I am an incredibly suggestible person. It is not one of my better traits. I’m one of those people who gets those charity calls saying, “What size donation would you like to give, $50 or $100?” and ends up giving $50 because that was the lowest option. There should be a 3-day waiting period on spending money for people like me, because I spend money on stupid things all the time.
Like a few weeks ago, when I went to sign up for an online dating service via a webform (with vague pricing data), and the webform turned into a phone conversation, which turned into me spending something like half a month’s rent on a stupid dating service which will probably not work. This was incredibly stupid. I need to have a new rule that my credit cards and my telephone aren’t allowed near each other, so when the lady on the phone says, “And what card will you be using today?” I say, “Um, I don’t have a card with me,” instead of giving a number because I’m easily led.
But I paid for it, so I’m using it. The way this works is that they send you on blind lunch dates. You get a name, an age, a profession, a height, and a few sentences of description. They give you a place and a time. You show up. You lunch. Afterwards, you call them to report back.
My first incredibly expensive purchased blind date was with Duncan. Duncan is a divorced dad, which matches my divorced mom nicely. He’s Catholic. He’s Caucasian, and 5’8″, and his friends would describe him as warm, funny, and a good listener. He’s an engineer. Great.
Duncan and I met at an Asian restaurant. I got there early, and got a water while I waited. This is my second try at a face-to-face date, and I think there’s a pretty good chance Duncan will show up, since, like me, he’s paying approximately a bajillion dollars for the privilege. I am nervous, and abruptly realizing I have NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING. I don’t know Duncan! I don’t know anything about him! I don’t know what he looks like. What are we going to talk about? What if he’s ugly? What if he has no personality? What if he’s gorgeous and I do something profoundly stupid like belch mid-meal? What if he wants to kiss me? All of a sudden, I cannot think of anything except how intensely gross kissing is.
He shows up on the dot of noon, and the recognition is easier than I feared, since we are basically the only two people in the restaurant. We shake hands. He hopes that I haven’t been waiting long, and I tell him no, that I was just a bit early.
I’ve already read the menu at least six times and the drinks menu at least thirty, but I am not — NOT — ordering a cocktail for a lunch date. So I watch him study the menu. He is not at all like the picture I had in my head, but he’s… not bad, I guess? He has nice eyes. There’s something about the shape of his mouth and the lines around his that makes him look distantly sad, like he’s reflecting on something bad that happened years ago. He has a build that I tend to like: solid, with good wide shoulders. I try to imagine touching him — holding hands, cuddling, kissing — and it all feels very strange, like my whole spirit is wrenching away from the idea. So I let it go.
He finishes looking at the menu and we make small talk about local restaurants. So far, he’s started all of the topics of conversation, and I’m feeling antsy about that — I should be more active in this, but I don’t know what to say. Fortunately, the waitress comes. I order the special lunch bowl, with six kinds of beef in a noodle soup. He orders tofu. Oh, no. Is he a vegetarian? Should I have ordered something meat-free?
When the waitress leaves, I ask him about his job. We talk networks and computers and projects for an incredibly short amount of time before the food shows up. Once it arrives, he starts talking diet. He’s on a healthy-living kick, he tells me. We eat way too much mean, he say, so he’s trying to only have meat on special occasions. He’s eating more vegetables, and he feels great! It’s amazing!
Mm-hm, I say politely, attempting to eat my giant bowl of red meat without slurping my noodles. (Note to self: soup is a bad date entree. Do not do this again!) He asks about my hobbies. We get into a conversation about cooking, in which I am talking about… meat, still. I am starting to worry that I’m coming across as meat-obsessed.
The conversation drifts to kids, and then to faith. He asks if I’m Catholic. “No,” I say, and tell him my brand of Protestant. “Oh,” he says. The conversation hits ground on the rocks of my feelings about each person’s individual journey to God and his annoyance with his son not taking confirmation class seriously enough, and it breaks apart. I slurp my soup.
Duncan really does have nice eyes. I’ve been watching them a lot, and one thing I like is how clearly and intensely his attention is on me. It doesn’t feel like he’s staring, just like he’s really watching me, like he’s enjoying looking at me. They are expressive eyes. I like them. I’ve been leaning into the conversation. The waitress comes and takes our plates, but I’m not eager to leave. I am flirting, I think, and he is responding.
I ask him about books he likes, and he mentions a type of non-fiction I’m interested in, and I’m instantly alive. We talk about the human brain, we trade recommendations, we talk research methodologies.
He asks about where I went to school. I tell him I was a Wellesley graduate. “Is that an Ivy?” he wants to know. “No, it’s not, but it’s very well respected. A lot of influential women went to school there.” “Like who?” “Oh, Hillary Clinton. Madeleine Albright.”
He smirks. “I’ll try not to hold that against them.”
I freeze up. Should I have said someone else? Madame Chiang Kai-shek or Diane Sawyer? How do I respond to this? I like Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright! I may not always agree with everything they say or do, but I respect them a lot. I don’t want to start an argument. I regret saying anything.
Duncan can clearly tell he’s said something wrong. “Oops,” he says. “I shouldn’t have brought up politics.” He’s right. I try to think of how to get out of this conversational trap, and can’t find anything. “I guess I’m pretty conservative,” he says. “Are you –” he breaks off. I’m not even thinking about conservative vs. liberal. I’m thinking about bitterness. What kind of a person has a knee-jerk “insult” reaction just hearing someone’s name, enough that even on a first date, they can’t keep from saying something petty and spiteful? He doesn’t know anything about me. Maybe I voted for Hillary Clinton in ’08. Maybe I didn’t. I am feeling kind of gross all of a sudden. The waitress meets my eyes, and I gesture for the check.
He claims the check and pays, though I try to cover my half of the bill. He asks if he can walk me out, and I say yes. We shake hands outside. Neither of us asks for or offers our number.