Contestant #1 and I gave each other the once over, the way you do when comparing a person in reality to their dating profile pictures. She appeared roughly as she did in her photo, but neglected to add a photo which accentuated her rear end, which could be used to evacuate refugees during a natural disaster. This was no problem for me, as I’ve long agreed with the Czech motto “Holka bez prdele je jak týden bez neděle,” or “a woman without an ass is like a week without a Sunday.”
We arranged to meet in Palackého náměstí, and greeted each other at the statue of František Palacký, father of the nation, and whose likeness in concrete above us resembles Frankenstein’s monster. I gazed wistfully across the square, wondering if it would be rude to run away and hole up at my local pub. I quelled my panic button and we headed to a nearby café.
She was fine. She was fine. She. Was. Fine. We chatted about the innocuous things that you chat about on a first date with a virtual stranger (work sucks, hobbies, of course I cook!). After the basics are done, we struggled to maintain conversational altitude. I think just for something to say, I ordered a second glass of wine and noted the hint of judgment on her face.
Online, she was lovely, funny, witty. I looked forward to reading her emails and I put creative thought into my responses. I wanted to be funny and interesting, and maybe that’s the whole problem: our online interactions were timed, planned, and well-worded.
In person she wasn’t as witty as I had thought she’d be. She was sweet, but it was in that darling way you might imagine a mouse to be if it could order drinks. Despite all that she offered as a potential partner (sense of humor, obvious intelligence) she just didn’t do it for me.
Anyone who has entered the exciting world of online dating can tell you that no matter the sparks that fly in your emails and IMs, and no matter the seemingly high level of compatibility, after about 5 minutes of meeting face to face, you categorize the date as a yes, a we’ll see, a no, or a not if I were starving and you had a can of tuna in your underpants. I didn’t see anything romantic happening between Contestant #1 and I, but what if she didn’t agree. Paranoia took hold of me as did a hypothetical and lengthy breakup process.
Whether an unconscious maneuver or anxiety antidote, I ordered my third glass of wine. When I did, I saw the unmistakable signs of a mental note: prolonged eye contact with glass, squint, the momentary pause in discussion as she noted in her cerebellum: well, if we get together, this is going to change.
And so for the rest of the date I drank. Oh, don’t get your panties in a twist, I was a perfect gentleman. I was not rude, I was in no way pushy, I didn’t say anything hurtful or out of line. I just drank until I could almost literally see her interest in me disappear.
We said goodnight beneath Mr. Palacký for the first and last time. The next day, my speculations were confirmed upon reception of a note thanking me for the evening, the formality and tone that of a Christmas card from your congressman.
Contestant #2 had an unusually small head, kind of like a peach on a bookshelf, but it’s nothing I couldn’t get around. I’m not judging, as I am no Shia LeBeauof. We shook hands under Mr. Palacký and I suggested the same café where I’d sabotaged my date with Contestant #1.
Contestant #2 drank. She ordered one wine, then another, and engaged in conversation. She was more talkative than Contestant #1 and slipped flirtatious comments into the conversation. She came up with a pet name for me (which I won’t disclose here under pain of torture). During a shared laugh about Czech bureaucracy she reached across and touched my hand. And I said “Uh oh.”
It became clear that she liked me. And why not? First off, I rock. Second, in the right light and after some strong drinks, I could almost resemble Shia LeBeauof’s cousin’s friend. Moreover, Contestant #2 and I were similar, we laughed at the same things, and the banter was enjoyable. On her side, she was cool, had a great laugh and employed it often. She was also funny and cute. According to my own perennial answers to ‘what do you look for in a woman?’ the top bullet points were: funny, good sense of humor, cute, and friendly. But Contestant #2 was a no. And, no, it wasn’t the tiny head.
I started online dating at the behest of a friend and from the get go it felt kind of dirty. Setting up a profile is like taking part in the business side of legal prostitution. Here’s what I offer! Please like me! Aside from the shots your ego can take at being swiped left, online dating came with other issues. I lived in mortal terror of bumping into a student on the dating site. I had a drawer full of excuses and rationales. I don’t meet a lot of new people. All the women I meet are students. Eh, it’s a nice way to meet people. It happened twice, and both times I felt as though they had just caught me limping sheepishly out of an erotic masseuse.
Online dating has led to one wonderful relationship, a bunch of mini-relationships, a handful of one night stands, and a zillion dead ends. It proved to be like an online bar. I was witty and got no response. I was witty and got one response and then nothing. I was witty, got a response and realized instantly that this person was not for me. For a while my friend Maria and I took to sending each other screen shots of conversations. Can you believe this guy? I give up. This is the guy’s opening line? You are NOT allowed to fuck him. She and I were in the same trawler, the S.S. No Fucking Way.
Even if we agreed to meet, I awaited any number of maladies or tragedies that inevitably arose on the day of our planned meeting. A stomach flu, family disasters, problems at work, these things swept through Prague’s single community like endemic plagues. Still, every once in a blue moon I actually met a human woman in person. But even then, the chances we’d hit it off and it’d develop were pretty unlikely. It very rarely worked out. The statistical combinations of how things could fall apart were and are infinite, one of the most common scenarios being that one party is interested and the other isn’t. Which brings me back to Contestant #2. She was fine, friendly, cute, and I had exactly zero interest.
So as one question begot another, it led me to wonder: why in the hell was I going on dates with these people? Was it just to date someone? Possibly. Not dating can be very depressing, but being on a date with someone you’re not that into can be a nightmare. You are left sitting across the table sipping (read: gulping) Moravian wine and wondering why nobody warned you that this was how things might turn out. It only seems fair that someone in high school would have had a frank conversation along the lines of: you’re not all going to find the loves of your life in college and sometimes you’ll feel trapped in the unhappy part of a romantic comedy, so be prepared for some rough and awkward years.
Contestant #2 had a couple of drinks and didn’t seem to judge my intake, so this sabotage job was going to be more difficult. I instantly eliminated self-awareness by interrupting her and talking about myself (and my cat) too much. In the end, I made fun of Jane Austen, a thread which garnered the eyebrow raise and pursed lips that signaled Mission Accomplished.
It sounds cruel. But in my defense I never said anything rude to her. I was not a jerk and I was not hurtful, I just did what a lifetime of being myself has taught me that women abhor: talking too much, being self-congratulatory, and cat stories.
We split at the end of the night, both tipsy, and yet neither of us even approached physical contact beyond a handshake.
“I’ll call you,” she said.
“Sure,” I said.
And the Saboteur had struck again.
Contestant #3 insisted that we meet at a pub in another part of town, so I did not see Mr. Palacký. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss his reanimated countenance. I arrived early and took a seat near a window. A man and woman were at a table nearby, clearly on a first date. They were speaking English, the man was American, the woman Czech. I didn’t know how they’d met but he was blowing it by betraying bitterness while talking about a girl who had recently broken it off with him. The Czech woman sat quietly, but her discomfort was palpable in how she looked at him. I could see the gears in her head working. Despite the uncomfortable topic, the woman dug deeper by asking a series of clarifying questions to get more information. Then she began laying out a brilliant sabotage by taking the woman’s side. She countered his arguments with logically sound points, and eventually ruled in her favor. At this point, his interest in her was waning. But when she shrugged off his hurt as something he should just get over (a huge no no to do about a recent loss of love) his interest was taken out back and beat to death with a shovel. He grew more distant, but regrouped and changed the subject, but it was over. Her job done, she jumped on his new innocuous subject of gardening and I seriously considered sending her over a drink. This, wherever she is, is a seriously professional saboteur.
Contestant #3 arrived ten minutes late, but made up for that by possessing a large nose, which does for me what large breasts did for Russ Meyer. She had black hair, and was curvy and pale. She was a smoker, which, depending on my mood, I can find attractive. The first thing she mentioned was that we should come up with a story about how we met, because she was secretly ashamed of online dating. I suggested that we met at a cheese festival, she countered with a pig slaughter. After a short while I found that I was enjoying myself. I held off on the saboteur routine for now.
Contestant #3 talked for long periods. She’s Czech, but spoke better English than me; she had an advanced degree in English linguistics and used that English to tell me everything about her life. Everything. I contentedly drank, listened, and compared Contestant #3 and myself. We both worked in linguistics, enjoyed a (lots of) drink(s), were gregarious, witty, and a bit odd.
Could this work?
An hour later, Contestant #3’s mannerisms and language betrayed her tipsiness. Due to (or despite) this, she started telling a rather personal story about a bad breakup. This was perhaps astray from the talking points for a first date, and to boot, I didn’t want to hear it. Cringe humor is far less fun as a live audience. I tried to redirect the conversation, but she adamantly pulled it back.
This topic was obviously upsetting her, and she grew more involved and emotional. I shifted in my seat more restlessly than might a man with a Subaru parked in his asshole. The waiter shot me a look as he walked by and I leaped upon the opportunity to order an Irish whiskey. It’s then that she collapsed into tears.
There is no phrase, expression, or metaphor which can accurately rate a man’s discomfort in the face of female tears. Moreover, the mathematical equation has yet to be discovered which can calculate how that discomfort quantifies and expands when the context is a first date. I stared at her in horror. I didn’t know her well enough to convey anything other than superficial platitudes of consolation. And even then, the vast majority of my brain was busy working out an escape plan.
The waiter put my drink down, by which time her face was buried in her arms on the table. The whiskey was gone before he could move and he immediately nodded at me, picked it back up, and went to refill it. After she finally stopped crying, I made sure she was OK and lucid. Then I told her that I had an early meeting and that we should call it a night. She nodded; she understood the code.
I paid so quickly that the waiter forgot it happened and asked me to pay again as we left. He corrected his mistake and walked away in confusion. I asked which tram she needed or if she wanted me to get her a cab, but she shook her head. Every instinct and survival imperative in my body screamed: get out of here. Now.
At the tram stop, I scanned the schedule. The one she needed was due in a minute and I breathed a sigh of relief. That said, I reflected on the downside of it all. Until she got emotional and exploded into drunken tears, Contestant #3 actually seemed compatible. In fact, as we awaited the arrival of her tram she calmed and even made a few hilariously spot-on self-deprecating remarks. Shame, I thought. But there was no getting past first date tears, and the sad truth was that no compensation would ever balance this out.
Contestant #3 climbed the steps and sat in a heap on a backseat. I waved and then walked in the opposite direction to avoid any possibility of further interaction with her. I made a left and ended up at my café near Mr. Palacký, and find a seat in the back. I ordered a whiskey and took out my notebook. What had started as a pleasant evening had turned into a nightmare and, I thought as I raised my glass, now it was back to pleasant again. I could never risk another date with Contestant #3 again, though, that much was both true and a shame. What in the hell was I doing out here in this world of online dating? At least I didn’t have to reflect on the Saboteur this evening, he hadn’t been employed to take care of this one, he hadn’t been needed. She’d done it for me.
I choked on my whiskey. Wow. Now that was a saboteur.