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: Hefty Hiker

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After the assault by my neighbor and the disastrous encounter with Libertarian Yoga Instructor, I took about a month off from dating. The next guy was very sweet and easy to talk to, but I wasn’t attracted to him. I tried to be, but I wasn’t.

Hefty positioned himself on Tinder as a well-traveled photojournalist, with a sweaty but sexy profile picture that I quickly identified as having been taken in Vietnam. We chatted about travel, taking pictures, and I’m sure other stuff that I can’t remember, and then he asked me to meet him for a drink. Just as with Tom Tiny Horse, Hefty sent me a picture en route to the date, in this case a selfie he took in the car. He was much heavier than his profile pictures, his hair was thinner, and he was older that I was expecting. I think the Vietnam photo was about five years out of date.

We met at a busy restaurant, ordered drinks, and eventually settled in for dinner at the bar. It was pretty uneventful. I learned that photojournalism was long in the past for him. At present, he managed a hotel restaurant for a nationwide chain, he was starting an import business and had several hundred bottles of fancy olive oil in his living room, and there was a lovely story about a painting his parents had bought that turned out to be valuable. When the check came, he offered to pay it, but I suggested we go Dutch, and he didn’t give me any grief about that. It was clear that he was a nice man.

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The Heisman Trophy

The thing that made the greatest impression on me was the end of the evening. The most awkward part of a first date is the goodbye. Some people never kiss on first dates, some people do, some people hug, some people want no physical contact, and of course someone has to initiate, but no one wants to get the Heisman. I’m up for pretty much anything if the chemistry is there, but I wasn’t sure how I felt about him. Plus, I was still squicky about strangers touching me in the wake of the thing with my neighbor. I was apprehensive that Hefty might make a move in the parking lot, and I would have to rebuff him. Instead, he walked with me until we got to his car, where he said, “This is me.” He did not offer to walk me to my car, which was a relief. And, he found a charming way to call attention to the awkwardness of first date goodnights, then he concluded by saying something like, “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable by going in for a hug, so I just want you to know that I had a great time and would like to see you again.” I thanked him and offered him a fist bump.

There was a second date a few weeks later, not so much because I was eager to see him again, but because I liked him well enough and wanted to see if I could be attracted to him. On the first date, we had met in a dimly lit restaurant bar and immediately sat down. He kept his leather jacket on the whole time, so I couldn’t tell how big a person he was. I don’t demand absolute fitness in a partner, and am rather zaftig myself. But I am not attracted to very heavy men, and an inability to do fun, outdoorsy things is a real turnoff for me. In retrospect, the second date was kind of a fitness test, and Hefty didn’t do so well.

He told me he liked to hike, and he said he did it often in our area, so we agreed to meet up at a nearby park. Hefty showed up wearing a billowing t-shirt and enormous cargo shorts, which is often the uniform of people who are uncomfortable with their bodies. He was a much bigger guy than I remembered, and it seemed like he might have gained twenty pounds since we first met. He was also wearing hiking boots that looked fresh out of the box. There’s no need for a serious boot like that on local trails, and I was in tennis shoes. I got the impression he had never been hiking before. I also realized, with genuine concern, that I was about to take an obese man on a four-mile walk.

It took a long time. A trail that I usually finish in about an hour took almost three. There was a steep climb down some stairs to the river at the start, but the rest of it was flat–an easy out-and-back. Even so, Hefty struggled the whole time and got very winded. Despite temperatures in the 60s, he was soaked with sweat. I felt bad for him. I worried about him. At the end of the hike, you have to climb back up the stairs, and I was concerned he wouldn’t make it. We had to stop and rest twice. It was nice talking with him during those interludes, and I remember that he was especially kind when I told him about my mom’s illness. But it was also clear that we enjoyed very different levels of activity, that an unhealthy combo of rich food and sedentary dates were in store for me if I continued to see him. There was also the not-small matter of sexual attraction. I could tell he was into me, but I… well, I walked behind him most of the way, and I can still picture his massive calves tapering into those brand new hiking boots. So much person balanced atop those poor little feet!

Hefty was a nice man, and even today I feel bad that basically I didn’t go out with him a third time because of his weight and degree of fitness. I recognize the irony, that I struggle with shame and low self-esteem due to my own weight, yet I pathologize fatness in other people. But I wasn’t physically attracted to him, and I can’t change that. On the other hand, it’s not as though I felt a strong connection with him either, so my reticence wasn’t just due to his size.

Still, I liked him well enough. He was nice to me. And at that time, I really needed someone to be nice to me.

I considered getting in touch with him after a few months, thinking, “Maybe the hike woke him up and he’s lost a bunch of weight since then.” But meeting him on that basis would have been selfish and cruel. I did the fade away instead.

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: Nose Hair

 

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My next Tinder date was a couple of weeks after I broke up with Victor Vegan. This guy is listed in my spreadsheet as “Nose Hair,” which kind of says it all. The date was like a primer for newly singly, middle-aged men entering the dating pool for the first time in years–on what not to do.

Case in point: don’t leave the house if your nose looks like there’s a tiny mouse inside sweeping with a push broom!

Because, chances are, the woman you are meeting is wearing something new that was chosen to flatter her assets, suggest sexual availability–but not too much sexual availability–yet allow her to walk, sit, and eat in reasonable comfort; underwear carefully selected for color (so it doesn’t show under her clothes), sexiness and flattery of fit (in case things go well!), and elastic concealment; a bra chosen for all of the above but also boob engineering;  shoes carefully selected for style and practicality, so that if the date goes long, she can still be the game girl who’s ready for anything; a purse with tools for every contingency (lip dryness, skin dryness, eye dryness, hair flatness, spinach in the teeth, shine on the nose, runny nose, hang nail, heel blister, sunshine, rain, mortar attack, flat tire, etc.); and, if it’s winter time, outerwear that says, “I’m attractive and prepared, but not too prepared, because this is a restaurant, and even if there’s a blizzard outside, I am socially obligated not to dress for it.” And then there’s her grooming, which likely started days in advance with a mani-pedi and a cut and color, then progressed over the 90-120 minutes prior to departure, as every leg hair, pubic hair, head hair, eyebrow hair, and eyelash was carefully shaved, plucked, or pressed into place.

She did all this for you, or at least for herself, so that she could exude confidence when she met you. The least you could do is trim the goddamn booger bush hanging from your nose.

This guy was the first of many I met online who grossly misrepresented his appearance in his profile pictures. Nose Hair’s pictures were real, to be sure, but after meeting him, it became apparent that he had erred dramatically on the side of height, handsomeness, and youth. Each picture was either ten years old, taken from an obfuscating angle, filtered or photoshopped to make him appear younger, or some combination of the three. When I walked into the Starbucks to meet him, I would not have recognized him if he hadn’t called my name. 

He was ten years older than his pictures suggested and at least five years older than he claimed in age. In the pictures, he still had a full head of hair, but in reality, all of it was in the wrong places: the thatch protruding exuberantly from his nostrils, but also the wiry antennae extending from his ears, and a meticulous combover declaring his undying allegiance to the past. And, despite a reported height of 5’10”, my 68 inches towered over him in walking shoes.

Let’s unpack this for a moment. Did he think I wouldn’t notice?! Men do this because they are betting that women will be too polite to say, two seconds after meeting them, “You don’t look anything like what I was expecting. I’m leaving.” He was essentially backing me into a corner, forcing me to choose between spending time with a man I didn’t agree to meet or behaving like a rabid bitch. And what did he think would happen?! It’s a special kind of confidence to assume, despite having duped a woman into meeting you, that your wit and charm will win her over.

We got our coffees and set out for a loop through a nearby public park. An innocent query about how long he had been on Tinder led, within the first quarter-mile, to a lengthy monologue about his ex-wife. I am kind, so I listened, normalized his feelings, and asked followup questions, rather like I was trained to do when working as a crisis hotline volunteer back in college. The conversation was very one-sided, with him asking almost nothing about me. But I learned a lot about this woman that I didn’t want to know. And by extension, I learned a good bit about him.

According to Nose Hair, the relationship soured years before the divorce, and the ex-wife just parked herself on a couch, taking no role in raising their children, contributing nothing to the household financially or otherwise, and letting herself go physically. According to his version of events, she was an awful, awful, terrible woman with serious mental illness, and he bore no responsibility for the failure of their marriage.

Sure.

I started looking for a bailout after a polite half-hour, but we were too far into the walk. Fifteen minutes later, we neared a subway stop, so I slowed my pace and started to interject. It could not have gone more awkwardly. He went in for a hug, but I blocked and offered my hand. Undeterred, he asked me to join him for lunch. I declined.

I figured it was better to be honest: “I enjoyed meeting you, but I don’t think we’re a match. I wish you the best.”

He looked crestfallen.

I guess he went home and decided I was an approachable resource who could help him improve his chances with other women. A few hours later, he texted me through Tinder.

“You are exactly the kind of woman I want,” he wrote. “Tell me how to get an attractive, professional woman like you.”

You are exactly the kind of woman I want. It sounded like a compliment, but it didn’t feel like one. I am a person, not a type. Women are not interchangeable. And he had made very little effort to learn what was special about me. He just wanted someone who looked a certain way, had a certain profile, that affirmed what he wanted to believe about himself: that he’s the kind of guy who can “get”  a woman other men might desire.

Tell me how to get an attractive, professional woman like you. The entitlement embedded within this request still galls me. He made no apology about it or indicated any awareness that he might be infringing on my time or encroaching on my privacy. And he was oblivious to the fact that I had also been on an unsuccessful first date that day. I too had made myself vulnerable by submitting to the unknown. I too had put my best foot forward, tending to every detail of my person so that I would be appealing to him. Ok, so maybe we didn’t have that in common. But I too had been hoping not just for the best, but for a dream to come true. And I too was disappointed by how it turned out. None of that seemed to penetrate his consciousness.

No, he just wanted tips on how he could improve his chances. Like it was a game. Like it was sport. Like he was fishing, and I was a talking fish, who could disclose the secrets of the bait.

Entitled. Insensitive. Oblivious. After fifteen years of that, who could blame a woman who put on weight and let herself get swallowed by the couch?

I swiped left without reply and thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t her. There are worse fates than being single.

First-Date Friday: Victor Vegan

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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?