Sam Gamgee and I hung out, as promised. When he texted me about a time and a place, it was Italian food on a Saturday night. I still wasn’t sure if it was a date. He’d sounded so sure, so specific, when he’d asked me about “just hanging out,” and sure, it was Saturday, but everything feels casual in the summer. And yes, it was a nice Italian restaurant, but it was also pizza, and close to both of us…anyway, when he looked at me very seriously before we’d even ordered and told me he needed to tell me something, I knew it was a date and waited for the get-this-out-the-way-early confession.

I don’t have any of these myself, but I was prepared for them after so many first dates. Sometimes it’s devastating: “I don’t like pizza.” Sometimes it’s meaningless conventions that are laden with judgment considering you’re both on the same date: “I don’t usually go on online dates.”

“I was engaged,” he said, looking like he wished he wasn’t having this conversation. “I’m not anymore.”

“That’s nice.” I said. “What kind of pizza do you want?”

Our third date, I hesitated. He’d asked to make me dinner. Did I want him to go to that effort? On the other hand, a homemade dinner….and Sam Gamgee was easy to say yes to. When I ignored all other questions—What does it all mean, what does he want, what do I want—the fact of the matter was, spending the evening with Sam Gamgee was pleasant. He was good company. We talked easily. I felt relaxed and known and knowing. He reminded me of one of my best friends from high school, of people I’d always known. He’d grown up in the area—maybe that was it—he was trying to make it easy for me to say yes—he snuck up on me, in other words, as hobbits are wont to do. I kissed him in his kitchen that night. He walked me home.

“I just don’t know,” I kept saying. “I like him, but.” But I really wanted my break from dating. But I was already loath to give up the sure-friend I could sense for the less-likely-relationship. But he wasn’t after casual dating, and I wasn’t done with my dating experiment, and how would those two things work out. But I was worried about his feelings already and I’d loved dating without that sense of obligation, of responsibility, with the freedom of knowing everyone was an adult. But he’d just gone through this broken engagement, and he probably needed (so tempting, always, to diagnose what others need!) an ego boost, which I am most assuredly not (I can just hear my ex-boyfriend snort in laughter). Look, I just think society is kind to men’s egos; they don’t need me to help them too.

I told him almost all of this. The telling, too—it was another sign to me that I was treating him delicately, that I felt responsible for whatever happened between us, a feeling familiar from years of dating people in my social circle (high school, college, mutual friends) rather than that great sense of experimentation and low stakes that had marked my Tinder dates up until this point. (Is it caused by a shared social circle? Or is this just what happens whenever people cease being strangers, however that comes about? Was he waiting for me to tell him how things would go?)

He nodded and asked if I didn’t want to see him anymore. It was a smart question. Did I want to not see him? The truth popped out of my mouth, quick, before I could take the exit I’d created. I said no.

But I could feel the relationship circling and I ducked. I went out of town for a weekend, and when I came back, I texted Sam Gamgee and told him I was bowing out—work, a contract to be renegotiated, a friend in need, etc. Excuses, but all true, too. I stared at my phone.

“No worries,” he texted. “Have a good week.” Nice to the last. I told myself perhaps we’d be friends, later, and I turned off Tinder.

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