Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The perils of dating and ravioli

I'm in the elevator, heading up to the restaurant. I'm meeting Guy for dinner. Another matchmaker date. Sigh.

The last three have been so disappointing that they aren't even worth describing. I'm starting to doubt this process. Or myself. It's one of the two, and I'm really, really hoping that the problem is the process.

The last two guys, well. The instant they saw my face, they gave me The Bar Look. I don't try to talk to guys in bars anymore, because of The Bar Look. Just in case you don't have the same problem that I do, I will describe this for you: when I go up to a guy at a bar and say hello, being all friendly and outgoing, in exchange for my smile and gosh-darned effort, the most common reaction I get is a facial expression that rapidly progresses from disgust, to awkwardness, to fear. Oh, yes. Fear. Seriously, do I really look that bad?

I look in the mirrored doors of the elevator as it rises. I don’t look that bad. I think.

What I do look is tired. Tired from work, tired of dating, tired of rejection, tired of having to fake it. I smile in the mirror.

Nope, not buying it. I try again, this time with more crinkle in the eyes. That's an improvement, but I held eye contact too long with my reflection. Don’t want to seem creepy. Try it again, but look away shyly after two seconds, while keeping a bashful grin to myself. Not too bad. I should work on that one.

How about one that grows out of a laugh? Naw, too easy to look like I'm up to something evil by accident. (Don't nag me about my misplaced prepositional phrase. Either interpretation works equally well.)

I don't want to be fake, but I don't have much genuine left. This dating thing is like a job sometimes, where you have to show up and put in a decent effort no matter what. Isn't it supposed to be fun?

<ding!>

Sigh. I step out of the elevator, and walk up to the hostess with a polite smile. She gives me blinding glee back, which is really nice work on her part. Though for her, it really is her job. She probably practices in the elevator every day before shift. Ooh, I bet she does her rocker face at the end of shift, too. I practically stick my tongue out just thinking about it, but before I can break out the devil horns, she rounds the corner and I'm face to face with Guy, who is grinning ear-to-ear and is standing up from the table to greet me.

He has manners?

Swooooon.

"Hi, I’m Guy," he says.
"I'm Jen. It's very nice to meet you," I say, extending my hand. He shakes my hand: good grip, not too wussy. (And did you notice how he waited for me to start the handshake?... Manners!)

We sit down and, like synchronized swimmers trained by Emily Post, put our napkins on our laps. I'm smiling for real now. I'm imagining introducing him to my friends: "This is my boyfriend, Guy. We have so much in common!" (Like good manners!)

In fact, we do have a lot in common. He politely asks questions about me, and I politely ask questions about him, and we talk about dogs and the difficulty of finding good lawn maintenance companies and our jobs and our favorite ice cream treats as children. I can totally forgive him for liking the Strawberry Shortcake bar more than the Toasted Almond bar, because all people have their faults.

Damn, it is so easy to talk to him. I don't even have to try. It's like one topic just flows into the next, and we are taking turns saying stuff so it isn't one-sided, and he's asking me lots of questions so I can tell he's interested, and holy cow, if dating were always like this, I would totally leave my house more than I do.

Plus, the food is incredible. Artichoke heart ravioli with butter and shredded parmesan? Oh, mama. And I have to restrain myself from taking food off his plate, because he's ordered something gnocchi-ish that is bewitching me from afar. Could this date get any better?

(I'll pause briefly here so that you have time to appreciate the doomful and prophetic music swelling in the background. Everybody ready now?)

While I'm using the side of my fork to gently cut a ravioli in two and balance it carefully on the tines, dripping with butter sauce, a piece of parmesan gracefully perched on top like a piquant little beret, I look across the table at Guy. There's a natural lull in the conversation while he takes a drink from his ice water.

And then I see it.

As he sips, he dips his chin and looks up and to the left while furrowing his brow a little. He's looking for information, something he's trying to remember.

The next question on his list.

Oh. It isn't that the conversation is natural because we have a lot in common. The conversation is flowing effortlessly because he's putting in the effort. He has manners. He can have a conversation with anyone, probably. Even someone he isn't interested in.

Unaware that I'm looking at him instead of my ravioli, he gives a little sigh and plunges back into the conversation with a good soldier try.

But as he looks up, he sees me looking at him. My eyes are sad, my mouth open in surprise, my ravioli still held in mid-air. I watch his expression change from friendly, to awkward, to oh, crap. He knows I know, and for what it's worth, he's sorry.

Plop! My ravioli falls off the fork into the lake of sauce on my plate, sending up a missile of butter-coated parmesan.

"Oh! Your blouse!" he says.
"It's okay," I say, blotting at with a napkin and making it worse.
"Do you want another napkin? I can get the waiter for you. Here, let me flag down the waiter."
"No, it's okay. It doesn't matter."
"Isn't club soda supposed to help? We could order some club soda."
"I'll deal with it later."
"I wish I could do something," he says.
"It's not a big deal. Don't worry about it."
"It really is a nice blouse," he says, looking truly sorry.
"Things happen. It's no one's fault."
"Usually I'm the one who ends up covered in food," he says.
"I guess it's just my turn," I say.

We finish our dinner in relative quiet.

At the end, I shake hands with Good Manners Guy, say my polite goodbyes, and go home.

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