Sitting across from me is the man I could potentially love - we’re on our first date.
There’s a small, but notable, chance he will fuck me tonight and never leave my apartment again. If that happens, I’ll eventually take a shit in front of him while he brushes his teeth, he’ll propose to me on the spot, and we’ll rush to the courthouse in a final act of spite towards my mother. He’ll father my children, turn my hair gray, and wipe my ass when I’m too old to do it myself. Then, I’ll die because I’m too selfish to go last, and the heartache of losing someone to worship will rot his brain, making him senile and violent, leaving the kids no choice except to put him down like a rabid dog.
He’s been talking for the last thirty minutes, but I haven’t listened to a word since we sat down. I’ve been texting my roommate, Randall, under the table, instead. I’m too polite to make it obvious, of course, so I haven’t looked at the keyboard.
I imagine the messages probably look like the ones I used to send him when I took a few too many of my Xanax pills. In my head, I was sending him the solution to the Jon Benet Ramsey case - a conclusion I came to after conducting painstaking hours of research on random Internet threads - but I was really just sending him scrambled versions of the alphabet. He knows I’m on a date, though - he won’t respond. He’s too mature for my childish antics.
The period of silence coming from the other side of the table probably means I was just asked a question.
“I have autism.” It’s my favorite go-to lie.
“Oh, um, well, okay,” he stammers, “I didn’t know.”
“Yeah, I don’t put it on my profile because I read that there’s a particular fetish involved with fucking disabled people, and I wanted to filter out any chance of that happening to me.”
“It’s also the reason I don’t make eye contact. Or fully engage with conversation. It’s all just too much sensory overload.” I’m staring at a spot just above his head while I talk, trying not to laugh.
“Well,” he chokes into his hand, “I’m not one of those people you just described. And I think it’s admirable that you seem to be doing so well for yourself despite….that.”
“It is admirable.” My fingers are furiously typing against the keyboard, but he hasn’t noticed.
“So, does having autism affect the way…..”
I zone out again.
Our life together would be magical and one-sided, which doesn’t sound so bad - other than the fact that I’ll have to pretend to have autism for the foreseeable future. And my friends will have to lie about it, too. And I’ll probably have to figure out which ribbon to wear for the disease-of-the-month club.
But, he’ll feel like a hero for choosing to be with me - that’s a plus.
He'll probably also feel obligated to be extra generous in the bedroom now that he believes there are other men who w dream about being in his shoes - another plus.
“Would you like to try a bite of mine?”
I didn’t realize the food was already here. I don’t remember what I ordered, but the tangled, chunky mess of noodles in front of me looks like something my grandmother would have knitted and my mother would have made me wear to school for picture day.
“I’m allergic to meat. Tick bite.” I let my phone fall into my lap with a soft thud.
“I couldn’t imagine being allergic to meat. I eat steak at least once a week.” He smiles, probably fondly remembering his last steak dinner with a much better date. There’s a piece of spinach from his salad between his teeth.
Suddenly, I want to go home.
Not because he’s boring. Not because he’s the perfect would-be husband. Not because my fear of commitment makes me unable to even feign interest in another person.
But because, all I can think about is finding that piece of spinach stuck to my vagina after he goes down on me. It’ll be there - green and slimy and coated in whatever lubrication I was able to muster by thinking about someone else the entire time - and I’ll stare at it against the toilet paper when I wipe in the bathroom, crying because it serves as a reminder that this is as good as it gets. That connection and relationships and love are all just an implicit agreement to clean bits of food and leftover messes out of the most intimate parts of myself in exchange for the opportunity to return the favor.
“Is there something wrong with your food? You haven’t taken a bite.”
The spinach has moved - existential crisis averted.
"No, I'm just not as hungry as I thought."
“Should we get a to-go box? I’m getting pretty full, myself. We could go grab a cup of coffee. Or just take a walk. The park is really beautiful this time of year.”
Without the mile-marker of our impending doom between his teeth, he’s actually quite handsome.
This could really work. We already have the perfect lifelong anecdote.
In five years, we’ll laugh with our friends as I tell them, for the hundredth time, how I almost cut our first date short because of a piece of spinach. I’ll jokingly gift him floss for his birthday, and he’ll make a spectacle out of using it. “Look honey,” he’ll mumble through the fingers in his mouth, “no spinach! I guess we can still be together.”
My phone buzzes in my lap, and I shyly look down. It’s a notification from one of the many dating apps I’ve subscribed to - “hey cutie. we should meet. dtf?”
Am I dtf? Down to fuck?
Or am I out with the man I don't know I love yet?
Randall would tell me I’m crazy. He’d say, “You can’t love him this soon. I won’t allow it.” But, Randall isn’t here. He hasn’t ridden the emotional rollercoaster of finding the spinach and watching it dissolve, or seen the gentle way in which this stranger respectfully tried to hide his discomfort at the sound of my lie. Randall doesn’t know this is a match made in heaven.
What does Randall know about love, anyway? He’s perpetually single. The women he dates usually live online - half of them are robots. They spit out phrases and send recycled screenshots from porn, and he eats it up like a kid in a candy store. Randall’s version of “love” is cheap - though, it does cost him an arm and a leg to pay for phone sex.
“Are you ready?”
My food has already been boxed away, and the ticket has been paid. It’s time to go. I swipe away the message on my phone and slip my arm into his, ready to walk into our forever….
“Meet me at the coffee shop around the corner.” He smiles and kisses my cheek.
I want to check it, but I wait until I get into my car.
“sorry if that was too forward. i’m not good at this. you seem nice.”
It’s the same guy from the previous message.
His apology is sweet and unsolicited. He didn’t have to send it - he could’ve moved on to the next girl - but he didn’t. He chose to attempt to make amends. It’s actually kind of noble.
I flip through his pictures and become overwhelmingly horny.
If I go meet my date for after-dinner-coffee, I’m resigning myself to a life of constant temptation to fuck strangers from dating apps who apologize without being prompted. Is that even a life? For either of us?
I could delete the dating apps… But, then I’d always wonder what-if. What if I settled? What if I could’ve met someone better? More interesting? What if I could’ve saved myself from forcing enthusiasm during the infamous spinach story for the rest of my life? What if I could’ve saved him from spending hours researching adult autism in females? Or denying himself steak because he thinks I’m allergic? Or developing a fake fetish for disabled people that causes him to become partially erect at doctor’s offices?
If I don’t go meet him, I’ve ruined any chance for our love to become concrete. I could fabricate another halfway decent lie, but he’ll still be offended. That feeling will overshadow our plans for the ensuing months, making him wonder if I’m going to leave him waiting every time we agree to meet. He’ll start to question if I actually like him or want to be with him, planting seeds of insecurity that our-sided relationship will likely reinforce. At which point, I’ll have to either start giving him blowjobs to completion, or I’ll lose him.
I don’t like blowjobs.
But, if I have to choose, I’d rather be uncomfortable than lonely.
I drive to the coffee shop.
He looks surprised to see me.
“I thought you got lost.” It’s meant to be a joke, but his relief isn’t subtle enough to make it funny.
“No, not at all. Car trouble. Sometimes it doesn’t start.” Another lie. I’m on a roll tonight.
“Do you know what you want? If not, the lattes here are pretty good, but so is the house blend. You really can’t go wrong.”
“Just order me whatever you get.”
“Adventurous with your coffee - I like that.”
The assumption makes my skin crawl.
I’m not “adventurous with my coffee” - I’m just disinterested.
I sit down and check my messages to Randall. After the first seven texts of gibberish, he responded, but I missed the notification.
“Jesus, Amy. Did you take Xanax before your date again? I’m blocking your number until you come home. Pay attention to him. I put the leftover pizza in the microwave for you, just in case. I know you don’t eat on dates.”
Randall is petty. He likes to block my number whenever I’m too much. The man standing in line who thinks I enjoy trying different flavors of coffee would never do such a thing.
“Here,” he says, setting down a paper cup with steam pouring from the lid, “I got us both something I’ve never tried.”
The smell burns my nose.
“What is it?”
“It’s a surprise.”
I don’t want it.
“I need to make a quick phone call.”
I race to the bathroom and dial Randall’s number. It goes to voicemail.
“Randall,” I whisper, pretending to sound panicked, “I need you to come get me. I’m not safe. He just admitted he’s been stalking me! I’m hiding in the bathroom, but I think he’s on the other side of the door. I don’t know what to do. If he kills me, then I need to tell you I’m sorry. I’m sorry for sending you all those texts. I was trying to tell you what was happening, but he was watching me. I couldn’t look at my phone. Oh god… he’s knocking. I have to go.”
The lady in the stall beside me coughs.
“Dear,” she sheepishly calls under the door, “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” I snap, “Just a prank.”
“i guess i fucked this up.”
It’s the not-attractive-but-apologetic-to-the-point-of-instigating-horniness boy.
He didn’t fuck it up - I did. The moment I came to get coffee, I ruined our chances at a perfect hook-up.
I want to tell him that, but I can’t.
If I do, I’ll have to leave. And fuck him. Otherwise, my self-deprecation won’t seem sincere.
I didn’t wear my one-night-stand panties - I wore my first-time-with-the-love-of-my-life panties.
So, I can’t fuck him.
I go back to the booth and sit down.
“The coffee is really good.”
I take a sip and gag.
“No, it’s not.” The words tumble out of my mouth without my permission.
“Oh… I’m sorry. I just thought - I mean… I wanted to try something -”
“I have to go.”
My interruption leaves him too speechless to try and stop me from leaving.
I message the boy back on the way to my car.
“It’s okay. I was just busy. What’s up?”
The lack of instant response makes me cry into the steering wheel.
I should go back inside and apologize for my outburst. I should leave with him and go back to his apartment and give him a blowjob. I should love him.
“Are you coming home tonight?”
Randall, who loves fake women on his computer. Randall, who knows I don’t eat on dates. Randall, who blocks my number, then unblocks it when he realizes he misses me. Randall, who, despite being attractive, can’t seem to bring himself to face the potential rejection of an actual date. Randall, who I’ve known since the fifth grade when he transferred to my school. Randall, who was the only boy that noticed when my tits came in. Randall, who moved in with me because rent in the city is expensive, and we both wanted to leave our hometown. Randall, who saves me leftover pizza.
If I go back inside the coffee shop, I’ll be admitting that I’m more fucked-up than he could have imagined. That I don’t enjoy experimenting with coffee. That I’m weak-willed and can easily find a reason to leave. That I’m unstable. That I’m not marriage material.
If I go fuck the boy from the dating app, I’ll be admitting that I don’t really want love - I just enjoy being chased. That I’m easy. That I’m more comfortable being a sexual object than a desirable partner.
If I go to Randall, I’ll be admitting that I love him. That I always have. That I can’t date or fuck anyone without thinking of him. That I’m secretly jealous of his internet relationships. That I pretend to have commitment issues to hide the fact that I’m hopelessly committed to him.
I put the car in drive and take off, blindly.
My phone keeps vibrating. Missed calls from the man I left in the coffee shop. Messages from the boy I should probably fuck just to get it over with. Frantic voicemails from Randall because he thinks I’m in danger.
It’s all too much. Dating is too much. Falling in love is hard. Piecing together scraps of potential is mind-numbing slave labor.
I pull up my apartment and go inside.
“Amy what the fuck?”
Randall is sitting on the couch, hand in his pants, watching a webcam video of a barely-legal blonde girl deepthroating a dildo.
“Were you jacking off while you thought I was being kidnapped and raped?”
“No,” he says, zipping up his jeans, “I was jacking off after I realized you were fucking with me for attention.”
“Will you marry me?”
The question hangs in the air. He stares at me, frustrated and confused. I stare back at him, my heart audibly beating in my throat. I simultaneously want him to say yes and no.
Yes, because it’ll mean he loves me, too.
No, because it’ll mean I can still play off the question as a joke.
“Ab-so-fucking-lutely not,” he finally asserts. The staccato tone of his voice feels like when we used to play that game where we’d bounce a knife between each other’s fingers on the table.
“Gotcha!” I laugh.
“God, you are so fucked. How was your date?”
“I’m just getting a change of clothes before I go back to his place.”
“You didn’t tell him you had autism, did you?” He winces as he asks.
“No,” I lie.
“Good,” he returns his attention to his phone, “That shit was getting old. I hate lying for you.”
“You won’t have to, anymore.” I wink
“You think he’s ‘the one’?” The air quotations around the phrase make me want to break his phone against the wall.
“Could be.” I shrug.
Once inside my room, I lean against the door and close my eyes.
I don’t really love Randall. It was just a hallucination brought on by the night’s events.
I pull out my phone.
“nothing much. wanna grab a drink?”
I change out my underwear and pack an overnight bag.
“Where to?” I reply.
Randall has excused himself from the couch, so he doesn’t see me leave.
“See you tomorrow!” I shout.
“Wear a condom!” He mocks.
I pull up to the bar and find him sitting at a stool, absentmindedly digging through a metal bucket of peanuts.
I sit down and introduce myself.
To the man I could potentially love.