The following was produced in partnership with dating and networking app Bumble, a safe place for anyone (divorced dads included!) to look for a fresh start.
Birds of Paradise jump up and down. Pufferfish create mandalas. Sage grouse inflate their air sacs. All across the animal kingdom there exist various and spectacular mating dances and rituals. There’s a remarkable array within my own species (homo sapiens) too. I myself always thought the idea was to affix your gaze and the gaze of your potential partner upon a third object and then seek to seduce only in peripheral vision. That’s why I like hobbies. Looking directly at a stranger as a potential partner is like staring into the sun. It’ll burn your eyes and make you act weird.
But using a dating app doesn’t quite require that possibility since what brought you together in the first place is wanting to find someone to date. Sure, your gaze is mitigated by a screen but what happens IRL when you meet? As a newly divorced father, using Bumble to dip his toe into the world of online dating, this thought consumed me. And, after a brief flirty chat with a woman named Kassandra who, according to the stress-reducing rules of Bumble, made the first move, I arranged a date and would soon find out.
At my age (late-thirties) and station in life (middling), I don’t quite have the same energy I once did. This is good and bad, I suppose. Good in the sense that in preparing for this date, I’m not overly nervous. We’ll connect, or we won’t. Bad, perhaps, in the sense that there lacks that frisson I had as a youngster. I mean, the most I’ve been excited about anything recently is when I came up with this joke: What do you call pocket dials? Thigh Hi’s! But who knows, maybe Kassandra was looking for a mellow dude like me. As for what I was looking for, I am not exactly sure.
At any rate, it’s Friday and I’m dolled up in my nicest denim and a white V-neck t-shirt that shows off my tattoos — tattoos which guarantee at least 15 minutes of small talk — and, as a nod toward making an effort, I’ve replaced my sneakers with a pair of brogues. I picked a cocktail bar in the East Village, the kind of place that I thought might appeal to the person Kassandra was based on her Bumble profile that showed her to be a woman who enjoyed a high-end drink (thank you, drink badges) and mellow music (her Spotify profile, linked to her Bumble account, had seriously laid-back vibes). The candlelight was for me — the amber light shining through my perfect rye Manhattan was, I’m pretty sure, flattering.
We had planned to meet at 7 PM for a drink. That way, if things went well, we could slip off to dinner and if they didn’t, we could bid each other adieu. Of course, none of this was explicit but, having asked my single friends about contingency plans for bad dates, this was the recommendation. Though not sweaty-palms-nervous, I have to say I was apprehensive. Would we hug? Shake hands? What would we talk about? Normally in situations of social discomfort, I seek refuge in my phone. But I knew enough about her from her profile that I had informed questions — conversation starters, if you will. I also know the blue light from below does little for my features.
So I waited and sipped.
Then Kassandra walked in, with a whoosh of cold air. She looked like she did in her profile. Kassandra was skinny and tall with straight auburn hair and eyes so big and blue they looked like geodes. She wore one of those cowl-neck cable knit sweaters that made me think of posh fireplaces and a pair of chunky boots that immediately made me wonder where she keeps them in her apartment. Is she the kind of person who keeps her shoes on one of those canvas shoe holders that hang on the closet? Does she just throw them by the front door? Does she have a shoe rack? So many questions swirled in my mind as she approached that I didn’t have time to second guess the greetings. Kassandra? Joshua? We hugged and sat down.
OK, here’s the thing I learned in less than 60 seconds: Going on a date — as opposed to dating which is an entirely different subject — is just like talking. As a journalist, I talk with people for a living. Also, I like talking to people. Kassandra, a person, was a pleasure to talk to. She swing dances. She does martial arts. She is a dog mom. We talked about her dog. I am a human dad but we did not talk about my humans. Because it is already clear from my profile badges that I have kids, I didn’t feel like I had to disclose it like a warning. If things progressed, I would, of course, do so but this was the chit-chat phase. One drink led to another which, fortunately, led to a mutual decision to eat dinner together. Truth be told, I was going to eat dinner one way or the other so the operative variable was togetherness. But we chose togetherness.
At the end of the meal, well, look, this is what I’ll say because it is gauche to divulge details. It’s been some time since I’ve had no idea how an interaction was going to end. 99 percent of my salutations end in a hug and a chaste kiss on the cheek. But this was a new world of uncertainty I was entering, as I paid the check (yes, I paid) and I opened the door onto Avenue A (yes, I’m a gentleman). Would this ending be an ending or a beginning and what would we utter as the cold autumn air showed us our breath as clouds? I had had a nice night. I had listened actively, spoken selectively and made googly eyes subtly. Was Kassandra the one for me forever? No. And was I her hers forever? I imagine the answer for her would also be a straightforward ‘no’. But at that moment, the future mattered less than the present. This was, after all, just a date in time. Not eternity. This was just a start. A good start. A hopeful start.