I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
She sat across from me nervously tugging at the bottom of her striped top. I knew the motion. She was doing her best to hide her little muffin top. The kind of thing that most people have when they sit down but some of us just happen to be a little more self-conscious about it when meeting a guy for the first time. Her profile made her sound confident and worldly. Pictures of her standing proudly in front of ancient ruins in India, riding elephants in a bikini in Thailand, and walking the Sydney Harbour bridge in Australia.
I watched her struggle to get comfortable in the hard wooden chairs of the coffeeshop where we agreed to meet for the first time. She mentioned in our text exchange that she was new to online dating after recently ending a long term relationship. She had been with the same man for the past eight years of her life and I was the first person she had agreed to meet. I took a little more care with her than most. The jump from initial message on the dating site to texting took more than a few days. Texting to phone call another new days and to agree to meet in public a few weeks. I already had a few hundred dates under my belt at this point and normally wouldn’t have had the patience to hold someone’s hand while they cautiously navigated their insecurities of online dating, because it would have been so much easier to simply chalk it up to incompatibility issues but there was something about her that was innocent and intelligent enough to keep my attention longer than most.
She was quiet and I had to lead the conversation. Something that comes natural to an obnoxious loud mouth like myself. I had done this enough times to know that most people come across much differently in person as opposed to a lengthly text or email exchange, and understandably so. Sitting on your couch in your comfortable sweatpants while alternating between eating Cheese-its and taking your time to carefully formulate a flirtatious response to general questions is easy. When you’re sitting across from someone who has told you they find you attractive while they subconsciously scrutinize everything from your outfit to how the lighting hits your face to how you respond to seemingly passive questions all while studying your every move and every response looking for red flags is flustering to say the least. Overwhelming and intimidating would be a better way to describe it. First dates are terrifying to so many people, especially if you haven’t been on one in over eight years. So when I saw that she had a little white dried spit in the corner of her mouth, I knew it was probably because she was so nervous and she didn’t need some guy pointing out her flaws. So I carried the conversation as I looked at her mismatched winged eyeliner and thought about how adorable it was that she was flawed because there is nothing more intimidating than the idea of perfection. Sure, she had an impressive education and the kind of career people that evokes envy but when you’re sitting across from a person for the first time with a drink between you all of that melts away and for a brief moment you are left with two lumps of insecurities and damage that we attempt to disguise with charm and tactics we read in an article from a Cosmo magazine.
And as she sat and squirmed, I realized that this was an aspect of her personality as well. We are lucky to get to see how a person handles pressure. Do they retreat into monosyllabic responses and staring off into the distance or do they run face first into the awkwardness of the situation? Do they need time to warm up in social situations or do attempt to hide their nervousness with humble brags and word-vomit.
It took a good 20 minutes until she confessed that she knew more about me than I knew. She had dug into my past a bit and already knew half of the stories I has told her. She said that it didn’t feel fair and that she wanted to come clean and confess. It left me feeling vulnerable – like, what did she know about me? Maybe something I would have liked to tell her on the 3rd or 4th date, or maybe something I wished to leave in my past and never relive. I have enough salacious stories out on the internet that no longer reflect who I am as a person and all I could think was what did she know. What stories had she read?
I suddenly found myself with a dry mouth and fumbling over my words. I asked her what she knew about me, doing my best to not sound scared. Did I mess this up? I had already begun to develop feelings for her. Why was I so scared of potentially scaring her off. Can she see my muffin top? This chair is really uncomfortable. Do I have something in the corner of my mouth? It feels like I have something in the corner of my mouth.
As my insecurity began to subside, so did hers and she handled my neurotic questions with grace. And it was telling of her personality. She was kind and gentle with me. Hundreds of dates or the first date in eight years, everyone gets nervous and self-conscious around their crush whether they are in 7th grade or have a PhD hanging on their wall. And there is something to be said about the awkward and bashful aspects of our personality because they are pure and natural. And that was what impressed me the most – not only how she handled her own nervousness but how she handled mine. Because while physical attraction gets us in the door, a personality we can trust with our vulnerability is what gets the invitation to stay.