I put on my designated date outfit: a black turtleneck and a brown tweed skirt with some large wooden buttons that hit slightly stage left of my crotch. I borrowed this set on multiple occasions from one of my five roommates (this is not hyperbole, and I’m fairly certain it is illegal in the city of Pittsburgh to have this many people on a lease). I could merely mention to this roommate I was going on a date and she’d toss me the outfit. On this particular evening, I text her asking if I can borrow it again.
“I’m pretty sure I wore it and it’s in the hamper. Sorry!” She writes.
“No worries.” I reply. To be clear, “no worries” did not mean I would seek out another — clean — outfit; this meant I would promptly dig to the bottom of her hamper, put the clothing on a hanger, and dangle it outside of my window for fifteen minutes. I’d top it off by leaping through a spritz of my spicy old lady perfume, all while envisioning a Febrezeworthy animation of pretty scent molecules clinging to and suffocating the nefarious mildew ones — I am sure I’m the target demographic Marc Jacobs had in mind. Never underestimate the length of time a Polish person will wear an ensemble before throwing it in the washer and never the dryer.
Later, when I arrive at the metropolitan chain pub that I had selected based on their offering of goat-cheese balls, I dart out of the Lyft across the street in a fit of nerves. Please, somebody just hit me.
My date was already on his way to becoming a Nobel Laureate in reductive platitudes. Any conversation via text leading up to this point had been marred by his habit of saying some variant of “I’ve never met a girl who likes X.”
He is standing by the bar as soon as I rush in. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it sounded like someone had turned the playback speed of his voice to 0.5. Let it go, Alexandra. You made it this far.
He takes no time getting to his you’re-not-like-other-girls shtick.
“It’s just crazy. I’ve never met a girl who watches the Sopranos.”
“It is a popular show,” I say, relegating my frustration to fester at the implication of his sentiment, that it is somehow an anomaly that I, a female-identifying human, could possibly appreciate a show that is ubiquitously lauded as a one of the greatest television dramas of all time. I should have asked him what shows the girls he knows do watch. Scratch that. I don’t feel like hearing about his mother just yet.
Aside from putting people into gender boxes, my date has another unsavory habit: biting his thumbnails. Correction: biting keratinous flaps of what used to be full-fledged nails. Eventually, this man’s thumb starts to bleed, and I notice this man’s thumb is bleeding because he touches his face quite frequently when he speaks. I start to panic. The only thing worse than this man’s thumb bleeding is me having to interrupt the conversation to tell him that his thumb is bleeding. Not only that, what I would have to politely interrupt would be this man’s soliloquy about his son being the most important person in his life.
“Do kids bother you?” He asks. He has undoubtedly stepped into a minefield.
I find no greater buzzkill in life than those who are under the age of 12 and everything that comes with placating them until they reach the age when they can do it themselves with TikTok or the contents of their parent’s liquor cabinet. What’s more, in spite of my aversion to the under-12s, they often try to make direct eye contact with me — at the park, in the line at the grocery store, or in the waiting room at my annual gyn appointment. You name it, if I’m in public trying to mind my own business, the eyeballs of somebody’s genetic Xerox always find me, illuminating the vacancy sign above my seedy uterus — you know, the kind that’s accessible from a parking lot. In silent protest, I politely refuse to flash a smile or give them that coveted high five. I didn’t sign up for this. And for the love of god, they aren’t flirting. They didn’t sign up for that either.
I had assumed incorrectly that the lumpy under-12 in his profile pictures was a nephew he exploited in an effort to make himself seem like the kind of person that all girls are looking for. I should also mention that I invariably deep throat my own foot when talking to men about the special nieces and/or nephews in their lives. “I didn’t like babies or kids until my sibling had one,” they say. As much as I personally don’t like children, I find it problematic when people lob out the old “I didn’t care about this type of person until it directly affected me” bit. Call me a puritan, but I don’t plan to like the ones my own siblings have.
Despite all of this, I do see the silver lining. If this man already has children, then there won’t be any pressure on me to have his. Maybe it isn’t such a deal breaker, and besides, the immense effort and sacrifice that comes with single parenthood is most certainly not lost on me. Forcefully displaced fingernails aside, I should press on with some sense of optimi —
“There is so much white in your eyes.” He says to me completely unsolicited.
“I’m sorry?” I respond.
“They are just so white.” I am unsure how to proceed, so I say thank you and avert the big white balls in my head toward my salad.
We get the bill, which he refuses to split, and he offers me a ride home. I take him up on it. I don’t live with five other people for the company. He saunters off to the restroom, and five minutes pass — then ten, then fifteen. I wait so long that I end up having to use the restroom myself, but I don’t want to leave the table and have him return thinking that I had left. So, I leave my coat at the table to signal that I had not, in fact, dashed. I use the restroom and return to the table and wait some more. More than twenty minutes have passed. Finally, I receive a few text messages from him in quick succession:
“My bad on the drive”…“but I’d like to go out some other time”… “Have fun tonight.”
I text one of my brothelmates, “Oh my gosh. This guy went to the bathroom and dipped.”
“I can come get you!” She replies.
I hurriedly put on my coat and try to make my departure before the college-aged boys in gingham shirts (you know the demographic, the one with the high self-awareness) at the table next to me notice what is happening. I almost reach the door when he emerges from the restroom — a phoenix having risen from a pyre of its own gnawed off talons — practically shouting at his 0.5 speech, “I thought you left.” I look down at my phone and see another message from him, “sike.”
I ask him what happened. He said that his under-12’s mom had called. I ask, “is everything okay?”
“Yeah. I just didn’t want to be rude and talk on the phone at the table.” I was so baffled by this man’s judgement, home life, and presumably tender nail beds that I just wanted to get out of there with a minimum of grace and into the refuge of my home to deconstruct the layers of absurdity I had incurred.
Once in the car, he seems lethargic and takes a noticeable amount of time moving the shifter to drive. We stop at a CoGo’s so he can get some chewing tobacco. Of all the unpleasant habits this man had revealed thus far, a little pinch of black, carcinogenic sludge (read: dip) lurking in a crevice of his mouth bothered me the least. He gets back in the car, slowly pulls something out of the plastic bag — flashing a devilish grin — and says, “Do you like candy, Alexandra?” I stare at the translucent sack containing personified gelatinous blobs, and every lesson about strangers my grandmother had ever taught me runs through my head. Get out. But I didn’t. Remember, you’re poor.
We start driving and get to the first red light. His head nods forward, eyes shut, and hand slips of the wheel. Tap tap tap! I slap my hand on the dash and yell “Wake up!” He startles out of whatever cuticle-induced coma he put himself into.
“What?” he asks looking genuinely confused.
“You just nodded off for a second,” I say.
“I don’t think so,” he says, devoid of any irony.
The ride continues on as such, moving at a good clip until we would reach a light and my tap tap tap on the dash would punctuate his nods. If I weren’t so concerned about the vehicle careening off the road and into the Monongahela River, I might have noticed some potential compatibility in our rhythm and timing. We could have been like born-again-Christian Janice Soprano and her narcoleptic boyfriend.
When we finally reach my apartment, I have him pull into a driveway a few houses down like any other smart woman who avoids risky situations when meeting strangers would. I make a quick exit and hoof it up the hill to my place. Please. Somebody just hit me.
That night he texts me, “Hey Allie I had fun tonight thanks for coming.” I am exhausted and decide to respond the following day. I wake up to another message, “Did you wanna go out again sometime or did I do something that was ghost worthy [sic]?” Still feeling out of it, I allow myself more time before cobbling together some words that would not mislead this man but also not betray my boundaries. About an hour later, another text, “And if I did do something could you let me know for future dating endeavors.” Go ahead. Make my day. My phone chimes once more with a solitary “?”
I am daunted by the thought of devising some feedback for this man — feedback that teeters on the line between obsequious and flat-out disparaging, but draws attention to his compulsive oral fixations and questions the relationship between the length of time spent in the bathroom and the lethargy at the wheel. I give up and even the score by neglecting to respond — he isn’t the only one with bad habits.