"I look forward to meeting you." The statement took me aback. We'd been in contact for six months. And yet, what he said was accurate. We'd exchanged a flurry of emails and talked on the phone once, but there had not been a face-to-face meeting.
I blocked all thought about introductions and potential topics of conversation while on my five-hour flight. I reminded myself, however, about how crazy the situation was. In our daily lives we were separated by 300 minutes of air time. Tick tock. Break them down and minutes aren't that long. Comprised of finger snapping seconds. No,...crazy. There was no way to rationalize things through silly mindplay that downsizes five hours.
He first messaged me on the social dating site Plenty of Fish back in February. I'd like to think that my photos and my carefully worded profile might have been the impetus, but he had a schnauzer and I had two. Who was I kidding? Dogs are a bigger draw, paws down.
Once I had my rental car and drove toward downtown Ottawa, thought repression became more difficult. In twenty minutes, I would finally meet Michel. I should have glanced at his online photo again. What if I didn't recognize him and he didn't recognize me? What if we each sat alone at different tables, sipping coffee, trying to look perfectly content while suppressing that shattering feeling of being stood up? What if he wandered in, spotted me, disguised a look of repulsion and made a quick getaway?
I'm good at preparing for the worst. What I wasn't ready for was the flip side. As I approached the entrance, there was a handsome man sitting close to the door. Was that Michel? He smiled and stood up. Signs pointed to yes.
How many times have I met someone for coffee, sat there and wondered how long was long enough so as not to appear rude? How many times have I sipped a latté and gotten the impression the guy across the table wanted me to Bogart the thing? I have this romanticized remembrance of the past when connecting was, if not easy, easier. And with years going by, I am cognizant of the possibility that history is not always cyclical. Sometimes the past is the past. When an immediate connection occurs, who cares that it required a long flight with the final hour being so turbulent that I hunched over and sprawled across the empty seat beside me, too frazzled to sit upright?
There was that awkward hello. Handshake? Coy wave? I surprised myself by hugging him. He didn't seem to pull away. Good start. As the café was set to close—Ottawa is a sleepy town on Sunday nights—he asked if I felt like grabbing a bite to eat. Just what I needed after surviving the day on plain bagels. (Airport cuisine is a challenge for vegetarians.)
We ambled by the Parliament Buildings, having the grounds to ourselves. It reminded me of one of those "Bachelor" dates where the producers pay for exclusive access to a prime location. Sparks Street Mall was just as deserted. After nearly four hours of walking and talking, we headed back to my car. A block away, I stopped and pulled him to a side street. "Can we sit for a moment?" The bench was wet so I spread out my coat as a covering.
Normally, I'm thrilled if a first date ends with an awkward hug, but that's how the night began. Besides, I was only in town a few days and he had fourteen-hour work days ahead of him. I quoted The Beatles. "I want to hold your hand."
How long had it been? Years. I embarrassed to get more specific. I impersonated one of the Seven Dwarfs. Not Sneezy, not Grumpy. Bashful. Is it pathetic to be a forty-something Shy Guy? We cycled through few rounds of hand holding, kissing and hugging, interspersed with my nervous chatter—the same kind of banter that spills from me right before the doctor gives me a needle. How is it that the same odd mannerisms arise in moments of dread and moments of eager, heart-skipping anticipation?
A splendid first date. A disaster or even a shoulder shrug of a date would have been easier. I could have boarded the plane, congratulated myself for taking a chance and started emailing gay men in…I don't know,…Ireland? Nepal? Sometimes you have to expand your search.
Five hours away by plane. And I'm afraid of flying. So now what?