Plenty of Fish and Salty Rice

I should explain that before I was married I didn’t date. I had had exactly two boyfriends before I met my ex-husband-to-be and neither of them took me on dates, we just sort of went from being friends to sleeping in each other’s beds. With my ex-husband it was a little different, we went on three dates before I moved in with him. Therefore, as I approach the one-year mark of being a born-again single woman, I find myself actually dating for the first time …and really sucking at it. However, as a dear friend once told me: you only learn how to make good rice by putting first not enough salt and then too much, but eventually, you turn it into something edible.

My first failed attempt post-divorce should’ve been indicative of the trouble that lay ahead, but I missed the warning signs and nose-dived quickly in a flurry of poorly thought-out choices. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse and absurdly, the obvious choice was to turn to online dating, an idea I have frowned upon for at least a decade. Literally overnight, all of these men were paying attention to me (at least in the virtual sense) and that’s when I realized whose infamous box I had just opened. I am far too nice, trusting, and self-revealing for the competitive, cutthroat, sell-you-what-you-want-to-buy world of online dating but here goes…

Date 1.1 (½)

Being nice is what landed me my first date, whom I knew from his profile and brief messages as someone I wasn’t likely to be interested in. I thought I should give him a chance anyway in the spirit of good sportsmanship or something.  But technically, he didn’t show up for our first date and our actual first date was “to make it up to me.” I am fairly sure that flowers are involved in “making it up to me” but in this case, they weren’t. We met at the restaurant, both of us running late, and waited to be seated. While we were waiting, I was talking because I was nervous. He just stared at me, and I kept thinking: Why is he staring at me? Say something!

We sit down at the table. More staring. Asking me questions and more staring. Blankly. Staring. We order. The waitress asks him the litany of questions about toast, home fries, etc and he stares. She brings my coffee. Thank god I have coffee. Now I stare, down at my coffee, wondering how I can escape politely, wondering why I insist on doing things politely, wondering if my friend who said he would rescue me actually would. I’m still talking but minimally, retreating into myself as I ponder how badly I want breakfast. Coffee. Yah, maybe just coffee. Now his hand is resting on top of my hand and every cell in my body is screaming Why is he touching me?! and I hear his words: “Before we go any further…” and I look up as if I have been in a tunnel, coming back from that internal contemplation to the noisy world, the familiar clatter of breakfast, his hand unfamiliar, touching me. “… I am a little bit hard of hearing.” Relieved for a moment, I look at his face. “… and your voice is really quiet, so I can hear the guy behind me, but I can’t hear you.” he concludes. “Oh, okay, I’ll try to speak louder.” I answer, but immediately I realize that I don’t want to speak louder. I like talking at this volume. I don’t want to yell across the table to be heard. The irony of not being “heard” does not escape me even in the moment, but mostly I am aware that his hand is still on top of mine, and I don’t want it to be. I didn’t invite it there. I look at it. Finally, it moves away, back to his side of the table.

I try to ask him questions, but his answers, when they do not shock me with their insolence, bore me with their lack of authenticity. It was as if nothing difficult had ever happened to him, but I knew that couldn’t be true, so why wasn’t he more real? more interesting? The restaurant was not conducive to quality conversation among barely acquaintances. I noted that despite being a favorite place to eat, for the future it was not really a very good first date venue.

Then the check came. Oh blessed opportunity to leave…

It sat almost midtable, slightly closer to him, face down. The waitress announced its arrival in the same way she always does: “Here’s the bill, but no hurry on this.” He had to have known it was there, but he made no move toward it. We were both done eating. I stared pointedly at the paper. No movement. I stared at the emptiness of my coffee cup. He was asking me mundane questions that I was answering dutifully, but after repeating myself for the fourth and consecutively loudest time, so that the people eating on the other side of the restaurant knew my response, I decided I needed to go to the bathroom. Annoyed at this point by the bill resting serenely by his elbow, I asked him if he’d like to split it. He said he would get it, so I went to the bathroom.

When I returned, there was tip money on the table, and I was finally free to leave and for some inexplicable reason, I suggested we go for a walk in the park. I guess I was hoping that we could at least have a conversation without yelling. Instead it seems he was just getting warmed up because our walk in the beautiful and blissfully quiet park constituted a monologue of football games and stories about hanging out with friends. Including this one time when he got blackout drunk. He described it in excruciating detail, failing to ever make a point with the end of the story or connect it to what we were talking about initially (i.e. the revival of downtown businesses in the last decade, you can guess who started that topic). After nodding and smiling until my little head felt as if it might just roll off into the falls of Maritime Heritage Park, I made some polite indications that we should head back to our cars. After almost leading me directly through the middle of a cluster of rowdy and ripe smelling park “campers,” I decided that clearly despite having lived here all his life, this was not a job he was capable of handling, so I led us back safely to my car and said goodbye.

He gave me a hug and tried to kiss me which seemed preposterous given how strongly I was putting off the I don’t want you to kiss me vibe. He got a mouthful of my hair, and I tentatively agreed that maybe we could see each other again. Even this was unfair because I knew right then that I definitely did not want to see him again, but I didn’t know how to say that, and I didn’t want to spend any more time together in order to discuss it. I just wanted to get in my car and go home.

Also –and this is not his fault, but certainly didn’t help the situation- I got a parking ticket, so when he texted me four days later to let me know his schedule, I let him know that I did not feel we connected and did not see the point in having a second date. He responded by saying that I should be sure to give the next guy two chances. I bit my tongue and held back my fingers from reminding him that I had in fact given him two chances, just because he didn’t show up the first time doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. Let it go, I thought, so I did.

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