New York City. We meet again.
At 37 I was returning to the only city I considered home. I had just spent the last two years in a place that was full of performance fleece, where their versions of parties were pretending it was still burning man. San Francisco is beautiful but truth be told it wasn't for me. It seemed to have a citywide bedtime at 9pm, which you would think to be an immediate red flag but I still managed to stick it out for all 730 days. All of those (traumatized) memories disappeared standing here at the end of August in the middle of high summer heat in my adopted home, NYC.
I was on my way to Gramercy to stay at my best friend's place. She was going through a separation from her husband and welcomed the idea of having her bestie back in town. I did too. She was a Sex and the City character in real life, a PR Vice President of a luxury French fashion line, and looked exactly like Bianca Jagger with a side of Naomi Campbell’s fierceness to match. My game plan was one: find a job; two: get a place, three: explore boyfriend options, easy peasy right?
Hello Digital Dating!
“...I had no time to waste on maybes and I was eager to explore this new digital frontier."
I was late to the digital dating party. SF men were left to be desired and I was eager to explore NYC’s offerings. What I’ve learned from digital dating is this: it distorts your values. It’s nice that it opens up the dating pool to people outside of your immediate tribe, but in the end, it makes you forget to value people and that special thing called spontaneity. Does it ruin seduction? And could I actually meet a partner in this space? I didn’t want to judge a book (or app) by its cover so I decided to dive in.
For my first date, we agreed to meet in the lower east side for a drink. Initially, we did the usual small talk on the app, “Weather!” “How long have you lived in New York?” “What do you do?” “Let’s meet!”
It’s so funny, the awkward feels-like-a-blind-date-but-not greeting. I play overly enthusiastic; the kind when you run into a neighbor at Whole Foods and pretend you didn’t forget their name. He was mixed Chinese and Irish, a cute boy next door happa look. He was a saxophone player for a popular band from mid 2000’s.
I was late as usual. I chose to borrow one of bestie's fabulous dresses and admittedly I was a little too overdressed for this particular occasion. It didn’t matter, I was restless and I wanted to bring the A game. Based on the way he looked at me, I’m pretty sure he knew he was punching above his weight. I went with it anyway, week one in NYC and my first online date, look at me, checking the to do list!
We drank a lot. New Yorkers drink more than the average, but during summer it’s next level. Maybe because surviving winter, the heat is our reward and all we want to do is celebrate.
I liked how I could smoke his cigarettes and that he would play air saxophone solos on demand. It was 2 am, we were now on a wobbly corner splitting a cigarette and his tongue was suddenly in my mouth. I knew it was time to jump in a cab and say goodnight. We met a few more times after that. I knew he wasn’t exactly a fit boyfriend-wise, the chemistry wasn’t really there. But he was fun and I hoped to convert him to the friend zone. I gave him the “not ready for anything serious” line. I had a feeling he wanted more but it was too soon to commit, I had no time to waste on maybes and I was eager to explore this new digital frontier.
Brownie points he showed up with a cute dog by his side. We met at the bar of a hip Soho hotel. He looked like an editorial version of Jesus, if Jesus had the most perfectly groomed beard and designer motorcycle jacket. He was from a small town outside of Stockholm and had the gift of Scandinavian features, meaning he was 6’2”, crystal blue eyes, and shoulder-length blondish hair that exuded soft light when looking directly at it. Viking was a successful photographer in the NYC scene, jetting around the globe and calling it work. I can’t remember the details of our conversation exactly but that it was warm and easy. We shared a grilled octopus and a fall salad with root vegetables. He was avoiding dairy. I limited myself to 2 pinot noirs.
I know we got deep at some point, complaining about the changes of NYC, how dating apps reduce the quality of human connection, and what type of creative work we would prefer to do. Our time expired quickly and he had to get back to drop off the dog to his neighbors’. We walked to the corner so he could put me in a cab. I turned and he tried to kiss me. Even though I wanted to kiss him, I called him out as if I was a prude kind of girl, which in truth I am not, but took this as a sign I may like him. Quickly, I asked if he was trying to kiss me. He backed away a little shy. I moved in closer and leaned in. Then, the sparks.
I got home to a text from him saying he wanted to see me again, soon was emphasized. I couldn’t ignore the flutters. The idea that maybe this could be something, my head was racing with speculation. I told myself to shut up and distracted myself by responding to another digital Romeo.
Having lived in three cities recently, I’ve witnessed and been fascinated by the different dating cultures of each. Miami in particular, a city full of beautiful people with illuminating golden skin tones, so obsessed with seduction and abdominals. Everyone is going through a second teen adolescence. I had a friend, a beautiful Italian from Milan, with fiery red Diana Ross hair. We playfully named the guys she dated after the cars they drove, Double R for Rolls Royce, Masi for Maserati, etc. She never wanted to settle, she was the kind of person that floated through a room and made men forget their partners. It wasn’t unusual, it seemed everyone just wanted casual sex or dopamine hits from the chase.
The Viking Part Two
The second and third date was a week within our first meeting, not typical NYC rules of engagement. We both had travels coming up and decided to savor the time we were both in the city. By the fourth date, Viking asked if I wanted to come to his place and that he would make us a healthy dinner. And would I “consider sleeping over”. I found this incredibly respectful and forward, the idea of even planning for a sleepover sounded mature and foreign. I wondered if this was a Swedish thing because in America we were never this civil. And he took civility to the next level by texting me to find out how I liked my coffee to make sure he had the right items stocked in the morning.
I came over with a toothbrush, change of clothes, and makeup. It felt so strange to pack an overnight bag to sleepover when we hadn’t even seen each other naked or spent that much time together.
Dinner was lovely and awkward in a shy new-to-being-around-each-other kind of way. We chatted late into the evening. Then realizing the time, we decided to change into pj's and call it a night. All the while I was thinking how different this was from my usual affairs of less talking and more groping. I had the thought that "this must be adulting."
The next day wasn't as awkward as I anticipated. Although we were painfully sober, he got up to make coffee and breakfast and smoothed the transition. We ate, smiled, had lingering stares like we were in some rom-com. But what I loved was the simplicity of being in each other's company. We stayed in PJs most of the day, taking turns playing music, going down YouTube dark holes, and covering a variety of high and low brow Google searches. He had such a curated collection of art books and he pointed out his favorites and even showed some of his work. Time passed quickly and he asked if I'd like to take a bath together and pulled out a vape pen. I couldn't tell if it was the oxytocin being released but I felt like I was floating. And when I heard myself say yes, he started to take off his shirt.
This was the longest, most intimate date. All sober. This wasn't normal in my world but do other people have these kinds of dates?
We waited 2 days to see each other. The plan was to meet at a book launch that he had to show face for. I was still floating and it seemed everyone in NYC knew it. I swear I almost high-fived a woman who shoved passed me on the subway.
At the event, everyone looked like they had a stereotypical New York job. Like they owned an art gallery or was a journalist for a long-form publication. I could tell the Viking didn’t want to stay, he said hello and introduced me to a few people. One woman stared at me with a look of confusion as if I was the wrong person on his arm. I ignored it. Soon enough we were on a cobble street outside making out. We grabbed a bite, a little giddy after the weekend we just had. We spoke about our trips and his face got suddenly serious. He said was going on this trip with his ex for part of it. An ex, which he called his “best friend”. I was completely caught off guard. I was suspicious and felt betrayed. I was no longer flying, wings clipped. Normally I’d run away as fast as possible but I didn’t want to revert to my old defense mechanisms. I told him that I appreciated his honesty. I sat silent staring at my uneaten entre. Why would he let me believe this could be something when in fact he was still clearly attached – to whatever degree – to his ex?
I agreed to come over and have tea, he spoke in more detail trying to reassure me of the nature of the relationship but the truth remained. He still had baggage more than it seemed he wanted to admit. I ended up leaving that night heartbroken. I sat silent in the uber staring out the window as we climbed uptown, tears as I watched the Brooklyn Bridge then Manhattan Bridge pass us. Why does it feel like a loss, when we've spent such little time together? Are our hearts more delicate in our adulting years?
I received a text a few days later wishing for me to have a good trip. I didn’t respond. And just like that, we were back to being strangers. A few days later, still disappointed, I did a check of his social media and there he was, a recent post at a black-tie event next to his ‘best friend’.