I swiped right on Sara two springs ago. Her witty Tinder tagline was “Drinker with a writing problem.” Amused, my opening text was an admission that I might have Facebook-statused that same phrase a few nights prior, but couldn’t be sure because I was drunk when I wrote it. The line worked and we were off to the races, furiously typing messages back and forth for several hours.
We met at the bar of her choice, 6:30 p.m. that next Thursday. I’d only been engaged in e-dating for a few months and was aware of the horror stories of the person showing up looking way less attractive than in their distinguished profile pics.
This was not one of those occasions.
A short, cute blonde with nice lips, hips and breasts, Sara wore a conservative red dress that was just the right amount of first-date sexy, along with wedges and a subtle matching necklace.
Like our lengthy texting sessions, the first twenty minutes of the date went smoothly, as we shot the usual shit over craft beers with high ABV percentages and some tasty flatbread. Soon the conversation started slowing down, but the drink orders did not.
Choosing to focus on the positives — did I mention her boobs? — I persisted in pushing the conversation along and we made our way to the all-important musical taste referendum.
“I guess I like a lot of, like, emo bands,” she said.
“Oh, great!” I responded, celebrating a possible reconnection. “Me too. Dashboard Confessional is still one of my favorite bands.”
Sara scoffed. “Oh my God, like, everybody likes Dashboard…”
Our friendly banter quickly eroded into a revolving door of disagreements and digs at my preferences. No answer was good enough for her, from the nearby restaurants I liked to the TV shows I watched.
Still, Sara kept nodding at the bartender to keep ’em comin’.
I’d been single for the better part of my post-divorce life, which was in year eight at this time, and I was always tense around girls I was attracted to. Though Sara was becoming less likable by the minute, I still had this voice in my mind saying, Maybe it’s me? And if a hottie like her was interested in me — a guy who’s dealt with more than his share of rejection — who was I to walk away?
I kept up the steady drinking pace, but endured more uppity talk and barbs until about eleven o’clock, when I was half in the bag and a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, Jessica, randomly and mercifully happened to show up with her boyfriend.
Her glass empty on the bar, Sara went to the bathroom, and I asked for the check. When Sara returned, she was surprised I threw in the towel — along with my half of the bill. She paid for herself, I said goodbye and carried on my chat with Jessica.
“First date?” she asked.
“Yyyyyyup,” I said.
Jessica laughed. “Guess it didn’t go so well, huh?”
Maybe a minute after Sara left I got a message from her through the app: “Soooo, unsuccessful Tinder date?”
She’s still interested.
Flabbergasted at the polarized signals, I wrote back: “Give me a call; I don’t want to have a conversation like this via text” and left my number. My phone buzzed immediately.
“Hey,” I started, trying to sound friendly, not wanting to blow the chance it still seemed I had. “Look, I want to like you, but —”
“Want to like me?” she cut me off. “But you don’t then.”
“Things began well enough, but the conversation just didn’t sustain itself,” I said, diplomatically.
“Well, I think you’re great,” she responded.
“You do?” was all I could muster in my shock.
She confirmed, and in spite of my better judgment I agreed to a second date. I had a pretty strong inkling that she was a jerk, but who was I to say no to a second date with a hot blonde? Maybe a notch in my belt will be etched after all?
We made a date for Saturday night…to have drinks, after each of us wrapped up our already established dinner plans.
“Come on, man,” my friend Ken said as dinner wound down that Saturday. “Don’t go see that chick. Get shitfaced with me and we’ll meet some other girls.”
As I recounted date one with Sara I questioned my own sanity in wanting to see her again. Sure she was sexy, but I was a decent enough guy to not have to get dumped on for hours on end in an effort to earn intercourse, right?
She texted where to meet and that she’d be there in about 45 minutes. I gulped the rest of my third beer and apologized to Ken.
Sitting on a slow-moving subway, I began kicking myself for abandoning Ken. Going to see a girl I knew I didn’t even really like was a dumb proposition. But I was committed at that point, and I promised myself I’d just be upbeat throughout the date. Then, if Sara started in with her negativity, I’d know for sure it wasn’t me.
Upon arriving at the bar I made a beeline for the bathroom. There were two doors, clearly labeled as accessible to both sexes. I opened the one on the right and there was Sara applying lipstick, giving me a perturbed look in the mirror.
“Um, hellooo?” she said. “Why are you walking into the ladies room?”
I told her it was both guys and girls.
“No, it’s not.”
I half-closed the door to check, thinking I was either losing my eyesight or my mind.
“Yes. It is,” I said, sternly.
After using the neighboring commode, I found her at the end of the bar with a beer and ordered one for myself. I tried to make light of the whole bathroom incident and asked how her last few days had been.
“Well, after we hung out Thursday I went to the bar by my place for a bit,” she began. “Then, after work yesterday I went out with some of my coworkers for drinks. And today I went to Central Park with somebody and we had dinner and wine.”
I deduced I was her second date of the day, which she soon admitted. I let it slide.
“Seen any good movies lately?” I asked with a smile, fully aware it was sort of a corny question.
“I just rented ‘Blue Jasmine,’” she answered in a tone that reminded me of Thursday. I could tell she was feeling the effects of the early evening wine — and what was likely her second or third beer at the bar. “It was really good.”
I agreed, but added, “It wasn’t Woody Allen’s best.”
Annoyed, she asked, “Well, what do you think are his best films?”
I said that “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” are probably number one and one-a.
Sara scoffed again, and I looked at my beer. Half of it was left.
We chatted for a few more minutes, and I endured more of the same. She’d never heard of Narratively, the journalism publication where I worked, and said so with a tone suggesting that meant it wasn’t worthwhile. And my favorite contemporary novelist, Chuck Palahniuk, was too commercial. Though we’d moved on from movie talk, at one point, completely unprovoked she said, “Actually, you’re right. ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Manhattan’ probably are Woody Allen’s best movies,” completely changing her position for some indeterminable reason.
I finished my beer, and I’d had enough.
I walked over to the bartender, paid for my glass, and walked out, saying to Sara as I left with a smile and a wave, “Hey, take care!”
I was halfway through my text asking Ken where he ended up, when Sara called.
“That’s it? That’s what you do? You just walk out on me?”
“Look, we didn’t hit it off the other night,” I started, trying to maintain composure, “but I thought, ‘Maybe I was just being a little sensitive. Maybe Sara was just trying to be funny and I was too tense to pick up on it.’” I got angrier as I went on. “I went into tonight just trying to be positive, and I realized, Sara, you’re just kind of an asshole.”
She hung up, and I finished my text to Ken.
Incredibly, she called me again before I could make it underground.
“Come baaaack,” she whined.
“What?!” I asked, more perplexed now than ever.
“Just come back to the bar and make out with me,” she begged.
“You could offer me sex right now and I wouldn’t take it,” I said proudly.
She let go with what I hoped would be one last signature scoff. I told her goodnight and got on the train.
My phone buzzed yet again when I reemerged on the other side of the river in Queens. Sara asked me to turn around.
“No,” I said.
I told her I didn’t want to, and that I preferred the company of Ken to her at that point.
I was now basically in a fit of rage. I wanted to get her off the phone, but, really, I was angry at myself, fed up with my self-doubt, with letting myself get drawn into the games we play in the dating world. I screamed into the receiver, “Because you’re a cunt!”
“Pleeeeease come back!”
Completely incredulous, I curtly said no again, and she asked why not.
Because yelling the worst thing a person could call a woman wasn’t enough, I, more calmly now, said, “Look, you’re just really unpleasant to be around.”
That did it. She was finally quiet for a couple beats, and when I heard her voice again it dripped with embarrassment. “Okay, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry,” she said. “I won’t call you again.” She hung up.
I told Ken what happened over our drinks, and we proceeded to get blackout drunk.
Through the daylong debilitating hangover that followed I regretted what I said to Sara — and still do. She was obnoxious and went out of her way to insult me, but in retrospect, that was probably the booze talking, and I shouldn’t have let the tension get that far in the first place. It all came about greatly due to my own insistence that I didn’t measure up or deserve an attractive woman in my company.
I took a break from Tinder, but downloaded the app again after a couple months, promising myself that I wouldn’t settle again, like I did when I accepted that second date with Sara — not to mention with my ex-wife, years prior. If I found myself in a position of discomfort, I’d move on, with the hopes of simply finding someone more compatible.
Sure enough, the first girl I matched with that second go-round soon became my girlfriend, and after a year of dating, we moved in together last fall.
Michael Stahl is a freelance writer, journalist and editor. Based in Queens, New York he is a features editor at Narratively where he has contributed several stories as well. His work has also appeared in the Queens Tribune, Ebony.com, The Good Men Project, Boro Magazine and other publications. He barely tweets anymore @MichaelRStahl.