“So…”, Mary leans in close, smiling hugely. “I’ve got a guy I want to introduce you to! I think you’re perfect for each other.”
“Uhhh”, I manage, backing away. It’s late 2012 and things aren’t going well. Mere weeks ago I left Taiwan, my home of two years, my job, and the partner I’d been with for most of a decade, when our relationship fell apart for reasons that he never actually articulated to me. I’m heart-broken, I’m suffering from jet lag and reeling from reverse culture shock. I’m unemployed. I’m staying with my parents in a house I’ve never lived in before.
To top it all off, I’m about to be Maid of Honour at a dear friend’s wedding. On the blessed day I will see friends I haven’t seen in years. When they ask me how I am, I will check that the bride is definitely out of earshot, lean in close, and inform them that love is a lie.
“I just…” I try to find the words.
“Do you need a bit more time?”
“That might be for the best.”
“Bad news, I’m afraid. It’s not going to happen. He’s got a girlfriend now.”
“Who?” I ask.
“Barnaby. The guy I wanted to introduce you to”.
I am mooning over a much younger and entirely unsuitable man, who I will soon learn doesn’t fancy me in the slightest.
“Well, that’s okay. I wish him all the best. Let me tell you about this guy I met at a party last week!”
“It’s just so boring being single”, I gripe. “You can’t do anything fun. I just want someone to go to the movies with”.
“Well, guess what? I think Barnaby broke up with his girlfriend!”
Mary’s exasperated. “The guy, you know, the guy I’ve been telling you about for months! Barnaby! I work with him and he’s really nice. I think you’d be perfect for each other. Let me feel him out, see if I can set something up.”
An actual blind date? Do people still go on those?
Am I really that desperate?
I think of my lonely bed in my parent’s spare room. Yes, yes I am that desperate.
“Um…okay. Yup, sure, sure. Thank you”.
“I’ll come along, too, and I’ll bring my boyfriend so we’ll help you out a bit. And in the meantime, let’s make a plan of attack. It’ll take the pressure off if you don’t have all your eggs in one basket. You’re going to sign up for a dating website. The most popular one is…”
A few days later I get a text. We’re going to meet up a week from Sunday.
“Oh, I know Barnaby!” says Emma. “I met him at a party one time. He’s nice…but…” She trails off and frowns at me for a moment, assessing. Is this bad news? Is he dreadful in some way? It does not worry me, anyway. I have followed Mary’s instructions to the letter (she’s that sort of a person) and have been talking with a few guys on the dating website she recommended. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.
So, you see, I’m not worried. I refuse to be worried. There are lots of men out there.
I am persistently…wondering…about something, though. What does one wear to a blind date? My mum says a dress, my red dress to be exact, and while I do look good in that, I wonder if it’s the wrong tone for an afternoon coffee date. Too formal, surely?
Emma finally finishes her thought. “He was wearing a polyprop. To a party”.
I decide on jeans instead.
“Sorry I’m late. Nice to meet you.”
Here’s Barnaby at last, reaching out a hand. I take it but then visibly recoil. “Your hands are freezing!” I exclaim. I don’t think the poor guy expected the first words out of my mouth to be a criticism. He fumbles an apology and stumbles off to the counter to order.
I’m a bit discombobulated myself. Besides the unfortunate zombie hands, Barnaby’s first impression is that he smiles easily, is nice to look at, and is just as nervous as I am. Recent events have left me with all the self esteem of a box of Christmas chocolates still sitting on a supermarket discount shelf in March. I am not convinced that a normal man will want anything to do with me. And I can’t have made much of a first impression.
He does come back to the table so it can’t have been that bad. Still, even with Mary and Matt’s help, the conversation gets off to a rocky start. We have both lived overseas so we chat about that, and this is how I learn that Barnaby was the “friend who lived in India” who gave Mary the advice on the Indian railway system that saw us kicked off our train at 2 in the morning in a very small town, right as the giardia hit me. He is extremely sheepish about it. I try to reassure him that it was all for the best. Harder to shit and vomit at the same time on a moving locomotive, after all.
We gamely move on but things are stilted and so I complain way too much about the brownie I ordered (what gives, Fidel’s Cafe? You’re usually so reliable) which could be used to exfoliate dry skin cells off the feet. We try to talk about films but despite having a degree in that area I have worse taste in movies than the average 12-year-old while Barnaby is a proper grown-up so we don’t have much overlap. Also, he doesn’t go tramping and is scared of the ocean. I don’t like sports and Twitter bewilders me. Despite all this, I get the astonishing impression that he might actually fancy me. This seems too good to be true. As we have attempted to converse, I’ve noticed that Barnaby is sincere, intelligent, a good listener, and I definitely fancy him.
We say goodbye at the door, both trying not to seem too keen. I think we just managed to admit that it was, in fact, nice to meet each other. Then Mary and Matt start a round of goodbye hugs so Barnaby and I hug, too, and he leans down and kisses me on the cheek.
If Barnaby sat down before we met and studied my history and tastes, planned the perfect first date, he couldn’t have come up with a better parting shot than that kiss. An adult’s way of saying goodbye. A wordless expression of his interest, without being scary or overly forward. Hinted intimacy in the intriguing sensation of beard on soft cheek. I am a nerd and most of my friends are, too, and this means that all the experience I have with men, as friends or boyfriends or flirty acquaintances, has all been with nerds. And my ex loved me, I think, but he didn’t treasure me. I’ve never experienced a move like that before. In fact, my life has hitherto been completely devoid of tall, kind, handsome men giving me kisses on the cheek. I might be working as a temp, I might be living with my parents, but things are suddenly looking up.
“He is so cute”, I tell Mary and Matt as we walk away, “that I’m going to die”.
Less than an hour after we part, he texts me.
These days, in the day-to-day hubbub of marriage and raising kids, I will admit I sometimes forget Barnaby wasn’t always in my life. It’s scarily easy to take someone for granted. To forget how much it means to have met someone, how much it gave. To forget that without one friend’s act of kindness, and one choice to go along with it, I would have missed out on so much.
And then I’ll notice him across the room, and sometimes he’ll notice me back and smile, or sometimes he won’t and he’ll just keep right on making dinner. Either way, it’s okay.