Meeting men in New York is like going thrift shopping. You think, “Is this ugly – or is this cute? I really can’t tell…”
It’s a little strange to find yourself swiping through Tinder profiles and asking yourself, “Yeah, but does he look like he respects women?”
Swipe left, left, left.
I found out last weekend that I didn’t know about the questions portion of OkCupid. You know, the section that the entire algorithm is based on to match you with people, which might explain why so many dudes I don’t want to date keep sending me gag-worthy pick-up lines (“You know what’s beautiful? Read the first word again.”) So I spend an evening drinking wine in my best friend’s kitchen and blowing through questions about my feelings on gun control and dental care. And the next day, a British guy messages me, asks me for drinks and I book my first OkCupid date.
We meet for a nightcap at Flatbush Farm, a bar in between our two neighborhoods. I come from work and carry a massive bag with a box for a new pair of boots I ordered. The British guy sits near the middle of the bar, wearing jeans with holes at the knees, a grey t-shirt and black jacket. With his squareish glasses and traces of facial hair, he looks like a more substantial version of Edward Snowden – a fact he noted on his profile.
“Thank you! New shoes, for me?” he immediately says, gesturing at my box as I find a place for it. I sit next to him at the bar. He’s taken the liberty of ordering a cheese plate, and I get an IPA.
Al (let’s call him Al) sits facing me. His legs create a wide V, so I’m almost forced to glance at his goods every time I look down. This positioning, which I’ve noticed some guys do on drinks dates, seems designed so that my legs are either locked between his knees, or so that one of his knees can slide between mine, closing the space between us like a zipper. Except I don’t want to be zipped into him, so I angle myself forward.
He tells me about his job. He works in radio and does voiceover work on the side. In fact, he is the voice of British Jaguar (said in the English fashion: jag-oo-waahhhrr). Earlier this week, I met a woman who is the voice of British Vagasil (“The acidity of your lady parts lies somewhere between a grapefruit and rain!”). I’m starting to wonder if all Brits secretly do voiceover work.
As he describes recording his radio voice as a child, he sucks cheese crumbs off his fingers with relish. He scratches his stomach in a way that casually tugs his shirt up, revealing his abs.
We talk about English and Australian accents sounding different, and I make a comment about Mandarin and Cantonese varieties and add that I don’t know how to speak Chinese.
“Which of your parents is the half?” Al asks.
“What?” I say.
“Which is the half?”
“You think I’m half-Asian?” I say. “Was that on my profile?”
“No,” he says, “but it’s obvious you are.”
“So, you’re just assuming I’m half-Asian.”
“Because you are, come on. Clearly.”
I know he’s right, but I hate the presumption.
“Well, my mother is Asian,” I finally say.
“See, I knew it!” he crows.
“I could not be Asian. You really don’t know that,” I say, but then let it go for the moment.
We talk about work, improv classes we’re both taking, about how he’s 34 and was born close to a full decade before me and about how all English people have connections to Harry Potter. His ex designed the giant pumpkins by Hagrid’s hut, and he was born in the town where the movies were filmed.
“So, let’s see, we’ve got to cover Harry Potter, Turkey, cheese, Halloween costumes,” he says.
“Did you memorize my profile?” I ask, recognizing these as items on my OkCupid.
“I certainly spent time looking at it,” he said.
“Was I supposed to memorize yours?”
“Kind of,” he says seriously.
I feel like I just failed a pop quiz.
He orders an IPA as well, and when I decline a second drink, he pushes his at me to finish. I take a sip and say something like, “Tastes as hoppy as a rabbit in a forest.”
He laughs and leans in to squeeze my hand.
“Can we just hug it out then?” he says.
I know what hugging turns into and look around. “I mean, you can hug me, I just – I don’t know, I don’t know about PDA.”
“Oh, I don’t have a PDA,” he winks. “Those are out of fashion. Anyway, what’s wrong with a little making out at the bar? There are only six people here.”
Yeah, I think, six people with eyesight. I’m not drunk enough for this.
“What if we lice hug?” I say. “In second grade, there was a lice outbreak, and we all had to hug each other like this.”
I leave a large gap between us, put my hands on his shoulders and squeeze them. He does the same, but I quickly notice that he is much better at it.
“I took a massage course,” he says.
I’m wondering if I should just pay him for a shoulder massage and call it a night.
At the end, I bring up his comments about knowing I am half-Asian. I can’t shut up about this topic lately. It’s something about living in New York, where people feel much more comfortable directly asking about race from the get-go. “What are you?” “Let me guess, you’re Filipino.” “What half are you?” I’m processing my feelings about this, and I crave discussion. Because I want people, and men specifically, to know that I notice when my race is the first or second thing mentioned in conversation. To know that sometimes it bothers me to be categorized.
It’s not the most flirtatious subject matter for a date, but I don’t care. We talk about how being British in America comes with its own stereotypes when you go out, and I explain why it bugged me that he thought it was okay to assume my ethnicity as if he had any right to know – as if you can always tell what someone is.
He pays, and I cover the tip, and he walks me to the Atlantic Avenue train stop. At the entrance, under the giant birds’ nest of Barclays Center, he pulls me closer. He goes on a spiel about improv technique and makes a “yes and” joke.
“We can kiss it out now,” I say.
He doesn’t do anything.
“I’m waiting for you to make a move,” he says.
“That was my move,” I say.
Then he kisses me. It’s a nice kiss. Not too aggressive. I hear the trains squealing below and a homeless man shuffling by to my left. He touches the collar of my jean jacket, and I awkwardly shift the giant boots bag in my right hand. I pull away. He notices a bus out of the corner of his eye.
“Wear those boots next time!” he shouts as he dashes to catch the bus.
I watch him go. Amused and wiping lipstick off my mouth with the back of my hand, I descend into the underbelly of the train station, picking up my stride. I don’t know if I’ll see him again. Seems unlikely. At 34, I think you’re either looking for a longer-term commitment, or you don’t want to mess around going on silly dates because you know what you want, but at 25, in this city, I’m still figuring it out.