When I saw him on OkCupid, his picture prompted me to exclaim, “Who is that?”
I studied his photos on the dating app. Tall and thin with a mop of tousled red hair, blue eyes and a gentle smirk, he gave off the impression of a sensitive, yet impossibly cool, artist. I knew I had to talk to him. Reading his profile solidified the urgency I felt in contacting him.
He was interested in feminism, politics, science and pop culture. I felt an immediate kinship. (I am a PhD candidate in feminist studies, with similar interests.) However, his profile also mentioned he was an actor, a fact that intimidated me.
Would an actor want to date a grad student? There was nothing glamorous about the crushing workload and meager pay of a student’s life. But I was so taken by all that we seemed to have in common that I worked up the courage to fire off a brief message. Would he respond? He did.
We began an intellectual correspondence about feminism and politics and I tried not to get my hopes up too much, especially after he warned me upfront that he “might just want to be friends.”
Might. So I did have a chance, I thought.
And even if I didn’t, I probably wasn’t ready for something real anyway, I reasoned, since my last relationship fell apart only recently. And even if I had been, it all seemed too good to be true. I didn’t quite believe it.
We exchanged emails while he shot a TV show in Canada. Though I was super eager for him to get back to the States so I could meet him in person, I tried to hem in my excitement. The bad timing of our email courtship worried me, but I pushed through my concerns. We talked on the phone and Skyped. The flirting went from zero to a hundred all of a sudden, and then plummeted back to zero.
I tried not to let it faze me, although I was alarmed by my recent discovery that sex over the phone was more awkward than real life sex by … a lot, apparently. Still, I wanted him to want me, so I just went with it, even though I was practically sick with anxiety over it.
After that failed attempt at phone sex, I tried penning what I hoped would be an erotic masterpiece to make up for my less-than-stellar virtual performance. Sadly, he replied only "!!!” and I kept a low profile until he returned home.
When we finally did plan to meet for an early dinner, I found myself at El Coyote on Beverly Boulevard, my skin thrumming with nervous energy. When he texted 15 minutes after he was supposed to be there, I resisted the urge to throw my phone in a fit of anxiety. I was sure he was canceling on me. “I have to be honest with you,” his text said. “I’m late because I’m waiting for my pants to dry.”
Well — at least it wasn’t a cancellation?
The hostess asked, “Are you ready to be seated?” “I’m waiting for someone,” I said. “Well, tell him to get here already,” the waitress chuckled and I blushed crimson at her knowing comment. I felt self-conscious about how I stood out amid the colorful dress of the employees and the yoga pants and skinny jeans of the clientele. I had planned our dinner to coincide with a party in Hollywood later that evening, so I would have an excuse to appear in the nicest clothes I owned — complete with sky-high heels and blingy jewelry — and was now regretting that decision.
When he finally did get there, he was different than I expected, and yet the same.
A little more awkward, more endearing, and somehow even more thin in person. Regardless, underneath the sheer terror I felt, there were definitely butterflies. I loved how weird he was — his off-color, surprisingly edgy humor and flashes of wholesome innocence. And it seemed he was feeling me too, since he tried to get closer and closer to me in the booth as the evening drew on.
But near the end of the meal, he let spill that he hadn’t suggested a fancier meeting place “because then you’d think this was … ”
He trailed off.
“What? A date?” I offered.
I did my best not to look crestfallen at his unceremonious revelation while also waiting for him to fill the silence with protests of, “But Lauren, I don’t want you to think you’re not datable! You are, you really are!”
But he said nothing.
He just shot a few sheepish glances my way.
“One thing about me, though … I do make a great date,” he said.
This had certainly felt like a date to me, but I guess I’d never know.
A more experienced dater would have seen it all — the red flags, the pitfalls. But even though I was 28, I was not an experienced dater. I felt confused by what I considered to be mixed signals, rather than taking stock of how his words and actions were coming together. I wished I had been more honest upfront when we were still in the texting and messaging stage and said: “Forget this ‘just friends’ thing. I think you’re amazing. I have no idea where this can go, if anywhere, but I want to try.” Because that’s how I really felt.
And then I should have actually paid attention to his response.
The author is a PhD candidate in feminist studies at UC Santa Barbara and is on Twitter @laurenzo_clark.
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