I wait for Max, nervously, at the bar. My stomach hurts, as it always does when I jump into situations I’m unsure of. I’m gulping my wine, trying to take the edge off. And this is not helping the stomach pain.
He's walking toward me now and I stand up. I slip off the stool, asking if he wants to sit down before he's even reached me. He kisses me on the cheek and nods, but there are no empty seats at the bar. “How about a table?” he asks. His accent is both sexy and endearing. I’m babbling that I'm not sure if we can sit at a table if we're only ordering drinks while my eyes dart around the room aimlessly. It's a series of awkward utterances and movements on my part, but he manages to, coolly, guide me to an outdoor table in spite of this. And this instinctually calms me.
The waitress takes our order, tells us it’s fine to just have drinks. She asks if I’ve started a tab at the bar, to which I immediately answer yes, then reflect a moment and realize, after she has walked away, that I have not. I tell Max: "Actually, I didn't start a tab." He smiles, amused, and conveys this to the waitress who looks slightly exasperated. I laugh and apologize and he says, "Well, you said you're like Bridget Jones." I recall that I did in fact reveal that I am ridiculously awkward in social situations (a la Bridget Jones) on my Ok Cupid profile, and feel slightly exposed. I smile shyly.
Max is the first guy I’ve met from an online dating site. I created my profile about a week ago, but have tried this online thing once before and chickened out before meeting anyone. His profile lured me in though: a chef from Argentina. Few things turn me on more than a guy who can cook.
However, I also noted that Maximilian was interested in other things besides the culinary arts, such as “casual dates” and “casual sex.” He neglected to check off “long-term relationships” in this category of interests. Ah well, he’s from Argentina, I rationalized. Over email, I inquired about this, though. “I see you have not included long-term relationships: why?” “Is that how it appears on my profile?” he asked, innocently, answering, somewhat ambiguously, that he had been married once before and would, eventually, like to be again, but since his job requires him to travel so frequently he doesn’t want to imply that he can give someone something that he can’t. (He is a private chef for an actor and doesn’t stay in one place for long).
"Something I can’t give." These four words sum up my troubled dating life. Being attracted to men who are not capable of providing me with a true commitment. But something in me is equally scared of a commitment, or so I am told, or else I would not want to be with men of this sort. Someone like Max is ‘safe’ for the very reason that he is unavailable; there’s no pressure.
I’m on my second or third glass of wine and my stomach no longer hurts. Something about this guy has captured me before my brain fully catches on. It’s one of those visceral, ethereal connections. We have lots to say to one another. I want to learn more about him. And I like the way he looks at me and wants to know about me, as if he really sees me. He listens with his penetratingly soulful eyes. I’m not aware of time passing. His sing-song accent lulls me.
And he must have this online dating thing down to a science because he has thoroughly read my profile and seamlessly works into the conversation details about me that I have even forgotten I wrote. This has the effect of making me feel special. And he is so easy-going and comfortable in his own skin that I feel completely comfortable, too (a rare occurrence for me on a first date type of situation); so much so that I tell him my jeans are preventing me from breathing. I was in Greece over the summer and ate every dessert in sight and now am having issues buttoning my pants. He laughs, says nonchalantly (not in a creepy way): “So, unbutton them; there’s no reason to be uncomfortable.” And I do. I actually sit at the table with him with my pants unbuttoned as if I am at home in my living room. And he does not judge me.
We close down the bar. I’m too drunk to notice right away that the bartenders are impatiently waiting for us to leave. We go, at their encouragement (please leave), to a hole-in-the-wall dive bar around the corner and do a shot of tequila (actually, I don't remember the shot; Max reminds me the next time I see him). This place is so honky-tonk I feel like I’ve backtracked a couple of decades, but I am too drunk to care. Max is quite the gentleman (opening doors, paying for everything, asking all the right questions) and I am feeling so natural, like we’re old friends, that I’m momentarily shocked that his mouth is suddenly attached to mine. I step back, pushing away: “I barely know you!” I'm confused, not sure what I want. Although I’m having more fun with him than I’ve had with a guy in a long time, I’m not sure yet if I want to kiss him. A part of me does. Other part: not yet on board. He doesn’t seem offended though, even seems slightly amused. This is a cat and mouse game. A while later, he walks me to my car (stupidly, I drive home in this condition). He tells me to text him when I get home safely, and when I do he sends back “sleep tight!”
In the morning, I receive the message: “Thank you for a wonderful night, Athena!” (Athena is my middle name). But I’m too hung over to see straight and I’m having lots of mixed feelings and self loathing about drinking so much. I’m not sure if I want to see him again. I write back “Thanks, it was fun … I’m very hung over!” I recall my vivid dream that I was driving out of the parking lot (where Max walked me to my car), exceedingly drunk, and two cops pulled me over, asking me to recite a tongue-twister. I was terrified, but somehow I repeated it correctly and they let me go. When Max and I email the following day I tell him about the dream. He says that that actually happened to him while he was in San Antonio.
It feels to me as though he and I have this fated, otherworldly connection. My body is woozy with it. But I’m still not sure if I want to see him again. Something in me is resisting. He asks when we can get together again and I tell him that I can do something during the day. I figure I can get a better sense for what this thing is during the day, sans alcohol. And this body can no longer handle hangovers the way it used to. Once-in-a-blue- moon benders are exhilarating but more than that is, well, bad news. Plus, I’m not sure if I want to kiss him and now the kiss is hanging in the air. So, during the day feels safer. He agrees, but cancels the morning we’re supposed to hang out because his boss has too much for him to do that day. His text message is warm—he seems genuinely bummed to have to cancel—but my trust issues are triggered and I write him off, assuming that he went out with someone else the night before (after all, his profile clearly states he is looking for casual dates and sex while he is here) and is now making up an excuse. He asks if I’m free on Friday instead and I say, curtly, that I’m going to the beach. He doesn’t pursue it further. And I’m relieved that this thing is over because it has stirred up emotions that I believed were sufficiently buried after my last relationship ended.
But the relief I felt morphs into something else. Something like wild, feverish desire for this person I barely know. I don’t know if the idea that he is now unavailable makes him more appealing to me, but I am a lovesick teenager. Moping around. Able to think of nothing but him. I, of course, understand how crazy this is. I don’t know this guy. I am in love with an idea not a person. Blah blah blah. The logic of my mind does not help. I can’t eat. I can’t sit still. I don’t want to be anywhere that I am. I’m like an addict in withdrawal.
I finally send him a casual text a few days later and he responds “Hola, Athena!” But he doesn't return my last text and I’m not sure now if he’s still interested in seeing me again, but because I have transformed into a love-crazed lunatic I email him the following day to ask if he still wants to get together. He writes back that he would love to, so we set up a time to get together for drinks. (I have thrown out the idea of a daytime meeting). I feel as though I have lost all control over the situation. How did this happen?
The afternoon prior to the night we’ve planned to go out, he texts me asking if 10 pm is too late to meet; he won’t be done with work until then. In any other situation, I’d reschedule; it’s a Wednesday night and we’re in Westchester county, not Manhattan, but I respond: “Sure, that’s fine.”
I am hoping I’ll realize when I see him that I’m not even attracted to him, that this has all been in my head, but the moment I see him I’m drawn in. Those eyes. Hypnotic. And he knows it. They are disconcertingly intense and he hooks me with them. I feel like Bella from those stupid vampire books/movies (I haven’t read the books or seen the movies but I know she is fixated on the vampire guy). I can’t look away. And I guess he realizes this because he has no reservations about trying to kiss me again, and I happily oblige. I am in a dream land. I want to sit here at this bar kissing this sexy chef forever. But I’ve had these intense connections before and they don’t, typically, end well. I’m leery yet hooked. Like an addict.
He asks me if he can cook me dinner over the weekend, to which I instantly answer yes even though I currently, and pathetically, live in my mother’s apartment (due to being in graduate school and unable to afford Westchester rent). I cannot bring myself to tell him that I live with my mom, so I say, yes, I have my own place and, no, I don’t have any pets (he was just curious) and, yes, Saturday or Sunday sounds great. I’m listening to myself lying, thinking what are you doing? He drives me home and we kiss, passionately, in the car. I am in a trance. Rain is pelting down like bullets from the sky, as if the gods are warning me. Maybe I should listen to the rain. I’m tipsy, too, from the drinks and just sitting there, spacing out. He says, “Are you going to let me go?” And I realize he wants me to get out of the car so he can go home. “Yes,” I say, embarrassed, and jump out. This, in retrospect, seems like the perfect ending to these bizarre encounters.
I have agreed to let him go. Maybe I am agreeing to let go of all those ghosts of my relationship past, too. The universe is sending me a message. Time to move on. Time to grow up.
I email him the next day and confess to fibbing about living with my mom, saying that I’m sorry I didn’t tell him but I was embarrassed, and that he can’t make me dinner unless he wants to cook for my mom, too. I’m hoping he’ll find this somewhat humorous/endearing, but I’m not sure that living with one's parent looks endearing from any angle when one is no longer in one’s twenties. He writes back, hours later. He teases that I’m crazy (gee, thanks). His tone has shifted, and he’s calling me “babe.” He asks: “Now how would you make it up to me?” I don’t play along and answer, innocently, that we should do something fun instead (I really would like to hang out with him again) and ask what he wants to do (although, I think I know the answer). I never hear from him again. I text him a day or two later because now I am being that person (i.e., a fool), asking if he’s busy and why he never responded to my email. He answers that, yes, he’s busy preparing for lots of people who are visiting, blah blah. We tentatively make plans for Sunday and I don’t hear from him again until the end of the day, when he texts me to tell me he has the flu. This is so ridiculous that it makes me laugh, although I’m pissed. I delete the text. And breathe. I feel sad and hurt. And strangely exhilarated by the whole experience. I told him I'd let him go. And I guess I need to ... let those 'bad boys' go.
* * *