—Wednesday, August 10, 2011—
Yes, of course I was nervous. Are you kidding me?
Not only was I going on a very awkward, non-verbal date, but I didn’t even know the 36 year old woman who would be accompanying me beyond her How About We… profile. Furthermore, she wasn’t aware of One Hundred Dates, and after going out with one unsuspecting date the week prior, I felt a bit odd about it. The date had already been set up though, so I was going to see it through.
I had gone ahead and made small signs for when we first met. They were decidedly cheesy but also pretty darn cute. Although, I wish I hadn’t used the word “nice” twice. Oh well, what could I do at that point? I was already standing outside the restaurant where we were going to order take out. Doing this date with someone I knew would have been somewhat uncomfortable, much less with a stranger. No matter. I was trying best to celebrate jumping off the deep end!
Oh, boy. I got loads of awkward looks holding that sign. I was freaking out!
Finally, my date caught my eye as she navigated though a group of people to my left. I faced forward and held high my sign reading, “Anne.” A moment later, she crossed in front of and saw me. She let out an immediate laugh and continued to chuckle as she realized I had more signs. Each one of them got their own little burst of endearing giggles. They were good laughs too. She was laughing with me, not at me.
As we entered the restaurant, she began to say something but caught herself. She pointed to a small, corner table, seemingly asking if I wanted to sit. I had thought we were getting take out, but okay, sitting would work too. We sat down and I reached for my bag. Before I could pull out my notepad and pen, Anne had a pad and pen of her own out on the table. We laughed. We were both prepared for an evening without speaking.
She shared the menu with me but I signaled that I was all set. I wrote to her, “I researched.” She nodded in understanding. Anne finally settled on a decision for her arepa (a thick, corn tortilla stuffed with ingredients like meat and vegetables) but she hesitated as she looked again over the rest of the menu. She was thinking the same thing that I was: “How do we discuss shared sides or appetizers without talking?” Finally, she simply pointed to the plantain chips and guacamole and I gave her a thumbs up. We rose from our table and got in line at the register.
Anne and I were looking all around the small restaurant and not very much at each other. We were standing side by side, so we could more or less get away with it. But you know, it was still plenty awkward. As our turn at the register approached, I leaned in next to her and whispered, “I think we can talk for this next part,” and I motioned towards the man taking orders. “Yeah,” she replied, with an enthusiastic nod.
We made it to the front and placed our orders. It seemed not to break the rules of the silent date since we didn’t speak to each other as much as we each told the man what we wanted. Once completed and paid for, we returned to our table and waited. We were, in fact, getting our food to go. I stood to get myself a cup of water and offered one to Anne. She nodded in approval.
We sat there awkwardly for a moment, both looking and not looking at each other, until one of us began writing something. We were supposed to go up to her roof to eat but Anne told me she hadn’t been home yet that day to see if it was open so she couldn’t make any promises. I wrote to her, “We can figure it out?” She nodded. Anne pointed to her eyes, while looking at me, and gave me a thumbs up. She was telling me she liked my glasses.
I pointed to her hair and gave a thumbs up. It was cut short and very blonde, sort of like Robyn. It was the first feature I had noticed about her when I saw her profile online. She waved the compliment off like I was being silly, so I reassuringly wrote, “It’s cool.”
“I wanted to grow it out, but am already bored of that,” she replied.
“I used to have hair four inches down my back. Years ago now,” I wrote to her and made a gesture with my hand to show her where my hair had stopped.
She looked at me inquisitively and wrote, “Did you braid it or have a pony tail?
I laughed quietly and replied, “The rare pony tail. More of a top knot.”
With the subject of hair mostly covered, Anne told me about her nephew who had visited the weekend prior but that conversation didn’t last long as something far funnier took attention:
Anne: The dude beside you was giving us the side eye. We must look deaf. We could start talking like deaf people.
Evan: Is that PC?!?!
Anne: HELL NO.
Evan: What a retarded question.
Anne: My brother is so gay about that shit.
Evan: I thought you were going to say your brother is retarded. That would have been bad.
Anne: Pretty much everything I say is facetious. My sister takes me literally.
Evan: The worst (arrow drawn to “sister”).
With nothing else to say, I wrote, “These 2 are ITALIAN,” and drew an arrow pointing to the couple seated next to us.
Anne’s name was called, we picked up our our food and got on our way. I followed her down the street and as we walked she occasionally pointed to various places and motioned if something was good or yummy. As we passed by a cupcake shop, she paused and silently asked if I would like to go inside to get some dessert. I nodded my head in agreement. Once inside, we had a bit of trouble deciding on cakes and icings without speaking but as we ordered, it only took a handful of words to sort it all out.
We continued on through the East Village, winding our way to her apartment. Along the way, it was nice to be looking around and taking everything in as opposed to having to entertain each other. Anne pointed out a couple different spots where the tree branches were illuminated by the street lamps in such a way that they formed beautiful little portraits of the city street. It was a perfect night to be quietly strolling along.
Arriving at her building, we made our way in through the front doors. As we climbed up the stairs to her roof, she pointed to where her apartment was as we passed it. At the top landing, there was a handwritten note right on the roof exit which clearly stated that no one was allowed on the roof. Anne looked discouraged at first but I motioned for her to try the door since it looked like it might be open. Indeed, it was cracked already and the door pushed out. We were on the roof with the midtown Manhattan skyline in full view.
I walked quietly around the roof and over to the edge to get the lay of the land. Anne motioned that she was going downstairs and she’d be right back. I waited several minutes, taking it all in, until Anne returned with a blanket and a six pack of Sol. Perfecto. What a great silent host. I grabbed the other end of the blanket and together we laid it out. We then arranged ourselves and the food in a comfortable, rooftop manner.
Anne dove into the bag of food and removed our arepas. I grabbed a couple beers and, using the key to my bike lock, popped the tops off. She opened the wrapping on one of the arepas to determine which was which. It was dark out, so I was no help. Plus, I’d never even had an arepa before. She confirmed that we were holding the correct ones and just as were about to dig in, Anne asked me, with her mouth words, if we could talk.
Otherwise, as she pointed out a few second later, it was all just going to be eating sounds, and no one wanted to listen to those.
She was right, of course, so I agreed and we said hello to each other with our voices for the first time. All in all, the silent portion of our date lasted roughly an hour, but I think that was pretty successful, especially if you consider the fact that we were strangers. I told her that my arepa was delicious and from there, we began phase two of our date, which was more of a standard first date, except we were sitting on a rooftop blanket, enjoying Manhattan’s night air.
Anne was from Canada, which might explain why she was trusting and friendly enough to invite a guy from the internet to her building on the first date, and she worked in publishing, which was how she found herself in America. Much like myself, she had wanted to move to New York and was lucky enough to already be working for a company with an office there. When I asked why she wanted to move, she said that she could see the rest of her days in Canada more or less laid out for her and felt like she was in need of a change. I used to see that type of thing in Boston all the time.
I knew kids from home who went to school in the northeast, lived and worked in the Boston area, would probably do so until they got married and had kids, only to move into some Boston suburb, preferably the one we were raised in. All in all, a good and full life, but rather unadventurous. Anne, being a bit older, had already seen a lot of the marriage and kids parts happen, so I assumed she was that much more turned off by it all.
Talking to Anne was really no different than talking to someone closer to my own age. Considering that I’d met 28 year olds that year who made me feel like I was a baby, it was really nice to sit and chat with someone who, despite being 11 years my senior, didn’t make me feel like some lost kid. The most frequent thing I heard from older women was, “Oh, you’re 25. You should totally be trying to figure your shit out still.” It always felt a bit patronizing, as though my mid-20’s were a phase I’d soon escape. Anne didn’t make me feel that way at all. In fact, she and I related to each other a great deal in terms of career, relationships and lifestyle. I didn’t expect to have my shit figured out anytime soon and it was reassuring to know I didn’t need to.
About halfway through my arepa, I bean to taste something sweet and I paused. “Didn’t yours have plantains in it?” I asked Anne. I told her that I suspected we were eating each others’ meals. We exchanged sandwiches and confirmed that we had had the wrong ones all along. Actually, it was not a bad way to do it. I got to sample two delicious arepas in one night. Plus, food sharing was a great date activity.
At some point during our meal, our conversation turned towards relationships and dating. It was encouraging to hear that Anne couldn’t have possibly seen herself married at that point in life, despite having numerous friends and colleagues who were very comfortable in that space. As someone who doubted the merits and logic behind marriage myself, it was significant to hear this from someone who had gone through whatever part of life I was in and still wasn’t convinced by holy matrimony. However, as much as she was not looking to get married, Anne didn’t particularly love the dating scene in NYC either.
The major problem with dating in NYC, she said, was that no one wanted to be friends if the date didn’t have romantic potential. In Canada, she said that she made most of her male friends out of failed dates. If the evening was fun and pleasant but neither party particularly wanted to pursue the other romantically, she told me, they would often become friends. In NYC though, if a man wasn’t interested in either dating or sleeping with you, you wouldn’t hear from him again. As such, she had very few male friends in New York.
As our conversation on dating continued and I began to understand more and more that Anne wasn’t looking to meet Mr. Right and that she very much viewed dating as way to get to know people and to take in new experiences, I became more and more tempted to tell her about OHD. She seemed like someone who would have been perfectly okay with the whole idea, provided I had told her about it ahead of time and not as we sat on her roof, eating plantain chips and guacamole.
It made me feel guilty and even more like an idiot for going out with someone who wasn’t aware of the project. I knew I wouldn’t reach out to Anne within the following week or so for a second date, and I wish I could have told her that it was not because I didn’t want to see her, or to be friends with her, but it was because I had a stupid blog. I didn’t want to be just another guy in NYC who wasn’t interested in being friends. But in the end, that was probably all I was.
As it approached 11 p.m., we packed up the picnic, picked up our mess and headed back inside. As I helped to carry things down to her apartment, she warned me that a “clean clothing bomb” had gone off in her living room and that it was a mess. I told her not to worry, because, honestly, who cared? A woman could apologize a hundred times over for how messy her place was and I wouldn’t even notice. Life’s not very fun if you’re always cleaning.
I was a little surprised to be standing in her apartment, but only because I was a man from the internet. Given our night up to that point, I’d say that she had every reason to trust me and think that I was not a killer. We talked for just a few more minutes and she reminded me that we never ate our cupcakes. As she got mine squared away in its own box, I perused her bookshelf. I saw that she had a few Bukowski books and I told her that, should she ever visit Boston or Cambridge, she should check out the pair of Bukowski Taverns. They were my favorite bars back in Boston. She asked me if I’d read much of his work and I admitted that I really hadn’t. She took a thin book off the shelf and gave it to me to borrow.
Anne saw me out and I thanked her for going on such a crazy, silly date with me. She said that she actually enjoyed beginning the date in silence since it forced us not to speak for the sake of speaking. So often on dates, people only speak to fill the space and whether thats good or bad is probably circumstantial, but being silent definitely saves you from saying anything you wish you hadn’t. I agreed with her. I though it made for a really fun and enjoyable date.
As I left her apartment, cupcake in hand and book in my bag, I knew that I would need to tell her about the project eventually. I had her book, after all, and I wanted to be friends with her. If for no other reason, I needed to do my part to restore her faith in the men of New York and silence wouldn’t help me do that.