The thing about dating apps and the stress and nerves that go with them is that sometimes the swiping becomes a match, which becomes a chat, which leads to banter, and then one of you suggests you meet up. For a date. In person in real life face to face and well. This was the whole point in the first place, right? This is what you wanted, right?! This is what you came here for but now . . . now you actually have to go through with it. Turns out you have to go on that first date in order to have the second one to then see if this is someone you are going to enter some sort of relationship with.
In the mind-numbing and thumb-numbing game that is swiping through dating apps and then Whatsapping for endless hours, I often forget this part. I like to just picture the end result – the hypothetical life I’ve created with a match based on the limited information his pictures and profile have given me. It’s a pretty female-specific gift, I’ve found. Give me three hobbies, a few previous travels, one picture of his family, (a few hours to stalk him online like the amateur detective I definitely am by now) and I can concoct endless scenarios for our yet-to-be-confirmed future. A few flirty texts and I’ve already fast-forwarded to snuggling on the couch and rolling eyes at the same argument we’ve had a million times about which barbecue sauce is superior while we flip through Netflix and work through all the good, solid, formed parts of a relationship. I’ve preemptively named our rescue dogs.
With all the thrill of the notifications of a fresh set of matches and texts, I can forget you have to wade through miles of awkward-swamp and battle a few swamp monsters along the way in order to get to an actual relationship. You have to have all those “I grew up in a (choose your dysfunction) household. The relationship I had with my (choose your fighter) has really affected my ability to (trust people/communicate/accept love),” conversations.
You have to fumble around, test boundaries, simulate real-life scenarios. See how they interact with restaurant staff and kids and stray animals and your parents before making any major life decisions. At least, that’s the responsible thing to do. Which, it turns out, based on documented history, is not what I’m really great at. But I’m an eternal optimist, so I keep trying, keep hoping.
Then this guy happened. And I hoped. Based on our circumstances, I figured I had a really good chance of making a really good first impression. Afterall, I would be the first woman he’d seen in three weeks.
I bet you’re wondering how we got here. Lemme ‘splain.
Tymothee* and I matched and started chatting. I was drawn to his super approachable profile. He mentioned hobbies, had pictures that showed his face, there was not a single blurred out past significant other nor a fish to be seen, and he was attractive but not in a threatening kind of way. His glasses were a bit more the Chosen One than I usually go for, but his smile was adorable and we hit it off immediately. There was banter. Then I found out he was in quarantine, having just arrived in Hong Kong. New arrivals have to stay in a hotel for 21 days before they can enter society.
Well, no wonder there’d been plenty of chat – I’d had a captive audience! But I dug further and found out the poor guy didn’t have any friends yet in HK, didn’t know about the delivery options, and had been diligently eating the terrible hotel meals every day without a single piece of fresh fruit or vegetable or even coffee for fourteen days with seven more to go.
Enter le moi. I had many lovely people offering help both times I was in quarantine and I absolutely jumped at the chance to pay some goodness forward to this poor unfortunate soul. I asked what he wanted most, and he couldn’t believe it, would I really? He couldn’t possibly, there was no way, it was too much –
I told him that there really are just good people out there, and I wanted to be one of them, and then gave him the night to think on it. By morning, probably because it was his 15th day without coffee (and who among us could do that without going mental?) he sent me a very humble list of requested goods – instant coffee, boxed milk, grape juice, a bag of baby carrots because he loves them, and any fresh fruit I could find.
And then I was on a mission! It was an easy one, but a delightful one all the same. His hotel (unbeknownst to him, as I learned early on in the Tinder game to never even reveal your neighborhood because of the prevalence of creepers in this world) was just five minutes’ walk from my flat (which I managed to make 15 since I naturally got lost). I easily found the items, bagged them up, wrote a note, dropped off the package, and then walked home, my ear tuned to the impending ping of my texts to let me know he’d received it.
He was ecstatic, of course, and I was gracious and humble as I adjusted my angel wings and halo and said it was “of course, no problem at all,” as long as God is listening. After refusing to give him my Venmo details for the fifth time so that he could repay me, we simultaneously texted each other that we’d just have to meet up for a drink instead.
And then there we were. That’s what I had wanted, right? That’s what we go on these horrible apps for in the first place – to procure a date. But then all of a sudden it was there and he wanted one that very weekend and I didn’t have time to act elusive or like I had big plans. I had to decide on the place because he was new and adorably clueless, and suddenly we were pinned down for Sunday afternoon, just two days away, at my local coffee slash cocktails spot. Casual. Cool. Calm.
ASDFGHJKL@#%$# yeah, Casual. Cool. Calm. I was none of those things. I don’t know if I’ve ever been any of those things. Certainly not more than one at a time.
I tried to remember my last first date, and it was definitely pre-pandemic, so 2019, maybe earlier. I’ve had some right disasters here in Hong Kong, and like all people, I’ve got a fair amount of anxiety, even for a pretty confident person. So I found myself asking things like “Siri, what do adults talk about?” because even though my material kills with my fourth graders when I break up the monotony of learning about plural possessives and decimals, I’m not sure how my jokes and stories might translate to a male in my own age group.
I woke up the day of wishing I had a legitimate excuse to get out of the
meeting romantic interview date, and yet hating myself for being scared to try. The evil voices inside my head kept telling me I had nothing cute to wear in a closet full of clothes, no conversation to make from a mind full of questions and stories, that I laughed too loud and was too American and my butt was even bigger than it looked in pictures and I didn’t know where to put my hands when I talked.
Through this pandemic, especially here in Hong Kong with the strictest of restrictions, we’ve become incredibly isolated and socially awkward. I have an amazing but shrinking group of friends who love me despite my many faults. I haven’t met anyone new in years. The thought of making a new friend, let alone establishing a basis for a romantic future, is overwhelming and seems nearly impossible because of the fragile and uncertain circumstances we find ourselves in. At the moment, I feel all my feelings at new heights and am desperate for reassurance and lacking my normal confidence when it comes to new situations.
But I went. Because we must punch fear in the face. I texted a million people for advice and encouragement, and nearly cried, and laid on my floor in a towel and thought of all the things that he could hate about me. But then I got up and got dressed and – for a HUGE plot twist – I got there early. Therefore I got to watch him walk up from a distance and compose myself appropriately while he was the one to try and casually swipe at upper lip sweat, and I only asked “How are you?” three times, but I think he was too distracted to notice. Then he put me completely at ease by being completely ill at ease himself when he admitted first thing – “Sorry, I’m a bit hungover.”
I immediately brightened, because in the shadow of a hangover, I must surely look even more amazing. “Oh, friend, let me handle this,” I said – Hong Kong’s taught me a lot about rallying. I ordered us Moscow Mules and we sat in the sunshine and let the cocktails chase away nerves for me and an upset tummy for him.
He was SO grateful for the delivery I’d made to his hotel, and between Covid talk, his recent move to Hong Kong, and the both of us expats, we chatted easily for two hours. I had an alarm set to go meet friends for their post-brunch happy hour, which provided an easy out before conversation dimmed. We both looked disappointed at the ringing and I even hit snooze once before I decided to go, not wanting to wear out a welcome.
We cheek-kissed and hugged at departing, and before I had tucked myself in later that night, he’d already texted asking for a second date, to which I immediately agreed.
We haven’t been on that second date yet – it’s been Chinese New Year, so I was on vacation for two weeks. And I learned on our date that he’s ten years younger than me and here on a short term contract and will be going back to his home country at the end of March. Is all that worth opening up an admittedly scarred and scared heart to?
It’s nearly Valentine’s Day; a cursed day to start dating someone new. I prefer to celebrate Galentine’s Day and hang out with all the women in my life who make things so shiny and lovely for me. So I’ll wait a week or so then ask him for a casual calm cool collected coffee or cocktails ‘date.’ Just to see what happens.
If nothing happens, I’ll be left with at the very least, a friend. And I was able to remind myself that I know: how to flirt (a bit rusty at the beginning but then trust me, it was effective), how to talk to adults who aren’t teachers, how to make a graceful exit that leaves them wanting more (something I wish I could figure out for this blog).
Cheers to first dates and last calls.
(At 6pm, because Hong Kong basically has a curfew now. It’s cool, I’m fine, everything is fine.)
*not his real name, and pronounced like the Key and Poole Substitute sketch only