Let’s call this dude…Brian. Brian was your typical OKC dude (or, okay, my typical OKC dude): a white, nerdy tech-bro looking for love in all the wrong algorithms. It’s not like I was specifically looking for this demographic, OKAY. This demographic was looking for ME. I rarely messaged anyone, in spite of all the internalized feminist shame I’ve accumulated from this particular personal reinforcement of gender roles. I just figured, I’m kind of a weird person. An acquired taste, I would say (if it weren’t for the objectifying undertones). People are better off coming to me. That way, they had no one to blame but themselves if things ended badly. Right?
Anyway, back to this Brian dude. He messaged me something that threw me off: “You’re quirky and cute and I wish I could hang out with you and make witty quips but you live so far away :(”
According to OKCupid, we lived about 10 miles away from each other.
“Dude,” I messaged to him, “according to OKC, we live about 10 miles away from each other.” (Or something alone those lines.)
The geographically challenged statement was soon cleared up when he revealed to me that he was an East Coast transplant. (Yet another characteristic quite common in the tech-bro species.) Having realized we were in neighboring cities that spanned just one bridge rather than several thousand miles of road, he then asked if we could hang out. I responded with a sure, why not or something equally nonchalant. He seemed fairly nice, judging from his profile (which I quickly skimmed), although I wasn’t really digging the beard. But you know…we were a 90something percent! It had to mean SOMETHING, my early-onset jadedness be damned.
I wanted to do something DIFFERENT though. This was back in the day when I naively thought that OKC would be a great way for me to do fun things that my friends wouldn’t want to do with me or couldn’t do with me because life and work and blah or it would just be way more effort than it was worth to coordinate or whatever but the point is, I would do these fun things with random dudes from the Internet instead, not realizing that as a misanthropic introvert, doing boring things with people I know and actually like is way more fun than doing things I like with strangers who are probably boring and who I definitely did not like by default cuz c’mon, they’re strangers, we don’t know each other like that. Anyway, my misguided brain latched onto the idea of ice skating: YES! I’d been meaning to go ice skating again but all of my friends were too afraid of falling on their asses and looking stupid. I, on the other hand, was TOTALLY not afraid of falling on my ass and looking stupid! (Famous last thoughts.) I could TOTALLY go ice skating with this dude, who would totally say yes, cuz he wanted to get into my pants and stuff. So I proposed ice skating and he agreed (duh) and the date was set.
But of course, as the date got closer, I got my usual panic attack, the usual how-the-fuck-am-I-on-an-online-dating-website-and-why-the-fuck-is-this-happening-and-what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-me train of thought that chugs on zigzag tracks riddled with self-doubt and social anxiety. Also he had a BEARD. Dude looked, what, 10 years older than me? Make that 15, because I looked 5 years younger than I actually was, right? Didn’t that mean he was like, a pedophile or something? QUE ASCO. “How old do I look?” I asked my roommates at the time.
“Honestly Learkana, I think you look like a little girl with the way you dress sometimes,” said one.
“I knew it!” My fears were confirmed (and pride slightly wounded), then somewhat mollified when the other two said I looked my age, actually. They wanted to know why I was asking.
“Cuz. I have a date with this one guy and he has a beard and he looks way older and I feel like if we walk around together people are going to think I’m his adopted daughter,” I blurted out.
They all snorted and assured me that it probably would not look like that, but I could not be reassured. On the day of, I was seriously considering cancelling. Like, what was the point? The date was going to be terrible. I just knew it. I was totally over it before it had even begun. But even though I was a fucked up person with these fucked up thoughts, I wanted to pretend like I wasn’t a fucked person with these fucked up thoughts, so on the evening thereof, I drove to downtown, scored some free street parking, and power-walked the few blocks down to the ice center, heart palpitating and etc. Went inside, and there he was sitting in the lobby, waiting for me.
Oh my god.
He was HOT.
Possibly Pedophiley Bearded Dude was hot!
I really hoped my face wasn’t expressing my surprise at how attractive he was.
“Hey,” he said, getting up.
“Hey! Sorry I’m late.” I went for the hug, okay, not just because he was hot, but because I felt like I owed him at least that much for being late and secretly hating him for arbitrary reasons.
We went up to the ticket window and he paid for both of us. “You don’t have to pay for me,” I said.
“I’m the one who asked you out,” he said cheerfully as he handed over his credit card.
I decided to shut up then, because hey, it was his money and I was getting laid off from my minimum wage temp job pretty soon.
And off we went. Ice skating. No, it was not romantic. To my horror, I realized he was an exceptionally good ice skater because he had played hockey back east in Minnesota or wherever the hell he was from. My plan for us to bond over sucking at ice skating had totally backfired. Who cares if he was hot? I hated him again. I fell on my ass, like three times. He made motions to try and help me up but each time I stoically waved him off and got up myself, ignoring the throbbing pain coming from my legs and feet.
My conversation with Brian didn’t seem to be faring all that well, either. As he glided along and I stumbled, he talked about music. Well, more like he talked about all the obscure hipster shit he liked to listen to. He disdainfully referred to Maroon 5 as “McDonald’s music: the kind of music you listen to from time to time, but it’s just not good for you.” I knew better than to bring up my proclivity for mainstream top 40 hits. I decided to change the subject to feminism, something he definitely couldn’t shame me about. “Oh yeah! I’m a feminist,” he said. “I took a women’s studies class back in college.”
I started quizzing him. We ended up arguing for some reason or another. It might have had to do with the fact that he mentioned how weird he thought it was that Bay Area women felt the need to identify themselves as feminists on their profiles (which meant myself included). I asked him why that would be weird, that’s a GOOD thing actually, and things kind-of-but-not-really escalated from there. He was offended by the suggestion in my tone that I was more knowledgeable than him on the topic of feminism. I was offended by the idea that a cis white dude was arguing that he could be a better feminist than me, even if it was hypothetically. Of course it went nowhere and we moved on to another topic.
The alarm sounded at 8:30, signaling the end of the public ice skating session. I hobbled off the ice, took off my skates, and discovered that above each of my ankles was a freshly bleeding jagged line–bloody skinned patches caused by friction and thin socks. Great. The cherry on top of a mortifying date. I slapped on some Band-Aids I got from the attendant and was all set to say goodbye and head out, head hung in shame, when all of a sudden he asked if I wanted to grab drinks with him at a bar nearby.
I was somewhat thrown off by his invitation to hang out further. It didn’t seem like we had much in common. It seemed like we would just argue a lot. Okay, whatever. I said sure. He started Yelping places on his phone. We ended up at a bar about a block away. He got a beer for each of us. He talked a lot, loudly and enthusiastically. I felt myself internally shrinking back from him a little.
NO! I was not going to let him steamroll me with his stupid extroversion. “Are you Jewish?” I blurted out before I could consider the politically incorrect ramifications of the question.
“You look like B.J. Novak,” I told him. “You know, the guy from The Office.”
He didn’t know who B.J. Novak was, but it triggered remarks on how girls didn’t find him attractive because he wasn’t super masculine-looking.
“That’s okay,” I said, “I don’t like really masculine guys anyway.”
He grinned. “See, it’s girls like you that make guys like me feel better about ourselves.”
And that was when I started noticing signs that he was actually interested. He complimented me on the dress I was wearing. He talked about the first girl he had met up with through OKC and how he realized he had nothing in common with her, which he pretty much saw coming, since they were only like a 60something percent match–then he mentioned how we had a 90something percent match, which I hadn’t even recalled at the time. (In fact, I hadn’t remembered all that much from his profile. Oops. He didn’t seem to notice or care, though.) He talked about how Reddit had greatly influenced him for the better. I couldn’t help myself, and made some offhanded, derisive remark. which lapsed into an argument over how he probably benefited from Reddit through his white maleness. He admitted defeat however, when I pointed out that the misogynistic and anti-black comments didn’t directly affect him. “And you’re smart,” he said approvingly.
We started talking about past relationships (or lack thereof). He talked about his one ex who, according to him, seemed to have no interest in doing anything except hanging out with him, which he saw as a turnoff. “I had no idea what she did all day,” he said. (The story was funny, so I laughed, although fine, it did seem kind of assholish in retrospect, as pointed out by my friends.)
I told him I had never had a boyfriend, thought that would be the end of that, but then he had to bring up my virginity, which he knew about because I am cringe-inducingly honest when it comes to answering OKC questions. “You know…my first time was when I was 22,” he said. “It was on that road trip I took. This older woman was really sweet with me, and made me feel really comfortable. I think that’s what intimacy is mainly about, making the other person feel comfortable. You should try it sometime.”
“I said, you should try it sometime,” he repeated a little more loudly and way more awkwardly.
I avoided eye contact and said nothing. My (counterproductive) solution to awkward silence is awkward conversation, so next I asked him why one of his eyes kept randomly blinking. He immediately took offense. “Why would you bring up my twitch? God, now I feel self-conscious about it.”
“Don’t be! I was just asking.”
“Well, you have a lisp.”
I immediately took offense to that. We sat there in sullen silence.
He caved in first. “Well, now I feel bad,” he said, “since I’m having a good time, and you’re not. You can feel free to leave if you want. Sorry for being an ass.”
“I’m having a good time,” I said.
We sat there for a little while longer, until I decided that an acceptable amount of time had passed that would ensure he didn’t think I completely hated him, because I didn’t. He was an interesting dude. (And he was hot. Just sayin’.) I said I had to leave, as it was getting late, and I had work early the next morning, all of which was true. He said okay and walked me to my car (at his insistence, not mine).
“Well, this was fun,” I said, reaching out for a goodbye hug. His face fell.
“What?” I asked.
“I thought since we were having such a good time…that we would kiss,” he said.
Oh my god.
“Uh…I don’t know how to kiss,” I said, echoing the same words of trepidation that had followed the last OKC dude’s makeout request.
“It’s not really about knowing how,” this OKC dude said as gently as possible.
I was really starting to panic. “I mean, but out here? In public? I’ve never kissed in public.” I was suddenly hyperaware that we were in the middle of the street, where anyone could just literally walk by and see us swapping spit.
“Come on, it’ll be an experience.” He smiled at me, which made me freak out even more.
“Um–I don’t know. I feel weird. Am I supposed to close my eyes? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know–”
“You’re being kind of adorable right now,” he said, laughing.
“Uh–do you have any gum?”
“That doesn’t matter. Just…go with it.” He got closer to me, put his hands on my shoulders, closed his eyes, leaned in…I did the same. His beard slightly tickled. The kiss was kind of wet, but not slobbery. I had no idea how long it was. Too long. Was anyone watching us? My eyes flew open and I pulled away. “Okay bye,” I mumbled, my cheeks feeling flushed as I scrambled to unlock my car door and make my getaway as fast as possible.
“Bye,” he said, laughing again and kissing my cheek before I ducked into my car and drove away.
He texted me soon after, apologizing for how “heavy” things got. I texted no worries, it had been “an experience”–omitting whether it had been a good or bad one, because I wasn’t sure myself. Sure he was hot, but was there chemistry? The kiss hadn’t felt like anything much to me, other than being somewhat hairy and damp. (Like a sweaty armpit on a hot summer’s day, if you really wanted to get poetically gross about it.) A few days later, I deactivated my OKCupid account. I had a month left before my temp job would end and I needed to focus on finding other means of employment, not going on sporadic dates with tech bros.
He texted me: ‘Hey, your profile’s gone.’
I texted: ‘Yeah, I think I’m gonna focus on finding a job.’
He texted: ‘I know how rough that can be. Good luck.’
A couple of months passed. Summer became fall, and he became some faint idea tucked away in the back of my mind. I was still interning at the multicultural women’s press in SF, and the summer writing program for writers of color, but had yet to secure a full-time job that would sustain my subpar standard of living in the Bay. My life was teetering over the edge of sustainability, but I still managed to find pleasure in the little things, like going to a poetry reading that failed to capture my attention and pretending that I was actually listening when the friend that I went with gushed about it, then saying goodbye to the friend and spending a good two hours or so trying to find the right bus stop to get back to the 16th St. BART station so I could get the hell out of the city and back to my bed in Oakland. (This weirdly specific example has a purpose, I promise you.)
So I’m making my way down the platform, walking fast, faces past, and I’m homebound, right? That’s really all I was thinking about. Just making my way through the crowd and embodying the spirit of Vanessa Carlton’s one hit song, no big deal. Maybe I had spied a familiar face, but figured I’d be better off not doing an awkward double take. I found a good waiting spot and settled myself. Train would be coming in…
The anonymous stranger standing next to me had transformed into Brian, looking at me with uncertainty. Oh shit.
“Oh. Hi,” I said. This was not happening. What. The Hell. “You remember me?”
“Well, yeah,” he said. I was suddenly and self-consciously aware of the fact that I was wearing the same dress I had worn when we first met each other on our first and only date. How the fuck was this happening?! Shit like this only happened in cheesy rom coms, NOT in real life. Right?
“I’m surprised you said hi,” I said stupidly.
“Were you just going to pretend you hadn’t seen me if I hadn’t said anything?” he asked.
Damn. His blunt knife could still cut. “Um. Well, yeah.” I changed the subject. “How have you been?”
We exchanged the usual awkward un-pleasantries. Thank god his train pulled up. “This is me,” he said. “Are you taking this train too?”
“No.” I responded with the truth. But I probably would have waited for a different train even if it had been the one I needed.
“Okay. Well, it was nice seeing you.” He boarded. Then–he stepped halfway out of the train, looked right at me, and said: “Wanna hang out tonight?”
A simple question loaded with all these presupposed intents, carried over to me in the crowd of people still waiting on the platform, still boarding, still waiting in their seats on the train for the next stop and some of them maybe looking out of their windows and briefly wondering what was happening.
I stared at him, thinking he was crazy, but also that this sadly was one of the most romantic things to ever have happened to me. “Sorry, I have four interviews tomorrow.” Also the truth, but this time both relief and regret washed over me as the answer left my lips and he said, “Oh–OK–” and quickly ducked back into the train without another word. I waited for the Dublin/Pleasanton line, already overanalyzing the moment in at least ten different ways.
When I got home, I texted him something along the lines of: ‘Hey, sorry I couldn’t hang out. If it weren’t for needing employment ASAP, I would have said yes.’
He texted: ‘No worries. It was short notice. Good luck on your interviews!’
I texted: ‘Thanks! We should totally hang out once I land a job.’
I did land a job, but it took a whole ‘nother month and by that time, I was pretty sure that I was the one who was just a faint idea tucked away in the back of his mind. But something told me I should reach out to him anyway (that “something” being my friend Nicole, ahem). So I worked up the nerve to text him: ‘Hey! Got a job. Would you like to hang out sometime?’
He didn’t text me back.
I felt very stupid. And annoyed. Then basically forgot about him.
Until three months later, I received this message out of nowhere: ‘Hey, sorry I never responded to your last message. I was seeing someone at the time and didn’t know what to say. Awkward me.’
My mind launched into a neurotic frenzy, as per usual. Why the apology now? What had caused him to think about me after all these months? Who was this someone? Was she from OKC too? Did things get serious? Did they break up? Whose fault was it? Did I care about any of these things? Did the fact that I was thinking of these things mean that I cared?
I texted something like: ‘Yeah, that was rude of you. But apology accepted. Are you still seeing that person?’
He texted: ‘Not now.’
What did that mean? I kept thinking there was some correlation between him apologizing to me now and what sounded like the ending of some kind of relationship I knew nothing about. He wanted to see me again, right? It was totally implied in the subtext, right? But did I want to see him? I realized I kind of did, but not necessarily on romantic/sexual grounds. That was no longer a possibility for me. In my petty mind, I was nobody’s backup plan. Maybe I should just leave it alone. But something told me I should take a chance (this “something” again being Nicole–damn her).
So I was like, fuck it and texted: ‘Would you like to get a drink? Just as friends. I’ll buy.’
He texted: ‘Sorry, but I think I need time to myself.’
This biiiiiiiiitch. I was civil enough in my reply though: ‘Okay, you do you.’
That’s it. No more exchanges after that, no ‘happily ever after.’ That’s real life for you. I ended up getting a new phone and number, and chose not to save his number to my new contacts list. What was the point? If he really wanted to reconnect, he knew where to find me. Social media had created a socially accepted form of stalking. He could just fucking Google my first name alone and at least 90% of the first page results would pertain to me. He never did reach out to me though. Once I tried to look up his OKC profile but couldn’t remember his username, and the messages we exchanged had been deleted long ago. There was no point in trying to locate him by his generic white dude name, either. I know I know, why would I look him up if I wasn’t going to contact him? Curiosity, I guess. I still wonder about him from time to time. The thought of him is occasionally triggered by the scar I have above my left ankle from the night we went ice skating. It’s not like I felt that we had any special connection. In fact, I’m willing to bet money it would have never worked out between us. Still, he felt like a missed opportunity in some ways. In some alternative universe, I wouldn’t have been so quick to deactivate my account, or to push him away, and maybe we would have gone on a few more dates before finally calling it quits over the sociocultural disconnect. Or maybe that night at the BART station when he asked to hang out, I would have said yes, fuck it all. (And probably would have gotten laid–super important.)
I guess the main thing that gets me is, he seemed to have genuinely liked me. He saw me as someone he wanted to kiss under the dim glow of the streetlights, someone he was willing to risk getting hit by the automated train doors in order to ask out (okay, not that big a deal, but you know what I mean). It’s just, I don’t know, kind of sad. That he could put that out there while I went ahead and passively watched it shrivel into nothing. He moved on to someone else who did have time for him, while I’m sitting here reflecting on a hundred futile possibilities. Fuck. This better not be the story of my life.
tl;dr Boy messages girl, girl is like omg a bearded pedo, girl meets up with boy for ice skating and realizes he’s bearded but not a pedo, girl regrets suggesting ice skating, boy asks girl to get drinks at bar, girl and boy bond over being awkward and offensive, girl and boy kiss and girl feels weird, girl chooses job hunting over dating and doesn’t see boy again until they randomly run into each other at a BART station, boy asks girl out, girl says no and kind of regrets it, girl gets a job and asks boy out, girl regrets asking him out because boy doesn’t respond until much much later, girl asks boy out again and regrets it again because boy definitively says no, girl and boy never see each other again