An excerpt of this story ran on Yahoo! Shine. Names have been changed to cover my ass.
I said I would never do it. Never would I sink so low. Never would I throw myself into the tureen of desperation bouillabaisse, lie prone on the Singles Smorgasbord, and dish myself up for a taste – all in the pedestrian hope of living happily ever after with my personal Prince Charming.
Never, never would I try online dating.
But in the four years since my divorce, I’ve been a drunk driver on the Singleton Highway, making wrong turns and veering off course en route to Spinsterville. Having subscribed to a supposedly infallible strategy – devised through grilling countless people about how they’d met their true love – I’ve dated people I met while pursuing my passions, at my job, and through trusted friends. But this has only brought me into contact with the emotionally unavailable, socially retarded, and potentially gay. (Sometimes all three.) After four consecutive head-on collisions, it dawned on me that I was embodying the definition of insanity: pursuing the same course of action over and over, and expecting different results.
So I surrendered and said “Enchanté” to eHarmony and its “29 Dimensions of Compatibility.” The mission: One month. Sixty bucks. Two dates.
Of the roughly 200 matches I received over 30 days, I communicated with five. Lest I appear impossibly picky, I should note that, after two weeks, most of my matches were designated “flexible” – meaning, “Sorry, we’ve run out of people who are even remotely compatible with you. But perhaps you’d like to meet this gentleman anyway. He enjoys pizza, HBO, Miller Light, and setting his farts on fire.* True love awaits!”
Despite the torching tooters, I did achieve my two-date minimum. My first was with Jack – a smoking hot outdoorsy type who was tight with his family and had a bright, inviting smile; and my second with Dan – like me, a business owner and improvisational comic actor, who’d written an insightful and engaging profile and totally fit the bill in terms of the “boyish cute” type I’m typically drawn to.
I had a fantastic date with Jack: good conversation, polite, no surprises. But as cool – and HOT – as he was, it was clear neither of us was feeling it. Three days later, I met Dan, who organized an ideal first date – a Saturday afternoon stroll around Seattle’s Green Lake, equivalent to roughly 50 minutes of getting-to-know-you conversation and plenty of nearby options for a post-walk dine or drink.
One of my goals in succumbing to online dating was to simply get better at first dates – for instance, ask lots of questions and let the man do most of the talking. But after about a mile, I realized Dan had been carrying on a conversation almost entirely solo, even answering some of his own questions and making assumptions aloud about me (“You know us comedy people, Nicole – always looking for validation!”). He gave me unsolicited (and unnecessary) business advice, continually jabbed my ribs with his elbow (“Oh sorry, I’m hyperkinetic!”), and launched into a number of accents and impersonations – including a Long Island dialect he insisted I must have mastered while performing improv in New York. I finally tossed a few phrases out there just to get him to shut the F up and he responded with, “I knew it! I knew it!” like we were fourth graders on the playground and I’d just admitted to saucing my pants during the Pull My Finger contest. And then I caught Dan looking pointedly in the direction of two women stripping down for a run.
“Hey Nicole!” Dan shouted, elbowing me yet again. “Wouldn’t it be funny if that woman took off her shirt and starting running and realized she’d forgotten her sports bra and was, like, flopping around in the wind, while all the guys were staring at her?”
“Uh, somehow I don’t think that would happen,” I replied, wondering if this 45-year-old man was reprising Tom Hanks’ role in a remake of Big and if so, when someone was going to yell “Cut!” and let me in on the joke.
Two miles and endless Danprattle later, I felt tremendous relief as we approached the parking lot. As I prepared to wish him well, Dan asked if I’d like to have lunch with him. Both intense hunger – and apparently temporary insanity – made me agree.
“Great! I’m just going to change into jeans,” Dan noted, heading toward his SUV.
“All right – I’ll grab my bag,” I said, making my way to my car.
“Or you could…come with me,” Dan suggested.
“I’m sorry?” I asked, utterly confused.
“Well…I have tinted windows.”
“You know – I mean, it’s private.”
I know. I should have bid him adieu, driven home, and joined the Witness Protection Program. But I was so stunned by this turn of conversation, I could only muster, “That’s OK. I’m just going to get my bag.”
Dan shrugged and ducked into his car. Where he spent 10 minutes changing into his jeans. When he finally emerged, it took every ounce of restraint to keep from asking if he needed a tissue.
The restaurant of his choosing was on the opposite side of the lake so I got – ta da! – another mile and a half of diarrhea chatter with this mongrel. Once seated at our table, I scanned the menu, only to have him snatch it from my hands and declare that we’d be ordering the roasted vegetable salad. And sharing it. So not only did I have no say in my lunch, I was banned from enjoying my own entrée.
As we awaited the salad’s arrival, Dan started firing off questions. While staring intently at my breasts.
“So are you a healthy eater?”
“Yes, I would say so. That doesn’t mean I don’t indulge from time to time, but I believe in moderation.”
“Mm hm. Mm hm,” he said to my sternum. “So you’re not, like, ordering McDonald’s cheeseburgers?”
“If I want a McDonald’s cheeseburger, I’ll have a McDonald’s cheeseburger,” I sniffed.
“Mm hm. Mm hm. So you know how to cook?”
“Yes. I was married, you know – cooking kind of goes with the territory.”
“Mm hm. Mm hm. How long were you married?”
“Seven years – WHOA! How long were you together before you got married?”
“Eight years?! And you were married for seven years?!” Dan quickly did the math. “So you were with someone for 15 years???”
“So…what was wrong with him?”
“Well something must have been wrong with him. Why else would you divorce him?”
Although I really wanted to say it was none of his business and that break-ups are never one-sided, I borrowed one of my favorite Carrie Bradshaw-isms, which she uses in response to the Vogue editor inquiring about her break-up with Aidan.
“He went there,” I said, pointing in one direction. And then, pointing in the other, “I went there.”
Our salad arrived and, as Dan fished for compliments about its fabulousness, he mentioned how he regularly patronized the restaurant for this dish. In fact, he came here often – he’d even been there that very morning for breakfast with his friend Steve.
“You came to the same restaurant for two meals in a row?” I asked.
He grinned proudly. “Yep.”
I refrained from comment as we finished our meal and he settled the bill. On the way back, we passed a sparkling new Aston Martin parked in front of a Starbucks. Dan wasted no time in announcing that it was his friend’s car and surely he must be inside grabbing a latte – and then paraded me through the ginormous Starbucks in search of his clearly-mucho-wealthy, nowhere-to-be-found, and P.S.-I-am-so-not-impressed-anyway friend. Catching a glimpse of the heavy gray clouds outside, I suggested we head back to our cars before the sky opened up. As I pondered joining a convent and dedicating my life to God, bread-baking, and gardening, Dan piped up enthusiastically.
“Hey Nicole! Wouldn’t it be funny if it started to rain really hard, and we had to hide in that barn over there, and your shirt was totally soaked and you were like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so embarrassed – it’s like a wet T-shirt contest!’”
And suddenly I understood that I wasn’t in this to find Prince Charming. I wasn’t in this to become more confident about dating. I was in this because it helped me accept that I was just fine on my own. I thanked Dan for lunch and furiously pressed the “unlock” button on my car’s remote as I approached the beloved chariot that would take me away from the crazy prince, back to my castle, where I could live happily ever after….
*No joke. Sans the fart festivities, several guys listed these items in their “5 Things I Can’t Live Without.”