We’d talked about meeting up for weeks, and I was excited. He had a Cavalier King Charles (adorable), bread-making skills (hot), and a stable job in the arts (rare). This was not your average T*nder match. This was one of the unicorns that you only hear about on a deep acquaintance’s Facebook feed (you know the ones: they start with “Feeling: blessed” and it’s a black and white wedding photo with a caption about having met on a dating app and you’re like… WHAT??! Dating apps don’t contain potential life partners, they contain catfish, dubious “entrepreneurs” and DJs looking for IG followers. Who are these people?! No, really.. Who are they and why do I follow them on Facebook?)
His name was Josh (name not changed… there are a lot of Joshes out there, you won’t know him. Plus, it’s 2021–Josh can handle it). Josh was very present on our three late-Covid FaceTimes. He had jokes and laughed easily. Wanted a long-term relationship and wasn’t afraid to express that. Didn’t seem nervous, aggressive, or to have rage issues. I know it’s just FaceTime, but we were VIBING. I liked that he didn’t try to bond through subtly shading his exes–a huge red flag for me. He wasn’t into posturing, negging, or name-dropping either, so that was cool. When Josh asked me out to dinner, I was SO ready.
Josh thought it was cool that I didn’t drink, and didn’t make a big deal out of it. He wasn’t a big drinker either, he said, but might have a beer during dinner and was that okay with me? Sometimes that question annoys me (come on, I’m not that fragile), but from Josh I found it respectful. Even…hot. Bottoms up, Josh. (devil emoji)
I got ready listening to Justin Timberlake because I’m 35 years young. I put on perfume and felt excited, not nervous, for once. I didn’t even lie to have an optional ‘out.’ I assumed Josh and I could, and would, be able to chat easily as we had on our FT dates. And if for some reason I wasn’t feeling it, he would probably respect that and be chill about it. But driving to the date, I imagined us lingering at the restaurant long after our plates were cleared. I wondered if he was too polite to try and kiss me and hoped he wasn’t.
I told the hostess I was here to meet with Josh; he had made reservations. “Oh yes,” she said with a nod. “He’s not here yet, but I can seat you now.”
I winced. My anticipation was through the roof and I was so amped up for how I’d pictured this moment– Josh already sitting there, looking up from his phone to see me enter the room in my carefully selected white heels (lowkey the sluttiest shoe). Now I’d have to deal with my heart racing until he arrived, that nervous anticipation yet to be quelled, and he wouldn’t see my shoes.
Well, at least I’d have a few minutes alone. I could take this time to try and relax a bit. I texted Josh: “I’m here. ETA?” And watched for the little bubbles that always appeared almost instantly. But…. nothing. Well, yeah, I reasoned. He can’t answer if he’s driving.
Five minutes passed and the waiter asked me if I’d like a drink. When I asked for club soda, he nodded a little too aggressively, like he felt bad for me — like he knew something I didn’t. Or I was totally projecting. Either way, I shook it off– LA parking was crazy. This was annoying for sure, but it wasn’t like Josh wasn’t going to show up. That only happened in shitty romantic comedies, before the real man showed up to sweep our heroine off her feet. And Josh was the real man… right?
I sipped my drink through pursed lips as I looked at the other patrons– couples, mostly, clinking glasses and getting drunk. In those same romantic comedies, the main character joins those people, whether they like it or not, because she’s bold, and daring–and drunk, too, because that’s funny. But I remembered my drinking days, knowing that it was definitely better to be present during moments of discomfort like these. Before I got sober, I would have started to panic about how this might look to the other diners, but this quickly passed. They were on their dates– the last thing they were thinking about was me. I thought of how I’d deal with this before I got sober, too. I would have slammed all the drinks I could to ease the anxiety of not knowing, and then either being a mess when they got here or leaving to do God knows what else.
After twenty excruciating minutes of waiting for Josh to reply, I set my phone face down on the white tablecloth. I felt a spiral coming on: Fuck being present. What did I do to deserve this? But more importantly, what about me made this happen? I had talked about not liking Game of Thrones, much too soon. Everyone loved GOT– why would I reveal that?! Oh, God– and I had forgotten all about the fact that I’d told him bananas “didn’t agree with me.” I might as well have just sent him a picture of me on the toilet! Maybe he Googled me and saw those tagged FB photos from back in my drinking days. The ones of me doing a keg stand in low rise jeans and chunky highlights. He’d definitely found them while driving here, and immediately slammed on the brakes. Slammed on the brakes…Oh, God– maybe Josh got in a car accident! Of course he did. He was speeding here to be on time, God, that’s so thoughtful, SO Josh! I should DO something. Maybe it’s not too late! Then a quick shift to blind rage: he BETTER have gotten in a car accident, or I’m going to be so fucking pissed. (Yeah, looking back, this wasn’t my finest hour.)
I checked my phone. Nothing. It was now forty minutes after I’d arrived, and it hit me that Josh might really not be coming.
And if I stayed one more second to wait for him, it would be too long. I paid for the club soda and stood up, feeling strangely, not rejected, but kind of… empowered? It was like I suddenly knew with total certainty that this wasn’t about me, at all.
I walked to my car with new clarity. I’d just experienced my literal worst nightmare and run the gamut of emotions around it fully sober. I hadn’t drank, I hadn’t lashed out, I hadn’t acted out. I realized that I’d gained something else in sobriety that I’d never felt so fully: dignity. That thing that no one seems to have in any of those shitty romantic comedies.
Epilogue: Three days later, my phone buzzed. It was Josh. He apologized and said something had come up, and that he would love to take me out some other time. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say, but decided for the rest of the day, I would leave him on read and treat myself. I went to the spa, got a massage, and made myself a gorgeous dinner. That day turned into a week, and then into a month. I wonder if Josh is still waiting for my reply.