While we waited for our table, he stood blocking the cold air bursting in periodically from the door, and with every shared joke, I inched closer to him, under the guise of getting warm, but really, just wanting to be in the space between us where his cologne lingered. He happily obliged me, intimately close but not overbearing. When I like you, I want you in my personal space. I liked him. More and more with every passing minute. I wanted him in my personal space. A lot.
It was going exactly the way I love for dates to go; his gorgeous smile set off the witty banter. I was so incredibly charmed by his, well, everything, that I never even found myself wanting to check my phone. We were all crazy chemistry and easy laughs and stimulating conversation.
So really, I should have known that it would quickly go to hell.
The thing about having a really, REALLY great first date, with someone that you have amazing chemistry with is that it makes you feel like you are on a fifth date. And this will make you get more comfortable with each other, willing to divulge things that maybe you wouldn’t normally share because, hey, it is SO RIGHT, and so COMFORTABLE, and I FEEL LIKE I’VE KNOWN YOU FOREVER.
Don’t be fooled.
Far younger at the time, with the benefit of being bright eyed and perky titted, but notsomuch having the wisdom of age, when he mentioned that he and his baby sister were planning a trip to Hong Kong, I couldn’t resist the urge to ask more about his family. His sister, he told me, was his best friend. She was smart and cool and funny and, from the looks of the picture he showed me, had just started a career as the most adorable kindergarten teacher that has ever colored pictures of trees and made macaroni necklaces. His mom, he said, was a typical mom; she somehow managed to work crazy hours as a nurse, but still bake cookies, help with homework and go to dance recitals and football games.
“And your dad?” I asked, barely looking up from the pasta the waiter had recently placed down in front of me.
Now looking back on it, I have learned a little bit about omission. Sometimes, it is not lying. Sometimes it is I-just-met-this-person-so-if-sometime-in-the-future-there-is-a-time-to-tell-them-about-this-soul-crushing-event-in-my-life-that-I-have-not-yet-gotten-over-I-will-gladly-tell-them-inside-the-confines-of-a-relationship-and-preferably-a-private-residence. But remember, I am young and pretty, but dumb, so I push.
I see him hesitate to answer me momentarily before he is swept up in the wave of our chemistry and compelled to overshare over pasta.
“Well,” he started, poking around his alfredo with a fork. “My dad was… around. He was a cop. And worked a lot of long hours.” He paused and cleared his throat. “So he was there but he was old school. Providing, but gone a lot. Seeing other women, and angry with my mom for being angry about it because he was still keeping a roof over our heads. Absent for most everything. Or at least, most of the big moments.”
“I’m so sorry. I-“
“You know,” he said with growing intensity, “he never even saw me graduate from high school. Or college. In high school he was working. In college he said he was working, but we found out later he was at the hospital with one of his girlfriends, watching his son being born.”
“Oh, wow,” I said, absolutely heartbroken, and intensely empathetic, because, while not a cheater, my own daddy was largely absent thanks to providing. “I can’t even imagine-“
Suddenly, the baby at the table next to us started crying. I mean, absolutely howling. I jerked my head over at the parents, wondering why they weren’t moving to soothe the baby disturbing my touching moment with my date. Imagine my confusion when I saw the baby gnawing on a piece of bread and happily kicking at the air.
That’s when I realized the baby wasn’t crying. It was my date.
Fully slumped over his plate, the big hands that had not even an hour before been so strong and commanding on the small of my back leading me through the crowd, were now pressed hard into his eye sockets, but not quite catching the deluge of tears streaming from his face. He was, all 6 foot of him, slumped over his pasta, sobbing like a baby and muttering to himself wondering why his father could be there for a new son but not the son he already had and missed raising.
I. Was. MORTIFIED.
To be clear, I’m not an asshole. I don’t get uncomfortable with emotional displays, and I generally find myself in possession of exactly the right words to say in any given situation. But this is our FIRST DATE. Though I feel like I do, I don’t ACTUALLY know this man. I have no idea what to say or do or how to comfort him. Or, more importantly, how to get him to STOP WAILING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RESTAURANT.
I scooted my chair a bit closer, awkwardly side hugging his heaving shoulders, and periodically throwing pained but apologetic glances at the patrons who had turned to stare. But none of my hugs or soothing words could keep this man from crying as he should have been doing only in the safety of a therapist’s office for a full fifteen minutes.
FIFTEEN MINUTES. Have you ever watched a stranger cry for fifteen minutes? It is ETERNITY.
Before long, a manager wandered over to our table, trying to feign sympathy, but really just looking panicked.
“Is… everything…ok?” he asked me, glancing wildly between me and the man sobbing in my tiny arms.
“Um… yes, he’s just a bit… upset. But everything is… under control?” I said like a question, because I wasn’t exactly sure myself.
“My apologies ma’am, but if you could please… continue what appears to be… a personal conversation that is really upsetting him… if you could just continue you it outside, maybe?” And that is when I realized that he thought that I was the reason my date was blubbering like Bambi’s mom just died.
“I… um… no it’s just that-”
“Ma’am, is there anything I can do for you?”
“Just the check please.”
“No, don’t worry about it. Just go ahead and go.”
Jesus. The poor waiter felt so bad for us that he didn’t even want us to pay for the pasta we hadn’t touched.
I gathered up my date, who, though he had stopped wailing like a child lost in the food court at the mall, was still sniveling and a bit disoriented. I got him in his coat, and got us out to valet to get his car. On the way home, our chemistry had dissolved into uncomfortable silence. For twenty minutes, neither of us said a word, him with his eyes on the road and me staring out the window wondering how much it would hurt if I hurled myself out of the car and rolled down Wisconsin Avenue.
Back at my door, he whispered a goodbye and then sped off so fast I had to jump back before he ran over my toes. I stood there, in the cold for a minute, reliving the promising moment when I was standing in this very spot barely two hours ago, excited about a date with a man who was not crying.
Things can go so wrong, so quickly.
A day or so later, I sent him a text message, light hearted but concerned, because despite the fact that I was horrified, I am not an utter douche. The text he sent back was short and sweet.
“I am completely embarrassed by my behavior on our date. I don’t think we should see each other again. I’m sorry.”
Well, at least he was honest. Even if maybe too much so.