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I wasn't sure about meeting this odd man from Match.com, and, truth be told, I wouldn't have if I hadn't already launched the Web site and therefore needed a date to write about.
Autumn. The snap in the air, leaves the color of flames, a holiday that includes dressing up and not buying gifts for other people-it's my absolute favorite season. Jews consider it the beginning of the new year. I'm not Jewish, but am often mistaken for such with my pale olive skin, dark hair, and what I tell myself is a dry, Woody Allen-circa-Manhattan-style wit that doesn't go over that well in Seattle where I live. Fall has always seemed like a time of new beginnings to me, too. It was the perfect season to launch the dating Web site that I was sure would launch my career, and I was going on my very first date for it. I felt like a sophomore girl getting asked to the homecoming dance by a senior, except that I was in my late thirties and the senior was some stranger from Match.com and we probably wouldn't have dated under normal circumstances.
Our abnormal circumstances were that, (1) as bold as I am about some things, I don't believe in asking men out, and (2) he asked me out through an oldad I had up on Match.com just when I needed a date.
DatingAmy.com was not much more than a home page that said "I flip between dating men who are like George Costanza and men who are like George Clooney ... then quickly back again. If romance is a numbers game, it only makes sense for me to pick a biggish number." The bizarre pressure of needing a date to write about on the Internet was standing in front of me like a fat woman in a bright orange suit holding a Drive Slowly sign as I trundled past, a single person in the diamond lane.
Driving, slowly or otherwise, was apparently something my date did not have to worry about.
"Sorry I won't be picking you up," his e-mail said. "I can't drive. I'll explain when I meet you. It's not that I am a loser, though." Hmmm, that last part would be up to me, surely. "If he can't drive it means too many DUIs or he's on parole," my friends assured me. "He sounds great!"
Like most people, I'm always nervous to meet a blind date. Unlike most people, it's not because I think he may not like me or think I'm attractive; I'm much more worried about what I'll think of him. Part of my hesitation-I thought pretty realistic in this case-was that he had sent a picture of himself with five cats on his head and a story from his childhood about a fish flopping in a wooden boat that was somehow supposed to be analogous to meeting me. "Maybe after we meet you can tell me what I'm doing wrong with dating," he wrote hopefully. I was starting a list already.
We had agreed to meet at a pub and barbecue place whose rotating sign features an apparently not-too-bright pig and cow dancing arm in arm. As soon as I stepped inside, a fortyish man with a shaved head, one dangly earring, and glasses as thick as mason jar bottoms wheeled around on his stool at the bar and asked if I was Amy. He was having a pint of beer with a lemon slice floating in it and ordered a chardonnay for me.
Although it was Monday Night Football time, the TV in front of us was tuned to a sailing event. "Have you been watching this?" I asked.
"Well, not exactly," he answered.
He went on to apologize for not picking me up but explained that he can't drive because he is vision impaired. Really vision impaired.
Jesus, my blind date was actually blind.
When you're doing online dating, it's perfectly understandable to shave a few numbers off your age or weight and add them to your height. Less forgivable, but still in the ballpark, is putting up a picture that's a year or two old, but how could someone omit the fact that they're missing one of the senses? There are only five of them and sight is one of the important ones. For example, I guess I don't really care if someone I'm involved with has a sense of taste. Sure, I'd feel bad for him and touring wine country might be less fun with him, but ultimately it wouldn't affect me personally. Someone's not being able to see feels completely different and like something that's at least worth mentioning.
"Four really gorgeous blonde girls walked in just before you did," he said. "I told the bartender I am definitely coming here again."
I looked around and didn't see any girls, gorgeous, blonde, or otherwise. Normally I would take that kind of a comment so early into a blind date as a very bad sign about where things were heading, but given the circumstances I decided to let it go.
He mentioned the cats I had seen pictured sitting on his head. They were all his, obviously. He said that sometimes he wished that he could be lord of the manor, like in a Gothic novel, and that someone else-a servant of some sort-would attend to the demanding cats and their needs. From that point on I thought of him as Indentured by Cats. Well, as that and also as that blind guy who didn't mention he was blind.
"Have you noticed how people put those tacky tchotchkes by the side of the road at accident sites as a tribute to their loved ones who died there?" I floundered for a topic to try to put his handicap into perspective. "I guess nothing says, 'We cannot accept that you were cruelly swept off the planet at such a young age' like Beanie Babies and Mylar balloons. In Germany they make crosses and things out of the twisted wreckage of the actual cars to mark the spot."
"Of the European countries I like Holland the best; it's like a second home to me," he said, thankfully not completely picking up the conversational thread I had started. He raved about how great the Dutch are. I didn't comment but silently recalled an incident at a train station in Amsterdam when I changed my mind about a ticket and the agent threw a golf pencil at me and screamed, "IS THIS HOW YOU DO THINGS IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY?" Never mind that the answer to that question is, of course, yes, the experience left me scarred.
As Indentured told me about himself, I learned that he is quite accomplished and lives a rich life, each facet of which is punctuated by beautiful women:
He is a businessman. He's an entrepreneur, really, as he owns his own business. He and his employees enjoy a sort of stalled adolescence akin to the guys in John Cusack's record store in High Fidelity. Their workday consists of Yoda in-jokes, computer games that may or may not include real-life reenactments, and the hiring of cute chicks whenever possible.
He is also a dirty old man. He told me about getting suggestive e-mails from women on Match.com who would never need to post on the Internet to get dates. "I guess it seems too good to be true that a twenty-one-year-old who is working her way through medical school by lingerie modeling is interested in me and 'up for anything,' but I click on the link to her Web site anyway. It's always porn or a hooker."
He talked about a thirty-year-old he had beers with for five hours and how he spilled a beer on her. He called the next day and she told him he was too old and too bald and that she wasn't attracted to him, couldn't he see that? Despite the unfortunate word choice on her part, I couldn't help but admire the woman's decisiveness. Unlike me, she knew what she wanted in a man and she wasn't afraid to say so.
I constantly second-guess myself. Should I have given this one more of a chance? Am I too concerned with feeling chemistry right away and not allowing it time to grow? Should I lower my looks standards? How about my income requirements? Is this guy going to be the best I ever do? I mean one's dating pool has to dry up someday and there will be a point in every person's life when they do indeed date the best person they're ever going to get. If they don't end up with that person, it will all be downhill from there, by definition. And so on.
The blind man told me all about speed dating, where singles sit at tables for two and everyone talks for seven minutes, then a buzzer goes off and they switch partners until everyone has "dated" everyone else. He said that there were ringers when he did it-again, girls so beautiful they would never have to do something like speed dating. He complained to the hostess of the event that it was unfair. He had taken a cab there and the only good-looking women were her friends and not really available. He argued that it was discrimination against the handicapped. It took me a beat to realize that by "handicapped" he meant other than socially, since as the owner of a business he had built from the ground up and a social life replete with beautiful women, he was doing better than most of my guy friends and they can all see.
Normally I loathe hearing about how beautiful other women are, especially from a potential prospect. It's even worse when he doesn't have one kind thing to say about my looks. This particular situation had me in a politically correct quandary, though. On the one hand, he was just another guy yammering on about hot chicks right in front of my face. On the other hand, he was blind.
I couldn't help but be fascinated by his very male sense of entitlement.
It truly pointed up a core difference between men and women. If a blind woman were on a date with a stranger, she'd probably feel by turns hesitant and humble-assuming she would even have the confidence to do something like online dating, which is scary even when you have all of your senses. She would certainly have mentioned it, probably apologetically, before the date. Leave it to a man to act like the world is his own private beauty contest even if he needs the program printed up in Braille. In a way I admired him.
My political correctness held my sense of self at bay for the better part of an hour until I finally broke: "How do you know all these women are so beautiful?" I asked. "You're blind."
"I'm not that blind," he said.
When I was ready to leave he asked me to wait with him because he wouldn't be able to see the bright yellow taxi when it drove up. I'm sure if there were a gorgeous blonde driving it he'd be able to spot it.
After I saw him off, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a Lean Cuisine on my way home since he hadn't offered dinner. Tiny, ornamental pumpkins sat like fat orange jewels in the front bins. Fall had arrived and I felt good. The date had gone well, and despite his oddness, or maybe because of it, I had had fun with Indentured by Cats, and when he asked me out again, I said yes. More important, my dating project had officially started.
It had started to drizzle, so I'd put on a baseball cap I'd bought on vacation. "You're wearing a Yankees hat in Seattle? We need to talk," the young guy behind the checkout said. He was tall, big, athletic, confident. A wave of chemicals crashed over me and then receded, the undertow pulling the sand from underneath my toes. "What's your name?" he said. "I see you in here all the time."
In the span of a few hours it seemed that I had seen the difference between the kind of man I was going to be dating and the kind of man I was attracted to.
Myth: Love only happens when you're not looking for it.
I always suspect a death wish-or rather celibacy wish-coming from the people giving this advice. Invariably they are also the sorts who panic if they are alone for more than a week and who met their most recent liaison by placing ads on more than one dating Web site.
Really, when I'm "not looking" for anyone, it means that on the rare occasions I do leave the house, I give one-word answers to strangers and haven't washed my hair.
Of course you have to be looking for love; it's a completely different mind-set from not looking. And not looking is not pretty, in my case at least.
Excerpted from Dating Amy by Amy DeZellar Copyright © 2006 by Amy DeZellar. Excerpted by permission.
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