So, I'm back on the Internet dating bandwagon again, it seems. After a 6 month hiatus wherein I didn't have the necessary roots required to pursue relationships within an X mile radius of Y location, I have created a brand new Okcupid profile and had my first date on Sunday.
I arrived at 4:00 in the very center of Paris and waited for Corentin outside the Cité metro. There was an outdoor market set up, with vendors selling plants, flowers, tanks full of goldfish, and cages full of squawking birds. I admired a basket of sniffly-nosed bunny rabbits before returning to the entrance of the métro to wait. Corentin arrived several minutes later, looking not at all like his picture (but isn't that always the case?) Introductions were made, bisous exchanged, and after a brief discussion regarding should we walk this way or that, we set off, scuffing our feet through the fall leaves. And then- "Uh oh," I said.
"What?" he said.
"I think something...a bird just...on my head," I said unhappily.
"Let me see," and he turned me around for inspection. "No, I don't think so," he said.
I put my hand to my hair and pulled it away, sticky. "Um, yeah," I said. "It did."
"Oh," he said looking. "Ohhh. Well, here." And he reached into his man bag and pulled out a tissue.
I dabbed blindly and miserably at my hair, and he said "Here, let me." And not three minutes after first saying bonjour, I found myself involved in a strangely intimate grooming ritual, as my date gently removed a dripping pile of bird shit from my hair.
"You know, this is the first time this has ever happened to me," I said, trying to regain some degree of chipperness.
"Really?" he said.
It was an auspicious start to be sure, although whether it portended good or no remained to be seen...
He was assertive from the get-go, not hesitating to put an arm on my waist to steer me in the direction he wanted me to go, taking my hand to guide me through particularly dense crowds of tourists congregating on the streets along the Seine, throwing us both headlong across the street during the last few seconds before the light changed, and holding me back when it was too close. We stopped and sat on a sunny patch of grass in the Jardins des Tuileries (along with half of Paris), and it was so warm we both shrugged off layers. He told me about the semester he had spent in Austin, the fears he had initially had about going (the "little Frenchie" in Texas during the height of the Freedom Fries era), and how much fun he had ended up having. We talked about Halloween, and, bewildered and a bit amused, he told me about the kinds of things he had seen women wearing (or not wearing) in Austin on this strange holiday. I assured him that I was well aware of this phenomenon, and it wasn't just in Texas that one sees this sort of thing, but everywhere in America. His befuddlement grew. "But in Austin it's warm, at least. In most of the rest of the country, it's cold in October." I know, I said, but I guess they don't really care. And anyway, they're usually drunk...
The air had regained its chill as the sun sank lower, so we donned our jackets and continued walking until he guided me to a secluded bench, and we sat. I had a feeling that this was where he would try to kiss me, and since I didn't particularly want him to, I decided I would have to keep him talking so he wouldn't have a chance. "So where did you grow up?" I asked him.
"In the northeast part of Paris, near the Buttes de Chaumont," he said. "Near Montmartre."
"Ah," I said. And I talked and I questioned, avoiding that awkward silence at all costs. I talked until I had exhausted myself with conversation, as speaking in French requires a mental energy that speaking in English doesn't. Before long I was mentally, physically, and socially exhausted, and craving my bed and a good book. And of course, that awkward silence had to come. And so he kissed me, and if there's a polite way to say, Thank you, this has been very nice but I would like to stop making out now, I don't know what it is. Eventually we continued on our way, but as this was Paris, and he was Parisien, it did not impede the making out, as he would stop me and sweep me into his arms on the most crowded of sidewalks and we would start anew. It all might have been very romantic if...Well. If. He deftly maneuvered me to the inside of the sidewalk as we walked along the Champs-Elysées, looking for a macaron shop that he knew of, but ultimately wasn't able to find. Once again he pulled me into a passionate embrace, however this time I was saved by a camera flash going off in our faces. Startled, we opened our eyes to see who was taking pictures of us - the nerve!- only to find a crowd of tourists and their cameras, none of whom seemed particularly interested in us.
"Oh," I said turning around. "I guess that's what happens when you stand right in front of the Arc de Triomphe..." and we both laughed a little.
He proposed going for a drink, and I agreed, because even though I wasn't entirely into him, I wasn't having a bad enough time to say no, and besides, it felt kind of nice to be desired, for a change. We settled into an Australian bar (recongizable by the large crocodile on the outside of the building, and its name, Australian Bar) by Châtelet-Les Halles for a beer and a shiraz. For a while he insisted on speaking only in English, which for some reason irked me to no end, especially when the bartender told him, in English, "Seven euros, please." I hate when servers speak to me in English in restaurants, so I automatically bristled a bit. "That's just the kind of place it is," he said. "There are a lot of tourists here."
"Yes," I said, "but you're French. She should have spoken to you in French."
He shrugged. "It doesn't bother me."
I changed the subject. "So where in Paris do you live?"
He looked at me strangely. "In the northeast part, near the Buttes de Chaumont, like I was telling you?"
"Oh, so near where you grew up, then."
"No, it is where I grew up."
"Oh," I said. "Ohhh."
We had another round of drinks, and then he proposed dinner. Since I was hungry, I accepted. We went to a tapas restaurant nearby, and if it was not entirely authentic, it was more than made up for by the atmosphere, the candles on the tables, the overly-plucked gay waiters, and the constant stream of Madonna thumping through the speakers. Whenever he wanted to kiss me he would hook his finger under my chin across the table, until I would have no choice but to lean in and accept his affections. French men are aggressive, I remembered my roommate saying, and if it was true for even this most unassuming of guys, I could only imagine what might happen if I ever encountered an even more confident member of the species.
We ended up going as dutch as dutch can be, each paying for a round of drinks and then splitting dinner down the middle, which is I guess what happens when you go out with a 25 year-old student who still lives with his parents. Then, seven hours after it began, our date finally came to a close in the Gare du Nord, as he pulled me in close for a good night kiss. Thankfully I had the foresight to pull away to check the monitor to see what time my train would leave. "Three minutes!" I yelped. "I have to go!" And so I did, although not before agreeing to see him again on Thursday. The problem being, of course, that although he is an absolutely nice guy, I just didn't feel any...chemistry. And what with all that making out, shouldn't I have felt, well...something? I decided to give him a second chance, however, since I have determined that chemistry is a luxury afforded to those who haven't been single for the last year and a half, and to those who aren't watching the last years of their twenties dwindle before their eyes at an ever alarming rate.
So here's to second chances, lowered expectations, and starting over.