I have heart pounding, pit drenching anxiety before every first date, which is why it was so refreshing to meet The Professor, IRL (in real life), on a train ride home from NYC. I’ve Bumbled and Tindered enough to know that I will never get used to that first date. For whatever reason, many men feel compelled to lie – to get the girl, get laid, or “get out there.” Sometimes it’s age, sometimes it’s girth, sometimes it’s employment status, and sometimes it’s more complicated. I’ve experienced it all and have yet to develop a much-needed exit strategy for when the online liars and cheats are in-person liars and cheats. Meeting someone the “old fashioned” way felt a lot more predictable, safe and I might add, slightly intoxicating.
On the train home from a work retreat, I was assigned a seat next to a quasi hip bald man, about my age, drinking a beer, with earbuds in, oblivious to me. I briefly wondered how he got himself a cold beer before the train even pulled out of the station. Mostly I was annoyed that I didn’t have my own outlet in a Business Class seat and would need to reach over this strange man to get a charge for my dead cell phone, without which I would not survive the 4-hour train ride.
“Excuse me, I need to charge.” I awkwardly said, lightly touching his shoulder to get his attention, pointing my charger at the only outlet, which was next to his window. I may have accidentally and unintentionally brushed my left boob against his right shoulder.
Either way, I caught his attention because he took out his earbuds and made a joke about the overpriced Business Class seats on Amtrak. I laughed and we talked until his stop in Westerly, shyly sneaking sideways glances at each other. At one point, he pulled two cold beers from his backpack and offered one to me, which I gladly accepted, without question. He was a professor of English at a small Rhode Island college and was writing a book about David Mamet. I told him that I just got back from a poetry workshop on the Cape. He told me that he was divorced and had a kid who was a graphic designer. I told him that I was separated and had one who was a painter. We both lived by the ocean. My train ride was like a cocktail party on wheels and I was unexpectedly attracted to this man. I knew I had a good story, if nothing else.
In what felt like minutes instead of hours, we heard the loudspeaker announcement, Next stop, Westerly. The Professor pulled a business card from his wallet, scribbled his cell phone number on the back, and suggested that we get together again to continue our conversation. I made a nervous, but clever joke about our “meet-cute” and said “why not?”
In between lots of flirty texting with emojis, an unexpected package arrived in the mail that contained a Mophie, with a note from The Professor “so you will never lose another connection.” I melted just a little and agreed to meet him the following weekend at the Gardner Museum in Boston. I had high hopes for this guy.
I wanted it to work, but after the first hour of awkward conversation, there was no “je ne sais quois.” While I chatted with no one in particular about the painting heist, he was nervously vaping nicotine outside. He may have had more beers in his backpack; I’m not entirely sure. Something was definitely off and I foolishly questioned myself for about a minute.
Perhaps he was expecting someone who knew more about David Mamet?
Maybe I oversold myself as middle-aged Jewish literati?
Maybe I shouldn’t have worn the sundress that exposed my bat wings?
We didn’t even make it to lunch, when he decided to catch an early train back to Rhode Island.
I was relieved, but also disappointed because I wanted to believe that the universe had conspired to bring us together and I would never have to have another awful first date again. A piece of my brain had stupidly gone to a place where we told our story to friends and family.
However, The Professor was just another date (possibly with a drinking problem) that lacked connection, even though the initial signs looked promising. I’ve learned that it’s impossible to know about real chemistry, until you peel back the layers of the proverbial onion, and slowly expose whatever is there; whatever is left from death, divorce, illness, or heartbreak. That’s where the real connection will live, if it is meant to survive. Despite the Mophie, there was no connection and the irony was not lost on me.
Dating is hard, whether it’s on Bumble or a meet-cute on the Acela heading Northeast. My friend’s brother told me he’s been on 700 first dates. I’m not sure I have the strength for that, but I’m willing to try a little longer, because to quote my favorite Monkees song, “I’m a Believer.” I believe that as long as I do not give up on finding love, the universe won’t give up on me. I just need to work on a better exit strategy, and perhaps a stronger anti-perspirant.