Chapter 1: The Beginning

Part I: It’s A Match!

It was the Monday night before Thanksgiving and I fell into the couch to start my nightly routine of finding the next big thing on Netflix. After ten minutes of fruitless searching, I pulled out my phone and got to work multitasking with a quest for love that millennials know best by the name of Tinder, Bumble, or countless other apps that act as my generation’s best hope at finding an elusive soul mate in the digital age. I had been on a couple of dates since I had moved back to Oklahoma City three months prior, but neither slapped me in the face with cupid’s arrow and demanded a round two. Both were far from terrible experiences but I was left yearning for that excited feeling that lasts into the next day after a really great date. 

And so my search for the perfect match continued, swiping left and right, left and right, left and right. I had developed the ability to analyze the potential love connections at a rapid pace while mostly avoiding the too good to be true bots, coworkers that you pray will keep your online dating life secret and recognizable faces that you can’t quite place but you’re pretty sure may have been that substitute teacher from high school. Early in my quest that evening, a cute girl caught my eye and I sent her right with the flick of my thumb. 

It's a Match!

Now, we’re talking! I’m cooking with gas tonight, baby. That holiday loneliness is really bringing in the matches hot and heavy tonight. Ok, I’ll keep swiping and come back to message her later…

Victoria: Hey, how’s your night going? 

Ok, well that was a little aggressive. She’s really going to send me a message IMMEDIATELY following the match? On a Monday night at 8pm? Maybe turn down the desperation from a 10 to a 6. Whatever, I’ll take what I can get. Now focus – craft something that shows I am normal, intelligent and witty. 

Ryan: Hey! Going pretty well. Struggling to find a new Netflix show, so very exciting. How are you doing? 

Nailed it. 

V: I’m at a Friendsgiving and it’s been a good time. What type of shows do you like? 

Time to show my extensive knowledge of the Netflix portfolio. 

R: Friendsgivings are the best. My shows are all over the place, big fan of some of the Netflix originals (Masters of None, Love, Making a Murderer), recent TV shows (Parks and Rec, The Office, Always Sunny, Bob’s Burgers), just got done with Black Mirror which was pretty great, but dark. How about you? 

Ok, Ryan…ENTIRELY too detailed. This is literally the second thing you said to this poor girl and you listed every show you’ve watched during the past nine months. Kiss sweet Victoria goodbye. Time to move on and continue the never-ending swipes for love. 

V: They really are, the food is pretty great. I like ones that are easy to watch and don’t make you think too hard. 

Wow, okay. I’m glad she stuck around after that Wikipedia article I sent her about the shows I like on Netflix grouped by category and date of release, but she’s really going to come back with shows that “don’t make you think too hard?” This is definitely something I cannot get on board with. 

R: Yeah, I can get on board with that. What else do you have going on this week for Thanksgiving? 

The sacrifices I make for love. Had to switch gears from Netflix before I lose interest. Can’t wait to watch shows and not think too hard. 

V: Going to Miami with my family on Wednesday! You? 

Consider my interest re-piqued. Miami bound for Thanksgiving is something I CAN get on board with. Bienvenido a mi Thanksgiving, big Willie style. 

R: Well you win! I’m going to my Aunt’s in Edmond, so basically the Miami of Oklahoma. Anyways, it’d be great to get together when you get back if you’re interested. Let me know!

Boom! That’s the ticket. Hit her with the witty charm and then transition into the date invitation. Keep it a soft ask though, “if you’re interested.” No big deal if you’re not, you know, my swiping finger is just getting warmed up. Hopefully, she doesn’t call me out on the fact that there actually is a Miami of Oklahoma.

V: Omg that made me laugh lol but yeah I’m definitely interested. 

(Making gun noises and blowing smoke from my fingers) She’s lol’ing over there and is definitely interested. Not just plain interested. DEFINITELY interested. 

R: Great! When do you get back? I can shoot you a text then and we can figure out a plan. What’s your number? 

V: Sunday, sounds good! [number redacted for all you creeps out there].

R: Thanks! I’m [number redacted]. Have a good time in Miami!

V: Thank you! Have fun in the Miami of Oklahoma 😉 

Impressed with my performance for the night, I kicked my feet up on the couch and switched over from my search for love back to my search for Netflix nirvana. As I scrolled through the same list of shows I’d seen a thousand times before, I started to experience the recurring emotion that happened every time I set up a date; a pure panic about the commitment that I had just entered into. 

Part II: The (First) First Date

Victoria, meanwhile, found herself in a similar panic at her Friendsgiving taking place across town. Catching up over drinks and Thanksgiving fare, the conversation turned to romance and tales of true Tinder love. Victoria was encouraged by her friends who had met their significant others through online dating to download the app and it quickly became a group swiping project. 

However, Victoria wasn’t swiping at all. Her friend, Lauren, was the thumb behind the fateful flick to the right when I appeared. And it was Lauren who I had been winning over via quick wit and extensive rehashing of my favorite Netflix shows. When Victoria had discovered what had taken place, she took a look at my picture and yelled, “I KNOW THAT GUY,” followed quickly by “You already messaged him?!?” Turns out, Victoria and I had worked out together years back, graduating from the same high school and going to the same summer lifting program before I moved to New York, something I only put together after the fact when I saw who our mutual friends on Instagram were. Lauren, for her part, had poured accelerant over this Tinder fire by avoiding standard social norms of waiting hours or days before messaging a match, bypassing the required waiting period necessary to show a lack of obsessive interest. Before Victoria had time to process what was happening, she had been backed into the corner on a date, whether she wanted to or not. 

An important detail for those unfamiliar with Victoria’s dating life is the fact that, in her mind, this was going to be her first date ever. That isn’t to say that she didn’t go to dances in high school or date parties in college; she did, she just didn’t consider those formal dates. And there was that one time in high school when her girlfriends worked behind the scenes to set up an ambiguous dinner with her best guy friend which only proved confusing and was promptly deleted from her dating memory. 

So Victoria found herself committed to a date with me, someone she recognized but did not know, with the added pressure of her first date ever hanging over her head. It was safe to say she was a wound up ball of anxiety and had a week to (over)think things over. She spent that time methodically planning what to wear, what to say and how to say it; coming up with lists of questions and rehearsing them to herself, so that they would come out naturally of course. The stress wore on her and she wondered aloud to friends if it would be acceptable to cancel the date or reschedule as the time got nearer because it was all just simply too much to bear. 

Meanwhile, both of us masking our anxiety behind calm, cool and collected text messages, we had decided on Guernsey Park at 8:30pm for dinner the following Wednesday. Described as a tri-level hideaway presenting sophisticated Pan-Asian cuisine, sushi and cocktails with unique flair, it was a restaurant that had popped up since the time that I had moved away and I was eager to try it. An hour before the date, Victoria looked into her phone with the terrified look of a hostage in captivity and then panned the video down to showcase her outfit. “This is the complete look with scarf, jacket, purse…clutch whatever you want to call it, shoes.” The nerves were audible in her voice and she raised her eyebrows at the end of the video and made a clicking noise with her tongue as if to signal that she has made a terrible mistake. She hit send and waited for confirmation from her inner circle of friends that her outfit was good to go. She then proceeded to her car and drove to the restaurant where she found herself with an extra thirty minutes to sit and wait for the agreed upon meeting time. 

About the time that Victoria arrived at Guernsey Park, I was trying to calm my own nerves while finishing up getting ready. I pulled on my trusty sweater that got me so many compliments during my undercover political work in New Hampshire, took one last look in the mirror and punched the down button to my apartment elevator. I pulled out my phone and sent a quick text to Victoria, “If you beat me there, I have a reservation under my name.” I always plan to arrive five minutes late (which I contend is actually not late at all) to a first date. It’s rare, in my experience, for the other individual to show up on time and the more time that I can cut out from the awkward waiting at an unoccupied table with the waitress asking if I’d like another refill of my water, the better. Unfortunately for Victoria, that translated into more internal panic and double guessing whether her first date ever was about to stand her up. 

Much to her relief, I was quickly approaching the restaurant. I turned off of 23rd St., past the dessert café, Cuppies and Joe, and the aptly named chicken and beer joint, Chick-N-Beer and found a parking spot in a back alley next to Guernsey Park. I walked in and found Victoria sitting in the entry way waiting on me. She flashed a warm smile and hopped up to give me a hug, “Hey! It’s good to see you!” She hid her nerves well and all anxieties that I had been experiencing the past week melted away. We exchanged pleasantries and approached the hostess table to check in for our reservation. I looked up and noticed for the first time that the restaurant was BIG, two stories and plenty of rooms, with only a handful of people in each. I gave the hostess my name for the reservation and she politely pretended to check us in as if the reservation made any difference. 

We were escorted up the stairs around the corner and pointed towards a two-seater against the wall. Our waitress filled our water glasses and left us to begin the ritualistic first date dance. It was an intricate dance, both of us having done extensive research on the other, but having to pretend that all of our questions were spontaneous and off the cuff. “Oh, you swam in high school?” I asked, feigning surprise, knowing full well she placed second in the 100 butterfly AND the 200 individual medley at the 2011 Casady-McGuinness Invitational (thank you archived OKC Friday article). “Did I mention I played the viola back in the day? Oh no kidding, you played the violin?” Another strategic drop based on Google’s wealth of background information. 

The waitress returned and we decided to start with the chicken lollipops based on the enthusiastic recommendation from our server. Victoria had decided almost immediately on the salmon in what was, to the keen observer, a dead giveaway on her meticulous planning for every decision that would come up on the date. However, she did not prepare herself for my indecisiveness on what to order. She suggested the Guernsey Park Meatloaf, which I faked interest in briefly before shooting her down. A few moments prior, I told her I was going with the Seafood Noodles. “The duck always sounds good, but I never like duck. It’s an underwhelming meat if we’re being honest with each other.” I asked the waitress for her recommendation and she added a second vote for the meatloaf. “I think I’m going to go with the duck, please.” 

As we continued to chat over dinner, Victoria enjoying her perfectly cooked salmon while I forced down my characteristically disappointing duck, I noticed that our conversation never once stalled. She was laughing at my jokes and if she was forcing the laugh it wasn’t noticeable to me, someone who had a lifetime of experience searching people for clues that they weren’t enjoying my company. All of the little things that we found we had in common were amplified given the stakes of a first date. “You like tea? My aunt got me a very nice tea pot for my birthday!” This must be fate, we are meant to be! 

After we finished our main dish, I suggested dessert. Victoria initially hesitated out of a desire to let her former workout classmate know that she was still fit, but for the first time all date she broke away from her plan and agreed. We settled on the carrot cake based again on the high praise from our waitress. Neither of us liked carrot cake but we were both too timid to shoot down what appeared to be genuine excitement on the others’ face about the restaurant’s signature dessert. We would have been better off with the Chocolate 5 Ways in hindsight.

So there I was, having finished my mediocre duck and what seemed to be carrot cake straight from a box, yet I found myself having an amazing time getting to know this beautiful, sweet, funny girl sitting across from me. The waitress interrupted my thought with the check which included a feedback card. It was then that I saw my chance to secure the second date. There was a line to list your anniversary on the card to receive special offers. “What do you think about me writing down next week’s date? Maybe we can get ourselves a free meal out of it?” Victoria flashed a big grin. “Perfect,” she said.

It was perfect…everything. “I’m glad we did this, I’ve had a really good time.” It made me laugh because it was something I had said on many far more regrettable dates. However, this time was anything but regrettable. Given how well we had hit it off, I decided to share my thought with Victoria. “You know, I had this thing for a while where I would tell my date how good of a time I had, but then I got home and would think, ‘that wasn’t a very good date at all.’ I think it was just this situation where I was nervous about the date and set such a low bar that if we had a normal conversation and no one threw up on the other it was a success.” I saw the smile fade from her face. “No, I’m not doing that with you,” I tried desperately to pull the foot out of my mouth. “I wouldn’t tell you that if I was doing that to you,” I pleaded. She was caught off guard, “No, no. I heard you LOUD and clear,” she said half joking. 

I was close but couldn’t quite make it to the end of the date without saying something stupid. I hoped that I didn’t sink my chances for another date. Surely she wouldn’t pass up a free meal on our “anniversary” in a week, right? On my drive home, I kept checking my phone out of the corner of my eye hoping it would light up with a text from Victoria letting me know what a great time she had. My hopes were in vein; her friends had instructed her not to text me until she heard from me first. I went to bed that night on a high. It was the best date I had had in a long time, but had I ruined it with my oversharing at the end? 

I woke up the next day with that excited feeling I had been searching for. The high lasted well into the next day and I was certain this was something that I wanted to keep pursuing. It was a feeling that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I found myself determined to hold out on following up with her until I received some sort of feedback from Victoria, but that determination only lasted until shortly after lunch that day. I pulled out my phone and drafted a text, “Hey Victoria! I had a really good time last night. Would love to get together again if you’re interested. If so, let me know when works for you and we can figure something out.” I hit send and braced myself for the long wait to see what fate would bring. 

I sat my phone down and returned to work when I saw my text message alert pop up. I picked up the phone and read, “Hey Ryan! I had a good time as well 🙂 I’m free Friday, Saturday or anytime next week.” For all of the tips that Victoria’s friends had given her, they couldn’t stop her from opening up her entire calendar once I sent her a text. I smiled and put my phone down thinking of what to say next, not knowing how incredible the coming year would be getting to know that beautiful, sweet, funny girl that I was lucky enough to have dinner with on the last, cold day of November 2016. 

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One thought on “Chapter 1: The Beginning

  1. Kristi Winchester says:

    What a fun story!!! I met Rob during the great Online Dating Experiment of 2011! Rather as Inwas trying to end the experiment, there he was! 😜 You guys are well suited!

    Liked by 2 people

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