There are times when you feel suddenly clumsier, where the parts of your life you’ve always felt confident in go uneven under your feet. These are growing times. In the last few weeks, I’ve had a string of physical mishaps that are not much to cry over individually, but the cumulative effect has left me a mess. I don’t trust my judgement or my body, and it honestly feels like anything could happen, which makes dates with strangers more nerve wracking than before. I limped up the subway stairs to my 6th date of 24, scraped and bruised from a bunch of random injuries, my shoulders chafing from a sunburn, and staring at a butt.
It was a very nice butt, and it took me a moment to realize I was seeing more of it then I should be. Fashion is confusing. By now, I’d walked behind this butt for quite sometime without mentioning it to the butt owner, which made it extra weird to tap her on the shoulder and say, “Your skirt is hitched up under your bag.” She blushed and thanked me, and I felt weirdly embarrassed by her embarrassment.
The rain had just stopped and the sun was setting. A beautiful rainbow spread across the rosy sky, so I turned away from her as though utterly entranced and stepped immediately into a puddle, completely soaking my left shoe and pant leg. Of course.
There’s this very terrible song out called “Digital Love.” If you’ve never heard it, don’t look it up. But the chorus contains the phrase “I’d swipe right for you.” It’s so bizarre that we’re trying to inject romance into dating apps, but the temptation to search for signs that makes an encounter mean more is strong. Can we turn matching on an app into something with the same level of significance as eyes meeting across a crowded room? I wanted to read the rainbow as a sign that I was about to go on a good date, but the puddle felt more telling.
This date did seem like he would be more decent than the usual dude I can convince to meet me off a right swipe. He picked the place, he accommodated my schedule, and he politely offered his number, saying I should only use it if I felt “comfortable.” I hate giving my numbers to guys, and for a lot of them that’s a deal breaker. The last time I decided to relax my guard, I ended up having to block someone, so I appreciated this thoughtfulness.
He’d picked a bar he had never been to, not realizing that “Bushwick Country Club” was an ironic name for what is actually a total shit hole. I don’t mind shit holes, but I got there first and it was loud and crowded and humid and I immediately wanted to leave. My date arrived, looking nervous and wearing his Nice Shirt. He wanted to buy me a drink, but I refused. The ATM wasn’t working so I took charge and nearly pushed over a child in my hurry to guide us out.
What can I say about this date? That he was nice? He was. He was smart, and had an interesting job that is kind of in my field. We ended up in an air conditioned spot that was completely empty, and sat in a big booth. It turned out he was sober, and we were meeting on the eve of his 11th AA anniversary. That’s fine with me, but as he talked about how hard it can be to socialize without alcohol it sent me into a tailspin.
I don’t usually have more than two drinks on a date, but that’s because I haven’t gone out with someone I want to spend more time than that with. Talking about alcoholism reminded of the last person I seriously dated, who was also an alcoholic, but one who never tried to get sober. He lived a very functional life—except for when he would disappear for days at a time or unexpectedly go overboard in public. He usually just seemed like the most gregarious, fun person at a party, but occasionally the illusion would fall apart and I’d have to literally hold him up as we walked down the street. When we broke up, I told him that his primary relationship was with drinking. He told me every woman he’d ever been with had said the same thing. Then he told me it was actually me who was an alcoholic.
That accusation stuck with me. My life at the time, and for awhile after, was extremely depressing and I self-medicated by drinking. I’m not the same person anymore. Few people are, after six years. But we always bring the past with us. One of the most exhausting things about meeting new people is introducing them to your past, the shadows of your history that make you who you are.
I also struggle with sharing the good stuff—my sense of humor, what I do for fun, what my interests are. I noticed by reluctance to really share myself, again, even with someone pretty nice, and wondered, “Am I boring as hell?” I used to be fun. Too fun. I was operating myself like a marionette, from a distance, and couldn’t seem to get any closer to the person across from me. The hardest thing about dating isn’t hanging out with people who are obnoxious, or stupid, or even creepy. It’s figuring out how to present yourself in a way that’s true to who you actually are. It makes you vulnerable and it also demands that you know who you are.
What’s kind of fucked up is that after an hour and a half of me talking to him like a robot, he still wanted to go on a second date! I did not, but I paid for his sodas and limped back out into the night.