I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date
If I were a scientist of love and dating, then I would publish a scholarly article on how stretches of years in monogamous relationships in your early twenties is a recipe for heartache, disappointment, and disaster (need to catch up? Read this first, then this, and you’ll be up to speed on how I was in not one but two abusive relationships that ended with me in jail, framed for a crime by an ex who didn’t want to give up the condo he couldn’t afford). Ever since those two experiences, my relationships have been short at best or haven’t even progressed past the second or third date.
Call me jaded, but I ran into lot of narcissistic or personality disordered men in the online dating space. What other women may have missed on that first or second date, I had now trained myself to spot: all those red flags that, if you pay attention, are there to warn you that this individual has issues you don’t want directed at you. I’ll admit, I didn’t get great at spotting them until I had practiced, practiced, practiced. Which meant I went on a lot of dates and have the crazy stories to show for it—stories of someone I named Ex Part 2 because he reminded me so much of the man who framed me that I immediately cut off all contact with him. He proceeded to hunt me down online (even on the Babes with Coffee Instagram!) and harangue me with voicemails and text messages. Yep, called it.
Then there was the man I swore was a pedophile who drove with an open can of alcohol in the car on our second date and made creepy comments about his friend’s five-year old daughter (“Only 13 years to wait until it’s legal.” Ugh. Gross. I still get the heebie-jeebies when I think about him). There were the run-of-the-mill jerks who likely were not personality disordered but were simply a product of growing up in a male-dominated world. They’d always come on so strong, eliciting from me the “Oh, I have to go because I have to get up early” pleas. In other words, “stop trying to touch me and assault me with your nasty kisses.” Or the losers who thought taking a girl for a juice—“don’t worry, I got this” he said with a false sense of largesse—and sitting on a bench in the tiniest Juice Press known to mankind as blenders roared in the background counted as a date. No thank you, boys. Let’s just say that the girl who often got asked if she played Belle when she worked at Disneyland had dated quite a few Beasts and had yet to see one of them turn into a Prince.
With that, I arrived in New York City sufficiently wise, extremely skeptical, and (does this mean I’m off my rocker?) completely optimistic about my chances for love despite the male-to-female ratio statistics I knew about New York City. I often got the comment from people, “I’m surprised you want to date after everything you’ve been through.” It’s called resilience and a spirit of optimism, my friends, and it will get you through just about anything life throws your way. Plus, I was about to turn 31 years old and felt like so much time had already been stolen from me that I wasn’t about to waste even more.
I briefly dated a power-hungry lawyer whose red flags I ignored because he was a smooth talker. That, ladies, was a lesson in listening to one’s gut. A wise woman once told me to pay attention to what a man puts in your heart because you should feel good when you’re around him. I never felt good when I was around him, and I didn’t even think he was a good person. Why was I wasting my time on something that was so far from the type of romance I sought?
Next, I got matched by a matchmaking service for which my date-to-be had likely paid over $1,000. “Surely,” I thought naively to myself, “you wouldn’t pay $1,000 to find a casual hook up—he must be looking for his perfect match.” The matchmaker had assured me that this service was intended for individuals seeking a long-term relationship and that they gave clients the rule of not making a move on the first date (or even the second or third date) for just this reason. The adorable French restaurant the matchmaker had selected was perfection, but the date, not so much. He was your typical overly-confident, narcissistic finance bro. Over the course of the date, he was rude to the wait staff, ordered three bottles of wine and proceeded to get drunk, and brought up politics, spending 20 minutes justifying his support for the president. I remained politely silent because I felt as if I would reflect badly on the matchmaker if I let the wild feminist in me out. At the end of the date, he got frisky with me, and after I managed to extract myself from that situation, I ended up at home far past my bedtime with a sour taste in my mouth. The next morning, there was a 3 a.m. text message on my phone from my nightmare date:
Still so heady from your vibe 😛
Listen, I know it’s against the rules and everything, but…
I would love to have you over
Ok might fall asleep soon so nm
At 8:03 am the next morning:
Apologies for the last three texts from last night, please disregard if you found them to be a bit much.
At any rate, I had a truly wonderful time with you Michelle, and I really look forward to the next time! 🎅😉
No response from me, but at 7:47 pm that night:
I know it’s old fashioned, but do you mind if I give you a call?
Yes, I do mind. Ugh. Was this what dating in the City would be like? I never responded to his texts and refused to go on another date through this service. With my optimism tarnished, I was more passive in my search, but one day in late fall, I came across a man—a very cute man—who had messaged me over a month prior. He was active and athletic like me. He seemed genuinely nice. And he kept me waiting for nearly a month before our first date.
The First Date
I had been burned so many times before, and I was fed up with putting insane amounts of effort into looking my best for the first date. In retrospect, I wished I had floated into this date with my hair and makeup done wearing the prettiest dress I owned, but hindsight is always 20/20. Instead, I squeezed in my usual evening workout and rushed to make myself presentable. He had picked a restaurant not far from my work and my gym, but I was still running late as I scurried along the street, my face flushed from the running and the nippy nighttime air of a New York fall. As I approached the restaurant, I immediately recognized it: I had passed it a few weeks before. It was a pretty little restaurant with strings of lights in the window, and I had shed a few tears as I look at it and thought, “I wish a boy would take me someplace like this.” Hey now, I chastised myself, don’t let your silly belief in signs cloud your judgment. Besides, who knows how he’ll look in person?
I recognized him the second I saw him, and yes, he looked even better in person. My heart skipped a beat. Over a burger, fries, and a glass of red wine, we talked until we closed the restaurant down—about our childhood dogs, our love of dogs, exercise, his passion for photography, my passion for art, and everything in between. I had never felt so at ease or so natural with someone. At the end of the date, he walked me to the subway as he talked about his niece, holding an umbrella over our heads to ward off a late-night drizzle. He didn’t kiss me that night, but the next day, he scheduled our second date.
The Second Date
Where I had been only 5 minutes late to the first date, I was 30 mortifying minutes late for the second date, a newbie to the need to leave padding to the amount of time Google said the subway would take. You’re not in California anymore, Dorothy. Flustered, I nearly tripped as I rushed up the steps of the Met to meet him. He was a gentleman to the core and politely ushered us into the Met to see a special exhibit of Michelangelo’s work because he knew the Renaissance master was one of my all-time favorite artists.
I had my glasses on that day, and between that and the stress of being late, my PTSD-related vertigo was acting up (yep, there are long-lasting after effects to abuse and trauma). I tried to be as graceful and balanced as possible as we navigated through the packed gallery, stopping to discuss pieces we loved and why. Later, he would tell me how cute he thought it was that I adjusted my glasses every few minutes to look at the pieces. By the end of the gallery, I had butterflies in my stomach—I’d never met a man who had such an eye for art though the photography he showed me on our first date should have been a clue. As we exited the exhibition, I bumped smack dab into a wall. “Oh,” I said as I laughed awkwardly and mumbled something about going from dark to light. The truth was, the butterflies and the vertigo had me totally off balance. He smiled back at me and asked if I wanted to see anything else while we were there.
Never one to turn down a chance to see the exhibits on Ancient Egypt, I took him to see my very favorite artifacts at the Met: the models of Ancient Egyptian boats made during the Middle Kingdom. They were so well-preserved that, at first glance, they looked like they could be modern-day replicas and gave a glimpse into what an Egyptian noble’s life would have been like. I had seen it many times before, but I had never been able to share it with someone special.
We left the Met after dark, grabbed a hotdog, and climbed to the top of Belvedere Castle in Central Park. I could have sworn he had planned the excursion so he could land the first kiss, but he didn’t even try. Did he even like me? I wondered.
It's bitter cold outside, and he gives me his scarf to keep me warm. As we part ways on the subway, I wait for him to plant a kiss. He doesn't, and I'm so distracted waiting for it that I forget to give him his scarf back.
The next day, he texts me to tell me I have his scarf: "Was this part of your master plan to see me again?" He asks me out for the third date but leaves it up to me to plan. It had been a long-time dream of mine to go ice skating in New York City during the winter, and we had made it to December. Over text, I propose ice skating in Bryant Park for our third date with the caveat that I haven’t skated in years and will most likely fall flat on my face. “There’s nothing to worry about,” he texts back. “I’ll be there every step of the way.”
Be still my heart.
The Third Date
This time, I was determined not to be late. I got up early, curled my hair, and left an extra half an hour to make sure I would be there on time. We were meeting at a breakfast spot I had selected near Bryant Park. I got on the subway. A few stops later, a scruffy-looking man with a pierced ear got on and sat down next to me. “Hello,” he says, turning to me and introducing himself. Oh boy, I think, here we go. As the woman across from us who looks to be in her 80s gives him the stink eye, he spends the next 30 minutes attempting to get my number. “I’ll tell you what actress you look like if you give me your number.” Nope, I’m sure I’ll survive without knowing, thank you. As I duck and dodge over and over again, the subway car comes to a halt. A scratchy voice comes on the loudspeaker, and I vaguely hear the word delay. I look at my phone. “Nooooo,” I scream inside, “I can’t be late again!”
Sitting in a stalled subway car being hit on by a man in whom I have zero interest as I’m becoming increasingly late for a date with a man in whom I have so much interest it gives me anxiety is PURE TORTURE. Eventually, the disapproving elderly woman butts into the conversation and starts an argument with the man, citing the #MeToo movement. It’s out of context, but I appreciate the diversion nonetheless. The man to my left strikes up a conversation with me, presumably to further assist in freeing me from the unwanted attentions of the man to my right. The subway car starts to move again, albeit it slowly, as the man to my left tells me he’s in town for a few days on a business trip. I’m only half-listening as I watch the time.
Finally, I reach my stop and sprint out of the subway car. I orient myself with Google maps and (I’m not proud to admit) take off running down the street in my winter boots like a wild woman. Heads turn as I fly by at full speed, glancing every few seconds at the map to make sure I’m going the right way. As I reach the block where the restaurant is, I slow to a ladylike walk, smooth my hair, and try to appear as if I wasn’t just sprinting.
He’s waiting outside for me, looking just as handsome as ever. My heart still skips a beat when I see him, but it sinks a little too. I’ve been late for three dates. What if he decides he never wants to see me again after this? He smiles as I walk up. Ugh, he’s being polite, I think to myself, but I’ve exceeded my chances. Inside the restaurant, we both order oatmeal. I order a—three wild guesses here—coffee, a cappuccino to be more specific, and he orders a hot chocolate. I may have picked the worst breakfast joint possible: the coffee is lukewarm, and the oatmeal is dry. But the conversation and the company are dreamy, and I have a huge smile on my face as we head to Bryant Park.
While we wait for ages for our turn at ice skating, we stroll through the shops (and the crowds—everything in the city is crowded during wintertime) at Bryant Park’s Winter Village and discover that Lovepop greeting cards, which have a shop, are a shared love. We chat about family and work and interior design, and that feeling of ease and happiness is still there. I forget I was even late for the date.
Finally, it’s our turn to hit the ice. I’m trying to play it cool, but I’m nervous as heck. I don’t want to face plant in front of my dream man. I’m wobbly as I take my first, and I almost go down—but as promised, he’s right there beside me. He grabs my arm, and off we glide. We spend the next few hours circling the ice as classic Christmas hits by Sinatra and Dean Martin play. He’s there every second of the way, and I don’t fall once.
We close the evening with hot cocoa and a fresh-baked chocolate scone, and as we part ways, I finally get my first kiss. I’ve waited so much longer for it than I’ve ever waited before, and I’m so afraid I’ve built it up in my head too much and it will disappoint. It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t. It’s perfect, just the right balance of soft and sweet and passionate. It lasts long enough, but not too long.
The second I leave him that night, I know in my heart that I’ve just experienced my first-ever fairy tale romance. In New York City during Christmas. It’s the start of something magical—I can feel it in my bones—and just like that, I’m a believer again.