Going The Distance: The Set-Up

It was early spring, late afternoon, a couple of years ago and I was having beers and burgers with some girlfriends. It was warm enough that we sat on the patio outside where we ate and drank and talked about boys.

I was the youngest in the group — still a few months shy of my 30th birthday and conversation soon turned to the challenge of finding a good man before we all died alone with a bunch of cats in the living room and stale cereal in the cabinet.

“I don’t understand why it’s so hard,” I said, “I just want someone who’s funny and charming and kind and gracious and creative and ambitious and smart. Curly hair, glasses and dimples don’t hurt either,” I added.

My friend Meg immediately said she knew the perfect guy for me — that he was everything on my list.
“What’s the catch?” I asked, ever the optimist.

“Well, he lives in New York,” she replied.

I sighed and rolled my eyes. I lived in Chicago at the time.

“Weren’t you just saying that you have to be open to finding love?” Meg asked.

“Yeah, but like, in your own city. New York’s on the other side of the country!” I replied.

But then she reminded me I was going there for a visit in a couple of weeks and before I had a chance to argue, she pulled her phone out of her purse and started dialing a number. Five minutes later I was talking with Drew, a guy I’d never even met before, asking if he liked sushi and if he wanted to take me out while I was in town. He answered ‘yes’ to both, and suddenly, it was all arranged: my first official set-up…with someone who lived over 700 miles away, no less.

For the next two weeks, Drew and I emailed back and forth every day, exchanging stories about our childhoods, friends, travels, interests, likes and dislikes. It was similar to email exchanges I’d had with potential dates I’d met online before, but there was a kind of comfort and safety that was new with him, maybe on account of our connection through a mutual friend, maybe on account of the distance. If we didn’t hit it off in person, no one’s feelings would have to be hurt, we wouldn’t need to awkwardly shuffle through the asking or not asking of a second date. It was easy.

The day we met in person, I dressed carefully — feminine, but not precious, a little sexy, but not like I was trying too hard. I could just as easily have been going out for happy hour with my girlfriends, and suddenly, I kind I wish I were.

As I stepped off the subway in SoHo, and made my way to street-level, I started panicking. What am I doing? I wondered to myself. Why am I about to have dinner with a stranger? In an unfamiliar city? What am I thinking? What if he’s crazy?

“Are you crazy?” I asked him after we awkwardly exchanged ‘hellos’ and started walking to the restaurant.

“Yeah,” he answered, “I kinda am.”

“I thought so,” I replied.

The chemistry that had been so electric between us 700 miles apart was barely even existent now that we were face to face, but over an appetizer and our first round of wine, the edge between us softened just a bit and we both started to relax. By the time our entree came and before we finished our second glasses of wine, he was growing on me. I liked the way he looked in the candlelight, I liked his smile, he had nice teeth.

“You have nice teeth,” I said, sipping my wine.

“So do you,” he replied.

When we finished dinner, I found myself nodding when Drew asked if I wanted to get a drink.

At the bar I told him how I was writing my Master’s thesis and it was the last thing I had to do before I got my degree.

“After that,” I said, “I can pretty much do whatever. Go wherever. I mean, life’s kind of an open path, you know?”

The next day, Drew called and asked if he could see me again before I went back to Chicago.

We had brunch together the next morning and went for a walk in the park. We spent the whole afternoon together. Later that night, my friend had a performance at a club right across the street from Drew’s apartment. I stopped by his place afterwards to say good-bye. I decided I liked being there with him. I liked sitting on his couch, I liked being next to him.

“I have to go now,” I said as I realized how late it’d gotten.

“Right now?” he asked, disappointedly, “Right away?”

“Yeah…” I said, afraid every minute longer I stayed would just make it harder to leave.

I cried on the stairs on my way out. I cried the next morning in a park in Astoria as I looked across the river into Manhattan. And I cried on the plane later that day on my way back to Chicago.

My friend Meg was wrong about one thing — Drew didn’t have dimples, but he did have all those other qualities I said I wanted. The only one I neglected to add to my list that afternoon with my girlfriends was “close proximity to me.” I’d just survived my first set-up, but was I ready for my first long distance relationship, too? Find out in next week’s installment of “Going The Distance”…