“Just make sure you’re always meeting in a public place,” my dad said, one night after I told him about an upcoming date I had. He was lying in the recliner, dressed in an old t-shirt and some sweatpants, an outfit that he only wore to bed. It was 8:30, which was close to his bedtime, and I teased him a little.
“What do you think I’m going to do, have some guy I’ve never met over for 5:30 dinner with the kids?”
He didn’t reply. He merely raised his eyebrows and slightly pursed his lips. I knew he thought online dating was risky.
“Just look, Dad,” I said, showing him my phone. It was open to one of the five dating apps I was steadily working through that fall of 2019.
“You do what you want to do,” he said, without looking at the phone. “Just don’t tell him where you live.”
“Dad, these guys don’t even know my last name,” I retorted.
“Good,” he said, and got up slowly from the recliner. It was the recliner that Shawn and I bought a few weeks after his diagnosis. We’d thought a big chair like that would be a comfortable place for him to sit and interact with the kids downstairs, and we’d picked out a floor model from the La-Z-Boy showroom that could be delivered the next day. He’d only been able to use it a few days in between hospital stays, and it was where he had been sitting the night he was so violently ill that we decided to return to the hospital for him to die. Since then it had become my dad’s chair, and I only sometimes thought of that awful night.
Now, after my dad went upstairs, I went and sat in the recliner. It was still warm from my father’s body. I closed my eyes and felt the air come in and out of my lungs. I felt less nostalgic these days, as I did things like this—occupy spaces that had once been Shawn’s, or use something that he once bought for himself, or go to the coffeeshops or the restaurants that had once been his favorites. I didn’t know if it was the dating or the passage of time, but I felt the widening space between my body in that chair and the man I had once loved.
I assumed it was healthy, but it was strange. I picked up my phone, and thought about opening up the dating apps again, but I was tired of it. Instead, I decided to text Chris. We’d been regularly texting for the past few weeks, and he always loved my funny dating stories.
Check out this recent text from a guy online, I wrote him and then copied the text which was long and winding and included many comments on my looks as well as this ending, Marjorie, I’m interested in getting to know you to see if our ‘chi’ can amalgamate and if the kinetics of our encounter spark attraction. Let me know if you’re interested in taking the next step. I’m already wanting to do so.
What is wrong with dudes? Chris wrote back, which made me laugh, and then he continued, ‘I’m already wanting to do so’ makes me feel like that dude should be on an episode of Law&Order SVU.
I laughed again, and then we texted for a while. Chris was one of the few people who actually wanted to hear about my dating life. As the weeks progressed that fall, somehow Chris became the one I’d go to when things were particularly bad or funny or just downright strange. He seemed to get a kick out of it.
That night, I mentioned that I was heading out to meet someone promising later in the week. He texted back: Well in the meantime, you should cut and paste messages like this into a Google Doc, to keep and use later. That way when you get crazy messages from guys, you can just respond with a crazier copy/paste of the previous message you received from other guys. It will be like an infinitely looping crazy guy message arms race. What could go wrong?
Of course, everything in dating can always go wrong, and Chris knew that, which was why his text made me smile. And yet, I still headed to that date a few days later. In the profile the guy had a nice big smile in his picture, and I knew he worked for the National Parks Service and restored old homes in his free time. How bad could he be?
We made a date—me and the Parks guy—to meet at a local restaurant, a place he chose but I thought was odd since it was where I usually took my kids for Saturday morning pancakes. I tried to remain open-minded nonetheless. I arrived early, and looked around at the restaurant, scanning for the man whose profile picture was cute. The tables were filled with young couples and singletons working as they drank late night coffee. I told the hostess that I was there for a blind date and a bit unsure of what to do. “Guuuuurl,” she said, a smile creeping across her face, “I get that.”
I sat at the bar with an open seat next to me. On the other side of the empty chair was a young guy who paid little attention to me. I looked around and waited, texting some friends in the process.
Time ticked by. My date was five minutes and then he was ten minutes late. At what point do you give up on a blind date and just figure, ‘well, he stood me up….’? Asking, um, for a friend, I texted Chris. He thought maybe I should wait 15 minutes. I looked at my watch and it had been 13 minutes. To my left was a big group that was jovially talking, and then there was this random young guy two seats over. To my right was a group of people typing on their computers.
My date was not there.
I waited a few more minutes, and then I leaned over to the young guy. “Can I ask you a question?” I said.
“Sure,” he said, taking out his ear buds.
“How long do you think I should wait on a date to arrive? I set up a date online and the guy is more than 15 minutes late. Do you think he stood me up?”
The young guy laughed. “He stood you up for sure,” he said. “Sorry!”
“Ah, well,” I said, “but I have to say, I’m surprised! I’m kind of new to dating, but who does that?”
“You must be really new to dating,” the young guy said, “because that stuff happens all the time! Really, you’ve never been stood up?”
“Not since 1999,” I said, and he laughed. We started chatting about other stories we had from dating in DC. He told me he’d been out with a woman who had a secret child and another who wasn’t actually divorced. “The dating world is crazy,” he said.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Stanley,” he said, and then asked mine. Then he said, “I do improv.”
I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this, so I said, “That’s cool. Tell me more.” It was the line I used when I was working as a freelance journalist. I was always surprised with how the phrase “Tell me more” got a lot out of people.
“With improv,” he said, “you have to remain open to whatever happens to you. We use this phrase, ‘yes, and….’ which means that the improv actor welcomes whatever happens to him—that’s the ‘yes’ part—and then adds to it—that’s the ‘and’ part. So what you’re doing right now—recognizing that you got stood up and then talking to me and seeing where it takes you— that’s just like improv, in a way!”
And so it went. Stanley was fun, and although he was so much younger than me that he could have once been my student, I liked that he made me laugh and I appreciated that he left me his number when he had to leave. I would never call him, but that didn’t matter. “Yes, and….” I said to myself as I walked back to the train.
The night was cool, and the wind was strong, but I didn’t feel the need to rush. Instead, I watched the leaves swirl around on the street, a moving pile of reds and oranges that pushed and pulled to make a miniature tornado of fall color. My skin prickled, and I listened to the sounds of a man playing the saxophone at the metro. Everything felt alive.