Despite her best efforts, Annalise Eiseman has yet to find the right man, and it’s starting to really bother her.
She’s 31, has a successful career, and she’s attractive, with golden brown hair that falls in waves down her back, naturally dark eyelashes, and oversized retro glasses that cover almost half her face. Yet, love slips by her like spring scents in the wind, settling instead among her coworkers, whose wedding invitations she unlocks from the mailbox in her lobby, even now that everything else has gone electronic.
But this is not just a story about Annalise Eiseman. It’s important you know that right up front, because it does not always display her at her finest.
All people have something to recommend them, including Annalise. For instance, she identifies the unique strengths of each member of her team at Füdografr, the popular app that uses artificial intelligence to enhance users’ food pics, categorize them, and post them to social media with top-trending hashtags automatically attached. Her constructive feedback both makes her employees feel valued, and encourages them toward further improvement. She’ll take in a cat for a friend who goes out of town, and everyone agrees that she can be trusted with a secret.
So perhaps you can forgive her for any misdeeds she commits in this story, as she only does so out of a profound desire to find love — to fill that aching, lonely hole that nags at her as she falls asleep alone each night.
We begin when Annalise pays for a subscription to GlassSlipper, hoping to find her Prince Charming. The quality of men she meets online will improve, she figures, on a dating site where they have to make enough money to pay for a service they can get free from the popular apps. GlassSlipper is the most exclusive of them all. Members have to submit their social media links — and their résumés — before their profile becomes visible for others to browse.
She’s tried the free dating sites, but jobless men keep messaging her there. It continually puzzles her how anyone without steady income lives in the Bay Area. Rents are high, and buying even a modest three bedroom can cost a million bucks around Oakland. She earns enough to see herself affording one someday, as long as she has a husband who makes as much as she does.
GlassSlipper lists a veritable rainstorm of single, successful men. She chooses four, and messages them. Each one agrees to join her at Lake Merritt that Saturday afternoon. Annalise sets it up very efficiently. She’s wasted way too much time and energy on bad dates with men from apps who don’t live up to their profiles.
She’ll meet her dates an hour apart under a tree near the amphitheater, which she screenshot from the satellite images online, circled with a virtual red marker, and texted to them. When the end of each man’s hour grows near she’ll say she has to go, and head to her car. After he leaves, she’ll return to the tree for the next date. She advises each one to arrive on time.
The first date is with Dan Catanzariti, who works at a 3D printing operation that creates rechargeable flying pollinator robots to replace the disappearing bees. He’s good-looking despite his neck beard, with high cheekbones, a thin nose, and mostly-blue eyes.
Having been advised by Annalise not to be late, he arrives ten minutes early, searches for the right tree, then spends the five remaining minutes leaning against it. A gay male co-worker told him once that he looks sexy when he leans, so he’s taken to leaning every chance he gets.
It’s a warm afternoon. A family picnics nearby, children harass the squirrels. Ten minutes later, he checks the time on his cell phone. Annalise is five minutes late.
She finally arrives under the tree at ten after noon. Dan’s irritated, both because she didn’t follow her own instructions and because, as a result of her lateness, he’s bent over his phone when she first spots him, rather than leaning in the nonchalant pose he planned. Worse, she’s even prettier in person than in her pictures.
Annalise extends her hand to him as she approaches. “Dan, right? Sorry I’m late. I couldn’t find a place to park.”
Truthfully, she passed over a few spots and instead waited for one to open in the lot on Lakeside Drive. That was an essential component of the plan, to park nearby.
“No problem,” Dan says, but it is a problem. Her lateness stokes the long-simmering grudges he holds against pretty girls for every time they haven’t treated him how he believes he deserves.
They start in on chit-chat, but he’s already lost respect for her.
That’s why, while Annalise tells him how she’s been coding ever since she learned BASIC in middle school, he checks a text that vibrates his pocket. Normally, he’d ignore it until after a date, but she hasn’t earned the same consideration, having disregarded his time earlier.
“Anything important?” she asks.
With a wicked glint, he tells her the truth, even though he knows it will wreck the date. “It’s from my ex about raccoons.”
She raises one of her sculpted eyebrows. “Your ex about racoons?”
“Yes,” he says. “We broke up a year ago, but we still send each other pictures of raccoons we see around. They’re temerarious, raccoons.”
He might have used the word “bold” or “reckless,” but he chooses “temerarious,” with all its twists and turns, to prove he’s just as intelligent as her, even if he’s not a coder. Mostly, he wants to make Annalise feel bad, flaunt that she’s not worthy of him. Only, it doesn’t work. Her opinion of herself is unchanged, but her opinion of him drops precipitously.
She checks her phone. They have another 10 minutes before she’ll have to lose him, but there’s no point in waiting.
“Well, it was nice to meet you,” she says as she stands.
He’s taken aback. He wanted to be the one to end the date and resents that she beat him to it. His fingertips tingle with an itch to fight.
“Fine!’ he says, loud enough to draw the eyes of neighboring picnickers. “Bye forever, bitch,” he sputters, and storms off.
Annalise blinks a few times before lowering herself back down on her blanket. She’s shaken by Dan’s volatile turn, but relieved to have dodged that particular temerarious raccoon of toxic masculinity. To get back into a positive headspace, she meditates while she waits for the next date to arrive.
When Jideofor Agbanrin reaches the tree at exactly 1 PM, Annalise’s eyes are closed, her body resting in lotus position. He recognizes her from her pictures and hesitates, not wishing to interrupt this beatific woman’s moment of quiet introspection. But she senses his presence and looks up to see him watching her, smiling warmly, the calmness of his vibe matching hers.
He kneels down to her level. “I’m Jed,” he says, giving her his Americanized moniker. “Are you Annalise?”
She’s struck by how handsome he is. He has short faded hair and an artfully trimmed beard. He’s stylish with a reddish orange t-shirt and an anachronistic gold wristwatch.
Jed’s the executive director of the Children’s Interactive Science Museum in San Francisco. His Nigerian immigrant parents instilled in him a strong work ethic, and his version of “rebelling” against them was double-majoring in engineering and education instead of becoming a doctor.
“They don’t complain anymore, though. Not since Scientific American put me on the cover,” he says.
It might have come off as bragging if someone else said it, but not Jed. Probably because, while he discusses his work, he glows as he explains how good it makes him feel to teach the more doubtful children to love science. How he wins their interest with butterflies and steers them toward entomology, hooks them with fireworks then galvanizes them with chemistry.
“Chemistry pun intended,” he adds. He’s a little nerdy. It puts her at ease with him, frees her to be a little nerdy around him too.
When he suggests lunch, she agrees. After all, the point of this afternoon was never to date as many men as possible, it was to find one man with whom she really connects.
So Annalise strolls with Jed to the other side of the lake for a bite, chatting all the while and leaving her phone untouched in her pocket. Perhaps she ought to text the next man, cancel their date, but with such short notice, it may upset him. Suppose he blows up her phone with angry texts. No, it’s better to ghost the last two guys and not create any drama while she’s out with Jed.
This is where Annalise Eiseman checks out of this story, having ditched two people without notice.
Michael Cheng gets to the tree and lays his blanket on the grass. He’s also brought a basket containing homemade stuffed mushrooms, a bottle of pinot noir that compliments their flavor, and two wine glasses. He rests on the blanket and waits.
Fifteen minutes later, he texts Annalise. “I’m at the tree. See you soon?” He reads a Slavoj Žižek eBook on his phone to pass the time.
After a half hour with no response, he knows he’s been stood up. He’s bummed, and it’s not the first time this has happened to him, either. The dating scene in Oakland is rough. Every online dater experiences something like this from time to time.
It’s not the worst thing, he tells himself. He lives a close walk away, it’s a beautiful day, and he rarely reads for pleasure anymore, since his promotion put him in charge of the entire Speech-Language Pathology department of the Bay’s biggest hospital group. So, rather than take it as a blow, he tries to enjoy the unexpected free time. This eBook has been languishing unread on his phone far too long.
He’s immersed in a part about how distortion of the inherent logic of symbolic communication opens doors to violence, when he notices a man, roughly his own age, poking around the tree.
“Looking for something?” Michael asks.
“Someone,” the other guy says. “A girl. Dark hair, big hipster glasses, real cute? I’m supposed to meet her here at precisely 3.”
Michael understands what has happened immediately. “Annalise, right? She stood us both up. I was supposed to meet her here at precisely 2.”
The guy’s mouth gapes. “Really?” he says, crestfallen. “What the hell?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, man. It sucks.” Michael senses how being stood up has punched this guy’s already-bruised ego, and he feels for him. “I have food and a bottle of wine, if you want to chill and commiserate.”
The fourth date, Kirk Norton, is an optometrist who recently moved to Oakland from the Midwest. “This is the second time that a girl hasn’t shown up in the two weeks since I subscribed to GlassSlipper,” he says, flopping down on the blanket with his fellow wronged man. “I thought I was paying for higher quality.”
Michael unpacks the wine, glasses, and mushrooms from the basket. “The women pay for higher quality,” he says. “We pay to be in consideration.”
Kirk sighs. “It’s upsetting, you know? I take their big quiz, answer all their personal questions. But even if I match with a woman 98%, I’m lucky if she’ll even read my private message. Then, when a woman writes to me for once, this happens.”
“It wasn’t meant to be,” Michael says, echoing something his mother used to say whenever plans went awry.
“And this girl, this Annalise,” Kirk continues, her name curdling in his mouth. “How many dates do you suppose she lined up for today?”
Michael shrugs and pops the cork from the wine bottle. He’s made his peace with Annalise. Maybe she met the man of her dreams.
“I don’t even know how to meet women anymore. Being online has ruined us all.”
Michael pours a glass and hands it to Kirk. “I got this wine online. I took a quiz to match me with my perfect wine, just like on GlassSlipper. Then I bought each bottle they recommended. Some turned out to be okay, others pretty good, a few totally wrong for me. Then there’s this one — my favorite. Wouldn’t have found it otherwise.”
Kirk sips it and it’s nice. It tastes of plums, with a whisper of spice. “Maybe online’s fine for some things,” he concedes. “But somehow I need to start meeting women the old-fashioned way.”
As soon as he says it, a woman with acid-washed jeans and adorable bangs that tickle her eyelashes appears before them. “Excuse me,” she cuts in. She gestures to Michael, who has just poured his glass. “Would you mind trading? We’ve got a French white blend. It’s really good, but Sophia only likes red.”
On the blanket next door, a second woman, equally easy on the eyes, dangles an empty glass.
“Sure,” Michael says. “Why don’t you join us? I have stuffed mushrooms to share.”
Jacinda is vegetarian. She loves Michael’s mushrooms, and insists they taste as good washed down with the fine French white as with the Pinot . They discuss Kierkegaard’s Either/Or while Kirk and Sophia hit it off joking about how they exercise their frustrations with the human race by living vicariously through Judge Judy in reruns.
And so, dear readers, three romantic relationships began that day, and one friendship — face-to-face, mostly unplanned, phones forgotten for once. People found connection with one another while they sat beside that ancient lake on landscaped grass that was once wetlands, once teeming with fish and countless wild creatures, all focused on their own mating rituals.
They connected both despite and because of lives awash in digital ephemera, both despite and because of the misdeeds of Annalise Eiseman.