A First Date Of Flames, Flukes, And Fedoras
This piece is Katie Klabusich’s first dispatch from the front lines of her romantic life for the #ItsTotallyMe dating series, which follows Klabusich and Wagatwe Wanjuki as they utilize professional matchmakers and the insights of various experts to get to the bottom of their perpetual singledom. You can read the series’ introductory post here.
So, he was wearing a fedora when I met him on our first date. I KNOW. Hold your judgement, though — this tale has a good ending! Well, a good and flammable ending. Don’t worry, I’m fine and the property damage was minimal. (As far as I know.)
But that’s later. As with all things dating, I’ve gotten ahead of myself by skipping around and ahead and not caring about convention.
Back, briefly, to the headwear. Remarkably, it didn’t even occur to me to flash to Fedoras: Forever Alone until a good friend saw a pic, pointed it out, and I realized, “Huh, yeah. I guess he was wearing a fedora.” There’s even a pic of me IN said fedora and all I thought about it during the date was, “Dude pulls off a pretty impressively eclectic shirt, belt, hat, shoe combo. Glad I wore this rockin’ dress . . .”
Fedora aside, his willingness to meet me in the independent bookstore I can never resist when I’m in L.A. certainly got us off on the right foot. And since I’d made the trip up from San Diego, he was super flexible about the neighborhood and had made all the plans, which I appreciated. When he walked in, he had a warm, genuine smile (which could be what obscured the hat) that was self-assured enough to avoid the awkwardness of the hello-do-we-hug-now? moment of first meeting without oozing the overconfidence that indicates guy gives no fucks about what kind of time you’ll be having because how could anyone not be having a GREAT time with him?
I had already decided I liked him before we could walk the block to the restaurant.
I’d been primed to like him because of the particular, highly unlikely circumstances that had arranged our meeting.
The wheels were set in motion by my matchmaker Emma Tessler, founder and director of Dating Ring. We’d clicked instantly, and through the interviews and emails that followed, she and I had developed quite a rapport. When she scheduled a Skype chat to tell me she had found a match rather quickly I was shocked because, well, experience (see: my first post), but also because she was initially looking exclusively for people who consider themselves polyamorous or some other form of ethically non-monogamous. And there just aren’t that many of us — which is why I was staring at her with skeptical eyes.
“Just, stay with me.”
I furrowed my brow.
“So, this guy is great. I know he’s great because we’ve been friends since high school. [He would later correct the record: “Um, middle school, actually.”] And I thought of him right away because he’s poly and he lives in L.A. I just wasn’t sure of his current romantic situation.”
Emma looked like this was the best part, “Well, he’s been with his live-in girlfriend for a while and has been seeing at least one other person for a year or something — which means he isn’t new to poly or trolling. He’s already figured out how it all works.”
The only poly dating experience I’ve had was with someone who’d just opened a seven-year relationship and by the time we stopped seeing each other, it was clear he had the capacity to like multiple people at a time, but not communicate well with them. Or respect other people’s time and calendars by keeping a calendar himself. So one of my initial deal breakers with Emma was to not be set up with people who said anything remotely resembling “Sure . . . yeah! Actually that sounds neat!!” when finding out their potential match was a poly woman. I was looking for someone that knew the ropes.
All I could do was laugh at the odds of my NYC-based matchmaker from a tiny East Coast state hooking me up with a middle school classmate living in southern California. Who was also poly. Who was also “a raging feminist” (her words). And who was down to meet a possible new partner.
After hearing how the match came about, I was instantly excited. And nervous. Like, the kind of nervous that doesn’t happen on a first date because of the low odds of it going well. (Or of the date even happening at all, for that matter. C’mon — we’re all guilty of backing out of first dates at the last minute.)
Which is to say, my nerves were appearing ahead of schedule. My low expectations usually get me through a first and possibly second date, but dating inevitably makes me feel like an insecure 15 year-old. This tendency means I have trouble describing this date as a success — even though it ended with him saying he wanted to see me again. I can go on a date, have been on a date, be on a date — all with no problem. But once “date” conjugates into a verb form that means “currently” or “ongoing” — or worse yet, an ADJECTIVE to describe the state of an interpersonal relationship — I morph into my unsure-of-everything, no-idea-where-to-put-my-hands, WHY IS MY HAIR FRIZZY RIGHT NOW OMG high school sophomore self.
At fifteen, you have desires with no way to express them effectively. You over-analyze every movement, word, and glance — yours and theirs.
Little has changed over the past twenty years, a frustrating state of affairs I haven’t sufficiently sourced — hence this series and my intense reliance on Emma. While it’s entirely possible my discomfort with dating is because I’ve never had any success at it and I’m fundamentally uncomfortable with all things I’m not good at or have failed so miserably at repeatedly, it’s also possible I’m bad at dating because of the discomfort.
“It’s hard to get out of that [discomfort] cycle,” Emma the Matchmaker-Therapist told me. “It’s like anxiety. You think, ‘I hope I don’t get anxious.’ And then it’s, ‘OMG I’m anxious about getting anxious!’”
Emma gets me.
Luckily, in addition to being an astute matchmaker, Emma is also a nerve-calming pro. She listened to and discussed my “date three problem”: I make a good impression on a first date almost every time. I can usually even get to date two. But something happens in the date three range and the whole thing falls apart. She promised she would be here to talk me through it.
The Date Itself
With a good set-up, a near-guarantee we would hit it off, and the knowledge that I could call Coach Emma later, I ended up having a great time. We both did. In fact, I changed my return reservation three times because we were still talking and laughing and Amtrak makes it too damn easy to make decisions in the moment after several cocktails. #ThanksAmtrak
We’d dropped my backpack at his place before walking to one of his favorite bars because my entire office (aka my whole life) was in it and he’s extremely considerate. Which meant that after the bar closed (I KNOW!) we had to walk back to his place so I could grab my stuff before heading to the train station. About ten seconds after walking through the sliding glass doors from the patio, we heard a noise that I swear to you was like a sound effect from a movie.
The plastic shed — the 3’ x 5’ x 3’ sort that populates areas without a lot of rain where you can keep your trash containers and washer/dryer outside — was glowing.
He ran outside with a container of water while my useless ass stood in his living room trying to figure out what was going on. By the time he opened the front of the shed and tossed in the water I’d regained my voice.
“What the fuck? HOW is there FIRE?”
“No fucking idea,” he said, holding up a smoldering, slightly melted folding lawnchair.
“That’s what was on fire? Do you keep paint thinner or gasoline in there?”
“I don’t know, but my landlord is gonna be PISSED.”
We both grimaced. And then sat down. It turns out even a fire that lasts less than ten seconds will take a lot out of you — while also taking some of the pressure off the end of the date. Spontaneous combustion, it turns out, makes whatever sparks you’re creating less intimidating to act on by comparison.
As great as the date was — fire notwithstanding — I have a long way to go before any of the questions that brought me to this series are answered. Even with a great second date, um, under our belts, I still haven’t learned anything through this connection. I’ve never had trouble stumbling upon vacation people. Most poly folks have a vacation person or two — the out-of-town or occasional people they genuinely like, but just don’t get to see very often. Which means they aren’t really a fundamental part of their actual lives. And that has been the thing that in 20 years of trying and failing to date I’ve never had.
I may not want a live-in anchor partner whose daily schedule is on my Google calendar, but I am looking for long-term connections with people who don’t keep me on a shelf, set apart from everyone they know. I’m not asking to meet everyone’s parents, but if I’ve never met any of your friends or other partners, no text message volume will make me part of your real life. And that’s hard — though not impossible — to build with an out-of-town vacation partner. You almost necessarily become each other’s break from reality. WHICH IS AWESOME and I’m so glad Emma introduced us . . .
But I feel like I’m back where I started two months ago with my dating glitch. Or luck issue. Or malfunction — whatever it is that keeps me unattached. And over this whole time span, the only person she’s convinced to go out with me — even with bicoastal search parameters — is someone she’s been friends with for fifteen years. She says I’m mischaracterizing my situation, that matchmaking is supposed to work like being set up by a friend with a friend which means the unusual circumstances are simply how it plays out.
I still can’t get around the thought that my one match is a fluke — especially since she’s confirmed she doesn’t have any more middle school bffs living in my part of the country. No amount of reassuring words or anecdotes have softened the feeling that even her skill can’t overcome my epic dating drought.
So I asked her to cast a wider net. And gave her the passwords to my dating apps.
All that’s left for me to do now is take a deep breath, swallow what’s left of my pride, and pack a fire extinguisher — just in case lightning does strike twice.