24: Unfortunately, Not My Amorous Adventures with Jack Bauer

It’s starting to become a tad repetitious, I fear. Me, date, restaurant, dinner, done. Forgive me if this has become slightly monotonous and, unfortunately, not monogamous.

I’m basically Rolodexing through the single men of the Twin Cities at this point, but still having fun — and continuing to refine what I do and do not want in a relationship.

And so shines the spotlight on Mr. Jeff at the formerly high-society institution known as Chino Latino…

I arrive first, which is a curse and a blessing. It’s a curse because you naturally use your sitting-alone-in-a-busy-restaurant time to spy on the newcomers who swing open the unmarked door and silently pray that this or that person is or isn’t your date. (Unbreakable, sworn-in-blood rule: he who-isn’t-your-date shall appear infinitely more appealing than he who-is-please-no!-yep-okay-still-heading-your-way option. He who-isn’t-your-date will, on cue, be meeting up with an adorably cute lady who is excited to kiss a sweet hello to her man.) It’s a blessing because you are comfortably seated in the audience, awaiting the show. I habitually keep my head buried in the menu, with only a few furtive glances at approaching diners, so as to keep my expectations at nil.

While waiting for Jeff to grace me with his presence, I anxiously shoot my friend texts about how lame my outfit is (a classic well-at-least-I’m-comfortable ensemble that clearly does not denote the I’m-somebody-I-swear! vibe I’m getting from the room) and how 2003 Chino seems to be.

Jeff, a mild-mannered, dishwater-blonde, middle-of-the-road man strolls across the floor (I think, I’m not looking) and deposits himself at the lucky table.

He’s in the insurance business, I recall, but we quickly push our careers to the side and order off the confusingly elaborate menu — mouth-watering potstickers and Korean lettuce wraps (a world different from typical Thai wraps and oh so wonderful) drape our table and are gone in a heartbeat. Conversation is centered on one of my favorite topics: WWII. Jeff studied abroad in Germany and I had an endless list of questions about his time and travels in the still-wearing-its-war-scars region of my heritage.

Appetites subdued for the moment, we patiently sucked down our cocktails and giggled over mutual pet peeves, ignoring the din of parties celebrating a notable achievement with sake bombs. And here’s the curious thing about first dates — sometimes you are having an entertaining time discussing this and that, and all of a sudden, every imaginable conversation topic has abruptly dried up like a grape left in the summer sun and all you want is your plump, cozy bed. It’s as if you’ve reached your time limit with that person. “You, ma’am, have approximately 134 minutes in common with this person and — ding! — time’s up. No more fun shall be had here.”

It was a fine conversation, but I had no interest in grabbing his hand and making him swear to go antiquing with me before dinner at Travail and the Beirut concert if only I promised to check out that really sick goal in overtime that FOR REAL needs to be watched seven times in succession until one can fully grasp the complete and utter awesomeness of such an achievement.

You win some, you lose some. As long as you keep playing, everything is fine. ♥

P. S. With one month left on my It’s Just Lunch contract (and no interest in renewing), I’ve slowly been thinking about the next step. Perhaps it’s burying my head deep into studying, taking in five stray cats so as to fit in with the rest of my apartment building, or giving online dating a try. A few stats on what I might be getting myself into are summarized below. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go dye my hair blond.

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Oh, baby ~ #23

When it comes to dating — especially online or through a service — you have to trust your gut. And your heart, of course. I guess also your mind, as well. And your toes. They’re certainly picking up what you are putting down.

The point is — this is a very intimate part of your life and you have to trust yourself.

[begin scene]

It’s late-ish on a damp Friday night. The office is deserted, but I’m still wrapping things up so as to have a fresh start on Monday — consolidating piles of paper, deleting emails, yanking my darnit-why-didn’t-I-eat-this-instead-of-that-Twix yogurt from the fridge. I had told myself much earlier that I needed to leave at 5:50 p.m. to powder my face and make it across town in time. Yet, it was twenty minutes past six and I was still trying to cross one more thing off my list. #onedayiwilllearn

Down the stairs, out the door and I’m racing down 494 on my way to Axel’s Bonfire in St. Paul, glancing now and then at the clock display and hoping the minutes will pass more slowly. Score! I find a sweet {free} parking spot, skid across the street with a fleeting glance at Pottery Barn and duck into the restaurant I used to frequent in another life. Breathless, rosy-cheeked, scarf all knotted and slightly late, but acceptable.

And there, oh there, sits at my table a 12-year-old boy.

It was a beautiful December weekend night filled with unseasonably warm air, holiday festivities, shoppers and the sparkingly golden lights that adorn trees in wintertime. I had slipped into my dry-clean-only (and thus sparingly worn) dress, cuddly-yet-cute leggings and fashionably worn boots, thrown my hair to the side in strategically placed bobbies and redrawn shimmery kohl eyes. It was a limitless Friday night and I was stuck with a kid in a tragically cliché business suit. Sigh.

I knew, knew, this wasn’t going to be a match because he was three years my junior. But you feel like a big, fat jerk when you decline a potential It’s Just Lunch match, so I had gone along with it.

John was a studious, interning law school student — which I’m sure you just pictured as a sexy, quietly brooding, bespeckled man, but which I will accurately re-frame as a cherubish little boy with a thoughtless haircut and a large booger in his nose. (I solemnly swear I will never use that word again, but this particular nasal mucus had a life of its own and, refusing to give up, stubbornly clung on and prevailed during treacherous circumstances, and is thus worth the mention here.) John was very proud of his lifelong achievements, and not wanting to share any details about my life as to initiate closeness, I peppered him with questions about his love of the law while I stringently sipped my seriously sour wine.

Why, oh why, anyone thought we would be a good match is beyond me. I’ve learned not to take it personally and have long since known that my friends would be approximately 23,892 times better at hooking me up with a potential companion, if such a compatible man was ready, available and in proximity.

After shooting the waitress multiple urgent glances to bail me out — it was a Friday night and things were a’hoppin’ and a’poppin so it was an excruciatingly slow process — she finally bestowed us with the night’s tab.

A quick “great to meet you” hug and a hurried dash to my car completed the date. Not wanting to cheat myself out of an enjoyable night, I drove north to my parents’ Arden Hills abode, fed the puppies several richly-deserved treats and scooted onto the couch in an attempt to finally finish season six of LOST.

Next time, when presented with a single and available man, I will listen if my gut, heart, mind and toes are screaming, “Heck NO!”

[end scene]

22: Thank God I Wore Flats + All the Single Ladies

Date #22 was with Jim … or Jeff… I have both written down in my Blackberry calendar and I can’t for the dear, sweet life of me, ascertain which is correct. (This is partly because the date was over a month ago, and I have been busy working, Christmasing, treadmilling, reading, new-musicing and friending, and partly because I have a terrible memory.) At any rate, I had to reschedule my date with J after falling under the weather that Friday so we met the next Monday at Tryg’s in Uptown and shared delectable, if not teensy, apps. J was a short, muscular, short, older (late-thirties) gentleman hailing from a very eastern suburb of St. Paul. He was quick to smile and had the calm confidence of a man comfortably settled into himself.

It’s always interesting — and perhaps telling — how the first conversation topic of a first date finds its form. Often, it’s a bit quiet and uncomfortable, with napkin-twisting concentration on the drinks menu and the shuffling of chairs and the hanging of coats. Other times, you dive right into discussing a mutually agreed-upon topic. First up to bat with J was sports. I was proud to hold my own as we divulged team affiliations, talked Vikings in Arden Hills, hashed out the latest Twins’ trades and discussed the then-recent tentative agreement between NBA players and owners. I may dislike football because of the players and their exceedingly large attitudes, but for goodness sake, I still know what a safety is.

J was a very decent gentleman, letting me order first, holding the door and embodying a general sense of graciousness, which is old-fashioned but surely appreciated on a first date. We got along just fine, chatting about jobs, nieces and nephews, the holidays, and there were a few laughs sprinkled here and there.

The check arrived, we split the cost, climbed our way out of the oversized booths and headed for the door. It was indeed a good thing I wore flats that night — otherwise I would have usurped him in height. I *think* we exchanged numbers or something, but whatever the case, I didn’t call him or he didn’t call me and that’s the anticlimactic end of it.

A good chunk of my recent dates have been of the same lukewarm temperature — we don’t find anything freakishly wrong or disturbing in each other, sure, but nothing is really compelling us to explore a romantic route. It’s more like a friend date — a “frate,” or a “driend.” (Although the former sounds like shipping freight and the latter like something out of Lord of the Rings so let’s forget I wrote that and move on, okay?)

Kate Bolick’s article, “All the Single Ladies” (courtesy of the remarkably unfettered The Atlantic), about the single, contemporary female life has been out for a while, but still commands attention. Kate (we’re on a first-name basis) wonderfully describes the new male/female dynamic for the modern age and recounts the history of marriage and gender roles, but mostly I love her spirit and intellect and can trace commonalities in our lives as single, independent, superawesome women. We’ve both broken up with great guys for no great reason (although, admittedly, something was missing), and share the same refusal to simply settle. She puts her finger on a lifestyle trend I have been trying to get my mother to understand for several years now:

” … we keep putting marriage off. In 1960, the median age of first marriage in the U.S. was 23 for men and 20 for women; today it is 28 and 26. … We’re also marrying less—with a significant degree of change taking place in just the past decade and a half. In 1997, 29 percent of [the] Gen X cohort was married; among today’s Millennials that figure has dropped to 22 percent. (Compare that with 1960, when more than half of those ages 18 to 29 had already tied the knot.) These numbers reflect major attitudinal shifts.”

Kate goes on to examine the effects of the current economy on relationships, the advent of honeymoons — the couple used to invite family and friends along — and several other delightfully interesting topics relating to love, gender and happiness. (Well, perhaps delightful to those of us unattached lady fellows.) It just goes to say, for all those single ladies out there, you don’t always have to put a ring on it.

For more, check out “The Marriage Paradox: Why We Say It’s Outdated but Get Hitched Anyway” from my fave, GOOD.

twentyONE

I walked into the ghost town that apparently is Bar Abilene on a Wednesday night. Furtively glancing around for Mr. Tonight, I stomped my booted feet and clapped my mittened hands to warm up. The host brought me around to David, a fantastically large-shouldered man of average height with a crop of curly hair and bushy eyebrows (not dissimilar to a young Eugene Levy).

To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood to be on a date. I wanted to get to the gym for a good, sweaty, mindless run and then plop on the couch with the latest from Qwikster Netflix. But, there I was, outfitted in my wear-on-lazy-days cotton dress, Target-purchased scarf and zippered leggings, eyeing up the apps menu for something non-greasy and attempting to disguise my flat-as-heck hair. David ordered a glass of cab and we got down to the business at hand: determining how Bar Abilene was possibly still profitable with such scant patrons. Must be all those wild, post-college kids, drinking loaded beers and dancing on the weekends that keep the lights on. (Surely, this never was me.)

That conversation topic was quickly exhausted and we turned to the inevitable — talkin’ ’bout jobs. David, it turns out, works as a consultant to the banking industry. Basically, he powwows with banks on how to increase profits. This includes such popular strategies as wielding an ever-changing rulebook and slapping consumers with a large variety of debit fees (which, by and large, prompted the Facebook-led Bank Transfer Day that urged citizens to switch to not-for-profit credit unions). Oh BOY, that was a fun discussion.

After our goat-cheesed black bean dip arrived, we engaged in typical first-date chatter — where you went to school, what you do outside of work, the places to which you’ve traveled, what your house/apartment is like, how many siblings you have, etc. David was an entirely decent guy who regularly volunteered, loved his family and probably was in the a habit of holding the door open for the infirm and elderly, but the conversation was like day-old soda — a bit on the flat side. For example, David said he was an avid reader and I excitedly asked for his favorite books to add to my “to read” list on goodreads. However, he didn’t come up with a single recommendation. Not one! Lamefest ’99, dude.

Luckily, we stumbled on a few things we had in common — annoyance at not yet dining at Tilia, inability to tolerate gun-sluggin’ rap while enjoying a smarter iteration a la Atmosphere, and a mutual love of NYC (he had lived there for half a decade).

We kept talking, albeit aimlessly, until the darn waitress finally wandered over with the check. Upon paying, we bundled into our respectively puffy jackets and headed out into the chilly Uptown night. When it came time to part, he asked if I was up for doing this again. Like a good little girl, I was really brave and told him that I had a good time, but wasn’t interested in a second date. (I think it was more along the lines of “I’m actually okay… . . . but it was fun,” which is a super lame way to decline, but I still felt a bit proud about being fully honest in the moment.) He totally took it in stride and we shook our again-mittened hands. It was quite frigid in the cloudless night, so I skipped my way back to the car, humming a little ditty and hoping there was an open treadmill at the gym.

###

Math!

20 is… plenty?

Sometimes you meet someone who satisfies a significantly decent portion of your dating criteria… Meet Joe Black, a 37-year-old entrepreneur from Winona, Minnesota. (Confession: I don’t know his actual last name, which isn’t shared as part of the It’s Just Lunch process, but it seems to fit so let’s just go with it. Also, not to confuse the reader, but my Joe Black has black hair, which is distinctly, and not unfortunately, different from Brad Pitt’s delicately golden, wispy 90’s highlights.)

Joe and I met at the newly opened Pittsburgh Blue in the Galleria. Our reservations weren’t until 8:00 p.m. so I had plenty of time to wrap up the work week, stop at Marshall’s for new workout pants and carefully paint on weekend-appropriate date make-up, which is essentially a lot of Bare Escentuals strategically applied to look like a little bit of make-up. Feeling the need to dress more formally for such a fine establishment, I slithered into my thank-God-I-just-dry-cleaned-these black tuxedo pants, pulled over a slightly sequined Banana top and popped my toes into my favorite pair of red pumps. Grabbing a fitted jacket, I was down the stairs and out the door with time to spare, and steered my trusty, non-gas-guzzlin’ Honda towards the Southdale area.

The date started out on the wrong foot. I had arrived and been seated before Joe arrived, and so when he slid into the booth shortly thereafter, I naturally began with “You made it!” and then spent the next five minutes explaining that no, he indeed wasn’t late, I was just early, and really it’s no big deal because, hey, I’m late ALL of the time. Awkward. (I’m also not sure he heard a word that I said, I was talking so fast.)

Joe was tall, dark and handsome. Well, two steps down from handsome, but still a good looker with a smattering of silver hair at the temples, which made him look distinguished rather than old. As we inspected the drink menu, I put my other foot in my mouth by sharing that obviously I don’t drink white wine (I mean, come on) and, since that was in fact all he drank, we settled on a Grey Goose gin-and-tonic for him and a Malbec for me. (P-Blue is spendy so I had to go with the cheapest red on the menu — classy!) Conversation eventually drifted towards fitness and the gym. Joe used to run several clubs and was a dedicated athlete — he ran, lifted and swore by yoga and kettlebells — and a bit of a health nut who loved his juicer. I didn’t have much to add to the conversation except a quip about the hydrating powers of coconut water and sat there in hopefully strategic positions designed to camoflage what I shall refer to as my “date weight.”

Our doting waiter shared the night’s specials and I selected the salmon (because it’s better for the world than red meat — Joe didn’t agree) and he elected for the steak because, well, it’s a steakhouse. The food was sumptuous and we turned the chatter to our professional lives. Joe was an entrepreneur in the strictest sense. He thrived on taking an idea and building it into a successful business, regardless of industry or trade, and had managed to secure quite the nest egg for himself. He worked when he wanted to, just moved into an apartment approximately five times larger than my 600-foot space (no exaggeration — he shared the square footage) and pretty much lived a fine life as a single, independent, well-heeled thirtysomething man.

In fact, after poking around a bit, I wasn’t sure if there was even room for somebody else in his larger-than-life world. He didn’t seem especially interested in asking any questions about me and when he did, it felt like a competition. Also, we weren’t laughing — just talking. And that’s huge. In my opinion, if you aren’t laughing on a first date, it’s not going anywhere. Life is long, our skin sags, friends disappear, money runs short, unfortunate things happen — if the person next to you isn’t there to laugh through it all once the tears are brushed away, what do you have?

So there I sat, spooning deliciously creamy butternut squash onto my plate and trying to make this into a great date. He was far better than any of the other guys I’ve met since July and technically I should be interested, right?

I have Joe’s business card and it’s been sitting on my dining room table for a solid week, collecting dust and slowly being overtaken by junk mail. When it catches my eye, I keep thinking I should send Mr. Joe Black a text (I’m too lame to actually call), but feel like I would just be forcing myself to do so. I wish had more to say, but that’s really it — I just never felt the urge to pick up the phone.

But here’s the thing — and I truly believe this — no one ends up with Mr. Perfect. We end up with Mr. Right. The one who failed our endless checklists, but still stole our heart.