I’m going to call this date Walt, because he had a Walt Whitman-like beard. Actually, my date’s was longer and bigger and bushier and generally more.

Big beards are really hot in Seattle right now. They might be more popular than man buns.

I know that’s a big claim to make, but hot takes are where it’s at, folks, and I’m all about the clickbait.

I swiped right for a couple of reasons despite not knowing if I was truly interested in having a beard like that all up in my business. Because I was curious. Because he had nice eyes and a sweet smile. Because I wanted to do some research. Because his dog was cute. Because his profile said he was a photographer who liked coffee and I was all, I have an Instagram account!

Oh, whatever. Like your reasons for swiping right are any better than that.

Anyway, we had a chatty, funny back-and-forth and I liked him. We agreed to go out on a Sunday. Then he suggested noon. Then I was like, umm ok maybe we could get coffee and take a walk? This was the day after my second date with Arnold Palmer, and I was still dog-sitting. He said, great! He would bring his dog. It would be good for his dog, because sometimes his dog could be a little aggressive and they were working on that.

I never really pictured Walt Whitman with an aggressive dog.

And then I was like, “Yeah, how about no?” Look, I didn’t know what to say, but I didn’t want to deal with his aggressive dog. I also didn’t want to leave my parents’ dog at my apartment because she isn’t technically allowed to be there at all.

Also, look, my parents’ dog is also sort of my dog—she’s the family pet—and I do mean pet. She’s spoiled rotten. And she’s bad with other dogs. She isn’t aggressive; she’s just an idiot. But socially oblivious and aggressive don’t pair super well together, you know?

ANYWAY, this Sunday at noon date was off to a great start. I texted him and told him to leave the damn dog at home or we could reschedule. Nicely.

He agreed and then I was like, “Uggggggggh I have to go now.” This was born of a few factors: I love canceling any kind of plans. This was my 2nd date in two days, and I had a third the next day, and I was texting a lot of people telling them never to let me schedule three dates in three days again, because what kind of fehking idiot does that.

It was a good thing I didn’t leave the dog at my apartment because our date was about 3 hours long.

We got coffee. He didn’t really want to talk about his beard, and the minute I met him, I remembered that people often don’t like serving as a mouthpiece for your personal curiosities about things you aren’t familiar with (see also: tattoos, haircuts and styles, piercings). He did tell me he’d been growing his beard since long before it was popular.

(Which—didn’t all these dudes with giant beards start growing them before they were popular, because they take a couple of years to grow, just like very long hair, and doesn’t that mean they all started growing them at the exact same time, which means that somehow long beards were, in fact, if not popular, at least in the popular consciousness? Whoa.)

So I went for a walk with Walt Whitman through Interlaken Park, which was lovely and cool and dark.

I did not quote poetry at him.

Walt remembered that he’d found a geocache in the park sometime before, and we went hunting for it again. I have never been geocache hunting. It turns out that it’s named very appropriately. There’s a cache, which is pinpointed with geography, and then you hunt for it. It’s….fine, I guess? I mean, sort of whatever? The hunting involves walking around and looking.

Like most hobbies that people get obsessive about—Settlers of Catan, Dungeons and Dragons, model ship building, football—I don’t really get the excitement.

Then we went looking for the next geocache in Louisa Boren Park. Now, on the map, Interlaken Park and Louisa Boren Park are right next to each other.

It isn’t that this isn’t true, but it doesn’t account for the hill that separates them. Or the 90 degrees that the sun decided to turn up without warning.

The dog had a little trouble, is what I’m saying. What a wimp.

In Louisa Boren Park, we did not find a geocache. We did find a man who wanted to talk to us about crows for 20 minutes and pet my dog, so we did that. And then I started working my way home.

I really enjoyed Walt. We’d had a good time. We’d scrambled and walked and talked about art and photography and writing and earning a living and dogs and geocaches and crows and cities.

Yard-long beards, or yeards, like any other aesthetic or stylistic choice, are extremely personal to the people wearing them, and your reaction is extremely personal to you, and neither the twain shall meet, or they shall if you’re into it, but whatever, keep your thoughts and questions to yourself if you’re just meeting someone. It turns out I’m probably not into it. Objectively.

Although I stand by the nice eyes of the individual behind the beard, I was not interested in making out with Walt Whitman in the middle of the day in the park. (I think that may have been an option but I allow that I may have been misreading signals.)

There’s a reason dates at night feel more, you know, date-y. Help me help you help me and let’s let the night cover some of the awkwardness of what you and I and those people over there with their cameras and young children are doing. I mean, I have also, for the record, ducked a first kiss in front of Molly Moon’s on Pine and 10th because the street lights are bright there and there are many passerby, and have you ever had a first kiss go wrong?

Because I have. And it’s fine. You can totally recover from it. No problem! Laugh it off! Try again. But maybe limit the number of witnesses?

At any rate, I was hot and wanted to sit in the shade and drink water. So did the dog.

And I was so aware of how many, many, many dates I’d been on, and how much I ached to be around someone who knew me already and who I knew well enough to predict, just a little bit, their reactions to things and what they might say next, or if not that, to be alone and feel the familiar comforting noise of my own head.

So we left. And on our way home through Volunteer Park, we ran into my ex-boyfriend sitting in the shade, drinking water. And we sat down for a while, which turned into a longer while and a slow conversation with someone who knows me well and who—despite whatever, whatever—still likes me well enough to welcome my company unexpectedly on a hot and slow Sunday, and who I like well enough to feel a rush of gladness at seeing.

We went, in fact, from Volunteer Park to Cal Anderson, stopping at Dick’s for burgers and fries in between. When we’d eaten and the dog had napped in the grass, we all let ourselves be lured by the fountain, taking off shoes and splashing in the rushing water until it really, finally was time to turn towards home.

I learned a few things that day—It was time to take a break from first dates. The water in the fountain at Cal Anderson is clean (I asked a passing park attendant) and you are allowed to play in the fountain (he did not yell at me). Someone who is someone to me and I can spend an afternoon together. I don’t know what we talked about. But I walked away feeling known, and seen, and rested. I walked away feeling what I have always known: that we were good to each other for a time, and we are different, but good, again, and we can be people who know each other in the world, differently, yet still.

After all, a good afternoon in a park is everything, really, I think you can ever hope or ask of anyone.

Date #1
Date #2
Dates #3, 4, 5
Date #6
Date #7 (not a date)
Date #8
Date #9
Date #10
Date #11
Date #12
Date #13
Date #14
Date #15
Date #16
Date #17
Date #18
Date #19, Part I
Date #19, Part II