The Tinder Liar I Forgot, And The City That Punished Me For It
Pairs well with The Harlem River Blues, by Justin Townes Earle
Stereotype suggests I’m about to order a pink drink at a bar and complain about men while wearing heels and carrying a designer bag I can’t afford. I’m not. I’m not going to complain, moan, or hate. I carry a backpack and it’s within my budget. I prefer a good ankle boot. I just want to talk about New York. I want to talk about what happens here. There’s a reason countless movies, books, and television shows are based in this area. There is something magic about this city. Yes, that is the most annoying sentence I’ve ever written. But there is something happening, some fate-derived essence that makes things happen in New York that simply don’t happen in other places. I say this having lived in five other cities before. I say the city is magic, but not because it’s a fairytale place where any number of wonderful things can happen to you at any moment. (But if you’re 22, go ahead and dream doll, I don’t want to tarnish you). I say magic because you can’t explain magic. I can’t explain why some of the things that happen in New York happen at all. And my logical brain needs answers.
Sure, you can eat your way around the entire globe in one day, purchase a Tesla and a bottle of Advil on the same block, and meet a friend for lunch with Cameron Diaz sitting one table over. These things happen. But New York’s minutes get stranger. They know no limits. There’s a reason locals will ignore crazy screamers on the street while tourists stare. That’s nothing, nothing compared to what we’ve seen before. I rode the subway with a dead body last year, don’t talk to me about strange.
I met a liar once. He was one of the best first dates of my entire life. It’s a date I’ve allowed myself to remember because I want to hang on to all the positivity the dating world is willing to bestow on me. If I’m starved for something good and Tinder wants to throw me a warm chocolate chip cookie, I’ll remember every crumb. He was 6’8, I think he was a teacher. I mean I guess he is a teacher, I happen to know he’s alive and well. On our first date, we met at a bar with a nice outside space in very late summer. We sat outside for two beers and then changed venues to a cute Peruvian place with quite a lot of neon lighting because we were both hungry but agreed that going home at that point felt too soon. I mention this so you know I’m not delusional when I say I think he liked me. A less interested person would have gone home to eat for free.
He was very smart, and even a little funny, but more than anything he was interesting. He had interesting things to talk about and he had actual opinions and he liked documentaries and hockey, two things you should mention on a date if you feel like marrying me. He had a very honest, relatable way of speaking. He wasn’t cocky or arrogant or too much of like…a guy. He was a nice person, my mother would loved him. Your mother would have loved him. This guy was made for mothers. He looked directly at me when he was speaking and listened to what I said when I spoke. He didn’t look over my head or ask questions he had no interest in hearing the answers to.
There was a sense of optimism about him. He was positive. There was nothing jaded or world weary about him. He had lived in New York for years, but came across as if he hadn’t even unpacked yet. He seemed a little too good to be true, but I assumed that was just my own jaded mind at work. I’d been in New York three years. Had a driver’s license and everything, at that point I’d really seen some shit, so my guard was up. We seemed very different in that way. About halfway through the date, I can’t remember what question I asked him, but it made him sigh, take a deep breath, and say:
“So I guess this is the part of the date where I tell you I’m getting divorced.”
I have absolutely nothing against divorced men. That whole stigma kind of baffles me. Like a divorced guy is somehow not as “good” as a never-married guy. Like we should consider a massive percentage of the datable population as clearance items. He was my first divorced date, but truly I wasn’t bothered by it. It sounded like he and his wife, whom he’d married young, had grown apart. This happens. To a lot of people, and certainly only more and more people as we get older. They’d split in May, (it was August) and apparently it takes awhile for a divorce to finalize. I wouldn’t know, but it sounds like some paperwork.
Also, I’ve never understood the assumed animosity between first wives and the new woman. Why are we supposed to instantly hate each other? One woman has taken something unwanted off the hands of one woman, and the other one was brave enough to take the first shift! I don’t hate the first wife, are you kidding? That bitch is my hero! He puts the seat down because of her! First wives are amazing, we should print them on money.
From the way he mentioned divorce, I knew that it was new. Very new. There wasn’t a trial separation, this was fresh. Then it dawned on me that the reason he was being so awesome on the date was that he hadn’t been dating very long. He had never really dated much, ever. He hadn’t been spoiled by the modern dating landscape yet. His siblings put him on Tinder. The only thing better than a guy this green is an unattached dental school graduate who just moved to town with a golden retriever. He had no idea what he was doing, and therefore he was doing great.
He walked me home, all the while holding his bike off to one side. The seat came up to my kidneys and I had to look so far up when I spoke to him that my neck hurt the next day. The summer hadn’t held much for me by way of dating and it occurred to me that this was the first summer night walk I’d taken that I hadn’t taken alone. The whole evening ranked very high for me, as far as Wednesday evenings go. We arrived at my front door and the situation was one of those rare first date endings where you know without question that you’re going to kiss someone. There was no confusion here, I knew it was coming. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to end a date not feeling like I’m 15 again.
A word on bad kissers: If a man has made it to his mid-30s and is still a bad kisser, I do not blame him. I blame women. If you are in your 20s and you encounter a bad kisser it is your job — nay — your responsibility to teach him how to kiss correctly. You cannot loose him back into the wild without this one vital skill. You’re doing your sisters a disservice. Part of me thinks this wife of his kept him a bad kisser so that he’d be ruined, ruined for any potential future lovers. Either way, it was unpleasant. But it was a kiss, if you want to look at the bright side.
We said goodnight and he did the thing that all girls want the guy do. It rarely happens, it’s a dating chupacabra, and it should not be used lightly. As you’ll learn, he used it lightly. He texted me before he got home. He told me what a great time he had, he wanted to see me again, etc. I was shocked. Most first dates this good turn into me staring at my phone for four days, FaceTiming my best friend, wine in hand, and finally swallowing another bucket of confusion and bewilderment served to me buy a guy who pretended to have a great time. This situation was an exception. Something happened that I wanted to happen. A guy seemed interested, if not eager, and all because of me.
There were some simple logistics at work: I had a friend coming in town Friday night, so we knew we couldn’t see each other that weekend. He told me to enjoy my time with my friend, and we’d see each other when she left. I was smiling at my phone. You know, how you smile at your phone?
I didn’t expect to hear from him again until the weekend was over, because he’d been a real human being and let me know the next time I’d hear from him. So I was quite surprised on Friday morning, when he texted to ask if I was free after work. I said yes, that I was free until about midnight when my friend’s plane landed. He said he had happy hour plans after work with colleagues, but that he’d text me when he got back to Brooklyn and we’d meet for a drink.
That evening, after my own office happy hour, I went home, changed, re-applied perfume, etc, and proceeded to wait to hear from him. Nothing makes me feel more like a pile of crap than waiting to hear from a man, but I had a smidge of confidence after his behavior earlier in the week and I decided to just let things roll. I watched Peaky Blinders on Netflix and ate toast. And then he never texted. You might be wondering why I didn’t text him myself, and that is because being the seasoned single that I am, I took it as a sign that he just wasn’t interested, and I should write this one off. It’s happened before, it will again. Don’t weep for me.
I wasn’t without hurt feelings however, and I did a bit of reconnaissance following this incident. Don’t judge me, I’d just been stood up. Only people with clear browsing histories can throw stones. He was almost too easy to find on Facebook, his name wasn’t even rare. I was wondering if Facebook algorithms were finally working to find me a boyfriend, and it was about goddamn time. I saw his ex wife of course, nothing shocking there. A family photo or two, totally normal. What really surprised me were the time stamps. I found a photo of he and his wife together, smiling on a patio in July. Scroll your Kindles up, my darlings, they split up in May. In fact I believe his words were “she left in May.” That odor is very distinct. It’s bullshit.
My friend arrived, and during our pedicures the next day I heard from him, la-dee-dah as if he hadn’t just blown me off the previous night. My spidey senses were humming, but I decided to see how this one played out. We had a few flirty back-and-forths, and I went about my weekend. At no point did he reference his Friday night gaff. Almost like he’d never asked to hang out at all. The next day, this is Sunday now, he texted and asked if I’d like to take an evening walk in the park with him and his dog. I said yes, and we met there. You’ve gotta love a guy picking up dogshit on a second date, really adds a certain something.
We sat on a park bench and people watched and were amused by passing dogs sizing up his own pit bull rescue. She had the confidence of an orchid and hid every time a dog walked by, even the purse dogs. We talked about how much we both loved camping and learned a bit about each other’s families and it was as relaxed and fun as the first date had been. It was the kind of night that makes you like a person.
After we walked his dog, we wanted to stick around in the park a while, there was an eclipse that night. The dog apparently wanted to go home to watch Family Guy so we had to take her home first. Yes, friends. I saw his home on the second date. I wasn’t weirded out by the fact that his ex wife used to live there, I was more horrified that that had been her idea of decor. He poured some whiskey in a water bottle, grabbed two glasses, and loaned me a sweater. We walked back to the park and laid on a blanket for what felt like hours, watching the moon. This being Brooklyn, when a cloud passed in front of the beautiful glow, the whole park booed. Overall it was a really lovely night. Good conversation, a beautiful park, a natural wonder, a little (bad) making out.
I had all but forgotten about being stood up, until this out-of-practice plebian mentioned something to me about the terrible date he’d been on that Friday night.
“Oh, so that’s where you were.”
“Where was I supposed to be?”
“Hanging out with me. You texted me on Friday and asked me to.”
Oh kitten, you poor thing. I looked him square in the face and said:
“It’s fine. You get one.”
Leave it to a newb to blow his one fuck up really early. There was some additional making out under the stars and another walk home and him telling me to keep his sweater until “next time.” He texted flirty little nothings throughout the day on Monday, and again on Tuesday, and on Wednesday I assume he met someone else. He stopped texting. I knew that look. I knew he wasn’t adept enough to manage dating multiple girls at once, so I forked the road and asked if he’d like to come over for dinner at my place that Saturday night. He said:
“I’m a 90% yes, but I might have a basketball game with friends that night. Can I let you know tomorrow?”
And I never heard from him again.
The phrase you’re looking for is “piece of work.” The Friday night blow off for some other date. His inability to distinguish July from May. The constant texting halted by someone he wanted to text instead, with no notice. The dinner plans hanging chad. What was at first promising, enjoyable company turned rotten with the shelf life of a warm bowl of ice cream.
It took about two days for me to stop thinking about him, to stop being angry. Every now and then he’d pop into my head, his inability to tell the truth perplexing me, given his initial gentlemanly presentation. But he wasn’t something I wished I could have had. Lying that much early on didn’t bode well. So I stopped thinking about him and went on about life. By March he was entirely forgotten. Which is why New York put him on a subway platform with me.
At the end of a very long workday, tote bag full of photoshoot supplies on one arm, full backpack on my back, hair disheveled, makeup all but a memory, there he was. All 6’8 of him snapping his head in the other direction as soon as he saw me. I walked away as fast as possible, wishing to put even a blink of him in my past, ready to forget that I’d seen him at all.
It was just so unnecessary. We both lived in Brooklyn, relatively close to each other, using the same train stop every single day. I’d never once seen him. I assumed, and was comforted by, our schedules being different. I texted my best friend that I had just seen the lying divorced guy from August. She replied with a side-eye emoji.
And on I went. I showered, made dinner, replied to emails, pestered the cat. I slept well, woke up the next morning, readied myself for work, so proud of my Sunday night planning that had allowed me to bring my lunch to work all week. The curls in my hair hadn’t fallen flat yet, it was a clear-skied, sunny morning. I was in a great mood. So as the doors were closing, New York made him hop into my subway car at the last second. Yes, we saw each other. Yes, we both avoided each other’s gaze for the next 20 minutes. He was three feet away from me reading a book. He was wearing a baseball cap with sunglasses resting on top, like Guy Fieri. Don’t try and tell me I didn’t dodge a bullet.
The real truth was going to come when I had to get off the train. I remembered his work was further uptown than mine. I’d be leaving this shitshow first. One stop before mine, he adjusted his positioning to let others off the train. And he put his giant security guard body directly in front of my face. I’m talking inches. I’m taking I could smell his laundry detergent. I thought to myself that he must be kidding. That this was some kind of sick joke. I have never concentrated more deeply on a level of Candy Crush in all my days. Then my stop came, and he moved over to the side. I could see him looking at me in my peripheral vision. He kept looking. I knew how easy it would have been. Just turn to face him, give him the finger, and then walk away, having won the round. But I didn’t do that. I didn’t do anything. I just left. I left the subway car and walked to work. I pretended I hadn’t seen him. I pretended I hadn’t ever seen him.
I couldn’t figure out why New York would do this to me. I couldn’t explain how or why I’d seen this person who had no business ever being in my life twice within a 24 hour period, in the exact same place. Why was this necessary? How had our schedules never converged before, only to meld perfectly twice in such rapid succession? Why did I have to see him, to be reminded of something bad? This wasn’t magical, it was downright infuriating and the logical part of my brain looked like a cartoon couch with springs coming out of it. I am so sick of asking why, of not knowing, not knowing this and 1,000 other things, so I tried to rationalize. There must have been a reason for something as strange as this. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t let it go until something productive came out of an occurrence so unnecessary, and unpleasant. Then I remembered, I hadn’t written in awhile.