seemed fine, actually. But still–I could have done it sooner and with more grace.
The coda, of course, is that J* dumped me by text message several months later. Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?