I clicked on the Hinge dating app message. It was always nice to see some text on the screen instead of a lazy ‘like’ with no accompanying message.
Greg’s profile photo was slightly menacing -dark beard, unsmiling, his face filling the entire frame- but I was intrigued by his comment on my voice prompt. (Hinge allows us hopeless romantics gluttons for punishment to add video and voice memos to our profiles.) I quickly scrolled his profile and saw that he ticked all of my major boxes: non-smoker, vaxxed, liberal, didn’t appear to live in a van. He had also included a voice prompt and when I clicked on it, I heard him say, “You can tell a lot by a person’s voice. In fact, 90% of your connection to someone is through their voice.”
“So does this mean I’m already 90% golden and I can coast from here?” I replied.
Witty banter immediately ensued.
“Oh wait, you like to meet up,” Greg wrote after a couple of back-and-forth messages.
I decided to shuffle a few plans that evening so I could reply, “Yes! The snag is that I’m only free tonight or after next Monday.”
“I could meet tonight at 7:30,” he immediately responded, offering up a couple of locations.
We solidified the plan and exchanged a few more funny messages throughout the day. When I walked into the bar just after 7:30, I felt flushed from the bitter cold central Oregon air, my hands shoved deeply into my trusty brown puffy jacket.
I immediately spotted Greg at a large table and he greeted me with a prolonged handshake and big smile. He looked like a stand-up guy with his act together and I inwardly unclenched. He was a bundle of nerves, but in a charming way – the kind of person who has a million things to say when they’re excited.
Before we got too far into our frenetic conversation, Greg popped up.
“I ordered at the bar, but let me make sure someone is coming over to the table.”
Point one for Greg, I noted. My most recent first date had been sitting with a drink when I’d arrived and didn’t offer to get me anything, which always gives me pause.
“So you’re a writer?” Greg asked after confirming we had a waitress.
Greg offered up lots of questions and though I never quite got to finish any train of thought before he bounced to something else, I was flattered by his interest.
“I’m a lightweight,” he said when ordering his second hot toddy. “I usually only have two drinks.”
“I’m German and Irish. And I don’t have kids [like you]. Don’t try to keep up with me,” I teased.
I could tell he was feeling a little loose about an hour into the date and I wondered if things would get sloppy.
“Do you have any celebrity stories?” he asked and we both launched into our best tales.
“I usually don’t tell the story like this,” he said while I was on the edge of my seat. “You must bring out the writer in me!” He had built his story so that I was left guessing the celebrity the entire time. I loved it.
Throughout the night he dropped dozens of compliments and I wondered if there could be any romantic spark. I knew I liked him a lot and could definitely see us having fun as friends.
Two hours into the date, I got up to use the bathroom and when I came back, I noticed how buzzed Greg was and knew I was ready to go home.
“It’s so freezing in here,” I said and we both pulled on our jackets.
“We could go have another drink back at my place,” Greg offered with a grin.
My heart sank and emotion took the wheel.
“Noooo, Greg,” I moaned.
“It’s totally innocent! We live in the same neighborhood!” he said, still smiling, trying to warm me back up. “Damn. I can see you’ve put up a wall now.”
“This keeps happening!” I explained, only partially teasing. “Every first date, guys keep asking me to come home with them. It’s not cool.”
He continued back pedaling and I continued spiraling, not having the energy to recover gracefully and smooth things over. I just wanted to go home. I was exhausted from the endless dating rollercoaster: the adrenaline rush of meeting a perfect stranger, the ensuing trickles of hope, nightmares, occasional magic and inevitable let down.
“I was married for 20 years; I understand women,” Greg said in a last ditch effort to win me over. “Like I know you took your purse to the bathroom because you have your period.”
I blinked. After a long beat, I blurted,
“I’m really uncomfortable and I’m gonna go.”
“…Okay,” I heard Greg reply, flabbergasted, as he watched me bolt into the frigid night.
As soon as the cold air hit my cheeks, I felt a flood of relief. …Immediately followed by shame and regret. Did I just completely overreact? Am I going to be “the crazy blonde” he tells his friends about? Should I apologize? This was a small town and we were practically neighbors, after all.
I suddenly realized I had ten minutes to make it to the grocery store before they closed, securing the much-needed lemon I’d forgotten earlier that day.
By the time I got home and opened Hinge to apologize, Greg had unmatched me. When you’re unmatched, you lose all access to your chat history and their profile. The ultimate slap in the face in the online dating world. He had sent his number in the Hinge chat right before we met, but I didn’t save it.
So, “Greg.” If you’re out there, I’m sorry I didn’t handle that more elegantly. My bad. But maybe stick to two hot toddies next time.
My opening line to Kevin on Hinge paid tribute to his profile prompt: “Dating me is like…finding that $5 bill in your jacket from last season.”
I wasn’t sure if I should message him. At 31, he was nine years my junior and his profile featured a series of photos that each looked like a slightly different person. Long hair, short hair. Beard, no beard. Muscular, pudgy. But there was one photo I found irresistible: He was hitchhiking, thumb out, wide smile, holding a sign that read, “Late 4 Summah Skool.” I’d later learn that the photo wasn’t staged and he had in fact had great success hitchhiking all over the country – as long as he held a funny sign.
Even though I’d long sworn off marathon messaging on dating apps (“Let’s skip all the messaging and meet up to see if there’s a genuine connection,” my profile currently reads), we quickly fell headfirst into the kind of dazzling banter I liked to imagine Aaron Sorkin spotting. (“Holy shirtballs, Jules, I’ve been waiting decades to find a writer like you!”)
“My entire being is concentrated on not making typos because I’m a writer and we have a reputation to uphold,” I wrote that night after several glasses of wine.
“My entire being is concentrated on not making typos in fear that a writer will *eviscerate* me,” Kevin replied. “Yes, allow me to flex my associates degree in spelling.”
“If someone ever gave me a degree for spelling, I would propose.”
The teasing went on for hours and I lost track of the amount of times I laughed out loud. He reminded me of my ex-husband’s most attractive qualities. Witty. Masculine. Confident.
“I just want someone who sparkles – like my friends do!” I’d been telling girlfriends over the past few months. After several years of dating off and on in central Oregon, it seemed like I was asking for the moon. “The kind of guy who’s really comfortable in his own skin and treats you like you’re the hottest thing he’s ever seen and knows he’s THE MAN because he gets to be with you.”
Messaging Kevin on Hinge, I began to wonder if he just might fit the bill.
Two days later, we made plans to meet at a dive bar at 4pm, a couple of hours before my friend’s holiday party. Kevin showed up early and secured a booth, his funny messages continuing right up until the moment I walked through the door. My heart pounded. I wondered if, instead of carrying the conversation like I often did on first dates, I might actually have trouble keeping up with this guy.
I spotted him immediately, wearing a worn-out, turquoise shirt and baseball cap. He was slightly taller than me and just as masculine as I had imagined, right down to the beard and rock solid hug.
I sat down and when he smiled, his eyes glowed and my stomach somersaulted. Everything in my body told me that this was going to be a good date. Really good. He stared at me silently for a long moment until I finally said,
“What is it…?”
He grinned and then, in his deep and gravelly voice, said slowly, “You’re a fucking smoke show, Jules.”
I laughed and he reached into his pocket. “I’ve got somethin’ for ya.”
He pulled out a small slip of paper and as soon as I saw it I said, “Well, I guess I have to get down on one knee now.”
“So should we just get all of our red flags out now?” he asked.
“Tit for tat? Let’s do it,” I answered, palms flat on the table, accepting the challenge readily.
“I have no money,” he began and I giggled.
He went on to explain that he was newly single, had a crappy-paying but steady job, and would be traveling for work for six months, starting in April.
“Well if we hit it off, you’ll just have to get a new job,” I said, unfazed. His red flags were no match for our instant chemistry and what I quickly learned was an identical life philosophy.
“I always make decisions based on what will make the best story,” he told me.
“Do you want to come to this holiday party?” I found myself blurting as the clock neared 6pm. “It would make a good story.”
“Do you want me to?”
“It’s going to be a grown-up-y cocktail kind of party,” I cautioned.
“Do you want me to come?” he repeated.
“Do you want to go?” I asked.
“Yes or no, Jules.”
The way he leveled me made my heart flutter. Of course there was only one answer.
We spent nearly the entire party canoodling on the living room couch and ignoring everyone else. Resting a hand between my crossed legs, he confessed that he was dealing with not only a bad break-up, but a tragic family death, his eyes welling with tears.
“We don’t have to talk about this now,” I said gently, my hand on his knee.
“It’s okay,” he said. Later, he would say that he didn’t really talk to anyone -besides his new therapist- about this.
“Can I kiss you?” he asked at the end of the night, long after the party had ended and after another drink back at the dive bar.
Just like the last question he’d asked, the answer was crystal clear.
When I got home around midnight, we texted for hours.
“You’re going to have to give me a minute to believe all of this is real,” I confessed via text. “You just started dating again, but I’ve been at this for years.”
“Tell me how I can help.”
“Just keep touching my butt and complimenting me.”
We hung out again the next night with one of his friends at yet another dive bar.
“I missed you. I’ve been telling my friends about you,” he whispered after I sat down next to him.
When his friend left for the night, he gave us a little smile and thumbs up, clearly approving our undeniable connection.
“I’m all in,” Kevin blurted once it was just the two of us. “But that’s a conversation for another day.”
We were both too exhausted to hang out again the next night, Sunday, and doubt started to creep in when his messages abruptly slowed. Had he changed his mind? Was this real? Were we really a match? Was it moving too quickly? Was I being love bombed?
“Brad and I spent every day together when we first met,” my friend, Amanda, reassured me. “We moved in a few months later and now we’ve been together 17 years!” She was on Team Kevin, or rather, Team Jules Needs a Goddamn Break, and had met Kevin at the holiday party.
Despite the sudden halt in messaging and a couple of short, lackluster phone calls, Kevin came over on Monday night and I greeted him with a kiss, trying to overcome my insecurity. Later, when he asked if I wanted him to sleep over, I said,
“I think we’d need to talk about what that means.”
“I’m the lowest I’ve ever been,” he confided, our limbs intertwined on the couch and my dog nervously panting, wondering who this strange man was. “I do ultimately want a partner, and I think I’m ready for that. I don’t know. One minute I feel one way, the next minute another way. I’m kind of all over the place. I really like you and want to keep hanging out. I can’t promise I won’t go on other dates; I’ve just put myself back out there, but I think you’re great. You’re a catch, Jules. …Does that help?”
Part of me felt relieved by his monologue. It was more tempered and realistic. After all, I was still planning other dates myself – we’d only known each other for four days.
We made out until the wee hours, the chemistry overwhelming. When he left at 2am, though, I was suddenly crying. I knew something was off. The next morning, I Googled “dating a grieving man” and read for two hours. It seemed to explain the hot-and-cold behavior, but I still felt unnerved. His actions were the same kind you see when a guy, well, just isn’t that into you.
“It’s so confusing. I really like him and I haven’t felt chemistry like this in so long,” I sighed, twirling the straw in my vodka tonic, chatting over drinks with a friend.
“Just go with your gut,” she replied. I wanted to feel comforted, but I genuinely wasn’t sure what my gut was telling me.
After distancing himself even more for two days, Kevin asked me to call him that Thursday night, which I did. He didn’t pick up. The next day around noon, my phone rang.
“What’s shakin’ bacon?” he asked in his gruff voice, despite me teasing him that that was a pretty bad nickname for a vegan.
“What’s cookin’ good-lookin’?” I replied, feeling fairly confident that he was going to lockdown some weekend plans and that I was better equipped to navigate his grieving behavior.
“Nothin’ much, just watering plants.”
“Making plans?” I questioned, mishearing him. “That makes my project manager heart flutter.”
“Watering plants,” he repeated.
“What are you up to today?”
“Just getting some work done, then exercising. That’s about it for today,” I answered, my pride not allowing me to initiate any plans. “How about you?”
“Nothin’ much. I got volun-told to bring fish for sushi-making tonight, so I gotta get that together.”
My stomach sank. On our first date, he’d tried to woo me with the promise of a dinner date at his place, making avocado and tofu sushi. “I almost never eat meat,” he had said – music to my ears. Now he was talking about bringing sushi somewhere else? Somewhere I wasn’t invited? Somewhere with another woman…?
“My red flag is my massive jealous streak,” I had told Kevin on our first date. Even though I called it my red flag, I knew a sensitive, loving partner would do everything in his power to make me feel secure. I was beginning to realize what my gut was telling me. Run.
“And you have your work holiday party on Saturday,” I added, trying to play it cool. Would he invite me to that?
“Yeah, I really don’t want to go, but I got talked into it. They want us to dress up, but they don’t pay me enough for that.”
We chatted about his notoriously raucous holiday work party for a minute and then he said,
“So…I need to talk to you about something.”
A pit formed in my stomach and I braced myself, trying to go numb.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” he continued. “And I really don’t think I’m ready for a relationship. I’m leaving [for work] in April and it would just be a waste of time. I know that’s what you’re looking for, and I’ve been trying to figure things out, and I wanted to be upfront.”
“Okay. …Thanks for being upfront,” I said flatly. A waste of time?
“I’d still like to hang out, though. I really like you. But of course that’s up to you.”
I let that hang in the air for a moment before saying quietly, “I think that would be confusing.”
“Okay,” he seemed almost surprised, and maybe disappointed, by my answer. “I hope I didn’t ruin your day.”
Fire flared in my chest. How. Dare. You. I swallowed thickly, willing myself not to cry. I thanked the heavens for instilling me with enough self-worth and stubbornness to recognize this situation for the utter bullshirt that it was – even if my heart was cracking in a few dozen places.
“No,” I said firmly, my mind racing to plot out the rest of the day. 1. Cry. 2. Finish work. 3. Make plans with sparkly friends. You do not have the power to ruin my day, you motherforker.
“I’ll leave the ball in your court. If you decide to text me at any point, it won’t be weird. I would like to hang out. But like I said, I’ll leave the ball in your court.”
“I guess we made a plan after all,” I deadpanned. “…Bye.”
I archived our text message thread, wiped away a few tears, and grabbed my laptop. Better things were waiting for me.
P.S. – I know, I know! I never gave you an update on Mr. Brought Roses to Our First Date. We had a few more very nice dates, he accidentally gave me COVID despite having never touched me, and we’re now friends. I think. I obviously have no idea what I’m doing.
I twisted the last strand of hair around my curling iron, staring into the bathroom mirror. Every time I did my hair, I felt like a teenage boy trying to unclasp a bra.
“Bing!” my phone sounded. I walked the short distance through my bedroom into the living room to check it.
“Hey! I’m so sorry. My roommate is in the hospital.”
Dennis, my 20-something Hinge (first) date for that evening, had just thrown me a curveball.
“Oh no! Are they okay?”
“Yeah, everything is fine. But I’m afraid I won’t make it tonight. I hope you’ll let me make it up to you.”
I chewed the inside of my lip. On the one hand, I wanted to sound supportive. On the other hand… I snapped a selfie and sent it.
“I’m so glad they’re okay! But you’re buying the beers next time because I did my hair and everything.”
“Aw man, you look so pretty. And absolutely.”
A few days later, we made plans to meet at a local food truck lot for happy hour. Once again, I stood in the bathroom curling my hair – one of my least favorite activities, but one that turned my fine, straight hair into something a bit more alluring.
As I got ready to leave, my phone chirped. I looked at the screen and saw a text from Dennis.
“Hey, just got home. Don’t think I’m gonna make it tonight.”
My mouth sagged and tears pricked my eyes.
“Why?” I wrote back after a moment’s hesitation.
“Just not feeling it.”
My stomach fell along with a tear. My mind raced with a thousand things I wanted to say and continued to do so for the next 24 hours. Instead, I decided to say nothing.
“I’m really sorry about last night,” Dennis texted the following morning. I never wrote back.
“Of all my worst dating stories,” I recently told Henry, central Oregon’s last remaining gentleman, “the absolute worst was this guy, about a year ago, who basically stood me up – TWICE. The second time because he ‘just wasn’t feeling it.'”
“You’re kidding,” Henry replied in shock.
“I think it was social anxiety, but still. It REALLY hurt my feelings.”
This week, I received a new Hinge like. It was Dennis. A year after he’d stood me up. I finally seized the opportunity to say what I hadn’t said before.
Maybe I was wrong to lecture him, but I wanted to shake him out of his own self-centeredness. How many times had I rallied to meet a friend or first date so I wouldn’t hurt their feelings? Seeing Dennis on Hinge reminded me of a similar dating story earlier this year with “Craig Who Cancels,” one of the strangest dates I’ve ever had (and you know that’s saying something)…
“I’m actually a stand-up comedian,” Craig explained as we messaged back and forth via Bumble.
“No way!” I replied, gearing up to geek out on our favorite stand-up comics. After a few more messages, I invited him to meet me for Friday happy hour. “I’m going with some girlfriends, but it sounds like you can hold you own.”
“I love working a crowd,” Craig fired back, agreeing to meet me at the brewery at 4pm on Friday.
Around 2pm on Friday, I received a bizarre message:
My girlfriends and I attempted to decipher the confounding note.
“Maybe he has Covid and doesn’t want to say.”
“Maybe he panicked.”
“Maybe he started seeing someone else.”
Disappointed, I wrote Craig off and turned my focus to other activities and matches. A week later, and despite having my phone number, I received a new message from Craig on Bumble saying he had two extra tickets to a comedy show. It wasn’t clear whether he was offering both tickets to me or fishing for a date.
While waiting to see if my friend was available to join us, I switched our conversation back over to text messaging. Which is when things got even more interesting:
When I got to the comedy club, Craig greeted me with a hug. He was more nervous than any date I’d ever met, his voice trembling.
“Whew, I’m really blowing it,” he said, stumbling over the bartender’s name while trying to place our drink order.
Turns out the nerves were date-specific and he was a regular performer at the comedy club. He began introducing me to everyone in the small venue and I sunk inside my cold shoulder sweater.
Because I knew three of them.
Because I’d gone on first dates with them.
“Congratulations on a [recent promotion I saw on a Facebook group we have in common],” I said to Marty, an older guy I’d gone on a walking date with several months earlier (who then ghosted me after I turned down his second-date-booty-call proposition).
“Oh thanks,” he grinned, his overconfidence nearly balancing out Craig’s nervousness. “We went on a date in…December, right?”
My eyes darted over to Craig, whose expression I couldn’t read. “That sounds about right.”
Marty looked at Craig and raised his eyebrows.
“As I recall, I didn’t make it to a second date.”
I raised my eyebrows in return.
“That is correct.”
Unfazed, Marty chatted with Craig for another moment before flitting off to someone else; he was the MC for the night and clearly enjoying his role. For a small local comedy club, the show was surprisingly tolerable. Funny, even.
“I’ll call you,” Craig promised after walking me to my car at the end of the night.
“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.
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.
“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.
“We’re sorting zee last fruits of zee year today, and these, they go together at zee same time.”
The 6-foot-3 French Hemsworth swaggered towards us carrying two bunches of grapes, one white and one red, leisurely popping the small orbs into his mouth.
“It’s our last day of sorting today,” he repeated, casually spitting seeds off to the side.
The three of us stared at him, mouths agape, borderline catatonic. A flash of bright white blinded us when he smiled.
Erin, Babs (mom) and I had been finishing a winery tour in the Willamette Valley when we’d spotted two bald eagles flying overhead.
“Look!” Erin had exclaimed, catching the attention of a tall, brunette Adonis sorting grapes. He’d sauntered over.
“What do you think zey are looking for?” he had asked, his elegant neck craned skyward.
Upon hearing his French accent, Erin hadn’t wasted time in replying, “I think they spotted a tasty treat.”
“Do you agree?”
He had torn his gaze from the sky and laid a set of smoldering eyes on her.
Babs and I had watched the scene unfold in a state of disbelief. Was this a real human? Did men like this exist outside of Hallmark holiday movies? Was he about to tell us he was inheriting the winery from his late uncle and the only thing missing was an awkward blonde to share it with?
“Here, try,” he said, offering us the two bunches of grapes cupped gently in his masculine palm.
After a six month dating hiatus following Cameron Who Cancels and Wasn’t Even Worth Blogging About, I evidently hit my head and decided to fire up Hinge. Again. Living in central Oregon -an island of sorts, surrounded on all sides by forest and desert-y nothingness- I knew I was bound to see some familiar faces. When a cute, new, outdoorsy guy sent a like, I cautiously accepted.
“Hey Jules, how’s your week going?” asked Walter.
Not exactly a panty-dropping opener, but I decided to reply. After a few brief and normal-seeming exchanges, we agreed to meet up the following week after he was done hosting his parents. He was about my age, liberal, had a good job, a dog, and a solid grasp on “you’re” versus “your.” He even picked our meet-up spot instead of punting the decision back to me. What more could a tired, 40-year-old divorcee ask for?
When our 7pm Thursday Date Night arrived, I put on a new cream-colored turtleneck sweater and light wash jeans, arriving a few minutes early.
Jules Schnedeker (b. 1982). Fruitless Effort, 2022. Google Pixel photo on blog.A self-portrait captured before the artist fell into another writer’s block.
Shortly after 7 o’clock, I caught a man waving at me from outside the restaurant. Walter came inside looking frazzled.
“Jules? Hi. I think I left my oven on.”
His eyes held a wild, frantic look.
“Oh no! Okay. Well, you should definitely go check.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course! You don’t want to be worrying about that the whole night! I can go meet you nearby…wherever you live,” I offered, realizing I was about to reveal that I’d already stalked him online and knew his last name and a few other key details.
“Oh, but this place looks so nice,” he lamented, gazing around the restaurant.
“Why don’t I get us a table outside by the fire and you just come back after you check,” I suggested.
Walter looked relieved. “Okay, I live about 10 minutes away. Thank you so much.”
I sat down outside, eager to get a glass of wine. As the minutes ticked by, I started to wonder if I’d just been ditched. Nah. He wouldn’t have bothered to come inside if he was gonna bail. A half an hour later, Walter finally returned. The moment his rear end hit the chair, he popped back up.
“Need anything?” he asked, gesturing towards my half full glass of crappy Prosecco.
“I’m good, thanks,” I said, my brows furrowed. We had a waiter…
He returned a minute later with a glass full of amber liquid. I’d later find out it was a double shot of whiskey, presumably to make it easier to interrogate me calm his nerves.
“So why did you get divorced?” he asked without missing a beat.
“Well,” I began, my Spidey sense tingling. I knew I was talking to a jilted man. “As sad as it is to say, we fell out of love.”
A horrified look crossed his face. “What do you mean?”
“We were 21 when we started dating,” I explained. “People change…?” It felt uncomfortable dissecting a relationship that had ended nearly a decade earlier with a perfect stranger.
“Whose decision was it?” he pressed. Every time I thought the topic was spent, he found another probing question. “Did you go to therapy? How did you know he was unhappy?”
Before long, my insides screamed, I don’t want to be here! Walter later revealed that he’d had an engagement called off earlier this year, confirming my suspicions.
“I feel like I’m off my game,” I admitted about an hour into the date as I continued to falter from his inquisition.
Rather than offer reassurance, he replied, “Why?”
“The conversation got a little…intense.”
“I like to go deep,” he said and I fought the urge to roll my eyes. “You’re doing better than the one other date I’ve had here. She cried for most of it.”
Why am I not surprised?
“Yeah,” he went on. “I asked about her dating history, and she said she keeps getting used by men who wind up being married and just use her for sex because she’s ‘so good in bed.’ The only other woman I met since I moved here [earlier this year] was from Salem [three hours west]. She came to visit for the weekend and I had to work for part of it. Instead of exploring, she just sat in my living room the entire time. I was attracted to her, but that was such a turn-off.”
I nodded, my inner voice growing louder. I don’t want to be here!
“A sense of humor is the most important thing,” he repeated several times throughout the night while not actually saying anything funny. “And how you reacted to the oven situation was a good test; you were really nice about it.”
Notoriously bad at exiting, the date lasted two and a half hours – which probably meant I passed another test. When we asked for the bill, the waiter automatically brought two separate checks. At least someone read the room tonight. I slowly took mine while Walter made zero attempt to intercept.
“Well,” I said, standing up. “Thanks for having your shit together.” It was the nicest thing I could conjure.
“Thanks for not crying,” he replied, inspiring my first chuckle of the night.
The next day Walter messaged me through Hinge, saying he’d had a good time. “It was nice meeting you,” I replied noncommittally. He then asked “what I was up to” that weekend without making it clear whether or not he was asking me out. I never responded.
When friends asked how it went, I told them the truth.
“The only thing turned on that night was his oven.”
“The Starfish poem brought you to me. And I think there’s something really important to that. This week, I want you to remember: If nothing matters, it’s just as likely that everything matters.”
The blinds were drawn over the huge corner windows, but even in winter, the high desert sun made the room feel bright and warm. Several starfish paintings dotted the light blue walls.
I nodded, tears pooling in my eyes. I looked at the ceiling to try to keep them from spilling over. The inside of my mask was already wet with an hour’s worth of feelings.
My therapist, Denise, got up from her chair and walked over to her computer, which sat atop a large wooden desk in the far right corner. Our meeting that day had been unlike previous ones. Instead of regaling her with my ridiculous dating stories, as I’d done during the previous two sessions, I had finally caved.
“Sometimes I just don’t see the point of any of it,” I had confessed. “Sometimes I just don’t want to be here anymore.”
Denise promised she would push me harder in future sessions so I wouldn’t avoid the most painful feelings and confessions. I carried her parting words with me as I faced another long week of uncertainty and self-doubt.
Over the past few months, I’d thrown myself back into the dating ring with a fervor usually reserved for boy bands and baked goods. The experiences ranged from barely noteworthy to fascinating to gut wrenching, and my self-esteem wavered at every turn.
Will I ever find my person? I wondered day in and day out. I couldn’t possibly put forth more effort. Between scouting out potential matches on dating apps to getting gussied up every other night to actually going on dates, it was as though I’d taken on another full-time job. Surely it was bound to pay off.
As the weeks passed and nothing quite took off, I found myself returning to a well worn narrative: I’m not good enough. I’m too old. Too fat. Too broken. No one wants me. This is impossible. After my divorce and two soul destroying break-ups in 2014, this belief had taken a new, more powerful hold on my heart, and even years later, I struggled to break free of it.
Following my latest therapy session, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. I considered Denise’s parting words, which I’d begun to apply to everything abstract: If you think [x extreme belief] is true, then you have to give equal weight to the possibility that [y exact opposite belief] is true.
If no one wants me, then it’s equally possible that everyone wants me.
I chuckled, and from this new objective standpoint, I reviewed the past three months. There was the adorable Canadian. The 20-something “Darren Criss.” The rock climber. 6-foot-4-four “Brody Jenner.” The engineer. The guitarist. The professor. One of them even gave me a [much-needed] vacuum.
In my mind, they had all been out of my league. And they liked me! They wanted me! By and large, I had turned them down because we just weren’t a good match. As much as I hated the need for external validation, I couldn’t help but marvel at this new, shiny evidence.
For the first time, I saw just how much credence I’d given to untruths. For so many years, I’d taken myself out of the Love Game because I was absolutely and utterly convinced that anyone worth dating would never want to date me.
“How does, ‘I am worthy of love’ sound?” Denise had asked back in October, during one of our initial therapy sessions. She had been helping me uncover my core issue, which appeared to be rooted in worthiness.
I nodded and she handed me a contraption that I jokingly referred to as The Ovaries. One of Denise’s methods was EDMR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), something I’d never heard of or tried before until coming to see her. Supposedly by holding these small, vibrating disks while thinking of a triggering memory and repeating my new mantra, “I am worthy of love,” I could begin to rewire my brain.
“I’m open to trying anything,” I had assured Denise when we’d first met. Aside from traditional talk therapy, over the years I’d experimented with everything from hypnosis to reiki healing to past life regressions.
As I felt the plastic disks gently vibrate in my palms, tears rolled down my cheeks. I thought of chubby, smart, stubborn grade school Jules, bullied by the girls who used to be her best friends. I am worthy of love. The family and friends who shunned me after my divorce. I am worthy of love. The grown women who bullied me as an adult. I am worthy of love.
“Okay,” Denise said after a few minutes. “Take a deep breath in through your nose, and out through your mouth.”
I obeyed, feeling like I’d just run an emotional marathon. We repeated the exercise a few more times.
“Now how would you rate the emotional charge when you think of [your most recent triggering experience], on a scale of 1 to 7. We started at a 6,” Denise reminded me.
“Um,” I thought for a long moment. “A 2?”
“That’s a big change,” she replied softly, nodding.
“I’m just looking for that feeling again,” I wept later in our session. I had been describing a person I’d met several months earlier who’d completely taken me by surprise. While it ultimately didn’t get off the ground, it had shaken me to the core and opened my eyes to romantic possibility in a way I hadn’t seen since my divorce. “It was effortless and I didn’t question any of it.”
“You know that had everything to do with you and nothing to do with him,” Denise said, a notebook resting on her left knee.
I furrowed my brows and started to protest before going silent. That can’t be right. It was him. He was amazing. He made me feel that way.
The longer I sat with this new, opposite, y-type idea, the more it made sense. As the weeks passed, I thought about the poem that had brought me into that office in the first place. A poem I’d memorized in first grade and that I’d lived by ever since. Two months earlier, I’d spotted that same poem on Denise’s website home page and knew I’d found the right therapist.
I found a tiny starfish
In a tide pool by the sea
I hope whoever finds him next
Will leave him there, like me!
And the gift I’ve saved for you?
The best that I can give:
I found a tiny starfish,
And for you, I let him live.”
–Dayle Ann Dodds (excerpt)
Our thoughts, feelings, and actions are always about us. We choose to love or hate, regret or move forward, consider others or turn a blind eye. We can save every starfish or none at all. Each of us has such power and such inherent worthiness.
“Ugh,” I groaned. Another spam message. This particular alert had been popping up in my inbox for days and I decided to finally open a new tab to log into LinkedIn and deal with it.
What I didn’t expect to see was this:
Hi Jules, someone is using your photos on an OkCupid profile [profile link]. Was recently messaging this person claiming to be Hannah in LDN and googled the photos and they’re actually yours, and you don’t live remotely near. Just warning you so you can report it.”
“What kind of holy high hell specific spammy sh*t is this?!” I wondered. Afraid to click on the link, I instead clicked on the sender, David’s, profile. His intro, connections, and credentials seemed far too specific and normal to be fake. I bit the bullet and clicked on the OkCupid profile link he had provided.
“Log in to view singles in your area!” the website shouted when I tried to view Hannah’s profile.
I mean I guess it made sense. You’d want to use ‘real’ looking images if you were gonna go full catfish. I scrolled through the profile. I’d just watched Love Hard on Netflix and felt catapulted into its plot, wherein a 30-something guy, Josh (who, oddly, looked a lot like David from LinkedIn) creates a fake dating profile to lure in a cute, unsuspecting journalist, Natalie, whose job was to write about her love life fails.
In the movie, Josh tells Natalie that everything else besides the photos was really him: the voice she talked to on the phone every night, the favorite foods and movies, the sense of humor. Hannah’s profile was a full throttle Josh. The details depicted a real, living, breathing person – who was absolutely nothing like me. I was half tempted to let her* keep using my photos.
*I’ve chosen to use she/her pronouns since that’s what “Hannah” used.
I get it, girl. I wanted to write. It’s a sh*t show out there.
On the other hand, I empathized with David and anyone else getting duped. I’d personally seen everything from wildly inaccurate photos to fake phone numbers.
“Oh, wow, this is a first!” I replied to David. “Thanks so much for the heads up – am reporting now!”
After reporting the account, it was swiftly removed by the OkCupid overlords. I wondered how the whole process worked.
Maybe Hannah was a scam artist trying to score money or a pathological liar. Or maybe she was a stone cold fox and just didn’t want her image out there. Her profile mentioned that she was into “persuasion, hypnosis, and mind control.” Maybe this was all part of some grand experiment that we’d someday see on Netflix’s latest special, Love Hard and Catfish Harder.
And how could the OkCupid team be sure I was the woman behind the photos? Did Hannah put up a fight? While my ego was stroked by the incident (“Ooh! Someone chose MY photos!”), I also couldn’t help but be curious about how deep David had gotten with her before uncovering the truth. How must it feel to fall for someone and then discover the ‘real’ person behind the photos? It’s disappointing enough to meet someone [after any online exchange] and not click in person, let alone after weeks or months of messaging.
In the end, the whole thing left me a little sad. Whatever the specifics, surely at least one person got hurt. Because of this blog and my business, I have no choice but to be utterly upfront. Simply search “Jules” + any number of other basic terms and there I am in all of my dorky glory.
After Hannah’s profile disappeared and within days of joining OkCupid, I discovered a potential match. Our message exchange was uncharacteristically delightful, and we wound up arranging to meet. After setting the time and location, my match sent one more note.
So, just a heads up, I was looking at your profile again and noticed that you are 5’8″. I’m 5’6″. For me personally, that is absolutely not a problem. For some people it is, some people it isn’t. Online dating can be a harsh world. But I didn’t want that to be a surprise in person tomorrow. If that changes anything, just let me know.”
I quickly responded that it wasn’t an issue for me if it wasn’t an issue for him, and jokes ensued. I couldn’t help but wonder, though… was that a Catfish Lite? He hadn’t listed his height, so technically hadn’t lied.
“When you go to the doctor’s or wherever and have to fill out forms,” I recently asked a few divorced female friends. “Do you check the box that says ‘single’ or ‘divorced’?”
“Oh, ‘single’!” they unanimously replied.
“I always check ‘divorced’!” I said, surprised I stood alone in this survey.
Did it matter? Weren’t they both accurate? I thought about how many first/second/third/fourth/fifth dates I’d been on where the guy suddenly revealed his ‘in progress’ divorce, kids, or the woman living in his spare bedroom (that one happened twice!).
Where’s the line between omission and deception?
What do you think? When it comes to the early stages of dating, do these details even really matter?When is it okay to withhold information and when is it not?
“You’re buying [next time] since you made me put on pants and do my hair, right?” I texted, attaching a selfie.
“Absolutely! You’re so gorgeous,” Jake replied.
I put my phone down and sighed. I’d just spent 90 minutes on my First Date Fabulosity Routine, only to have my date, Jake, bail at the last minute.
“I had to run my roommate to urgent care. Kidney pain apparently. Doing okay, on meds now but still stuck here. I feel so bad!” he had explained.
I took his word for it, and we rescheduled for the following Tuesday. In the meantime, he texted daily. When Tuesday morning rolled around, Jake wrote,
“Another belt snapped on my car last night.”
“So it sounds like we should postpone,” I replied, not wanting a repeat of last week, where I sat alone on my couch with perfect hair.
I debated throwing in the towel, clicking over to Jake’s Hinge profile. Dammit, he’s really cute.
“So now that your car is back in action, should we try this again?? Third time is the charm?” I texted the next day.
“Yeah! Tomorrow night? I have an orientation tomorrow morning and don’t want to be groggy.”
“Tomorrow works for me!”
In the early afternoon [on the next day], I texted,
“Hi! How did orientation go? Just confirming plan for this evening. …5? At [a food truck lot]?”
“We just finished, 5 might be a bit too early. I’d like to take a shower and all that when I get home.”
“No problem – just let me know what time works for you!”
Since I had the green light, I hopped in the shower around 4pm and began the plucking/curling/poofing/pulling [on tight pants] routine.
“I’m pretty nervous to be honest,” Jake wrote at 4:30pm.
He wasn’t the first guy to admit this and I responded with my usual reassurance.
“Aw really? I’m really chatty and bubbly and have lots of great (terrible) dating stories and I ask lots of (easy) questions if that helps. As long as you don’t show me YouTube clips of you surgically removing your big toenails or say that you have an alien blood type that doesn’t get COVID*, you’ll be golden. *based on true stories.”
“The f*ckkk,” he wrote back.
“See? Nothing to worry about.”
“I’m still nervous.”
“Well then let’s get you a beer, stat.”
“I’ve still gotta shower… Had a little [outdoor ski] fun [after the orientation]. Just got home.”
I looked at the clock. It was 5pm, so I figured I had an hour to kill and poured a small glass of wine. My phone binged again.
“I hate to even ask this but I’d do the same time tomorrow at [the same food truck lot].”
I stared at my phone in disbelief, a series of possible responses flying through my head. What came out was,
When he didn’t reply right away, I added, “What happened?”
“Just not feeling it right now,” Jake said.
I felt heat rise from my neck to my face. Is. He. F@&%#. Kidding. Me?!?! I immediately started texting my friends. A few minutes later, my phone sounded again.
“Nothing personal, just not feeling like drinks and people,” Jake added. It was now 5:19pm.
I thought of a hundred different responses – all of the things I wanted him to know about how inconsiderate, selfish, and hurtful this was. I wanted to tell him how many times I sucked it up and SHOWED UP -for dates, concerts, work events, birthday parties, bridal showers- when I wasn’t “feeling it.” How many times I was dying on the inside, but smiled, asked questions, and tried to make the other person feel valued. This guy couldn’t put on pants, drive seven minutes away, and spend 90 minutes letting a cute blonde carry the conversation? After already bailing twice? To make matters worse, he’d even had a glimpse into my beautification process after the first time he’d bailed.
As my mind raced with potential replies, I realized the best thing I could do was simply unmatch him on Hinge and archive our text message thread. Any of my emotional responses would just make me look like as much of an asshat as he did.
There’s a reason I love having a blog.
And thus, I give to you:
Thanks to the wonderful women [of all ages and marital statuses] who shared their utterly badass advice. We hope you’ll pay it forward and pass this along (and share your own advice in the comments section)!
Men, please do the following: 1) Be on time. 2) Do what you say you’re going to do. 3) Be kind. 4) Know yourself (as in, don’t string me along if you know we aren’t a match).” -Lora L.
Be honest, be yourself, don’t play it too cool (i.e., three day waiting period on follow up communication). If looking for a relationship, give reasonable time to get to know a person before rushing to judgment, but be upfront about not being into the other person so you don’t waste their time. Oh, and come with your own condoms. (I would tell the woman to always have her own, too.) Get your junk checked between partners. And expect to be asked.” -Anonymous
Advice for men dating women in their forties: Forty-something women generally have their shit together and have low tolerance for men who are not self aware. Bring your best self and we are good to go. :)” Signed, Jen O.
1. Don’t show up in sweatpant shorts on the first date 2. Don’t cry about your ex on the first date 3. Be funny 4. Ask your date questions 5. Clip your fingernails 6. Dont say offensive things like “trump is a gift from heaven” or “COVID isn’t real” unless you are certain the other person feels the same way 7. Don’t talk about how much you miss living with your mother 8. Learn to play the guitar 9. Be open to new experiences 10. Show kindness to animals and waitstaff 11. No whining or complaining on the first date 12. Don’t flake when you make plans unless there is a bonafide reason 13. Don’t say you’ll call/text when you have no intent to do so 14. View dating as an adventure and have fun with it! 15. Meet in a public place in case she’s a psycho 16. Don’t be clueless, learn to read social cues 18. Do not, under any circumstance, send a Dick pic unless clearly requested.” –Pam @ I Choose This
As some f&@&* questions. Don’t make her carry the conversation. Be more interested than attempting to be interesting.” -Taryn D.
Don’t misrepresent yourself. Don’t paint yourself in the light that you think the woman wants to see, so that you seem perfectly compatible. Be honest about who you are. She’ll find out anyway.” –Donna Rubin Design
1) Don’t put photos of your children on your dating profile. They have rights to privacy. 2) Asking questions about your date’s interests, hobbies, skills, family, life, thoughts, etc. is a nice, human thing to do and shows you’re interested. 3) I feel like a bad feminist for saying it, but pay. Pay for the first round. It shows respect. 4) We don’t care how many animals you have killed. We don’t want to see the dead fish pic. 5) Is it time to get sexy? Make sure she comes first. Period. If I just want you to pound out my sadness, I’ll tell you. Otherwise, I prefer real, reciprocal sex.” -Anne K.
1) If you know what you’re looking for, be upfront about it. The worst we can say is no. But, isn’t it better to be on the same page? It’s definitely a dick move to pretend to be looking for something more serious when you really just want to hit it and quit it. There are people out there of all genders looking for anything from one night stands to long term monogamy…find the one that wants what you want! 2) It’s okay not to know what you want. But be honest about it and/or try to practice some impulse control and take things slow until you figure it out. 3) Consent is sexy…informed consent is sexier. Have the conversations about birth control, protection, and STI testing. And (obviously!) be respectful about boundaries there. 4) Don’t be afraid to start the conversation. I don’t remember the last time a man I dated initiated any conversation on the above topics. It’s exhausting to always have to be the one to bring these conversations up! I would hope that -even if we’re just banging one out and going our separate ways- that you would care that I don’t get hurt emotionally or physically. It’s just basic human to human decency and dignity. 5) If someone (doesn’t matter if it’s your wife or one night stands) sends you the gift of a nude, UNLESS SHE EXPLICITLY TELLS YOU TO SHOW THE WORLD, you keep it to yourself! I want you to see my tits – not your weird best friend!” -Allie D.
Don’t lie about your height.” -Anonymous
Be clear about your intentions and feelings. If you intend on just having sex and not getting emotionally involved, say so. A dick such honesty does not make. The dick move is in making us think you’re interested in an emotional connection and over time hurting us by not giving it. Also, be willing to pay. Unless your date is clearly in a better paying job than you (which statistically is unlikely), the person who makes more should be willing to pay more. Since that is likely you, respect our plight with glass ceilings throughout time and plan to pay. Lastly, respond to messages within 24 hours and include a reciprocating question or follow-up item. Stop assuming women will lead every bit of a conversation. It’s exhausting.” -Shawna W.
The first word that came to mind was respect. I don’t know if I’d say ‘treat your date with the same respect as you would your mom,’ but something like that. Respect covers a whole lot of things like honesty, being on time, knowing how to listen, and not talking about weird stuff or your ex (at least not at the beginning, unless it’s really funny, then maybe). Hygiene does come in a very close second, though. Maybe even that comes under respect; respect yourself enough to take care of your body and think about how that will impact your date.” -Babs S.
It all just boils down to: be nice and don’t be a jackass.” -Anonymous
1. We don’t need you, so calm down. 2. Manners go a LONG way. 3. We don’t want a mental dump of your life, let’s start with your favorite food. 4. If something turns you off on the first date, we feel it too, so be honest. RED FLAGS: 1. Mentioning a bad relationship w your family, it is fine if it exists, but let’s not jump to what Christmas w the in laws could turn into on our 1st date. 2. Disrespectful behavior while out on said date (rude to waitstaff, impatience, etc.). 3. Odors…. In general…. A shower and scrub is always needed pre-date. 4. DO NOT BATHE in your cologne. Things that are well received: 1. Genuine smiles. 2. Sharing of stories, letting the convo go where it goes. 3. Showing a picture of your fur baby (if you have one). 4. Talking about something you have passion for (hiking, outdoors, photography, your work, etc.). -Dorothy Z.
Buy (at least) the First Round
Be Upfront About Your Intentions
Help Drive the Conversation
As for my advice, well… here’s what I would have said to Jake [if I’d thought he’d have been receptive to feedback]:
As someone in her late 30s who’s been married and dated a fair bit, perhaps I can impart some wisdom from down the road so you don’t miss another opportunity with another amazing woman: If you’re absolutely forced to cancel on a woman (whether it’s at the last minute or not), do everything in your power to make it up to her. She has likely arranged her entire day around meeting you and put extra effort into looking nice. If you’re lucky enough to have the chance to try again, show up with bells on. In the initial dating stages, don’t ever, EVER tell her you’re ‘just not feeling it’ when you have plans to hang out. She’ll have put her cutest outfit on, done her hair, and been ready to carry the conversation; the least you can do is show up. Canceling last minute, no matter the reason, conveys selfishness and inconsideration – hardly the hallmarks of a stand-up guy. If she has any self-respect whatsoever, you’ll send her running for the hills. Best of luck, [Jake]. I’m sure you’re a great guy and smart enough not to make the same mistake tw- ah, four times.”
Really, though? I think it all boils down to this:
Figure out how to make her feel safe and seen, and she’ll gift you with her whole self.
Last week I told you about Mr. Saturday, Kyle: our shining star in the latest round of, “How Much Worse Can It Get? Dating Edition.”
What you couldn’t have known, even if you’d read every word of that post with your jaw quickly migrating south, was that I’d been on the heels of another eyebrow-raising first date, Mr. Friday, Nick.
Nick was also a cute guy in his 30s with whom I’d texted back and forth for a few days before meeting up. He mentioned that he didn’t drink, so we made plans to meet at a local park.
It was fairly chilly in central Oregon, especially by 6pm, and I wondered how to look cute and warm at the same time. I settled on black sneakers, black winter leggings, a black crop top turtleneck, and a puffy jacket that hugged my waist so I (hopefully) didn’t look like a shapeless blob.
I stuck gloves in my pockets and pulled my hair into a low ponytail, anticipating a breeze with bite.
“I’m leaving now,” Nick texted once I was already sitting in the parking lot waiting. (In case you’re curious: out of the past nine first dates, only one has shown up before me.)
When he finally arrived, about 15 minutes late, he gave me a hug hello. He looked like his photos…mostly. A little rougher around the edges, with pockmarked skin, but tall, good hair, and he’d clearly just showered. (Sadly, that last bit is noteworthy.)
“Are we going to box or something?” he said as I pulled on my gloves.
“I think you’d win,” I replied in a chipper voice, my stomach dropping. What the hell kind of joke is that for your opening line? These gloves aren’t even big! “You know, I’ve never punched anyone.”
“Why are you wearing gloves?” he pressed, his voice laced with sarcasm.
“It’s like 40 degrees!” I laughed, still trying to make light of it. Are we going to keep talking about this?
We walked over a scenic wooden bridge and Nick paused to take photo. He didn’t make eye contact and seemed on edge. My stomach continued to plummet.
“I hate this town. Everyone’s so clique-y,” he snarled as we walked down the sidewalk, heading downtown.
“I’ve heard a couple of people say that,” I replied, making an effort to catch his eye and smile to see if he’d soften. “I got really lucky because I had some friends when I moved here.”
“My friend is a bouncer over at [a bar],” he said as we got closer to town. “Do you know where that is?”
“I think so,” I answered. It was becoming clear that Nick, a California transplant, didn’t know our town very well, underscored by the strong scent of cologne trailing behind him. No one -no one- in central Oregon wore cologne. “I always get the two main streets mixed up, but I think it’s this way.”
Does he want to go to a bar? He said he didn’t drink.
“Nah, he’s not working tonight. Let’s go this way,” he steered us to the left. “Did you hear about the guy who just got shot downtown?”
“What? No!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, my friend saw the whole thing. Some black guy was beating the sh*t out of this white guy and finally the white guy shot him and now everyone is saying it’s like a black lives matter thing, but the dude had it coming.”
Nick’s voice had gone from sarcastic to chilling and I swallowed, wracking my brain for a reply that wouldn’t trigger him.
“That’s awful,” I breathed. And so are you.
Only 25 minutes into our date, I started trying to figure out how to make a break for it. We were now standing in a brick-lined courtyard near the river, several vendors and a band setting up beneath white tents. Nick started walking towards a coffee shop.
“I didn’t bring a mask,” I said.
“Me either,” he replied, and proceeded to poke his head inside the coffee shop.
“Excuse me, sir,” a sweet-faced security guard cautioned. “You can’t go in without a mask.”
“I’ve got my skin mask on,” Nick growled, but came back outside.
I stared at the security guard with wide eyes.
“Help me,” I mouthed.
His eyes twinkled as he laughed and mouthed back, “Blind date?” I nodded.
Soon, people filled the courtyard and the band started playing.
“I can’t wait to get out of this town,” Nick moaned. “I sold my house and I’m moving next month.”
“Oh wow,” I replied. “Congratulations. Great time to sell.” Good riddance.
“Yeah, this town is ridiculous,” he went on. “One time I was watching TV at like 4am and I heard this noise. It was a couple of tweakers in my garage, robbing me. So I called the cops and they were like, ‘Well you’re a vet[eran], right? Can’t you take care of it?’ So I’m like, what the f*ck, and all of my guns were upstairs. Eventually they left and the cops came, but they thought I was making it up! Like some PTSD bullshit. So they wanted me to get a psych evaluation and I was like, fine, and then I was stuck in the hospital for four days. And when it all finally went to court, the cops never showed up, so the whole thing got dropped.”
“That is an unbelievable story,” I replied, my mind spinning in circles.
“Do you have any crazy stories?”
“Uhhh, not that crazy,” I said, no longer even trying to make eye contact. “I went out with this guy once who showed me a video of himself surgically removing his toenails. While we were eating dinner.”
Nick’s face was blank in response. I started to panic. How do I get out of here?!
“This band sucks,” Nick snarled. “A bunch of white guys playing reggae. God.”
“I’m gonna take off,” I blurted before I said something I might regret. Not realizing what was to come the following night, I had just ended my quickest date of all time: 40 minutes.
“Okay,” Nick replied, looking surprised. To his credit, he didn’t ask questions. But he did follow me a solid half mile to our cars – because he couldn’t remember where we’d parked them.
I pulled away quickly and beelined for the supermarket to buy a bottle two bottles of wine. With my gloves on, thankyouverymuch.