After a (rather disappointing) year of living in the suburbs, I finally got the chance to move into Chicago and start living that urbanite lifestyle I found so glamorous (thanks, Sex and the City). I managed to snag a great apartment in a fantastic location and began enjoying all the perks of being the city.
Since my job at the time was also in Chicago, I already had a couple friends to jumpstart my social life (which, of course, I determined also boded well for dating).
So I settled into my new life: enjoying Friday and Saturday nights out, trying new restaurants, and exploring Chicago. After a rather dismal social life in the suburbs, it was exciting to have such an active one for a change.
I found that I especially love the food scene in Chicago. The city is home to a lot of amazing places from the well-known (Girl in the Goat, Lou Malnati’s, The Purple Pig) to the neighborhood gems (Fornello Trattoria, Ukai Japanese). Whatever food your heart desired, you’d have no issue finding it (except maybe some decent Mexican food…). It was in Chicago where I was introduced to tapas…
…and learning to read between the lines.
A work friend, Maria, invited a group of us to Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, a trendy tapas restaurant with amazing sangria, to celebrate her birthday.
A rather large group of us showed up to mark the occasion, of which I knew two people, who were sitting no where near me and engaged in conversation with their other friends.
So, I did what I always do when surrounded by people I don’t know: I talked to whoever was nearest me.
This turned out to be Dan: the not-really-close friend of Maria. We began with the standard questions: “How do you know Maria?” “What do you do?” and “How long have you been in Chicago?” before settling into talking about common interests and current events. As I talked to Dan (and the other people who eventually joined our conversation), I drank some sangria, ate several plates of tapas, and enjoyed this very “citified” social life of which I was becoming an active participant.
As it always does, things eventually wound down and people began saying their “goodbyes” and trickling out. As I impart my own farewells, Dan turns to me and says, “We should hang out sometime.”
Now, at this point, “hang out” meant just that: let’s do something in a platonic, non-romantic way as friends. So, I think “why not?” Having guy friends was nothing new for me and I didn’t find Dan’s interest in doing something that out of the ordinary, so I agreed to grab a drink with him.
A couple days later, we met at a semi-nice bar a few blocks from my apartment where I arrive to find Dan sitting at the bar instead of one of the vacant tables littering the interior.
Which was definitely keeping with the “not a date” vibe.
So, I take a seat, order a drink, and find myself part of a non-existent conversation.
Apparently Dan was more interested in having a bromance with the bartender than talking to me.
While the bartender was entertaining and gave us good recommendations on beer (as well as some free drinks), I spent the night engaged in a three-person conversation about beer and sports.
Not exactly conversational material I know a lot of about.
In the end, the night concluded nearly as quickly as it begun.
As we prepare to part ways at the intersection, we do the pleasantries of “That was fun” and “Thanks for the good night.” I lean in to hug him (cause I’m a hugger) and, as I do so, all I can see is his mouth coming toward mine and I’m thinking, “What is he doing?!”
So, I snap back, narrowly missing his onslaught, and (because I’m awkward and don’t know how to react) am like, “Uh… yeah, thanks for the drinks. I’ll see you later?”, turn tail, and scamper home.
Now, remember, at this point I’ve gone on only one date (which was terrible) so it seems my ability to read the signs of what constitutes a date or not were basic at best. I had assumed that if a guy wanted to take you on a date he would explicitly inform you of such rather than saying “we should hang out,” would pick a relatively nice place to eat (e.g., not a bar), and would actively engage me in conversation (rather than spending most of his time talking to the bartender).
A few days later, I receive a text message from Dan asking me how things were going and whether I wanted to grab dinner soon (which was definitely more on par with what I expected if a guy wanted to take me out). I ended up bugging off (because I honestly wasn’t interested in dating him) and making some (I’m sure unbelievable) excuse as to why I didn’t have time (and, yes, for all of you who are going, “You should have just been honest with him!” trust me, I know, but younger me was kind of inconsiderate and non-confrontational, okay? I’m much more direct now, I promise).
Though I never saw Dan again, I did learn one important fact: dating is full of non-verbal cues and hidden meanings. It’s like a dance; you observe and attempt interpret the other person’s intentions and moves without misreading them. Even almost 6 years later, I’m still trying not to step on my partner’s toes, muddling my way through a dance I have yet to get the hang of.
But I guess you can’t improve without practice, right?