This is the second installment of my experiment at serializing a relationship story. Please read the first one too! But because that’s a pain, here’s a quick recap: My friend Sarah has a cute British roommate Marge, who she drags out to a group movie outing with me and her bf Luke. I think Marge is intriguing, but also worry that she’s overly into Luke, but also do I even know ANYTHING? In the end I get her number in classic middle school fashion, from Sarah. We set up a legit date.
But first, I love this jam
Our first date is accidentally a trivia night.
Actually, first we put our names in at this always-crowded ramen spot Ippudo, and then head over to the bar where one tends to go to wait the hour and a half it takes for your table to be ready. I’m not sure I’ve planned a good date at all.
“You’ve never eaten there right? Well, if we do decide to eat later, it would be a great choice. But we don’t have to eat there. Or eat at all. Or we can wait and see. Or whatever.”
I’d agonized about it all day, because FIRST DATES AREN’T SUPPOSED TO BE DINNER, but rationalized it as hedging bets. The bar-of-waiting is one of my first date bars anyway, so it should be fine, I think. I made a concession to the conventional wisdom that you don’t go all out on a first date by sticking to my comfort zone.
From the start she’s a tough nut. I tend to fill silences and she’s obviously going to let them happen in abundance. I can’t tell what she wants, if she’s nervous, if I’m dominating the conversation, if I heard her right, if I’m blowing it—and I realize I need to calm down. I look around. There are large groups of mainstreamy types saving tables with jackets and bags strewn over empty seats. There’s a guy opening a briefcase and pulling out pens and a stack of forms.
“I think we may have stumbled into a trivia night,” I say.
“Do you mean a pub quiz?”
“Excuse me?” I’m already struggling to understand what she’s saying through the accent. It’s like I’ve become my redneck relatives back home.
“Like where they ask questions and there’s teams and things?”
“Oh. Yeah. Quiz. Yes that.” I think about what it must be like to know that the people around you don’t catch a lot of what you say. To have to repeat words even though you’re speaking the same goddamn language. I resolve to listen extra hard, to prove I’m actually very good conversation for foreigners. I’m quite worldly.
“Oh gaaawd. I utterly despise quiz nights.”
“Hah-hah. Um, well maybe it’ll be fun? We can definitely decide to ignore it when the questions get too tough.”
I cling to the hope that trivia night can become some kind of fun bonding experience. Like loosen us up and shit. But I know better. Trivia is really tough to pull off on first dates. You hit that one question where you’re both sure you know the answer and then boom, you’re in conflict and it starts to go downhill. This sort of happens.
Also, trivia makes it impossible to carry on a regular conversation. I’m distracted, she’s intermittently interested in the questions, and disappointed that I don’t have more of the answers, and we’re both getting hungry. So. Dinner, then. After an hour 45, we only have to wait another ten to be seated in two seats at a large round table near the back.
I’m an idiot.
I’m not sure what ego-magic it is that convinces us that people from other places are experience-less cretins, but I realize I’m treating Marge like she’s never had Japanese food in her life.
“Do you know what pork buns are?” I ask Marge.
“Pork buns, they’re something you have to try at least once.”
“If you say so, I’m not sure I’ve had them. What should I order?”
I point her to the safest bets, we order. There’s a couple across from us on a date. They seem to be mismatched; the dude is clearly not awesome enough for the girl, but he’s so in control of the situation it seems to be working. They’re sharing a ramen and have a few other interesting items. They’re laughing and don’t seem to notice anyone else at the big table we all share. He feeds her a dumpling or something. I glance at Marge; I’m sweating and the food isn’t even here.
“So, how long have you been in the States?”
When the food arrives she goes, “Oh pork buns. Yes of course I’ve had these. I thought you were saying something strange and Japanese and interesting.”
We finish and it’s drizzling out. I’ve been sleeping poorly and working hard this week, and I can feel my gas tank running low. I’d downed a red bull 10 minutes before meeting up, but that’s long gone, buried under a swamp of beers and pork fat and nervous energy.
“So,” I look around at the empty streets glistening with the rain. I check my phone for the time. “Do you want another drink, orrrr…”
“Oh! Good. Do you have a spot you’d like to try?”
“Nope, surprise me.”
I wrack my brain. I desperately want to just go back to Black and White.
“Should we just go back to the bar?”
“Oh no, that wouldn’t be so fun. Let’s do something new, shall we?” Marge gives me a crooked smile. Her teeth are tiny and perfectly lined up. Hardly British. Now I have to deliver something interesting. Fuck.
I’m looking around and I got nothing; all my other spots are further than I want to walk in the rain. So I dip into that bag of cliche date spots I’d been pulling from all night.
“Ok, let’s try this bar that’s supposed to be a secret. It’s not pretentious or anything, but it’s kinda cool, you have to go in through an Asian restaurant. Like a speakeasy but it’s not lame, I promise.”
She could care less that I’m talking at all, I think.
So we go to Angel’s Share (you go upstairs into this Japanese place and through a panel in the back wall, and boom). And because it’s shitty out, it isn’t crowded; there’s a perfect spot for us at the window overlooking the street.
We get $15 drinks and chat. She’s telling me how different dating in NY is from the UK. She keeps referring to “rules” we have here that just don’t fly in her country.
“What rules?” I ask.
“Well, so here everyone is supposed to date around. Multiple people until you have ‘the talk’ about being exclusive. But before that you can’t assume anything. Like if I see my date out with another girl I’m just supposed to be cool with it.”
“I guess that’s mostly true,” I say. “But it’s actually up to you how you want it to go down. I’ve had plenty of girls who didn’t want to do the whole trial period dating a ton of people thing. In fact I’m trying to cut that whole internet, juggling a hundred people thing out myself.”
“I’m fairly certain it’s how things are done here; it’s what everyone says.”
Marge tells me a couple of dating horror stories. She’d been on Tinder (“It’s great for meeting really hot guys. So many hot guys”), and gotten burned a few times by weird NY guy bullshit. I try again to tell her it’s up to her how things go but she doesn’t seem to hear it.
“In the UK, you meet a guy and if you fancy each other you go out with just that person until you know if it’s going to work out or not.”
I’m skeptical that it’s all that different there, but this is fantastic news for me.
“I love that!” I say. “In fact, I’ve just recently decided that’s how I want to approach dating. If someone is fun and we like each other, then I’m dropping the online profiles and focusing on her.”
I try to make significant eye contact with her, but I can’t tell if I’m getting through. I can’t believe I found someone else who wants to just focus. Here, in NY, just when I’ve made the decision myself!
When we leave, I walk her to her train. I put my arm over her shoulder and it feels right. She leans into me and puts her arm around my waist. Our strides match, she fits perfectly under my arm and it’s nice, despite the chill in the air and the continuing spritz. We kiss and melt into it. We probably stand there by Union Square kissing and sighing and shuffling out of someone’s way and kissing for a half hour. Finally I just can’t continue.
“I’m drained. Would you maybe want to come over?”
“Oh no, dear HIE (my name, in her accented voice, is like the answer to all questions), I wouldn’t do that. Not on a first date anyway.” She smiles and goes in for a quick peck, tweaks my ear. I ride her train with her as far as I can before I split off to return to my cave. Obviously ecstatic.