This originally appeared at In Our Words: A Salon for Queers & Co. Republished here with permission.
Keith is the first man I email through a dating website. It’s Match.com and the picture on his web profile is out of focus. But he seems nice—a young, lean man standing in front of a wall of what appears to be… brown paper? I write him an entire long email referencing specific points of his profile, pointing out items that I think we have in common. But then I erase it and write simply:
What are you standing in front of?
I send the email and am quite proud of myself. Who asks about the background of a photo? Only the woman you want the most, that’s who.
Two weeks later I still haven’t received a response. Since this is my first Match.com message ever, I interpret the silence as definitive proof that I am broken and undateable. Maybe I should get my teeth whitened. Maybe I should give up.
But then, I receive a reply and it’s like rainbows and glitter burst out of my computer. Keith had been offline, but now is back online, and the brown paper wall is a stage set. He’s an actor/playwright. He’s funny. It’s on.
We email back and forth for weeks and I become more and more invested, spending hours composing my next message. We joke about the amount of time it takes us to write to each other—Keith says that he’s started outsourcing all of his responses to India. I am becoming all about this boy in the ridiculous way that’s only possible when all you’re going on is a series of perfect emails.
We decide to meet. It’s November and due to our conflicting schedules we’re both only free to meet on a Tuesday night. And this particular Tuesday in November is also the day of the presidential election, the one where Barack Obama may possibly be elected president. Since I live in Chicago, I have the opportunity to go to Grant Park to witness the election results live with the rest of the city. But I really like this Internet stranger. I decide to go on the date.
We meet at Carola’s Hansa Clipper, a musty German bar two minutes from my apartment. And even though it’s close, I spend so much time getting ready that I manage to be 15 minutes late. I walk in and Keith is the only person in there. He’s wearing all black, sitting at the bar. And not only was his picture blurry, but it was also from at least 10 years ago. I immediately start to judge: hair cut reminiscent of the villain in The Karate Kid, incisor that juts out at a dangerous angle, the softness of 10+ years on his frame, noticeably pungent breath. But the breath is my fault—I kept him waiting, he ordered a German beer, and those German hops go deep. We hug and I sit, angling my face so that it won’t interact with his exhalations. But I need to not be terrible: I gave up history to be here so I better find something to like about this boy.
And I do find things to like. He’s funny in person and very easy to talk to. Keith notes that we both have phones that hold our music collections. He looks me straight in the eye, “Take out your phone, put your music on shuffle, show me the first five songs that come up. No shame, no excuses.” I agree and my phone produces some Billie Holiday, some Cake, and the Evita movie soundtrack. The last one absolutely mortifies me and Keith makes fun of me for a while, which I enjoy. He shows me his songs, which are all awesome punk and rock tracks with not a musical soundtrack in sight.
The bar has a small TV that’s reporting the election results. There’s a possibility that my home state of Indiana could vote for a Democratic president for the first time since Kennedy and I promise Keith that I’ll take a lap around the bar if that occurs. Two drunk women come into the bar and ask us if they can play music. I’m all, “But the presidential election…” but the bartender turns off the sound to the TV for them. The women produce a CD containing Journey’s greatest hits—the bartender plays it and they shriek in delight.
Keith and I continue to chat, easily, and I look up to see that it’s 10pm, 8pm Pacific time, the California polls have just closed and the silent TV is telling me that Obama is our president. It’s just…I can’t experience this moment while listening to Journey. I grab Keith’s hand and pull him out of the bar, onto the street, where I’m expecting to meet a massive throng of cheering humanity. Instead there’s like two guys, but still they’re very excited. I run down the street, Keith following, to a less musty German bar called The Huttenbar. That bar is packed and the sound for the TVs is on. We order beers and watch Jesse Jackson cry and it is fantastic. Keith puts his arm around me and it’s such a lovely moment.
Keith walks me home, which he jokes about because my front door is literally right next to The Huttenbar. He says that he had a really good time and I say the same, because I did. He says that he wants to see me again and I agree. He hugs me. He kisses me.
I kiss him back, lightly, and my brain twists. I want to cry. No. I’m actually crying. I am kissing/crying on Keith. I break away, quickly say goodnight, and run upstairs.
In my apartment, I sit on the couch and continue to cry. Why am I so upset? I just had a lovely date with a nice guy, and we elected our first black president. What is wrong with me?
What is wrong with me is I ended a six-year relationship less than 60 days ago. I’m dating, ostensibly searching for a boyfriend, but I can’t have a boyfriend because in this moment I am insane. The kind of insane that cries without noticing. I am making terrible decisions, eating chocolate pie for dinner, spending all of my money on unnecessary beauty products, single malt scotch, and high heeled shoes that pinch my feet. I had a choice between being present for a historically critical event and the vague possibility of positive male attention, and I chose the vague possibility of positive male attention.
“Where were you when Obama won, Grandma?”
“I was listening to Journey in a German bar, on an Internet date.”
I pour myself a glass of scotch. I sit at my computer and I write an email to Keith, telling him that I can’t see him again, that I’m fresh out of a long-term relationship, that he is fantastic but I have no business dating anyone right now. I apologize for having deliberately wasted his time with my grief-motivated flailings for male attention.
I cancel my Match.com account. I turn off of my computer. I return to my couch, pause, go back to my computer, and unplug it from the wall. I go back to the couch and sit down. I know I have to sit here and hurt for a while. I hate that, but I know it.
Dana Norris is the founder and host of Story Club, a monthly show for stories. She has served as the Nonfiction Editor and Managing Editor of TriQuarterly Online. She performs around Chicago with Mortified!, The Kates, Essay Fiesta, Stories at the Store, This Much is True, Beast Women, Waiting for the Bus and Cafe Cabaret. Her stories have been published in Tampa Review, Partner Dance Press, and been featured on Vocalo.org (89.5 FM). Dana received a Bachelors in Creative Writing and Religion and from Wittenberg University and a Masters in Religious Studies from The University of Chicago. She has a Certificate in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Chicago and is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Northwestern University.
Photo credit titanvisuals/Flickr