Nothing good ever happens on a Sunday until you’re watching premium cable after 9pm. Even eating a $17 omelet across from someone you slept with whose name you’re only 60% certain of is overrated. That’s why getting an email from a beautiful French girl asking me out to coffee was such a pleasant surprise.
She found me on the internet – my social media efforts finally paying off. The email includes links to her work: short films about things like the existential loneliness of American commercialism, the clumsiness of saying goodnight on a date, and overhearing your neighbors having animalistic sex. The films are minimalist and clever, not the kind that make you cringe, like watching your friend’s first improv show where he initiates a scene about breakdancing Nazis on Mars. One of her films features her in a gaudy fur coat, something Puff Daddy might wear in a Hype Williams video. Only a French girl could pull it off so tastefully.
After exchanging a few emails, one of which includes a deliberate Truffaut reference and a joke about my inevitable failure at pronouncing her name, followed by some moderate social media stalking to make sure I’m not being catfished (and even if I am, it’s so elaborate and well-executed that I was willing to go along with it as to not waste my assailant’s time), we make a plan to meet.
I sit across from her. I had called my friend in Montreal the day before so he could tell me how to pronounce her name, but I still get it wrong. She leans forward and politely corrects me. We chat. She swirls a cappuccino. I sip a mint tea, burning my lip and tongue, morphing twinges of pain into looks of surprise and interest in whatever she’s saying. Little to no accent. Fluent English, although rhythmically different from a native speaker – sometimes her statements sound like questions, questions like statements. She’s pretty – imagine Sofia Coppola and Sarah Silverman are sisters; she could be the other sister – and even prettier than she looked online. This is consistent with my theory that girls are now purposely making themselves look worse on the internet to avoid Instagram comments like, “I would drag my balls threw a mile of broken glass to hear you fart threw a walkie talkie.”
Unlike the American girls I typically go out with, I don’t have to ask questions I know the answers to, like what it was like growing up in some suburb of New Jersey, or how she decided to go to such-and-such Ivy League college that’s actually not that pretentious or a state school with really fun football games, or why she moved to New York City to follow her passion only to end up working at an advertising agency that’s actually developing its own apps. I find myself legitimately curious in The French Girl in The Fur Coat – not just because she felt exotic or because none of the above questions applied to her, but because I think I seemed equally intriguing to her.
Were we on a date? I thought so until I ask where in Brooklyn she lives.
“I live in Williamsburg with my boyfriend.”
“Oh cool.” The default response for seeming like you don’t care about something but really do.
“Yeah. We’re getting married in two weeks.”
“We’re getting our marriage certificate. It’s kind of unromantic, but otherwise, I’d have to leave the country.”
“You’re getting married for your citizenship?”
“For my green card. After two years, I get my citizenship, but we’re very much in love.”
I find it hard to believe that a marriage can be based on “true love” when The French Girl in a Fur Coat has a gun to her head. A metaphorical gun, as in, “get married or we’ll shoot.” If she doesn’t get married, she doesn’t get her green card. She’ll be an illegal alien living in constant fear of black op immigration officials throwing her in an unmarked van and shipping her back home.
I don’t tell her this, but I have a friend who married a girl so she could get a green card. He was studying at Parsons. She was a few years older, half-Swedish, half-Brazilian, in America on a work visa. He’d brag about being very much in love with her naturally blonde hair and naturally big ass. They got married. After two years, they got divorced.
Whether it was a date or not, I found myself drawn to the potential conflict of affiliating myself romantically with The French Girl in the Fur Coat. Sure, I’m getting ahead of myself, but say she develops feelings for me and we hook up. Say the boyfriend finds out and breaks off their relationship. Say she decides that I’m now responsible for marrying her so she can get her green card. Never has the American Dream come with so much responsibility. What would I do?
We make plans to see each other again. A few days later, she comes over to my apartment. She’s a half-hour late, which she blames on watching Cosmos. “It’s crazy. They basically confirmed there’s a multiverse,” she says as she walks in. The multiverse theory implies our universe is just one of an infinite number of parallel universes; for every decision we make, there’s another version of us in another universe living the consequences of the other decision.
We hang out on my couch. She leans in to my touches and twirls her hair. Later, we go to a comedy show. Around midnight, I see her phone glowing by her lap. She’s texting, I’m assuming with the boyfriend. After the show, she tells me she’s taking a cab home. I try to hail her one but she walks in front of me and hails it herself. She gets in the cab without saying bye.
I get a text from her an hour later. I was expecting it. She apologizes for running off.
After the second date, I start taking inventory. What’s going on with me and The French Girl in the Fur Coat? We hung out twice and both times felt like dates, except she’s engaged, right? What’s the deal with the boyfriend? Are they really getting married, like for love, or is it a transactional relationship so she can get her green card and continue to date people she follows on Twitter? Maybe she’s in an open relationship and he’s doing the same thing. Maybe she’s a sexually liberal French girl and this is a pre-marriage ritual. Maybe she’s bored and just felt like cheating. I don’t know.
I wouldn’t let a third date go by without getting an answer. I gave myself two choices:
(1) Ask her what’s going on. The safe choice. I risk nothing but her dishonesty.
(2) Try to kiss her. The bold choice. I risk the humiliation of denial and the ensuing five minutes of conversational water torture before mutually agreeing we should call it a night. But if it’s successful, a kiss.
I decide to go for the kiss. Like a good French film, nothing is explicitly stated. It’s shown, it’s portrayed, it’s acted upon. My actions will speak for themselves. A kiss will prove how I feel, and if returned, how she feels.
A third date is set. One of her short films is being screened alongside some others. She invites me and we make plans to meet at the theater. While on my way, I text her that I’m running late. She tells me she’s going to sightsee the area. She goes to Duane Reade to buy cough drops. Her spontaneous naïveté is charming.
After the screening, we sit at the bar. We talk about our parents, past relationships, and how she considered getting a boob job when she moved to America. I take the opportunity to stare at her chest and confide in her, “You don’t need it.” She mentions the fur coat. I ask if she wears it. “Sometimes with a t-shirt underneath.”
I get up from my bar stool and go to the bathroom. There’s no mirror pump-up talk, but I do wonder when I’m going to kiss her. It wasn’t right for the bar. “I’ll do it outside,” I think. When I get back to the bar, she’s by the door, pea coat on, ready to leave.
We stroll down the sidewalk. Here we go. I’m going to kiss her…except abruptly pulling her aside while we walked didn’t seem like something she’d be into. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s my excuse. I’m impatient so I resort to words.
“I’ve been wondering – what’s up with you and your boyfriend?”
“We’re getting married.”
“Yeah, I know, but we’ve been hanging out a lot…”
“I love him very much.”
Was she speaking honestly, or was this her speaking with the gun to her head?
“You know, I usually don’t spend this much time with a girl unless we’re dating. I like spending time with you, and I think you like spending time with me.”
“I’m sorry. I guess I just get along better with guys than girls.”
I look at her and hold eye contact. She looks away before I do. She apologizes again. I tell her not to. I hate being pitied. We switch topics and talk about nothing. It’s not quite conversational water torture, which makes me think we could be just friends, but who needs another friend?
We get to the subway entrance and hug. “This will be the last time I see The French Girl in the Fur Coat,” I think. She tells me to have a safe walk home, then turns. I watch her walk down the steps. She doesn’t look back, a reminder this isn’t a French film.
I was as heartbroken by my lack of boldness as I was by her verbal denial. I should have made the move without asking, even if it meant kissing her in an imperfect setting, and even if it meant risking our friendship. By asking for permission, I was a reminder of the gun to her head. I think she wanted it to happen without having to think too much. I engaged her logically, asking for an explanation of her behavior and relationship. There’s nothing romantic about logic. She wouldn’t have hung out with me more than once unless she was interested. In fact, I don’t think she would have emailed me in the first place unless she was interested. I remember looking through her tweets around the time she first emailed me. The most recent was a joke, or maybe not a joke, about how social media is the barometer we use to decide if we’ll sleep with someone. I was seeking permission for something I already had permission to do.
I wonder what I would do had it worked out. The French Girl in the Fur Coat ditches her fiancé and seeks me out as a lover and immigration savior, the single enabler of the American Dream. She’d grab the gun away from her head and point it at me. “Marry me or I’ll shoot.” If it came down to it, would I do it? I don’t know, but if she asked on a Sunday before 9pm, I probably would.