Hi, I’m Shani

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that.

My Second-Worst Date Ever

My Second-Worst Date Ever

I’m always on time. Punctuality is a big thing with me. I don’t believe in being late, in wasting someone else’s time by making them wait for me. Their time is important, too. So when I walked into the date six minutes late I felt terrible. That feeling was fleeting.

After three or so back-and-forths on our dating app, my date and I agreed to meet for afternoon drinks at a pub in my neighborhood I’d been meaning to try. Unbeknownst to me there was a soccer match on television that seemed very important so the bar was packed with people on an otherwise lazy Sunday afternoon. Soccer only seems to be popular in this country when it involves a reason for people to communally drink.

Not to be entirely superficial, but he didn’t look like his picture. And of course I know we’re all prone to a little bit of fibbing. An extra inch here, one less year there. I’ve got a six year old photo on my online dating profile, I don’t mind telling you. I still have the dress. We filter, we focus on our good side, there are certain little white visual lies we forgive. And then there was him.

When I say he didn’t look like his picture, I mean I didn’t recognize him. He came up to me. If he hadn’t said, “Hey, Shani, I’m Kyle,” I would have thought I’d been stood up. The lovely smile I’d seen online was replaced with a facefull of mangled teeth. The carefully combed hair was instead about three weeks too long, but not long yet, you know? Just sloppy. He also appeared to have an aversion to shampoo. His clothing was baggy and a bit too large. I hate to get so hung up on appearance, but when he mentioned he had a brother only 10 months younger than him, and that people sometimes got them confused, things started to become clear to me. Using your brother’s photos online is practically the same thing as using photos of yourself, isn’t it? Sure it is.

As I mentioned the bar was crowded, so we had to wait a few minutes for a table. During this time I found out what he did for a living, the neighborhood he lived in, his birthday. Wouldn’t you know it was the same day as mine? Eventually a host sat us down at a table in the very back of the bar, next to the kitchen. No one likes that table. Why does that table exist? Why isn’t that where the water jugs and extra napkins go? Stop putting people there, it doesn’t count.

I settled in, ready to at least try to have a proper date, to try to get to know someone, the physical stuff seeming really shallow to focus on. I figured he might have an awesome personality somewhere in there, and to me that counts for a lot. I’ve met tall blonde dudes I never saw again because they had the intellectual prowess of a cold cup of coffee. I mean this, I like wit. Don’t get excited. There was no wit here.

He didn’t talk. I asked a question or two and then waited my turn, opened up some room for him to suggest a conversation topic. But he never did. He looked at me for a few seconds and then started reading the menu, which was two sides of a piece of flimsy paper that the patrons before us apparently used as a napkin. This is when I started to get uncomfortable. I watched a soccer player score a very impressive goal.

It was four in the afternoon, I like afternoon first dates because they don’t involve necessary eating. It’s an off time. It’s also usually a time when most bars are a bit empty, limiting distractions and allowing for a normal voice volume. I hate having to shout what I do for a living to a man standing four inches to my left. I ordered a beer and when the waiter asked if we’d like any food, I said no, just drinks, thanks. My date ordered an entree of scallops with a lovely spring risotto and a dark amber ale. Then he kept reading the menu. For a very long time.

During bad dates, time really can stretch on. I realize it might seem longer than it actually was, but when I tell you he read the menu for a very long time, please understand that during this time I was able to, without conversation kicking up again, text a synopsis of the date to a friend, in a paragraph roughly the size of this one, with two fingers and fixing everything autocorrect tried to do to my curse words. This was a ducking horrible date.

I get that some people are quiet. Not everyone is a bubbly, conversation-prone extrovert. I don’t mind shyness, or a reserved demeanor. Quite the opposite, really. Brashness or conversation hogging can kill my mood, for sure. All I ask is for comfortable, present conversation. If we’ve gone through the mental strain of deciding to actually meet, if we’ve put on something other than comfy pants on a weekend, I think it’s best we spend this time getting to know one another, rather than reading a menu typed out in Times New Roman. I’ve put on a sundress. My eyeliner was applied with a patient hand. Speak, man. Speak!

He was giving me nothing. Nothing to work with. Not an expression, not a movement, not even a pensive glance. He was an underdressed salad of a human being and I wanted to go home. My cat was a better conversationalist, truly. I wasn’t even sure why he agreed to come on the date if he didn’t intend to put forth even a smidgen of effort into get through it without one or both of us needing a shower and not for a fun reason.

I must seem horrible to you. What’s so bad about him, really? He’s just a normal guy. But place yourself, if you will, at a silent table, with a stranger, who has falsely led you to think he looks a way he doesn’t, and has just sentenced you to dinner at four in the afternoon when you’d previously agreed on drinks. Who answers the questions you ask him with “yes” or “no” and then goes back to reading his highly entertaining menu which I certainly hope later won a National Book Award.

It was pretty clear we weren’t going to speak anymore, he kept reading his menu and I kept checking my phone praying an urgent but non-deadly family crisis text would appear. As his scallops arrived I let him know I really had to get back to work (it was Sunday), and that I hoped the scallops were delicious. He said, “Okay, bye.” And I walked away very quickly.

I was physically shaken on my walk home. I’d been on bad dates but good lord. He didn’t even seem to know he was on a date. I wondered if maybe I had been a disappointment, if he’d been so disengaged because he didn’t like what he saw, either. Whatever the reason, it was mercifully over. An overwhelming sense of relief washed over me, tinged with fear that propelled me to put as much distance between my body and his at the fastest pace I could manage without drawing attention to myself at 4:35 in the afternoon. How did that just happen? It’s a bit scary what can happen to a single person in roughly 30 minutes. My weekend had been so pleasant until then.

The funniest thing about horrible dates is that you never feel bad about them. The truly bad dates are so bad you’re overcome with joy that they’re over. You don’t have to sit through that again. You don’t have to waste that time again. You learn more and more with each bad date about how bad dates can get, and when the really awful ones arrive, it’s great! I know how bad a date can get! Nothing can stop me now! Hitting bottom is really quite liberating.

After I’d locked myself safely in my apartment I reviewed his profile once again, just to make sure I wasn’t imagining what had happened, what with his face not being the face he made me believe was his face. What with his witty profile content misleading me into thinking he could converse. I was right, it wasn’t him. This mute con artist who enjoys full meals at awkward times of day wasn’t a figment of my imagination, he was real, this happened.

He texted me the next day to tell me had a great time, and hoped we could hang out again soon.

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