Since I was too lazy to come up with another post, I asked (read: begged) my girlfriend to do a guest post. It turned out much better than anything I could have thrown together this week. – AR
My obsession with New York began when I was twelve – that awkward age at which you first start to consciously define yourself. I blame this obsession on all the Law and Order I used to watch as a child. As someone who grew up in Hawaii, I felt unique knowing so much about such a vast, distant city (all the way on the East Coast!). Most of my classmates had never been there, much less had the ability to rattle off random details about it, such as the No Right Turn On Red rule or the fact that New Yorkers say “standing on line” instead of “standing in line.” For years I carried a map of Manhattan in my pocket, memorized the street names on my free time, and even designated a dream apartment (820 Fifth Avenue). Much to the shock of my family and friends, this obsession did not take me to New York for college; instead, I ended up spending my four years in Portland, which only confirmed my suspicions that I really needed to move to the City at some point in my life.
Like any typical recent college graduate, I had been encouraged to either enter the workforce as a useful member of society (apparently I had just been taking up space before) or to immediately continue on to graduate school. Uninterested in starting a professional career and burnt out from school for the time being, I spent a month in Southeast Asia instead. I road tripped up-and-down the U.S. west coast. I played tour guide to two of my best friends who visited me in Hawaii. These temporary activities distracted me from the lack of specific future plans I had for the upcoming year. Besides living back home in Hawaii and applying to both the Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in Korea and to grad schools in New York to study urban planning, I had no idea what to do with myself. I reluctantly applied to jobs for which I felt overqualified, while feeling extremely nostalgic for my college friends, Portland coffeeshops, and that general feeling of productivity that I felt at Reed.
Bored and nearly broke, I hatched a plan: join OkCupid, that free dating site that was so popular in Portland, and go on a string of first dates. Lots of free meals and cheap entertainment to pass the time – what a perfect way to try new restaurants! Since I had just created a restaurant blog a few weeks ago, trying new restaurants around Hawaii had become one of my new favorite hobbies. It wasn’t until later that I noticed how much my string-of-first-dates plan seemed to be taken straight out of a bad romantic comedy.
My plan began to unfold smoothly. I was having fun creating my profile and taking the personality quizzes the site uses to match you to potential dates. I described myself in the most pretentious way possible by immediately discussing my senior thesis about the perpetuation of inequalities in the public school system, and I made sure to only upload photos in which my face was covered by a hat and my body hidden under modest attire. I figured this would be the most efficient way to avoid spending a first date with someone who was a complete imbecile and would waste my night with non-intellectually-entertaining conversation, or someone who only cared about looks and would just make me feel uncomfortable the entire night.
Since online dating sites lay out everything about each user in front of you, they allow you to be superficially picky about every little aspect about a person. Thus, I immediately ruled out any non-Atheist/Agnostic, anyone who was not college-educated, who was under the age of 21 or over 28, and who was over 5’7”. I had been on the site for only a couple of days, and my inbox was already full of messages from the typical idiots and creeps I had so painstakingly tried to avoid. So much for my plan to sit back and let my filtering method magically bring only desirable potential dates. Not all messages came from idiots or creeps; some actually seemed quite promising. I even responded to a few, one of which came from a Berkeley grad who, according to OkCupid, was an 86% match for me.
The message was brief, but from those two sentences it was clear that “Berkeley” had taken the time to read my entire profile, as he referred to four things that were the keys to my heart (or at least to a first date): social constructions, trying new restaurants, foreign films, and my thesis. Even more exciting, he made it clear that he was interested in meeting up for dinner.
Who was this guy? I looked at his profile and recalled why I had initially written him off while previously browsing it. Although the depiction of himself was appealing (he was obviously smart, honest, and had a sense of humor), one glaring thing stuck out and had led to my immediate dismissal of him: he was too tall for me. He was 5’9”, a whole two inches taller than my height limit allowed.
But our messaging was going so well! I convinced myself that it was only a date – why was I so picky about his height for a one night event anyway?
After a few more online exchanges, I eagerly sent him a list of restaurant options (as well as links to their menus) for our date, and we made plans to meet the very next evening. Operation String of First Dates – ready for takeoff!
We met at Formaggio’s, a wine bar and restaurant in Kapahulu. I was glad he had chosen this restaurant because I was familiar with the area and had a friend who bartended there; if the date went poorly I had some escape options up my sleeve. I was pretty confident; I’d been on first dates before and, while they almost never turned into anything serious, they’d usually been pleasant because I enjoy attracting people for short periods of time, and I always get a free meal out of them. I expected tonight to be no different.
I arrived at the restaurant at exactly 8 pm and spotted a man in a white button-up shirt sitting at a table facing the door near the entrance. He certainly looked like the guy from the photos but was cuter in real life. Just to make sure, I asked, “Anthony?” It was him! Yup, he’s much cuter in real life. He stood up, shook my hand and hugged me awkwardly. Great, now everyone in the restaurant knows we’re on a first date.
Conversation flowed smoothly. It helped that we already knew basic facts about each other; now we could actually dig deeper. A lot deeper. In fact, we stayed at Formaggio’s for over three hours, discussing his road trip, my aspiration to study urban planning, our hero Anthony Bourdain, love for New York, shared interest in photography, and eerily coinciding plans to teach English in Korea. His English teaching plans were more up in the air as he hadn’t begun the EPIK application yet, whereas I had turned in my Fulbright application a few weeks ago. Apparently I felt so comfortable with him that, by the time our entrées arrived, I confessed to him that I had applied to teach English in Korea mainly because I wanted to live abroad, not because I was interested in teaching.
I was enjoying the date too much. He was a good listener, made me laugh, didn’t just blindly agree with every eccentric opinion I decided to divulge, and had that rare ability to laugh at himself. I knew even before we agreed that we were too full for dessert that I didn’t want this to be my last date with him.
I was certain he felt the same way until something happened that really made me question whether or not my life had somehow turned into a romantic comedy. When Anthony tried to pay for our check, our waiter solemnly returned and informed him that his card had been declined. Anthony tried another card, but apparently plastic just wasn’t working for him that night. He found some cash in his wallet which covered about half of our meal but had to ask me to help pay for the rest.
Just my luck. I try to date for the free meals and end up paying for my own on the very first one. I was so amused by the irony of my situation that I couldn’t have cared less about paying (trust me, $40 for a three-hour dinner with this guy was completely worth it), and my only fear was that he felt too embarrassed to ask me out to another date.
When I got home after our short post-dinner stroll, during which I gleefully decided that he didn’t seem too tall for me after all, I told myself I’d give him four days to contact me again; if he doesn’t, then I’d go back onto the site and reluctantly continue my string of first dates. Much to my relief, about half an hour after we said good night to each other, he called to ask me out for a second date later that week.
Operation String of First Dates had been officially terminated.
Five and a half months later, Anthony and I returned to Formaggio’s for the first time to celebrate Valentine’s Day, which we celebrated on the 16th because being a repulsively mushy couple on the actual day would have been too cheesy for us. Although we were sitting at almost the exact same spot as on our first date, we were both in a completely different place than when we had first met in September. It’s hard to believe that only a little while ago we had once been complete strangers and were now almost inseparable.
It had already been over two months since we decided to move to New York together. In December, around the time grad school applications were due, I finally admitted to myself what I didn’t want to believe: I was using grad school as an excuse to move to New York. Knowing Anthony wanted to move to New York with me if I got into grad school, I asked him if he’d come with me even if I wasn’t a student there. Apparently New York had really worked its way into his heart during his road trip, because, without any hesitation, he said yes.
In June we’ll be moving to New York, not because I’m heading off to grad school, but because, for the first time, I am finally doing everything I can to fulfill my dream, and the 5’9” guy I love is coming with me.
You can find more of Jenn’s writing at her own blog: self-indulging in hawaii
Jennifer Bautista, guest writer