About First Dates or What's love gotta do with it?
Updated: Aug 21, 2020
It was a short distance to the trees—twenty-five to forty steps, perhaps. It was a bright summer afternoon, with white clouds sailing across the sky air and a fresh breeze blowing from the tall trees. The leaves whispered the songs of nature, those concealed sounds known only by the burble of the stream and the call of the birds.
It became an absorbing excitement - watching the pond in which the thread of water ended. The golden light danced upon the wet grass, and I was hopping from one foot to the other - enjoying the solitude, the place, the warmth, and the lazy hazy days that would soon be over. The moment a toad jumped in front of me, I got a tad scared. The worldly known saying "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince" flashed in my mind over and over. I was around 11 years old back then, and many of my older friends talked about finding a boyfriend or already having one, and I felt out of the loop. I was somehow aware that one does not have to actually kiss a frog to find happiness, but only the idea that something like that might decide your future - or even worse, your luck - made me move away from the pond. I was barefoot near a paradise-green forest and the fresh-cut grass made me tickle, so I forgot about all the nonsense.
The more time passed and the more I was meeting guys, the more I believed that I won't have to search that much. I was only 21 when I found "the one", and I told him that I will love him forever - and so, my quest to find the prince was over. But if that would have been true, I wouldn't have written this text, would I? We broke up, and the happily-ever-after script was thrown in the trash.
Part 1 - The summer of 2013 should have been my summer of rebellion. I listened to Pink a lot - "I'll dress nice, I'll look good / I'll go dancing alone / I will laugh, I'll get drunk / I'll take somebody home" - and I took everything literally. I wore the shortest dresses I have ever worn in my life, started putting (too much) makeup on, I was swimming naked in the Donau Canal, I was open to getting drunk with every occasion. It should have been my summer of rebellion. It wasn't - but I met him.
I was waiting for a friend at Thaliastrasse on U6 when a handsome blonde guy sat next to me. I smiled at him and then returned to my jokes. I had just found a website with puns and I was laughing at one-liners. I was so entertained that the smile might have been a little too broad for someone who was minding his own business. But he smiled back, and when the metro came, he stood up and then entered the train. We were supposed to go in the same direction, but since my friend was running slightly late, I looked at him and smiled again, and waved goodbye after the doors closed. He looked at me surprised, so I smiled again and watched him disappear in the dark tunnel. I don't remember how many minutes passed by, but when I looked to my right, a guy was standing next to me, breathing heavily. I was startled and stood quietly, and he said something in German.
"Sorry, I don't understand. Do you speak English?"
'Yes, I do," he replied and took another big breath. "You see, I got out at the first station and ran here to talk to you. I..."
He could barely breathe - mainly because he ran to catch me before the next train was coming, but also because he was nervous. Never have I ever saw a man shaking when talking to me.
I smiled again "Just breathe."
"I, I...I think you're pretty and would love to invite you out for a drink. If you could give me your phone number we could..."
"Sure," I replied fast, "just write it down fast because my friend arrived." I got up and hurried towards the train.
He texted after 3 days and we decided to meet in Museumsquartier. It was my favorite place in Vienna: quiet, yet full of people. We were sitting at a table, drinking wine, and enjoying a pleasant conversation. There was perfect stillness somehow - or maybe it was the feeling of serenity in the summer. As the shades of evening deepened, he looked at me with adoration. I found out he was way younger than me, was working a crappy job, but trying to figure out what he wants to study. "Doctors without borders" came up, and he explained how all it would work. At the same time, he wanted to make sure I know how much he likes me, as I am "the most optimistic and joyful person he has ever met." It was the first dawning of infatuation and it was nice. I thanked him for the compliment, but laughed out loud "You'll meet many others like me, don't worry."
He walked me to the bus station and asked me to go on a second date in the following days, and I refused. "You're very nice, and I want to be honest with you. I can't have a relationship with someone so young as you - yes, I understood that you don't care about the age difference, but I do. And I realized that I don't want to date, as it is my first time in a while being single, and I want to enjoy that. I liked spending time with you, though, so thank you for your time."
He kissed me on the cheek and I took the first bus home.
Part 2 - It was a night out in December when I met him - tall and strong, with bad boy kinda vibes, yet with eyes so deep that I lost my control. We sat at the same table by accident, and drank beers and talked nonsense, and it wasn't too long until we were outside, kissing in a dimly lit alley. It was the cold wind blowing in our faces, the secret affair background, and the amount of alcohol that made me lose every inhibition I had. Yet, when he said "let's go to your place", I refused.
I was drunk, but not that drunk.
I mean, we weren't even that far from my friends (or his friends); they knew we were taking our time to catch up with them (and why, as it later turned out), but I wasn't going to have sex in a public space, nor did I wanted a stranger to come to my apartment. I wasn't scared of him per se, because Timisoara is a small city and one can easily track someone down, but a fear crossed my mind more than once during the evening. <Was I one of those people who take sex easily? What about Andrei? He is my casual sex buddy, after all.>
I kissed this guy passionately, called a cab, and waved goodbye. It was 4 am when I arrived at Andrei's place, and although I didn't tell him that I ditched mistletoe for shots, I got angry for something he said, and stormed out of his apartment, only half an hour later. I was disappointed with Andrei, although he begged me not to leave the bed in the middle of the freezy night.
I was still drunk, of course, but not that drunk, and so I acted quickly. Getting a cab would have taken ages, plus no one would have come to drive me for such a short distance. That meant I had to invent a route and pay extra, and I didn't want that. So I hid my head in the hoodie, closed the zipper until the upper part of the jacket masked my mouth, and walked fast towards my place.
I was too drunk to have a conversation with myself, and when I arrived home, I changed into my pjs and slept for five hours. I looked like a ghost when I arrived at the Sunday-brunch-place. I told the girls only the last part of my previous night - that the ending was abrupt and my middle name should be "damaged goods" from now on. The mascara was still running under my eyes - so I had to go to the bathroom and clean my face with soap. Spending time with the girls was always lovely, but I knew I will have to make sense of it all at some point. Andrei was becoming a part of my past and I felt it was the right decision, that the friends-with-benefits-period had to come to an end sometime, and still...I was sad.
But three days after all of this, when I buried myself in work and errands and all sorts of distractions, my phone rang. Unknown number.
"Hi, Ioana," said an unusual joyous voice.
"Uuuh, hi. Who is this?"
"Alexandr. We met this weekend, and we kissed and you are the most wonderful woman I have ever met."
I laughed out loud, and hadn't had time to answer because he continued: "Do you know how hard it was for me to find out your name? I mean...your family name. And I couldn't find you on Facebook." After a peal of short laughter, he added "And, oh my God! The trouble with finding your phone number. I had to call a guy, and then another guy, and then someone else. And when I finally reached your friend, he wasn't too thrilled to help me. I mean, what's up with that?"
For a brief second, I also wondered. Why was my friend so reluctant? I mean, he saw the two of us kiss, it wasn't like I was hiding things from him.
"I really don't know. Maybe he wanted to protect me," I laughed out loud. I said the next sentence in a slow down voice, hoping to be overly dramatic: "Maybe...he...knows...you..are...a...bad...boy!"
[I would later - many months later - find out that the guy who I considered to be a fun friend to go out dancing with was in love with me...and he somehow asked me to marry him. But that's another story for another time.]
"I am a good boy, actually, and I'll tell you why. And I'll explain why you have to go on a date with me."
It was a 20 minutes monologue, interrupted by my laughter. Alexandr was a genuinely good guy, with a heart so big it could shelter anyone, and a humor so naive, yet so honest, that would turn any frown upside down. I agreed to a coffee date, but asked him to lower his expectations - as it would only be a coffee date.
We met one Saturday in the city center, and he approached me holding a rose. "This is for you, I am so happy to see you."
I smiled and smelled the rose: "I am happy to see you too, thank you for this," and pointed to the red flower. It was such a sweet gesture, that it swept me off my feet.
He was so determined to make me understand how serious he was, that he put on his best flirting behavior: taking my hand while drinking tea, looking into my eyes telling me I was the most beautiful woman on earth, offering a bite of his cake. Everything was magical. Every question I had was answered diplomatically, and me doubting us - meaning if our relationship would work in the long term - was utterly foolish. He wanted me to give him a chance. One chance.
But I couldn't. He was way younger than me (I then made a mental note to start asking guys their age before the kissing starts), and his life was just starting.
"It doesn't matter," he said, "I will find a job. I will quit my master's program. I will learn English. I will take care of our kids. You won't have to do anything. I'll wash all the dishes. You'll just have to smile." And so on.
I tried to explain that although everything he said is wonderful, and I feel honored to be considered as a suitable wife from him, I will need to say no. In my eyes, he should take time to live his life, go out with the boys, pick up girls in bars, go to the movies, spend his money on travel and books. I took his left hand in my hands: "Look, you're a terrific guy. You are an amazingly good kisser, but you shouldn't make big decisions in your life because you are trying to adapt to mine. If you were 5 years older, I wouldn't blink an eye. We would date, definitely. But I really hope you will give a chance to someone closer to your age. It's your time to explore and figure things out."
He didn't look defeated, but he insisted to pay the bill.
"Hey, I have a job, it's not right for you to pay. It's my treat," I looked at him with gentleness.
"No buts, please. I had an amazing time, and it's my way of saying thank you."
We hugged goodbye and after I arrived home, I put the rose in a glass. <At least romance isn't dead.>
Part 3 - October should be spent in Paris: the mornings are crisps and the evenings golden; the purple melancholy is filling the streets, like the rays of the sun that are speedily passing through your fingers. The wind is rising and the flowers are growing rare, and you start to believe in poetry again. Ooooh, Paris in autumn - how only Paris can be in autumn. Take me there every year!
"I don't know how to use this, and I don't speak French. I'm only in town for a couple of days."
"Well, then...I will just have to trust you," he texted back.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you! You don't know how happy you just made me."
I got lost on my way there (of course I did, as it's a talent of mine), but I was still 10 minutes early.
"I'm, here. And I'm wearing a black leather jacket and..." I continued describing the surrounding, looking forward to his arrival.
"Bonjour," he said, in the most charming voice. (In my defense, I find French to be very sexy.) He took out his wallet and handed me the ticket. "Here you go, enjoy the show!"
And there I was, standing in line, waiting to go in and see The Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. When I booked my get-away trip to Paris, I didn't even consider looking for the events. But Paris being Paris, accidents like this happen - someone is selling his extra ticket on a website, and because I didn't have an account nor the patience to sign up, that someone decided to meet me before the concert. It wasn't an overpriced ticket, and I was sure I was about to be part of something out of this world. I mean, it's "Into my arms" live!! The evening was going to be spectacular.
"Bonjour, madame." I heard again. I turned around and said "bonjour" back. This tall suit dressed french man smiled at me, and said something in French. Did he say, "please move a little bit on the right, as you are stepping on my foot"? I had no idea, but butterflies were flying around my head, so I replied (in the most charming way I could): "Je ne parle pas français." I know a couple of expressions and a few words, and I do listen to a million songs, but if he would have continued speaking French, I would have said: "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" Not that I had any plan on doing that, but I would have wanted to sound like a funny person, to compensate for the lack of my french skills.
"I just said that I remember you from before," he explained in English.
"From before?" I was surprised but curious at the same time.
"You seemed lost back there," he pointed the finger towards the area where I was walking in circles...before.
"Oh, yes. I am really bad with Google maps."
He laughed and with a comforting lie "We all are", he pushed the conversation in another direction.
"Yes, I am alone at the concert, I found this ticket three hours ago."
"I came directly from work, I don't usually go to concerts dressed like this."
And then I found out about his workplace, his Berlin plans and time flew by. We entered the venue, and as if he didn't want to say goodbye, he quickly asked:
"Hey, would you like to drink something?"
"Water would be nice, thanks."
He had a ticket up at the seats, my place was in front of the stage, and the bouncer said everyone needs to go to their designated area. "It says so on the ticket."
I shrugged my shoulders and wanted to say goodbye, but the bouncer looked at me and asked "Ooh, are you two together? Then, of course, you can go in together."
"You know," my accidental date said, "if you want to get on the stage at the end of the concert, we need to move forward.
"Neee, I'm good. Let's just enjoy the music."
And we sang and we danced and he whispered sweet nothings into my ears, first in French, then in English. Was it magical? It surely was.
"Happiness depends upon ourselves," he said, "and moments like these, when our hearts are beating in the same rhythm, when joy comes from meeting strangers, and when music connects us on a deeper level - that's what life is all about." (Ugggh, I would have written this in French...but...you know...I can't.)
He walked me to the metro and it was the last time I saw him. We exchanged email addresses, but we don't keep in touch. It was enough - that evening, when autumn felt like summer, when random things brought us laughter - it was enough.
I haven't thought about all of this until someone told me he's waiting for the right person to come along. And I think it's wrong. There’s so much more to life than finding someone who will want you, or spending your life wishing for someone to notice you. It's a cliche, I know, but life happens when we are busy making plans. We dream about the perfect match, the perfect place, and the perfect kiss and...if all of this happens, we can finally start to be happy.
But dating shouldn't be about finding "the one" - or not only that. We're social animals, and what drives us forward is the connections we make throughout our life. Going on adventures, falling asleep in the woods with friends, strolling around the city at night, sitting in a coffee shop alone (which is exactly what I am going to do after I publish this), talking to strangers - this isn't any less beautiful, I promise. Life can be remarkably fulfilling, and going on dates might not give you the ending you hoped for during last three months, true. But it shouldn't stop you from enjoying life. Happiness is also about "Momente voller Gefühl, die unser Erinnerungsvermögen formen."