Review of Dates #20 & #21: The Hacker and the Farmboy

I took a dating hiatus. Then I texted Archie. Do you remember Archie? We met back in April. I didn’t tell you then, but we saw each other for a couple of months. About twice a week, we’d go on a date. It was pretty clear from the get-go that he didn’t want a relationship (I figured this out when he said, “I’m not looking for a relationship”), but I was ok rolling with our arrangement for a couple of months. Then he got busy and I didn’t see him for three weeks. I told him to let me know if he wanted to see me in a rather snippy text message, and never heard back. I wrote this article on ghosting, made my peace with it, and moved on…until I texted him in August.

We went out for a drink, wandered around the neighborhood, and managed not to talk about what happened until the very end of the night—at which point he apologized, I graciously accepted without saying another word on the subject (NOT), and we moved on. We went back to going on dates a couple of times a week. He agreed to call it dating instead of hanging out, and he was initiating plans more than he had the first time around.

I ran into Sam Gamgee at a soccer game during this time.

“I met someone,” he said with a little smile while I waited in the longest line in the history of Earth for a piece of pepperoni pizza.

“Oh yeah?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “She’s younger than me, taller than me, and you were right.”

“About what?”

“It’s an ego boost and I like it. We’re not ‘dating,’ though. We’re just seeing each other.”

I laughed. We became friends.

When Archie was out of town, I recruited Sam Gamgee into a little mini-day trip. The girl he wasn’t “dating” cared but continued to not “want to date.” The guy I wasn’t “dating” didn’t care and didn’t know.

This was about two months in, and like a dream that repeats, I didn’t see Archie for about three weeks. Call me crazy, but the fun part of seeing someone is, um, seeing him. And he was all, “Well, we’re not in a relationship.” I was all, “Well, that may be but that’s dumb and this sucks.” So I called the game, we thanked each other for the time spent, and hung up the phone.

I went on Date #20 that week. I swiped right on Jeremy Renner—nicknamed that because he looked just! like! Jeremy Renner—not because he looked like Jeremy Renner, but because he had a picture of himself with Bill Nye the Science Guy. He chose a popular bar on Capitol Hill that I would have never, ever picked, because it’s a bar for assholes. I forgave him when he announced that he’d moved to Seattle two days ago.

Then he told me that it was his birthday. Have you heard of this? I’m not the only person I know that’s ended up on a Tinder-organized-first-date-birthday-date. I would think it was very, very weird, but: moved here two days ago from the east coast and didn’t know anyone. He was one of those crazy IT workers that travels around the world hacking into companies’ systems to find their weak spots. He was fun. We’d had a snappy conversation over Tinder, and he proved similarly entertaining in person. I agreed to a second drink at a second bar—”Come on, it’s my birthday!”—and we kept swapping stories. I remember laughing a lot. He was a good flirt.

He was something of a name-dropper—a funny combination of minor celebrities and politicians, through a maze of hazy connections. He ordered fernet and talked about how he’d become fond of it as a bartender. He was one of those people who’d worked in the service industry, and as a result went out of his way to learn and call bartenders by their names. I can never decide if this is actually welcomed. He’d been raised in the south as a ward of the state. He seemed like he’d become aggressively competent in the ways of the world, in dressing, in handling himself, by himself, perhaps in reaction to this. He seemed like he might make fun of you when you were least expecting it, and sometimes it would be funny, and someday it might hurt your feelings.

Sam Gamgee had gone on a date that night, too—someone new, from Tinder. The next day we swapped reviews. “Weird date, weird person, weird vibes,” he texted. “I’m going hiking by myself. How was your date?”

“Good!” I said, reverting to oblique, not knowing what else to say. The date had been good.

Jeremy Renner and I set a second date, but he got a cold and cancelled, and we never rescheduled. Archie and I called it quits. Sam Gamgee and I kept hanging out. I went back to swiping little squares of little faces on my little phone.

Date #21 was the next week—this is about mid-September—with a big, gentle giant of a man from the Midwest, three years younger than me. I’ll call him Jamie. He chose a lovely restaurant with a rooftop bar. I waited outside impatiently, occasionally peering inside the restaurant and scoping the diners. No, that was a couple. That was a family. That was a set of friends. Two men at the bar…but he wouldn’t be with a friend. He was with a friend. He introduced us quickly and made it clear his friend—older, gay—wouldn’t be joining us for drinks. We had a reservation on the rooftop bar. He knew people who worked at the restaurant. The older gay man was his roommate. He was tall, well over 6 feet, and wide. He moved gracefully and had a soft way about him—a soft deep voice, a measured tone—that belied what was to come.

Which was a mother and sisters who worked for a renowned literary jounral, a degree in fine art from a college in the midwest, and then a stint in Australia working in the outback repairing indigenous paintings and doing handiwork at an art gallery. The art gallery was owned by two Chilean women—neither of whom spoke English, one whose family had been killed by the Pinochet regime, one whose family had worked for Pinochet. They never discussed it. Jamie fixed paintings, repaired the truck, chased away wild animals, helped the local farmers round up the stray dogs and neuter them one day on the flatbed of a pickup, got fluent in Spanish and started a company, working with a factory in China to create an electrical little piece of machinery that was missing and he saw a market for.

He came back to the U.S. after a few years, sold the company, went to work for Amazon, saw something missing in the production line and started another company, sold that. He said he missed making things, was applying to industrial design programs all over, but especially in Italy, planned to work for Ducati, wanted to learn Italian, would move there with his two beautiful dogs within the year. He said all this without bragging, and only with questioning. He was a character from The Flamethrowers come to life.

When I told Jamie a joke, he said warmly, “That’s excellent, Maggie.”  I tried to picture what life with him would be like. If his smoothly neutral exterior belied a rich inner life or if his rich outer life was just that: exterior trappings. Could I be his “little wife”? Could I follow a man, a gentle, kind man from the midwest, if it meant I got to go to Italy? Jamie had learned to be patient with a world that was not as smart nor as good with its hands as he was. He knew how to weld, sculpt, paint, draw, design, code, wire, engineer, and fix. He would be better at things than me, and yet I would be impatient with him. I could hear him, in some distant future, encouraging me to write my poetry, being supportive of my artistic pursuits as he quietly left the house to live his own life—it was a vision born of reading many novels set in farmhouses in the midwest, of domestic discontent, separate lives lived under the same roof.

Except, of course, with Jamie, the visits to the midwest would be once a year, we’d be descended upon by his mothers and sisters, the rest of the time I would be in Italy, Australia, China, wishing I were home, wondering what the man next to me was thinking, so close and seemingly available and yet so self-contained. I didn’t imagine unhappiness; I imagined quietness. A man who would praise my jokes instead of laughing at them. A man who I would have to hurry to keep up with while he looked like he was standing still. I would flit and feel flighty.

The thing is, most people you can sort of tell what they’re looking for, who their type is, whether you match that or at least have made them wonder if perhaps they should consider branching out. Despite my elaborate daydream, I had no sense whatsoever of that with Jamie. Who would Jamie date? I tried to picture her in my mind. Did she look like me? She looked like a woman in a novel—someone written well enough to feel real but who doesn’t seem like anybody you’d actually know.

I wanted french fries but I didn’t order them because before I knew all of this about Jamie but after I had shook his hand, I was planning to hurry the date along. And after learning all of this, I still had to tell myself, enjoy this fascinating person, don’t hurry. I slowed down but my instinct to move on with my night, that this was not a stopping place, didn’t change. Jamie responded with kindness and curiosity to everything I said, wrote down my book recommendation—offered half as an inside joke to myself—to read The Flamethrowers, bookmarked my blog. I didn’t imagine that it would captivate him, for some reason. Despite the remarkable lack of pretension about him, it felt like he had more interesting things to think about and read about than my little corner of the Internet.

We said our farewells and I headed for the park. I got an ice cream cone for dinner and sat where I could watch bike polo on the my right and baseball on my left. Sam Gamgee texted and I told him to come down and join me. We went back to the ice cream shop to get him a cone, then took a walk. I told him about my date, and he said it sounded like I’d met my dream man and was moving to Italy. I laughed. I didn’t think he was fooled into believing I was interested. He was assuming Jamie was. (I wasn’t.) Sam Gamgee is almost exactly my height, and we were comfortable enough around each other to swing along in the dusk at the same pace, turning to circle the park once, then twice. It was too nice to go home.

“How long before we screw this up?” I asked him.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“We’re spending more time with each other than the people we’re supposedly dating,” I pointed out.

“Let’s screw it up,” he said. “Right now.”

I’d meant it half in jest, in flirtation, the other half to set up some future moment. I hesitated. Was I sure? I wasn’t sure. I shouldn’t have said anything until I was sure.

But he kissed me anyway.

I made a lot of noise over the next week—I needed to finish a project, I had that ill-fated second date with Jeremy Renner that I wanted to follow through on, I had a trip planned—and Sam Gamgee took all this in and nodded, then offered to pick me up from the airport when I got back. I waffled, and by Sunday morning, boarding in Los Angeles, I had agreed. Because—and this had been my reaction to Sam Gamgee from the start—when I boiled it down to the basic question of whether it sounded nice to be picked up by him and go to lunch, the answer was yes, it sounded nice.

We went to lunch, and then it was a nice day, so we took a walk. Then it started to rain, so we went to a movie. Then I went home. Then I thought it sounded to go to dinner—there was no food in the house, I’d been away—so I asked Sam Gamgee if maybe he was free for dinner—because after all, he lived just a few blocks away.

Then it sounded nice to see him again, and again, and to cook dinner and go on walks and hikes and little weekend trips and to brunch and to sit on the couch and watch TV and talk about things or not.

And then it sounded nice to go on an adventure, so tomorrow we go to Italy.