We sit next to each other at the bar, my leg occasionally brushing against yours, our conversation consisting of shouts above the noise. It’s going well in spite of the glaring lack of intimacy. Everyone can tell we’re on a first date. The bartender grinned at me when you went in for a handshake on my arrival and I refused it in favor of a hug. A group near the pool tables watch shamelessly as we run through the usual getting-to-know-you questions. “Do you have any siblings?” “Dogs or cats?” Any effort to disguise this as something other than a Tinder date is completely futile and I feel as though I am at the mercy of the judgments of the majority, the people who know how to navigate dating without having to use a carefully written profile as a safety net.
When we first sat down, you told me I look beautiful and I laughed, “I know.” I almost immediately regret the decision, having chosen to come off as bold and confident when it’s so much easier to be coy and demure. I always end up describing myself in little epithets when I meet someone new and they always end up contradicting each other. Social Anxiety Girl has a certain ease with bartenders and strangers. When a couple asks if the seats next to us are free, I smile wide and engage them in brief conversation. And though I crow about my lack of ability with makeup, my nails are a glossy navy blue, my lips are a matte coral, and my eyes are expertly-lined with deep eggplant. I worry, suddenly, that you are keeping track of these things. When I express my aversion to hook-up culture (“it only ends up hurting”) I meet your eyes with seductive intensity. So many contradictions in one woman, all wrapped up in a perfumed, pony-tailed package.
We order another drink and tension begins to lift. The vodka-cranberry never leaves my hand, I use the glass to gesture and sometimes stir the drink in a way that’s supposed to look nonchalant but is really my attempt at a femme fatale appearance. I obsess over details in my head. When you return from going to the bathroom, you find me looking thoughtfully at the portrait of Nixon bowling that hangs right above the bar. “It’s kind of wonderful, isn’t it?” I say, having tucked my phone away seconds before your return. I had decided the girl looking at ironic artwork is probably more attractive than the girl texting her sister bi-hourly updates on her iPhone. We grin at each other and finish our drinks. You glance at the time “It’s only 9:30. Shall we have another?” You touch my arm for a moment and I order two whisky-gingers. “I’ve got this round,” I say and put my hand on top of yours before you can reach for your wallet.
We are on the final drops of round three and sitting closer. I take my hair down and toss it around, another calculated detail. “I’m having a lot of fun,” you tell me. “You sound so surprised!” And you are, but I’m not. It’s the first date. I’m brilliant at first dates. It’s easy to make a good first impression in these situations. A little bit of cleavage, a self-deprecating anecdote, and just enough references to great literature to prove my braininess. I can keep my guard up right now. Nothing is at stake, I’m not attached.
If you call me tomorrow or the next day or even next week and ask to see me again, I will say yes. It will go well but you won’t be nearly as enchanted. When we first met I hid beneath a polished surface but that never lasts for long. The cracks will begin to show, I might start to care too much. Caring, I’ve found, is shooting a potential relationship in the foot. You’ll learn more about me, maybe this time I’ll be tired and act more like my real self. My real self is always worried, always anxious about tomorrow. Maybe this vulnerability will charm you. Not quite the manic pixie dream girl you always hoped for but at least I have the manic part down. If we find ourselves on a third date, I will be so scared of falling for you that my guards will have gone right back up, closed with an intricate combination lock. The result is not confident and seductive, like it was the first time, but is instead frantic and babbling. Fear has kicked in and I’ve forgotten what normal looks like. Somewhere in all of this I’ve lost myself.
I don’t hear from you for a week and decide one day to ask you about your weekend plans. I already know the answer but it still doesn’t keep my heart from beating out of my chance for the off-chance that I’m wrong. Usually I’m right. “You’re a sweet girl. I’m just not interested.”