As this post perhaps shows, as a matter of course, I do not get asked out by men. I am unfamiliar with the concept of meeting someone at a bar, or a grocery store, or on the street, or wherever it is that people are meeting other real, live, actual people these days. (Hence perhaps my heavy reliance on the internet for this part of my life). Heck, I can even strike up a conversation with a dark-haired stranger who happens to be reading exactly the same book as me on the métro and still not get asked out, which has to take a certain level of skill, in my opinion. Thinking back, there have been other equally unsuccessful real-life encounters that sort of make me wonder if it might be time to consider changing my deodorant brand. Clearly, I am not the kind of woman that men stop traffic or cross subway platforms for, and giving out my phone number or accepting drinks from strangers on a Friday night are concepts as foreign to me as burkas or birkenstocks; they're just not a part of my experience. All of which is to say, of course, that while generally I have no idea what happens when two people's trajectories intersect, there was actually this one time...
I was living in Boston, fresh off a particularly difficult break-up and looking for any excuse to distract myself. And so when I found out that my favorite Parisian food blogger would be in Boston to speak and sign books, I decided to go. By myself, even, because that was the kind of thing the New, Independent Rachel would do. And so I found myself at the French Library on a weeknight in the presence of the lovely Clotilde and dozens of her (mostly retired) admirers. After the lecture and questions, there was wine and some light food items featured in her cookbook. And here came the awkward part, as I found myself with a plate in one hand, a glass of wine in the other, and my signed book tucked under my arm, looking for a place to sit down. I spotted an empty wing back chair next to perhaps the only other person around my age in the room, and approached it. "Is it ok if I sit here?" I asked, not knowing if it was already taken.
"I was saving it for you," he joked, and I turned about a million shades of red. We got to talking, and it turned out his sister lived in Paris and had a passing acquaintance with the author, and so had encouraged him to come to this event. His name was Adam, he worked for a t.v. station, and from what I could see, he seemed cute enough. Everything happened so naturally, from the conversation to leaving and walking to the T together, and I could tell he would ask me out. Though I was a bit disappointed when we stood up to find that he was actually fairly short, who was I to argue with a nice guy who actually wanted to go out with me? So, when he asked me for my number, I gave it to him without hesitation. After all, this is what the New, Independent, More Adventurous Rachel would do.
True to his word, he did call several days later, and proposed an afternoon excursion to the beach. In Boston. I had not been previously aware that there was a beach in Boston, and also expressed my concerns that it may have been a bit early for beach season. "Oh, we won't go swimming," he said. "I'll bring a picnic!" And so I met him one weekday afternoon further down the red line than I had ever been before. I arrived first and waited, and when I finally caught sight of him, I wondered if there hadn't been some mistake. It seemed that quite a transformation had taken place on the formerly business casual, sweater-wearing man that I had met just days before, and I didn't quite know what to make of it. He was significantly shorter than me, even shorter than I remembered, and that was saying something. The fact that we wouldn't be swimming didn't prevent him from wearing swim trunks that prominently featured his pale and hairy legs. He wore a visor over his light-colored hair that turned out in the sunlight to be studded throughout with gray. With his backpack and sensible sandals, he looked as if he might be preparing for a day of waiting in line for Space Mountain. We made forced conversation as we walked from the T station to the "beach," where we spread out our blanket and sat down. He immediately removed his shirt, revealing a pasty expanse of back, and a chest and stomach covered in hair. It wasn't just any hair, mind you, it was rebel hair, and it made its way up his chest to sprout out of his neck and shoulders and other places that hair should never, ever be left to grow. He handed me a bottle of sunscreen and asked if I would mind applying it for him. No one's ever going to accuse me of promoting skin cancer, so I slathered up my hands and did what I had to do, while averting my gaze and focusing on the gulls overhead. He thanked me and stretched out on his belly to bask in the springtime sun. I rolled up my jeans a few inches and hugged my knees awkwardly to my chest. Finally, though, it was time to eat, and I couldn't have been happier, both because it would give us something to do, and because I hadn't eaten lunch in preparation for our picnic. He said that he was a vegetarian, and then he unpacked his cooler, pulling out homemade hummus, bean salad, carrot sticks, and an apple apiece. And...that was it. I tried to conceal my disappointment as my stomach growled in dismay. Not even bread! I thought. Not even pita bread, for the hummus! Even vegetarians can eat bread! I dug into my carrots and beans and imagined what I would have brought if I had been in charge of the picnic. The hummus and beans, sure, but also bread, cheese, and olives. Fresh strawberries and chocolate chip cookies for dessert. I scraped up my last bean as my stomach protested angrily. He put down his carrot stick and sighed contentedly, stretching out once again on his towel. "So," he murmured from his reclining position. "Tell me the Rachel [last name] story." And then I was glad that I hadn't eaten more, because I was suddenly overcome with the urge to throw up.
"Um, what?" I said.
"Tell me about you," he said, or rather demanded.
"Er, what do you want to know?" I asked.
The conversation continued just this awkwardly for quite some time, until thankfully, one or the other of us determined it was time to go. I mentioned that I had a headache to avoid the suggestion of any post-beach activities. He said that he had some Advil at his place, which conveniently happened to be right down the street. "No, I should just get home and lie down," I said. He walked me to the T, and by the time we arrived I had worked myself into such a tizzy over whether or not he would try to kiss me (heaven forfend!) that I pretended I heard my train arriving and took off running. "Bye!" I waved, while tapping my pass and slipping through the gates. "Thanks for the picnic!" I called over my shoulder. (I'll admit, it was not my finest moment). Then I went home, took an Advil, and ate a damn sandwich.
If this is meeting someone in real life, I decided, I think I'll stick to the internet. And so far, though the results have not dramatically improved, that's exactly what I've done.
Tell me I'm not alone in this, Internet. Let's form a virtual support group right here and now, and pass around a hypothetical box of Kleenex and some imaginary (although still delicious) Milano cookies. Tell me, Internet, have you ever had an awkward or particularly painful first date moment? Do share. You'll feel so much better afterwards, I promise. (And if not, you should eat a cookie. I know I will. Works like a charm).