Funny Fiction

Where I come from, a good first impression is crucial. My mother always said you only get one chance, so you have to make the most of it. Of course, this demand has doubled in the age of online dating. You now have to make two first impressions: one in your profile and the other in person. 

I was so nervous when I first signed up on an online dating site. My wife had passed away 5 years before. My kids had moved out of the house, and I had recently downsized to a bedroom plus den condo. I have never had many friends, especially none that lived nearby. My son suggested I try online dating to find someone to hang out with. He recommended a website that was exclusively for seniors. I argued that it was too old for me, to which he pointed out "senior" meant 50 plus. I suddenly felt old and alone, so I agreed to give it a try.

One of the first things they asked for was a profile pic. Seeing how easy it was to click "pass" and move on to another member, I realized this first instant impression was vital, but how to take the perfect shot? Should I do a basic selfie? I wanted to be honest, but at the same time, I was concerned honesty would not be interesting enough to catch someone's attention.  Should I show myself in the midst of doing some physical activity, in other words walking my little white dog named Ollie? If I just showed my face, my middle-aged dad bode would remain a secret. I'm not seriously overweight, but all my excess pounds have conveniently slid down into my belly. Should I use the bathroom mirror to represent myself more accurately? I didn't want to "catch fish", as they say. I finally decided on a neck-up photo and another one with Ollie. It was a full mirror shot, but I hoped the dog's cuteness would distract from my ample belly. 

After uploading the pictures, I had to answer a few questions. It started with the basics like gender and height (Happily, weight was not asked.). They next asked your occupation. The drop-down menu was divided into broad industry groupings and occupation levels (e.g. health care, education, management, executive, self-employed). I was glad it was not too specific. "What do you do for a living?" is a first impression staple. It's an odd question to hold such importance because your core thoughts and interests are far more revealing than your occupation. Nevertheless, I always oblige and tell people the truth that I am a registrar at a small community museum. When people hear that, their eyes immediately glaze over. I can tell they've already pigeonholed me as boring. I get it. If you are going to work at a museum, at least let it be with Egyptian mummies or dinosaur bones. Rusted, miscellaneous farm implements and "ingenious" apple peelers are not that exciting. I happily ticked off Arts and Culture and management.

The following profile questions were peculiar "How would your mom describe you?" Well, first of all, she passed away more than 10 years ago, and not sure how accurate her opinion is for today. She always thought I was a good father.

Greatest strength? No idea. Seeing the humour in daily life. 

Most important person in my life? My kids, followed by Ollie

I know the best place in town for? Nachos (My place.)

What I missed about the 80s? Not sure I missed the 80s. I guess I would have to say my hair.

Once I had completed my profile, I could begin looking at other people in my age group and geographical location. I felt guilty about passing on people. At least they didn't know their rejection rate. I know I didn't want to know mine.

All of the profiles were interesting, but in the end, I reached out to a woman who described herself as a "Happy, outgoing and successful woman seeking a new relationship with a mature independent man who has a great sense of humour, likes to try new things. How about we have a coffee, drink and see if there's any chemistry." Also in her favour was the admission that white water rafting was a mistake. (What was I thinking!)

I took the next step and agonized over the first impression of my first text message. I came up with this: "Hello, I just saw your profile and thought I would reach out. I was wondering if you would like to meet in person?" As soon as I hit send, I had texter's remorse. I decided that I had been too aggressive. It was certain I had blown it until she replied, "Sure." She suggested then we meet at a nearby pub. 

I thought it was stressful online. Offline was a hundred times worse. I had not needed to make an in-person first impression in years. Everyone I know already has a definite opinion of me. How would I make myself likeable to a complete stranger? How should I talk? How should I act? What should I wear? Usually, I don't give it much thought. There's no need to. I have a work-week set of khaki pants and various striped and patterned dress shirts that readily tag me as a dad and a low-paid professional.  I have a weekend pair of jeans, a brown sweater, multiple t-shirts, and my logo shirts - Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, a Doctor Who "the angels have the blue box" shirt and an oversized Molson Canadian tee which arrived in a case of beer. I have one white dress shirt, one pair of dress trousers and two ties, all of which are only used for weddings and funerals. Over the last ten years, they've not seen much wear for the former occasion, but sadly they have for the latter. The generation before me is reaching its end. 

I decided against funeral wear and thought jeans might be too casual. Therefore, I went with a blue dress shirt and khaki trousers. Blue sets off my eyes, or so I'm told, and that would be a good impression as long as I had the courage to make eye contact. At least the option would be open. I've long given up on my hair, which is disappearing rapidly; a number 3 on the razor setting keeps it in check. Sadly, I now spend more time trimming my ear and nose hair. I hate getting old.

As usual, I overcompensated on travel time and arrived at my destination by 11:44am. We had agreed to meet at 1 pm. I decided to use my extra minutes to reconnoitre. I first did a discrete walk-by of the pub without giving the building much attention. I just wanted to confirm the appearance of the front doors. Next, I observed it from across the street. Crossing back over, I walked past again, this time peeking inside. It was your typical pub - dark, with lots of wood chairs and leather booths. 

It was still too early to meet up, so I retreated to a nearby cafe. The aroma of freshly ground coffee was as intoxicating as the decor was refreshing, especially on a brisk February day. It had a brown and orange South American feel, embellished by an energetic flamenco strum. The dark coffee was served in large cream-coloured porcelain, not paper, and I drank mug after mug. I watched as each minute went by until my fingertips tingled and my head was on the verge of pounding. It was almost time. I went to the washroom to relieve the pressure and then washed my hands carefully so I didn't splash any water on my pants. Evidence of incontinence is generally frowned upon as a first impression. I should have worn black pants. I looked at my phone. Six more minutes. I decided to leave my Peruvian oasis. The owner actually smiled and waved as I went. Clearly, I had drunk way too much coffee.

I walked outside to the prescribed location. Four minutes to go. I popped three pieces of peppermint gum in my mouth. I didn't want my breath to be offensive. When I'm nervous, my mouth dries out. Combine that with coffee residue, and all she would see was how bad I smelt. I bit down hard, determined to squeeze out all of the breath-freshening mint, then I exhaled into my hand and checked the steam for odour. I looked at my phone; I still had time to kill. I slipped into the Indigo bookstore, a warm space with vague piano jazz. I looked at the titles of the latest best sellers and found myself jealous of their luck. One minute to go. I went outside to the designated location. I watched the animated second hand on my phone until 1 o'clock popped into place. Immediately, I walked into the pub.

She was already waiting inside at a booth. I wondered if she had arrived as early as I had. We recognized each other immediately, which was a good sign. We had both provided accurate profile pictures. She waved me over, and right away, the situation was awkward. We weren't sure how to greet one another, whether to hug and kiss cheeks, shake hands or fist punch. We did none of the above, which was another good sign: we were both cautious.  

After a brief "Nice to meet you" exchange, we turned our attention to the menu." It was huge, which helped to make our first minutes together less awkward. I asked, "Have you been here before?"

She replied, "No."

 I looked over the menu, more concerned about what was appropriate than what I felt like eating. The selection was huge. It was a pub-style family restaurant that was nothing like an authentic pub. I scanned all the options and dismissed each one - Chicken Caesar Salad, too garlicky, bad breath, Spaghetti in tomato sauce, too messy, stains on the shirt, chili, good god, you never order chili on a first date. Mind you, this was not really a date per se. It was not even a prelude; it was more of a meet and greet. I finally decided on the fish and chips. I could use a knife and fork and not have to deal with any sauce. She chose the chili!

Once the menus were collected and our orders were taken, an uncomfortable silence descended between us. After a few tense minutes, she started an echo conversation.  

"Do you have any kids?" She asked.

"Yes. A son and a daughter." I replied. "How about you?"

"Yes a boy. How old are your children?"

"26 and 22. How about yours?"

I couldn't help myself. I kept taking her questions as a cue to echo back. And so it went back and forth until she ran out of questions. I tried my best to maintain eye contact without being too intense. I looked away when she looked away and tried to smile the best I could without looking creepy. What should I say next? My mind froze until the weather popped into my mind. "It's not too cold out there for February."

"Yes. Its fresh but not frigid." 

"And the snow this year hasn't been too bad." I wanted to squeeze as much out of this topic as I could. Damn, I used "too" twice a row: too cold and too bad. This was not going well at all. 

And with that, our conversation momentum was lost. Happily, our food arrived just then, and we could comment on how delicious it looked and how great it tasted. From there, if there was a bout of silence, we would both just fill our mouths with food. The whole time, my mind was focused on my posture, on how I used my knife and fork, on wiping my face after each mouthful, on chewing with my mouth closed.

By the time lunch was over and we had paid our separate checks, I was relieved. I wasn't sure whether there was any chemistry between us since all my attention had been on my own chemistry.

We smiled politely, and then, just as she was about to get up and leave, it struck me that this had not gone the way it could have. Suddenly deep inside, I found the courage to say, "Look, I'm sorry about today. I'm really nervous. I've not been out socially in a very long time. This online dating is very nerve-wracking. Can we try again some other time?"

"Oh my god!" She replied, "Me too! I was so desperate to make a good first impression, and I'm afraid I haven't."

I laughed. "You've no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that."

She gave me a broad smile. Her eyes lit up, and so did mine. "Do you want to stay and have coffee and desert?"

"I'ld love that!"

September 23, 2022 16:43

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.