“Has anyone ever brought me a gift or flowers on a first date?” I wondered, driving slowly through quaint downtown Bend, Oregon, careful to dodge the pedestrians who often crossed the street willy-nilly. “Do people even do that anymore?”
Making a mental note to survey my girlfriends, my mind drifted to the previous night’s date…
“Hi Paul!” I greeted with a wide grin.
Paul was ten minutes late, a bootleg version of his Hinge profile photos, and unsmiling.
“Hey,” he replied, not making eye contact.
We sat at a picnic table in one of my favorite food truck lots and, sensing imminent disaster, I blurted, “Should we get a drink?”
“Okay,” he agreed, his face unreadable.
“Have you been here before?” I questioned while Paul stared at the beer menu.
“Yeah,” he deadpanned. “Like a year ago.”
“I’m gonna grab something from the cooler,” I said, walking away to procure a can a.k.a. half bottle of sparkling wine, which apparently I was going to need to shotgun in order to survive the next hour.
When we sat back down, I immediately took charge of the First Date Starter Kit questions: work, hobbies, family. With each query, I got a one line reply with zero return questioning.
Twenty minutes in, I decided to see what would happen if I stopped talking. Paul stared at the ceiling.
“So do you live with roommates, or…?” I casually began again. I’d learned that that was the most tactful way to ask about a first date’s living situation. Especially one in his 20s. (Hey. I’m open-minded.)
“I moved back in with my parents to save money,” he replied and I kept my expression neutral.
“Smart,” I answered. “Houses are so expensive here.” I paused. “I saw on your profile you like Harry Potter. I LOVE Harry Potter. I saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on Broadway last December and it was the best show I’ve ever seen!”
“I’ll have to check it out,” he replied in monotone.
‘Check it out’? In central Oregon? Does he not understand where Broadway is?
After ten more minutes, I surrendered and pulled out the Ace I’d tucked in my back pocket: A subject I had no interest in, but suspected would light him up.
“So tell me more about motocross! Is it moto-cross, without an ‘r’ in the middle?”
“Yeah, mo-to-cross,” he replied. I couldn’t tell if any enthusiasm was building.
“That trips up my brain! Tell me everything; I know nothing about it.”
“Well,” he began, shifting in his seat and staring over my left shoulder. “It’s on a closed course, and…well. Um. Yeah. I don’t know. I guess it’s hard to explain.”
“Allllll right everybody!” a booming voice announced from the back of the room. “Trivia is just about to begin so make sure you submit your team name!”
“Yikes,” I grimaced at the volume, but then immediately sensed a golden opportunity. “Gosh, I think it’s going to be too loud to talk now. I’m sorry I had no idea they had trivia here! You finished your beer so we should probably call it, huh?”
Paul moved his head in a way that was neither a nod nor a shake. I stood up, chugging my wine. I didn’t even care that I’d have to sacrifice more than half the can by leaving 25 minutes into the date.
As we walked outside, I quickly turned the opposite direction while calling out, “Thanks for coming out tonight!” I made a beeline for my car, relieved he didn’t suggest we go anywhere else. I instantly dialed a friend’s number.
“Holy forking shirtballs.”
I shuddered. I was now two minutes away from my current destination, on yet another Hinge date. After recently dipping a toe back into central Oregon’s shallow dating pool following a six month hiatus, I was somehow still feeling optimistic about the night.
Tonight’s date, Henry, seemed to tick all of The Jules Boxes and then some: My age, liberal, vaccinated, didn’t want kids, active, smart, social, good job, lived alone, dog owner – and “98%” vegan. On the voice recording accompanying his profile (Hinge lets you add audio and video), he sounded gently masculine, thoughtful, and eloquent. In the few messages we’d exchanged, his responses had been fun and sincere. When I’d mentioned seeing local live music that week, he’d looked up the musician and then sent YouTube clips of other songs he’d thought I’d like based on my taste.
When I walked inside the wine bar, I was sure he’d already be there. Instead, he wound up being a few minutes late and a knot in my stomach began to form. Maybe I was wrong… Three minutes past our meeting time, I looked to my left and saw a well-dressed man walking towards me.
Carrying a bouquet of long-stemmed roses.
“Hi Henry! Are you a hugger?” I said, walking towards him and going in for one.
“Hi Jules! I am!” he said, wrapping his arms around me. He was solid, and at 5’11”, a few inches taller than me. He didn’t even lie about his height!
“Thank you SO much!” I exclaimed, taking the roses and admiring them. I felt several sets of eyes on us as we walked back to our table. “They’re gorgeous!” I put them to my nose. “And they smell amazing!”
“There’s 11, because you said 11 was your favorite number,” Henry explained, taking his coat off and draping it over the back of his chair. I instantly noticed his shirt.
‘No one dresses like a grown-up here,’ I had lamented to friends a week earlier. ‘Like what ever happened to a nice button down shirt?’
Henry’s button down shirt was impeccably tailored, pressed, and tucked in; white, with tiny blue stripes. You could tell he worked out by the way it hugged his torso. My stomach started to flutter. Was I prepared for an actual date? With a fully adulting human male?
This was a first.
“So how’s your day going?” Henry asked.
The conversation flowed from there, though I occasionally tripped over my words.
“Oh no no, you go,” he said every time we spoke at the same time.
Henry never interrupted, asked questions, listened, responded appropriately, and there was never a lull in conversation. He didn’t even bring up his time in a mental institution, his alien blood type, or his shotgun collection. I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone.
“I don’t understand why people would put up a misleading photo,” he said at one point, when the inevitable ‘online dating’ topic arose. “You look exactly like your photos.” He smiled, clearly giving his approval.
“I also don’t understand when people roll into a first date like they can barely bother to be there,” I replied. “I feel like you have to treat every first date like it’s special.”
“Because you never know!” we both said at the same time.
When the date ended a few hours later, Henry walked me to my car and gave a solid hug goodbye.
“I’d love to do this again sometime.”
“Me too!” I answered.
“Send me your number through the app, if that’s okay?”
Shortly after I’d gotten home, Henry’s first text arrived.
“Such a wonderful evening! I wish it would have gone longer!”
After a few more exchanges, he said, “I have to say this was an awesome first date. So, I’m pretty much free anytime to see you again so whatever date works for you, I’m totally available.”
Single men of the world? I hope you’re taking notes.