First Date Friday: General Longing

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We were just two friends having a friendly drink at the bar. At the time, I did not understand what was happening: I was with a man looking to cheat on his wife.

We met at a conference a few weeks prior. I was in my third year on the tenure track and still in that hopeful, terrified stage of a young academic’s career. A dear colleague of mine was very ill. He was a mentor, a kind and encouraging dad-like presence at my job, who also happened to be nationally known in our profession. We knew he was in the hospital, and we were on tenterhooks awaiting word. His prognosis was not good, and yet we were hopeful. No matter how cynical, how cerebral we are, hope stirs us. But often we only realize its supreme presence in our lives when it is finally gone.

I was in the airport waiting to board a flight to a conference when I got the email. My colleague was dead. I was sick at heart and considered hopping in a cab and going home. But then I thought about what he would want for me, about how much he believed in me, and how foolish he would regard any maudlin displays of grief. I got on the plane.

This was one of those conferences that’s by invitation only, there were fancy people there, and it was all paid for–a real boon to the CV for a junior scholar trying to make her name. When my flight landed, there was a guy with a sign with my name on it waiting for me, just like in the movies. We were ferried around like that for a couple of days, staying in a nice hotel, then being driven to various sites for tours and talks and dinners. It was, professionally speaking, a Big Deal.

Unfortunately, I was not in quite the right frame of mind to capitalize on the opportunity, which began with cocktails and dinner in an upscale steakhouse, the kind whose bar is filled with leather chairs with brass studs and oil paintings of cowboys. I am shy and introverted by nature, so a party at which I don’t know anyone is challenging. Make it a party that’s 90 percent men, most of whom are middle-aged or older, in a professional context, and you’ve created my nightmare scenario. Normally I handle such situations by clinging to a wall, carefully observing, and spending lots of time in the ladies’ room. It gets you nothing, but it costs nothing too. In this case, though, I was still in shock over the death of my friend, so I tried a different coping strategy: booze.

I am a lightweight, and it only takes two drinks on an empty stomach to get me drunk. By dinner, I was pretty toasted. I barely spoke to my table mates and focused instead on the many challenges of not looking drunk. I struggled to stab those pesky cherry tomatoes, chasing them across my salad plate with my fork as the guest speaker droned on. The little tabs of butter in foil wrappers likewise befuddled me. It’s a wonder I didn’t require stitches from trying to cut my steak.

Eventually they herded us back onto the shuttle bus for the return to the hotel. I was so eager to leave, and so disinterested in talking to anyone, that I was first to board. I took the front row, the one with an expansive view of the road, and rested my head against the window as the other conference goers filed past the empty seat beside me. Despite myriad alternatives for seating, a man sat down next to me. I stirred from my reverie to acknowledge him.

I don’t recall if there was an opening line, but I do recall a moment where I felt like I was standing at the edge of a canyon and thinking, “What the fuck do I care? I’m gonna see if I can make it across.”

He was an officer in the Air Force, about 50 but fit as hell, handsome, and clean cut, like he had been poured into a mold labeled “ideal white masculinity circa 1960.” He was wearing a natty suit and projecting just the slightest air of nonchalance. I could smell it.

“I’m not really into this conference,” I said. “I feel like I am somewhere else.”

It was an enormously risky thing for me to say, because no one was wearing name tags. I did not know who was who at the conference, meaning I had no awareness of who could help–or jettison–my career. Showing human frailty in that situation was an invitation to judgment, not just of me as an individual but of all women in my field, who labor against the usual offensive stereotype that emotions cloud our reason. And it was personally risky, to display that kind of vulnerability. Rejection, even from a total stranger, only serves to deepen the well of loneliness we are drowning in.

On the other hand, I am also aware that when you are brave enough to reach out, fate often provides a person willing to reach back. I learned that lesson in the most powerful way years before, when I was in graduate school. I was going through a horrific breakup that taxed my ability just to breathe, let alone keep my teaching job. One day I taught my class, returned to my department for office hours, and found my recent ex–the one I had been living with after four years together–and his new girlfriend–the one he had cheated on me with–flirting loudly in another office two doors down. I shut my door so I would not have to hear their voices and promptly dissolved into sobs. Just then, in the midst of a silent hyperventilation, there was a knock at the door. Delusional in thinking that my ex had come to comfort me, I opened it with a rush. Instead, it was one of my undergraduates. He looked shocked to see the person he regarded as his “professor” standing there with hands full of Kleenex and a face wet with tears, smudged mascara, and snot. I was horrified. I tried to compose myself and do the right, professional thing.

“Um, I was just… Come in!” I opened the door wider and stepped aside so he could enter, but he didn’t move. “Please,” I coaxed. “Come in.”

“No,” he said. “It’s…ok.”

There was an awkward pause while he stared at me and I stared at a spot on the wall somewhere behind him. Mortified and beyond recovery, tears continued to pool in my eyes and trickle down my cheeks. I don’t remember much about this kid, other than that he was Joe Average Undergrad, a white, middle class boy of privilege who, from my vantage point at the podium, was no different than the rest of his peers–that is, totally preoccupied with binge-drinking and shirtless volleyball. (This sounds a little like I went to grad school at Top Gun University. I assure you, it was just a regular university.) But then he said something that made me think, “My god, out of all the kids that could have been standing there when I opened this door on my actual, crumbling, embarrassingly broken state of mind, it can NOT be an accident that it was him.”

“No, really, it’s ok,” he explained. “My sister died last year. She had cancer. And it was really hard. Sometimes I would just fall apart…” His voice trailed off. I don’t remember all of what he said, but I know he said, “So I understand,” even though he never asked why I was crying. After what he had been through, he was wise enough to know that it didn’t matter. Before he left, he also said, “Don’t worry, I won’t say anything about this to the other students.” Which was exactly the fear that shook me when I opened the door and saw him standing there–that I would return to a classroom full of sniggers and undermining comments. Such is the workplace dynamic of the young female instructor when students equate authority with age and masculinity. Instead, his words freed me to focus on caring for myself, and they showed me that there are decent people in this world, at precisely the moment when I was losing faith.

Now, a few years later, grieving the death of my colleague and feeling overwhelmed by my precarious professional situation, I was sitting on a bus revealing my vulnerabilities to a total stranger.

“A friend, a colleague of mine, he died today. I found out right before I got on the plane,” I explained. “So I’m not really feeling  present at this thing.” I gave a halfhearted wave at all the suited people nattering enthusiastically behind us.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” he said. “My daughter died last year. I know that feeling, of not really being where you are.”

I offered my condolences and asked what happened. His daughter was in her early twenties when she was killed. She was embarking on a career in the Air Force, following in her father’s footsteps, and learning to fly. There was a training accident, a crash. She survived, but with horrible burns. She spent several months in a burn unit at a VA hospital, disfigured and in agony, alternating between hope for recovery and for relief from the pain of this world. During that time, her dad–this gentle gentleman sitting next to me–took leave from his duties to tend to her. He told me about how close they got, and how it changed him. He was politically and socially conservative, with a strong religious upbringing that he had conferred on his children. His daughter was a good girl, he told me, but she was also an empowered young woman who had boyfriends and adventures that were supposed to be just part of the catalog of experimentation we all acquire before we settle into ourselves. Instead, they were all the life she had to reflect on at the end, and so she shared it with her dad–all of it. He said it was uncomfortable at times, that dads don’t want to know all the risks and sadnesses and illicit triumphs their daughters experience, but that he felt privileged to learn about her true life and to be there with her at its end. She died while he was holding her hand.

He conveyed all of this to me, and I listed intently, over the course of a thirty minute ride back to the hotel. His grief was towering, and mine so small in comparison, just like the kid outside my office back in graduate school. But, just like that kid, he never made me feel diminished, which is the mark of a kind and knowing person. Instead, he made me feel understood. And I think he liked being around me, because I reminded him not so much of his daughter–she was about a decade younger than me when she died–but of the freshness young women exude, like a warm breeze scented with flowers and watermelon. Young women are unaware of it, of course, because they are usually conditioned to criticize and hate themselves. But men–especially older men, especially men with daughters, especially older men with daughters they will never see again–are absolutely intoxicated by it.

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What else can you say, if you see a man you’ve been laughing with wearing this suit with a doofy blue captain’s hat, and he’s standing next to a bus, besides, “Will you be driving?”

The mood lightened as we debarked from the bus back at the hotel, and we settled into a pattern of wry banter that carried us through the rest of the conference. He asked me to join him for a nightcap at the hotel bar, but I demurred. The next morning, he was waiting for me at the door of the bus as we boarded yet again. This time, he was in his Air Force uniform, a blue suit with lots of embellishments that made him look like a 1950s bus driver. I made a joke to that effect, totally unaware that this is a common dig made so frequently at Air Force officers’ expense that it is effectively a cliché. But come on–they really do dress like bus drivers from the 1950s! It wasn’t until later, when we received the program and everyone at the conference was seated in front of their fancy place cards, that I realized he was a general in the United States Air Force, and a multi-star general at that. Looking back, my youth, my vulnerability, and my lack of deference to his rank were probably an alluring combination. (I also had a bangin’ body back then.) But at the time, I was totally oblivious.

The conference finished with little of note, but the general and I did exchange phone numbers to keep in touch. Work periodically brought him to my city, and he said he would give me a call the next time he was in town.

He did, a few weeks later, and we met–just two friends having a friendly drink at a friendly bar. At the time, I did not realize that he wanted to sleep with me, and perhaps neither did he. It was all very chaste. There were some hints in his compliments to me, of course, but most of the evidence lies in the negative space of what didn’t happen after. He never called again.

We met, I thought as friends, and I reiterated that on the date. Over a drink, just one, we chatted about how “totally normal it is,” to have friends of the opposite gender, with a big age difference, who live in different cities and meet quietly from time to time. Totally normal. I was wary enough to ask pointedly about his wife, and he told me a little about her. They sounded like a great couple, I said, and it would be nice to meet her next time.

Had I flirted, had I been silent about his family life, had I put words to the unspoken chemistry between us, I think it might have gone differently. But in terms of what did happen, there was really, truly, nothing untoward. We stood together at the precipice of an affair, and then we went our separate ways.

I suspect he didn’t really know why he was there either, though the crisis within his family had clearly led him to me. I suspect he realized, when he saw me for that second and final time, that we would never quite be able to recapture the simple elegance of our original connection–two strangers sitting quiet and still, alone but together with their grief, while the world spins on and on around them. I suspect he realized, as we talked, that the fresh breezes that waft from young women are best appreciated at a distance.

 

 

 

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First Date Friday: Shaft

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You know the old saw: sometimes you get the elevator, sometimes you get Shaft.

Shaft seemed great on Tinder–funny, smart, attractive in an accessible way. He played guitar in a band, he liked my sassy mouth, and he owned his baldness in his profile pictures. All in all, I was psyched to meet him… not so much because he was relationship material (which I would not recognize if it bit me on the leg), but because I figured he would be fun. New people, new adventures, a reason to put on big-girl clothes and leave the house. I count those as successful relationships too!

We made a plan to meet for dinner in his neighborhood a few days hence. I had bronchitis, though, and was feeling pretty bad as I was getting ready for the date. Just taking a shower had exhausted me. How was I ever going to get myself together, drive to the train, ride the train, walk to the restaurant, be all sparkly for dinner, and then make the long trek home? As I was drip-drying on the toilet trying to muster the strength to straighten my hair (that ship has now sailed), he texted.

“I’m not feeling well,” he wrote. “Can we reschedule?”

Periodically I would cough so hard I would pee myself, which really puts a crimp in your date-night underwear options. I realized that rescheduling was probably best for me too. Plus, I thought he meant it.

I’ve mentioned that I’m pretty dumb about dating. In fact, I’m pretty dumb about people in general, because my cabbage-headed, Midwestern sincerity means that I take it for granted that people are telling me the truth. Turns out, people lie all the time! Despite my hard-nosed cynicism in other areas, this still catches me by surprise.

I took Shaft at his word that he was sick, because, Hey! was sick. It happens. If he didn’t want to meet me, he would just find a nice way to say that, right?

With that sad set of assumptions in mind, I reached out a week later and suggested we try again. I was going to be in the city near his work getting my ‘do done. Maybe we could meet for lunch? He wrote back enthusiastically that he was game for meeting me. I took that to mean, “I would like to meet you.” I left the house correct: ass jeans, no food stains on my sweater, full yet light makeup, and shitty hair–because soon it was going to be Salon Hair. It was on. 

While I was sitting in my stylist’s chair, less than an hour from date-time, Shaft texted to tell me that he had to cancel…

Because he had dropped his wallet down an elevator shaft.

“Gee, that sucks,” I thought, as I texted him with sincere concern.

“God this woman is dumb,” he thought, as he deflected me once again.

He said he didn’t have any means of paying for lunch.

I said it didn’t matter, I’d be happy to spot him.

He said he didn’t want to be “vexed” (full disclosure: I still like that he used that word!) and ruin our date. So he just cancelled it forever instead.

Part of me knew he didn’t want to meet me. But the hopeful part of me would not be silenced. For all the sturm und drang surrounding my fraught relationships, my low self-esteem, and my professional dissatisfaction, I am at times a ridiculously optimistic person. Hope rises in me like a buoy, ever springing back to the surface no matter how hard life tries to push it down. And when my dark humors seek to drown it–you will look foolish, you will be hurt, just let it go–I settle the debate with this:

I have to do me.

And doing me means erring on the side of other people’s sincerity and decency. Someday this annoying tendency is going to pay off.

Someday! But not that particular day.

I wrote Shaft a day or two later, asking whether the wallet ever turned up. I have a hard time crawling into the mind of person who can’t muster a simple sentence like, “You seem like a lovely woman, but I’m not interested in meeting you after all” to extricate himself from an unwanted engagement. What was he thinking when I wrote to him yet again? If I were such a person, someone incapable of being forthright, whose default mode is to dissemble, and who lacks the moral courage to be unliked–even by someone he never planned to see again–I might think that this lady asking about my lost wallet was trolling me.

She wasn’t. Part of me really thought, “Maybe it turned up, and we can go out now.”

He never wrote back.

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First-Date Friday: When Your Date Likes Little Girls

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Can you imagine? Your date states openly and without shame that they like little girls?! So creepy! What must he have thought of me when I said it!

Yeah, that’s right. When said it.

My next Tinder date was with an English professor at a nearby community college. We met on a rainy Sunday afternoon at a coffeeshop that was mutually inconvenient for both of us. He was very, very late due to much of the city being cordoned off for a marathon. I was ok by myself, though, because I had papers to grade, free wireless, and a delicious breakfast sandwich. “Like a pig in shit,” I texted him. “No worries. Take your time.”

I liked him. He was decent looking and fit (a distance, open-water swimmer), he was smart, and he seemed nice. We didn’t have super sparkly chemistry, but talking to him was pleasant enough. He came alive when talking about his daughter, who was 7 or 8 years old.

“Such a fun age,” I said. “What’s she in to?”

It wasn’t the first time I noticed that my interests tend to align with those of girls ages 5 through 15. They like cake, candies, and cookies. I like cake, candy, and cookies! They like animals. I like animals! They like craft projects. I like craft projects! And so on.

I really do like little girls. I used to be one, I had lots of friends who were little girls when I was one, and my 13 year old niece is one of the lights of my life. Also, perhaps unusually for a middle-aged woman with no children, I have friends who are little girls.

My neighborhood is a collection of townhouses with tiny front yards separated by picket and chain-link fences. The neighborhood is gentrifying fast, but it retains some of the ethnic, racial, and economic diversity that I have prized since I bought my house six years ago. I’ve noticed that the white parents maintain chain-of-custody control of their children so tightly, you’d think the kids were FBI evidence in a presidential assassination. In contrast, the black and Latino working-class parents are too tired or too poor to schedule their children’s every waking minute, or perhaps they just believe in letting kids have freedom. There are a lot of unattended kids, mostly girls, playing together on the sidewalks, is what I’m saying. And for about 9 months of the year, I’m out there too, tending to my high-maintenance front yard that is entirely covered with flower beds, a charming patio of Pennsylvania field stone, and a collection of reclaimed sheet-metal lawn ornaments named for various neighbors (Moses the Turtle, Marcos the Squirrel, Hector Bunny, and Iris Byrd Bird). Ever since I moved in, my constant presence in the front yard has drawn the kids’ interest, especially the girls.

“What are you doing?” they would ask me, when I was new to the neighborhood and they were new to gardening. I would explain whatever the day’s project was, and invariably they would ask if they could help. Over the years, they’ve ranged in age from 2 to 13, with the older ones moving on to boys and cheerleading and fussing with their phones. The younger ones find me and my house and the garden fascinating. (I’m glad someone does!) Sometimes I would have five girls “helping” me in a yard that is just 15 feet wide. Watering is always the favorite project, but they have also learned to weed, mulch, fertilize, and plant. Over time, some of them became quite skilled, and the help they provided was real. I keep several pairs of garden gloves of various sizes in my storage bench, and I have extra tools, including the coveted Pink Trowel. I also keep colored chalk on my porch, because if there’s no work to do in the garden, the sidewalks could always use some fresh illustration.

Other shared activities have included long walks with the dog, visits to the playground, gardening in their yards, caroling in the neighborhood, and participation in a PTA cleanup at their school. I have also had the girls over to my house to make Christmas ornaments or work on sewing projects, and for hot chocolate and cookies after fun in the snow. I had an ice cream party once, and I hosted a dance party to celebrate the success of our summer reading club. My favorite thing is when one of the girls reads to me while I pull weeds.

Much of the above list reads like the grooming tactics of a child molester! Well, ok, a child molester who really believes in the importance of reading, sewing, and applied math and science. Why do their parents let them come with me? It blows me away that adults who don’t know my name, don’t have my phone number, and barely speak English are willing to let me walk away with their daughters. But it really is innocent! We all just like to do the same stuff–grow flowers, eat cookies, and sew animal-shaped pillows out of felt. Or, more likely, they like the extra attention, and over the years their interests have been shaped by mine. Either way, we both benefit.

After I told my date that I like little girls, I tried to explain what I meant–that I tend to have a lot in common with them, that I find them interesting as people, that I have friends who are little girls. No matter what I said, though, the hole I was in just seemed to get deeper.

I have talked about my little friends on Facebook and to my adult friends, and it never seems sketchy. But with my date, we just couldn’t escape the shadow cast by his daughter, who seemed far more interesting to me than her dad. Even my tortured explanations left open the possibility that I was using interest in her to ingratiate myself to him or, worse, that I was insinuating myself in his life to get to his daughter.

“Just stop talking,” said the voice in my head.

When we parted, he initiated a goodbye hug and said he would like to see me again. I enthusiastically agreed, mindful not to say anything about his kid. “Whew,” I thought. “A reprieve.”

He must have thought about the date differently in retrospect, though, because he went silent after a couple of texts. Maybe he decided I was a little too into little girls. Another possibility is that, as an academic who tried and failed to get a tenure-track job at a research university, he felt threatened or otherwise put off by my professional success. A third possibility is that he just wasn’t in to me.

It’s too bad. His daughter sounded really cool.

 

First-Date Friday: Libertarian Yoga Instructor

I wouldn’t say there was much online chemistry between Libertarian Yoga Instructor (LYI, so we’ll call him “Lee”) and I. And if I had already known he was a libertarian, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to meet him, because libertarianism is an infantile ideology that usually plagues people who are unaware of their privilege, self-entitled, ignorant of history, devoid of common sense, and really, really dumb.

What I did know about Lee was that he was decent looking, polite, an “advertising executive,” and a yoga instructor–an intriguing combination. His photos included several of him in various advanced yoga poses, demonstrating impressive balance and flexibility. In retrospect, I should have noticed that none of his photos depicted him looking anything like an advertising executive.

We agreed to meet for a late afternoon drink in a trendy neighborhood that would put me in reasonable proximity to my evening plans. In person, he looked like an older, more fragile version of his photos, and he projected an air of sadness, confusion, and eagerness bordering on desperation. After about two minutes, I was crafting my exit strategy.

Lee’s first misstep was telling me, in the opening moments of the date, about his ex-wife. According to him, she had ruined his life for several years and was now in a mental institution, a story he asserted without concern or compassion, as though the “fact” (and who knows if it’s true) of her illness legitimized his victimhood in their marriage.

Over the next hour–it would have been much less if it had not taken over twenty minutes to get the check–I learned a lot of unsavory details, at least from my perspective. While he was in fact a yoga instructor who taught a couple of classes per week on the side, Lee was only an “advertising executive” in the sense that he owned and operated a one-man direct-mail business. I asked for clarification of what that meant, and he explained that he produced advertising materials for businesses and mailed them to people on purchased lists. His business is sending what the rest of us would call “junk mail” and what environmentalists would regard as “a paper holocaust.”

Proudly, Lee told me he had just completed a mailing of one-million postcards for a firm that helps the environment by installing solar panels.

“Um,” I said slowly, “my understanding is that, in your industry, a response rate of 2 percent is regarded as a success.”

“Yes,” he replied, excited at my knowledge of and seeming interest in his work.

“So, basically, you just sent 980,000 pieces of paper to the landfill?”

His face fell, then he got defensive. “Yeah, but they were for solar panels,” he asserted, as though a little renewable energy would balance the ledger of his environmental trespass.

It went on like that, because besides the concrete under the patio table at which we both sat, there was no common ground between us. When I offered that I thought his industry should be regulated to prevent waste, I learned about his antipathy for government regulation and his belief that the “invisible hand” of the market would create social and economic equality and solve environmental problems. I tried to be gentle as I exposed his vast ignorance of history, politics, and The Way Things Work (and by “things,” I mean basic concepts like the merits of public education and pot hole repair), but I suppose I probably just seemed like a bemused, smirking bitch. The conversation went so badly that a guy at the table next to us interjected, “Dude, I agree with you. I’m on your side,” offering solidarity but no argument to counter my positions.

Lee’s worldview was rooted firmly in his own victimhood, that as a white man “the government” and “feminists” had rigged the game to deny him the money and status to which he felt entitled. His endorsement of the Men’s Rights Movement was what ultimately extended the date to an hour. Once I realized that my hasty departure would result in one more bitter dude loudly declaiming to all who would listen that “women pretend to like men in order to get free drinks,” I silently vowed that there was no way in hell I was letting him pick up my check. (Unfortunately, I also had no cash.) Indeed, when the check finally, mercifully, arrived and I insisted on paying it, he claimed that I was the first woman he ever met who wanted to buy her own drink. I paid for his too.

The funny thing is, he still wanted to see me again. In his mind, I guess we were having witty repartee? I was trying to be kind, and perhaps I succeeded. He seemed disappointed when I declined his invitation.

“It was really interesting meeting you, and I appreciate your time, but this is gonna be it for me,” I offered cheerfully. I shook his hand and bolted. When I got back to my car, I tried calling my friend several times until she finally picked up. Then I dissolved into hysterics.

Why? Because I had been assaulted by my neighbor six hours earlier.

To all the people who saw me that day–Lee and the other restaurant patrons and the friends I dined with later that night–I was a normal, cheerful woman having a normal, cheerful day. But for me, I was indulging in an alternate reality where what had just happened to me had not actually happened to me. It makes you wonder: What secret wounds is the stranger hiding? What story are they actually in–yours? The story of drinks on a patio on an unseasonably warm February day? Or the story of fleeing a home that no longer feels safe, because a man with a delusional dream is willing to break the laws of civility and decency–not to mention the regular law–in order to satisfy his interest in you?

I still marvel at how that day unfolded, how it exists on parallel planes, one of trauma and the other as-per-usual. You never know what is really going on with another person, unless they tell you. It’s a good reminder to be compassionate, always, even (especially?) to your ridiculous date.

And Lee was ridiculous, to my great relief. Because I was completely out of my fucking mind that day, and if he had been The One or anything resembling a person I wanted to spend time with, I would have felt terrible about ruining it. But he wasn’t. He couldn’t have been more unpleasant and unsuitable, and for that I am also grateful.

Libertarianism is still dumb.

 

 

 

First-Date Friday: Tom Tiny Horse

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I met Tom Tiny Horse on Tinder around the time J* moved to town. Tom was funny, and we had great chemistry in texts, so I felt bad when I disappeared on him. When my relationship with J* intensified, it seemed appropriate to delete Tinder altogether, but I wrote to Tom before I did so. It was one of those, “I really like you, but I met someone else, bad timing, etc. etc.” messages. I can’t recall if I ever deleted Tinder or not, but not long after I gave Tom the heave-ho, the universe delivered a lesson in karma. J* dumped me like a hot sack of shit, and suddenly I was single again.

I got back in touch with Tom, who was genuinely kind when I explained what had happened. He asked me if I would like to meet, and we continued to discuss and joke and plan over email. It gave me hope in some very dark moments. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed when we actually met, demonstrating yet again that online chemistry is not just elusive but illusory.

The first-date plan was for Tom to take public transportation to my side of town, where we would meet for dinner. He did a little research and suggested a kabob restaurant based on positive online reviews. I had eaten there and knew them to serve delicious food, but I also knew it was not First-Date Friendly: it’s a fluorescently lit carryout favored by cab drivers that serves no alcohol.

I gently offered these details to Tom, but he was undeterred. He must have had something else in mind, because when we finally met, and he realized how unromantic and unforgiving the experience was going to be, he apologized profusely as we fetched our silverware and napkins from the bins on the counter.

Like my previous date with Nose Hair, this date involved a bait-and-switch, but with a twist. From his photos and online profile, I understood Tom Tiny Horse to be tall, athletic, and about my age. In fact, he was of average height for a man (meaning, my height or shorter if I’m in heels, which I was); he was out-of-shape with a belly, sunken chest, and stringy arms; and he looked many years older than I was expecting–more gray hair, less hair overall, and a tired, defeated mien. Tom was ever so slightly more self-aware than Nose Hair, however, because he tried to get out in front of the situation. About an hour before the date started–too late for me to gracefully back out–he texted me a selfie unbidden. He sent it under the guise of providing me with information about what he was wearing. But implicitly, he was also confessing, “This is what I actually look like.”

Later, I did some online sleuthing that enabled me to date the photos he had posted in his profile. They were all 5-8 years old. I was able to narrow it down so specifically because the largest cache of information about him was the publicly available Flickr stream for his wedding. 

Yes, through the miracle of the Interwebs, I got to see about fifty photos from my date’s betrothal to some other lady. He was divorced, and he disclosed that. But still–I think, if you’re going to go online looking for a new partner, perhaps you should Google yourself first to ensure that the first thing your date learns about you is not what kind of flowers your wife carried down the aisle.

Tom’s appearance wasn’t the only problem. As it turns out, our online chemistry did not translate into real life. The conversation was pleasant but not engaging. I felt no attraction. I wanted to go home.

Instead, I drove him to the train station so that he would not have to walk. When we parted, he pecked me lightly on the lips, kind of how you would kiss your sister if you were from one of those families that does that. I let him, because it seemed easier than resisting. But I knew I would never see him again.

All in all, it was a sad night. It was only about a week after J* dumped me, and we had our first “conversation,” via text, on the afternoon of the date. It did not go well. J* misconstrued everything I wrote, then he announced he had to “cut ties” with me altogether. It took me a long time to do my makeup for the date because I couldn’t stop crying.

Tom Tiny Horse had traveled to Iceland with his young daughter, where they visited a farm with miniature horses. On his Tinder profile, there was a photograph, from several years prior, of the two of them petting those horses in a stable. It was an adorable picture of an adorable girl, an adorable, tiny horse, and a strong, handsome man joyfully together in a beautiful place. Until I met Tom, I could see myself in that picture, in that life, which gave me hope at a time when I couldn’t imagine being happy again. Tom probably looked nostalgically at that picture too, for the intervening years had not been kind to him. I realized in retrospect that his wife must have taken it.

First-Date Friday: Drunky Joe

puka

My third Tinder date was Drunky Joe (I don’t remember his real name). I have no recollection of the texting or what caused me to agree to go out with him. I think he had two kids, but that wasn’t it. He had fuzzy hair and a big nose, and I have fuzzy hair and a big nose. Maybe that was it. By this point, I was thinking, “Don’t judge, you never know.” Plus, J* was out of state and possibly never coming back (though he claimed he was going to move to my city in a few months). My friends put my personal life in receivership and told me I could not hitch my wagon to J*’s star and that I had to keep online dating.

I complied, reluctantly.

I met Drunky Joe at an Irish bar roughly near my parents’ house and in the same neighborhood where I was supposed to meet my entire family for my nephew’s birthday. I figured that would be my “automatic out” if things went badly.

I arrived, and because it was mid-afternoon, the bar was empty save for a pair of regulars and Drunky Joe, who had obviously been there for awhile. Before I even sat down, they all demanded that I tell a joke. I am terrible at telling jokes and can only remember one.

“Why did the baby cross the road?” I asked gamely.

“Why?”

“Because it was stapled to the chicken.”

They all laughed, because they were hammered, and I sat down. Drunky Joe was wearing white shorts, a billowy white shirt, boat shoes with no socks, and a puka shell necklace. I assure you, we were not within 100 miles of the ocean, but good for him for owning that look! He seemed pretty drunk and also like he had spent a lot of time on a barstool. He made a lot of jokes about drugs, and he asked point blank if I smoked weed. (Nope. I have my reasons, and they are entertaining. Perhaps I will tell you sometime!)

Around this time, I was trying really hard to be healthier, so I found Drunky Joe’s obsession with substance use and abuse particularly unattractive. Also, his nose wasn’t just big–I have a big nose too, remember!–but rather, in person, it was clear that it was bulbous and red, which is symptomatic of long-term alcohol abuse. Bummer, and especially sad because he had young kids.

The only other things I remember about the date are that he had really skinny legs, as though he never got any exercise; that he really wanted to go to Burning Man, which was cool and transgressive fifteen years ago, but now seems to be the province of wealthy poseurs; and that he wanted to see me again. Um, sure? I only had three online dates under my belt, so I didn’t know how to handle this suggestion gracefully.

We did the awkward hug and parted ways. I went to the restroom to–because I am totally on top of things and awesome, also–finish wrapping my nephew’s birthday gift. This was made especially difficult by the fact that I was tipsy. I’d only had two drinks, but they were on an empty stomach and, well, I can’t hold my liquor. :/

I lingered in the ladies’ room for an eternity, because I was trying to avoid Drunky Joe, who had gone to the men’s room. I worried he was going to want to extend the date by walking me to the birthday party. I was right. He texted me later that he waited for a long time, then figured I must have slipped out ahead of him. NOPE. Just hidin’!

The funniest thing about this date had nothing to do with me hiding in a bathroom, drunk-wrapping my nephew’s birthday present, or Drunky Joe himself. It has to do with how I got there.

The plan was for me to drop my dog off at my parents’ house so my mom could have granddog time, then I would meet “a friend” for a drink, then I would proceed to the birthday party from there, then back to my parents’ to fetch the dog. But as per usual, I was running late late late. I asked Drunky Joe to push the date back 15 minutes, and he agreed. Then I did my makeup in the car while driving to my parents’ house, like the lipstick lady in “Airplane.” I couldn’t stop sweating. Still late! I realized that if I didn’t have to look for parking–if someone could just drop me off–I would only be perhaps ten minutes late past the extension I had arranged with Drunky Joe. In desperation, I called my dad and asked if he could help me out. He’s a sweet, accommodating man, plus he’s retired and doesn’t have enough to do. He agreed. 

If you’re keeping score here, my dad drove me to a Tinder date and dropped me off out front. This is one of those moments when time slows down and you realize that your life is going really well.

I didn’t have the heart to tell my dad I was meeting a stranger from the Internet, so I said it was a blind date. He said nothing. This is why I love my dad: he is the only person in my family who doesn’t judge me (at least, not to my face).

After the date, and after hiding successfully from Drunky Joe, I called J* on my walk to the birthday party. Five minutes on the phone with him was so much better than anything else I had going back then. Eighteen months later, and it probably still is.

Drunky Joe followed up on Tinder, but I didn’t reply. One of us–I can’t remember who–swiped the other into oblivion. Then, less than a year later, he showed up on Tinder again–meaning, he recreated his profile using a different email address, which gives you a second crack at all the ladies who swiped left.

He was still rocking that puka shell necklace.