Dater X: I Want To Believe

Another Friday, another first date. If only I seemed to be getting any better at these things.

I never heard from Peter after last week’s awkward, smoochless compliment-fest, which was fine by me – the poor guy seemed sweet, but he wasn’t even in the same county as my wheelhouse when I came to what we each wanted from a relationship (me: a partner; him: a mannequin). Frustrated but undeterred, it was back to swiping and messaging, casting what felt like an ever-wider net for that elusive prize: a first date that leads to a second.

I had met, via Tinder, a guy who seemed promising, and we had moved from app to text, even going so far as to Facebook friend each other, but our schedules were troublingly out of sync, so when he resurfaced this week with a Facebook message about losing his phone and some free time on Friday, I was absolutely game. He asked me to text or call and suggested that we split a bottle of wine somewhere, which sounded like a damned good way to end the work week to me. I offered to meet him at a cozy bar halfway between our apartments and he said he would see me there.

Here’s where a fun fact about your Dater X comes in: I spent well over a decade working in restaurants, and as a result, I don’t tend to have the best concept of what it’s like to go out at “prime time” (read: when everyone else is going out). So the wine bar that my friends and I frequent on Wednesday evenings ended up being fuller than an ambitious trick-or-treater’s pillowcase of candy on a Friday at 8, and my date, who we’ll call Mulder – you’ll see why in a minute – was waiting outside for me, having approached the bar and been roundly ignored as wave after wave of Ohmigod Girls’ Night!!! groups shrieked about needing another bottle of “pinot greeeeeeeeeg.”

He was happily down to go somewhere else, and suggested a far more chill spot a couple of blocks away with the caveat that it was a bit close to his ex’s favorite bar. Did I love that he opened up The Ex File (hence the name) on a first date before I had even a sip of a cocktail in me? No. But it didn’t seem like a dealbreaker; cities are famously haunted, and about the only time you can be guaranteed to run into an ex is when you really don’t want to. Like when you’re fresh from a SoulCycle class, red-faced and dripping sweat. Or on a first date with someone else. So to the corner dive we went, ordered a couple of pints, and settled in at a table to chat.

Mulder was … thoughtful. Easy to talk to. A self-described feminist who shared my aversion to contact sports in favor of baseball and time outdoors (though I decidedly do not share his affinity for “board sports,” i.e. surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding; if I can give myself a concussion playing softball, imagine what I could do while careening down a mountain!). We talked comfortably about subjects light (a recent episode of “South Park”) and heavy (stoicism and philosophy). Having acknowledged a mutual fondness for Italy – I, through living there; him, through the writings of Marcus Aurelius and some travel – he offered that maybe we should split that bottle of wine after all, a Chianti or similar, and I said that I knew just the place.

He settled up for our drinks and we headed a few blocks over to my neighborhood Italian spot, not somewhere I typically bring guys on a first date because it’s a secret I don’t like to give away. But we were talking so naturally that it seemed…natural. We ordered a bottle of wine, browsed the menu, picked out a few dishes. And from there, the conversation took a turn. Not a U-turn. An X-turn, if you will. Because suddenly, all Mulder wanted to talk about was his ex.

I don’t know if he just had the right amount of booze in him or if I looked less lovely in the candlelight of the wine bar than I did in the neon of the dive, but I learned all kinds of things about this person. Like that she was significantly younger than him, and nearly a decade younger than me. Which meant that they had started dating when she was 19. Or that they had first broken up a year before, and Mulder had started seriously seeing someone else, only to drop her (with remorse, to hear him tell it, though not enough to act on it) when his would-be child bride came crawling back. Or that he felt entirely uncomfortable dating a woman in her 30s because he wasn’t ready to think about having kids right away. Which, whoa, guy, me neither! I can barely take care of myself, let alone a relationship, let alone a helpless little human larva. And while I get that maybe it’s weird to have the idea of kids on the table when you’ve never given it much thought, he spent several minutes earnestly entreating me not to expect him to put a baby in me right away. And that, even for a woman in her 30s who eventually wants a family, is an awful lot to think about on a first date, especially haunted, as this date was, by the specter of his ex.

Still, we generally had a pretty nice time. The wine was good; the food was good. We kissed, tasting of focaccia and Sangiovese, and it was nice, though he was guilty of what I consider the cardinal sin of French kissing: opening his mouth against mine and tucking his tongue back, leaving nothing but a gaping cave of warm air between our parted lips. Eew. We finished the wine, settled our check, and he walked me to my door. But I haven’t heard from him since, and after spending so much time feeling like his ex was sitting in between us at the table, I haven’t reached out to him, either. Maybe in another lifetime we might have hit it off; mentally, we seemed to be on the same page, but emotionally, we were in different places entirely.

To that end, I have another first date this week – on Thursday, this time, instead of Friday, because maybe that will yield different results?? – and I have reached out to no fewer than five of my girlfriends about going speed-dating. I was pleasantly surprised when all five responded with some variation on “Fuck yes!” They range in age from 20s to 40s, and in aesthetic from gal next door to shaved-head badass, so if nothing else, this is going to be good for some stories, both my own and theirs vicariously. Because despite having been discouraged by The Ex File, I still want to believe that, with apologies to Fox Mulder, “The truth – er, the right guy – is out there.”