I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
Her initial opening email made some mention about my online profile in reference to something I wrote about how you can tell what kind of person you’re dating by how they treat their servers at restaurants. After waiting tables for six years, it was a line I added to weed out any potential assholes.
We chatted back and forth for a couple days and it wasn’t even all that flirtatious. I recall it almost being like an interview. A little cold and almost too inquisitive. But everyone handles introductions differently, even if by email on a dating website. We agreed to meet the next night for drinks around the corner from my apartment. I had suggested coffee but she said that there was nothing she could drink at the coffeeshop that she would like. We met at a pub and I ordered my usual drink, a Sprite, and took a seat at the bar. She walked in and I stood to give her a hug and there was that brief awkward moment where I went in for a hug and she gave the eeeh-face with the corresponding one-armed half back-tap as if I was made of spiders.
She took a seat, ordered a drink, and handed the bartender her credit card. It was nice that we weren’t going to have to do they who-pays-for-what dance then she turned and looked at me and said, “Okay, so what’s your story.”
I couldn’t tell if she was being playful or if she was just aggressively confrontational. I hoped for the former and just rolled with it. I began telling her my story in bite-sized pieces while she curtly interrupted me to finish my thought. I have always hated that. Just let me find the words, I don’t need you helping direct the story I am telling. But whatever, I could tell instantly this wasn’t going to work. I glanced at my watched to see how much time had passed and it had only been 10 minutes. I couldn’t eject that soon without more of a reason than, “Eh, you’re just a sour person.”
I thought back to what I had told my roommate when I embarked on this online dating journey. This time was different. I had told him that I was going to go out with everyone who asked and he said, “You sure you want to do that? There are some terrible people out there.” Actually, he didn’t say that exactly. He said something significantly more shitty because that’s the kind of guy he was but you get the gist. She sat across from me and I thought about how this is what I wanted. I wanted to meet new people. People I wouldn’t normally meet in my day to day travels. I wanted to talk to people from different walks of life and as them what motivated them to wake up in the morning and what life was like for them. Granted, she wasn’t the easiest woman to talk to and her grey pantsuit definitely reflected her all-business attitude but there we were so I might as well make the best of it.
“So I’m curious.” I asked, “What was it about my profile that made you want to get drinks with me? I mean, we clearly come from different worlds.” I said, while looking down at my tattoos and frayed sleeveless denim vest.
“You seemed nice.” She said.
“Nice? I seemed nice? Is that all it takes these days?” I said in a slightly coy yet condescending tone.
“Well, either guys just want to have sex with me or they tell me that I’m mean. You didn’t do either of those things so that was good enough to at least come meet you face to face.”
I asked her about her career and she spoke directly to me like we were at a seminar. Eyes locked. focused on each word like she had practiced the speech for months. I watched her hands grip her sweaty drink from the bar and bring it to her lips and I wondered how difficult it was finding someone for her to be truly intimate. Not just drinks and movies and sex, but someone to sit across from and hold hands and love someone so hard that she fumbled over her words and made her giddy. Maybe she simply didn’t have that in her. Maybe it was something she always wanted. I would never know. But what I did know was that her sharp and borderline insensitive personality had to make it difficult for most people to feel comfortable around. As she spoke, I knew I would never see her again. Anyone watching could see we were not compatible. Not just because I looked like I just skateboarded to the bar from 1986 and not because of our closed off body language, but because she never bothered to ask me one real question. It was like she has been taking notes for my biography more than trying to understand my motivation for life and what it took to make me smile from ear to ear.
None of us should feel obligated to force compatibility with anyone out of pity. But I couldn’t help but see past her detached and dry personality and realize she was trying. There was something in me, or more likely, my profile that had piqued her interest and now she was sitting across from me doing her best at putting herself out there in hopes of finding a true connection. And while it wasn’t going to be with me, I couldn’t help but empathize with her effort. And in that moment, I wanted to lunge forward and hug her with all the hugs she never got. Or was scared to ask for. Or never learned to appreciate. But I didn’t know her and maybe she simply wasn’t that kind of person. And that’s fine as well.
We are all fighting self-doubt. Some of us more than others. Some of us are further down the line than others but we all have a level of uncertainty about ourselves. We simply project it in different ways. Some people project it outward and use their frustrations to justify their hatred for the world, some project it inward and tear ourselves apart with self-loathing, some of us like me, project it by over-sharing our feelings and showing the world our vulnerability, and some of us suffer quietly with a drink in our hand and a head full of cold first date questions. Just because someone suffers differently doesn’t mean our insecurities are all that different because like the old saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. But what we can do is change how we deal with people we see making an effort. And while I knew we would never see each other again, I stopped looking at my watch and I listened and I engaged and I answered every question she had until the evening had come to a close.
We stood and she reluctantly accepted another hug from me and I walked her out of the pub and on to the sidewalk. The night time had quieted the city and she said she had a nice time and I looked at her and said, “I did as well. And thank you.”
“For taking me out of my comfort zone.”
I’m sure she thought I was referencing the pub because I didn’t drink or because we looked so different but it was more about her teaching me empathy. Because while we couldn’t have looked more opposite on the outside, we were both just two weirdo kids that got older and were dealing with anxiety in different ways. Neither were wrong and neither were right. And that was the point.