The day before our dinner date, The Former Australian emails me: Are we on for tomorrow night?
A few hours before our dinner date, The Former Australian emails again: Did you make reservations or did you want me to take care of it? Also, any idea what the parking situation is? I get very stressed by parking.
No, I didn’t reserve. There is parking over by the mall. It is a block away from the mall.
Thank you, he replies politely. It would help to have your cell phone number, in case anything comes up.
I send it, and when I’m en route, a text arrives: There’s parking behind the restaurant. Take a left turn when you get there. Two hours free.
I hear the ping, but don’t reply. I’m driving.
I’m sitting at a table by the window, in the back.
I don’t reply. I don’t even read. Unaided, I find the parking and him.
For some reason, the restaurant’s website and menu suggested a small place, dark and rustic; it turns out to be a modern place, all angles and surfaces and perfectly groomed people wearing neutral colors. I feel a bit awkward until the waiter arrives, dressed in an incongruous bright blue polo shirt and not a hint of attitude.
The waiter makes helpful cocktail suggestions, and I order something he suggests is light and summery. The Former Australian attempts to order an orange Fanta; he doesn’t drink alcohol. The waiter doesn’t have Fanta, only some blood orange soda; it’s a brand I’ve had before, so I recommend it, and after a detailed three-way discussion of the pros and cons of blood oranges in general and this brand of blood orange soda in particular, The Former Australian orders one.
The waiter brings the drinks quickly.
I talk a bit about my day at work, then ask about his business: He owns and manages several commercial buildings, which he inherited from his father. You must be doing well, I say, the Seattle rental market is hot right now. True, he replies, but these are older buildings and we have to compete with newer buildings and large corporate owners. It’s very hard to compete these days.
The waiter appears, inquiring if we’ve had time to check the menu, so we do. Nearly everything on it is a mystery to him. What’s carpaccio? He asks me. Kimchi? Harissa? Gruyere? Emmentaler?
I explain what I know and he rejects the unfamiliar, which is pretty much everything. I order some shrimp and fritters made from beets and Emmentaler, and as I do, a thought occurs to me. Didn’t you live in France for a while?
Did you try the cheeses while you were there?
I like plain things, he says. I eat salmon a lot. Usually I have rice with it.
Do you cook?
No, I’m afraid to learn. It seems hard. I hired a private cook, though. She’s the daughter of a friend, she’s going to come over and cook for me a couple of nights a week.
What will she make?
Probably salmon, I guess, with rice.
There are services that will deliver meals to your house, I say. You can cook them, or some of the services will deliver gourmet meals already cooked.
I know, he says, but she’s going to keep me company, too. I don’t like eating alone, it makes me sad.
The Child texts me: she forget her key and can’t get inside our house. My friend up the street has a key, but isn’t home, but she can drive by, and so as our food arrives – rather quickly – I am coordinating a key delivery via text message. Finally, The Child is inside the house, and I receive multiple texts to that effect, and am ready to begin eating and resume conversing.
He asks what I think of Jdate, and I say not much. They’re good at luring you in for a subscription, he says. He tells me about another jdate he went on, with a woman who was very determined that they meet for an elaborate dinner date for their first meeting. I don’t have much to say about it, since I can only assume he asked her to suggest a place and then didn’t like the place she suggested, so I sip my drink and contemplate ordering another.
He asks: Have you heard of It’s Just Lunch?
I relate my experience with them, and he thanks me for saving him the money.
The food arrives, and I sample the beets, and don’t like them, and the shrimp, which is quite delicious. He picks a bit at his food, and eats so little the plate looks untouched.
He wants to know if I’ve tried any of the dating apps, and I think perhaps this is a conversation he should have with someone else after I’ve left, which I’m ready to do.
I glance up for the waiter but he’s already there, leaving the check on the table exactly between us.
Let’s just split the check evenly, suggests my date.
I make no objection, but as I open my wallet, I have a moment of clarity: His company isn’t company I am willing to pay for.
The waiter brings our charge receipts with the same magical speed as everything else he’s brought, and smiles as he hands mine to me. I smile back and write in a large tip, enough to ensure he’s been tipped for the whole table, with a little extra to say thanks, from me.
I end up walking to the parking lot with The Former Australian, since we both parked in the same lot. As we approach his Prius, I reach out to shake his hand, and he pulls me in for an awkward hug.
I work, I parent, I volunteer, I pay bills. I maintain a home that I decorated. I budget money for current needs, plan for future needs like my retirement and The Child’s college education, and all the tutoring and test-taking and enrichment she’ll need along the way. I walk dogs and cats who live here permanently, and some who live here temporarily, and feed them and choose the food and call the vet when needed. I do laundry and changes sheets when I remember to. Sometimes I hire people to take care of some of these things, and sometimes I fire them; it’s a decision either way. When I want to relax, I plan a vacation that I’ve hopefully mostly budgeted for. And then there’s the car, with its payments and maintenance and gas and driving places with a GPS system that always seems to be missing roads that I want or need to drive on.
It all gets done, if imperfectly. I’m not complaining; I’m just trying to provide a bit of perspective on why a woman might not consider it thoughtful to receive an invitation to dinner that requires her to choose the restaurant.
My idea of a fun night out begins with someone else suggesting what we should do, followed by a few fleeting hours spent savoring the blissful freedom of not having to make decisions and be responsible.
Pick anything that isn’t sushi, and I’ll be ecstatic; pick sushi and I’ll pretend to be.
I’ll say please and thank you and what’s more, I’ll mean it.
Instead, I am offered the chance to research restaurants and offer suggestions for the approval of someone whose tastes and temperament I don’t know: You pick the place!
No. You do it.
I pull up a list of restaurants on Yelp, places I’ve bookmarked and have been meaning to try. I cut and paste them into a reply email: Thanks. Here’s a list of places.
He chooses the first one on the list.
I don’t hear from The Former Australian for a day or two, and I realize that he must have thought I was blowing him off when I got up to leave, so I send a quick email letting him know I signed up for a mailing list he suggested, and enjoyed meeting him, and hope we meet again.
He replies quickly: Great! Would you like to have dinner next time?
Dinner sounds good, I reply.
Great! You pick the place.
An hour before we’re supposed to meet, my jdate sends an email: He got to the coffee spot I picked and it is closed on Sundays. He’s chosen a nearby Tully’s and will hold a table there until I arrive.
I park outside Tully’s, and sit in my car. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go in.
I don’t like generic coffee.
I don’t want to spend an hour or more at yet another disappointing online date.
Then again, I don’t want to be the person who makes dates and doesn’t show up, especially since I know he’s not only already there, but has been there for an hour by the time I arrive.
I swear at the dashboard of my car, turn off the motor, and go in.
He’s sitting by the window, waiting, wearing neatly pressed clothes, and when he sees me arrive, stands to greet me and introduce himself politely, with a charming, slightly faded Australian accent. He looks nothing like his goofy profile picture and everything like a preppy businessman on his day off.
We chat, rambling a bit from topic to topic; he explains what he meant by “sometimes Kosher” in his jdate profile, he asks about my volunteer activities and tells me about his. He asks about the dogs I foster for rescue, tells me he’s thinking of getting a dog and wants my opinion about that. I mention my daughter, and ask about his children.
They live with his ex-wife; he only sees them once a week for dinner.
He changes the subject, asks me how often I go to synagogue, and I tell him I’ve only been in a synagogue twice in my life, though I have a recommendation for one in my area, from my father’s rabbi.
What about you?
I go to the synagogue where I used to live; it isn’t very convenient but it’s familiar. But it makes me sad to be in that neighborhood. My wife lives there, I still see her.
I ask about his ex-wife and children, I’m a bit confused about the timeline: They lived in France, and Israel, and Seattle; they lived apart, they lived together. He explains a bit, but it doesn’t make any more sense when he’s finished than when he started. Too many details are left out, and it’s a decidedly nonstandard custody arrangement.
I got screwed, he says. I don’t want to talk about it too much, it’s not really appropriate for a first meeting, and it makes me sad.
I offer some comments that I hope are helpful, and I think must be, because he replies, You’re the most upbeat person I’ve ever met.
It’s been an hour and my coffee is done, so I stand and thank him and say I’m looking forward to seeing him again. He looks wounded. I’d hoped we could talk more.
We will, next time.
He follows me out to the parking lot, but when we get to my car there’s nowhere else to go, so he turns around and walks back to his.
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