Not-So-True-Love Tuesday: The Non-date Date

 Broken heartWelcome to the first installment of Not-so-True-Love Tuesdays, featuring silly and scary and “Seriously?” stories from my dating days, now also known as the “BS” years: Before Steve. (Since Steve refers to his midlife dating period in the five years before he met me as “BS,” Before Sandee, I’m following suit.)

Maybe it’s the gloomy weather or renewed pressures at work.  Or maybe it’s the fact that even now when I have a sweetheart, my anxiety still ratchets up a notch when I see store aisles packed full of Valentine’s Day gifts—no doubt a holdover from too many misspent years wondering if lack of boyfriend = unlovable Sandee. In any case, it seemed a good time to remind myself, and maybe a dear friend or two, that I wasn’t always so lucky, and that you do, indeed, have to kiss a few frogs (or at least meet them for sushi) if you have any hope of finding a prince.

In the meantime? Buy the chocolates and roses for yourself!

The Non-date Date

I’d met “Sam,” a hospital pharmacist, at an event sponsored by a group. I’d joined the group a few months after a break-up with a man I’d met through left me reeling. I wasn’t ready to go back to the online dating scene, but sitting at home moping wasn’t a healthy option either. So I found a couple local Meetups, one focused on outdoor activities, and another on wine-tasting, took a deep breath, and headed to my first social.

I wound my way through several rooms in an unfamiliar bar to find the gathering, so I was relieved when Sam approached me and greeted me warmly. Stocky, with dark hair and an infectious smile, Sam was jovial and loud, tending toward frat-boy boisterous. I usually preferred quieter types, but after I saw him at several subsequent events, he emailed me via the Meetup website. In the email exchange we struck up, I saw a different side of Sam: smart and thoughtful, an international traveler of some insight. Eventually he invited me, via email, to dinner. He did it in one of those bass-ackwards ways that made it impossible to tell if the date was actually supposed to be a date. Still, what did I have to lose? I agreed to meet him.

We planned an early dinner on a Tuesday evening, and I suggested a sushi place not far from where I worked. We met in the parking lot, only to find a sign on the door of the restaurant proclaiming the place had closed up shop earlier that week. I was flustered and embarrassed, and I didn’t know of any other decent restaurants in the immediate area. After some awkward “I don’t know, what sounds good to you?”-ing back and forth, Sam finally suggested another Japanese restaurant, a Kabuki, a few miles away. We caravanned in our separate cars.

Somehow when we arrived we overlooked the small sushi bar near the entrance, and ended up, instead, seated at a large rectangular table with six strangers. No, only four strangers, I realized, as a blond woman finger-waved from the other side of the cook-top. Four strangers—and my landlords’ best friends.

Awesome. An audience.

We selected our entrees. I ordered a martini.

Our casual sushi-klatsch had morphed into a formal multi-course dinner. The setting might have been perfect for a festive celebration with close friends, but it was death to a first date. The flash and dash of twirling knives and flying food made sustained conversation laborious, and what bits and bites we did manage felt disjointed, out of sync. I’d share some dialogue to illustrate, but I seem to have blanked out most of the evening.

When we left the restaurant, it was still light out. Neither Sam nor I suggested a follow-up drink. Instead, Sam walked toward his car, parked several spaces distant from mine, then stopped and turned around in the middle of the parking lot. From twenty feet away, he hollered his half of a five-minute farewell conversation.

I drove straight to TJ Maxx for intense retail therapy.

Seeking support and reassurance that I wouldn’t be alone forever, I shared the story of the non-date date with some married friends over dinner a few days later. My girlfriend told me she knew just the thing to cheer me up. She and her husband could set me up with a really sweet guy they knew, a motorcyclist with alopecia. Or, in her words, “a hairless biker named Misfit.”

There weren’t enough dresses on the racks.

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