I have been in a happy, monogamous relationship for almost a year. My boyfriend is a goddamn treasure: handsome, sexy, funny, smart, kind. A keeper happily kept. He is Italian, yet covered in beautiful freckles; his hair is auburn with a touch of grey at the temples; he’s athletic but not a bro; he thinks I am beautiful and worships my body, but he likes my brain more. We talk intelligently, we like the same things, we laugh. We will be together for a long time.
Let me also say that I am on a first date, and it’s going really well. I’m two drinks in, and there’s been light conversation, heavy flirting. I like this guy. A LOT. This is a great first date, and I hate first dates. First-daters are restrained, more well-adjusted versions of themselves, versions they will spend subsequent dates peeling away to reveal the weird little neurosis nebula beneath. But this guy is an exception. I know I want to see him again. And I will. And have. And do. And did.
That collision of tenses is not a mini stroke, nor am I a time traveller. Two months earlier, my boyfriend and I decided that, for our anniversary, we’d skip the usual BS of flowers and candlelit dinner, and meet again for the first time. This sounded scary, titillating and like it required rules. We like rules, because we like bondage play (hi, Mom!). This was intellectual bondage, if you will. Mental kink.
The rules were as follows: we would pretend we knew nothing about each other and that we were meeting all over again, from small talk to first kiss and beyond. If one of us referenced something from our shared past, we could alert the other by snapping an elastic band on their wrist. In this way, the date would have a playful punishment rush to it. We’d also spend the week before apart to amp up the expectation.
The plan commenced. But as the date grew closer, I began to feel less excited and more vulnerable and sad. I hadn’t considered that pretending to throw away a year of love and life, even temporarily, would feel like a real loss. The stakes were relatively low—we had a safe word, “Buster,” if someone wanted to bail—but I still felt strange. I didn’t want to forget him. I started to grieve for the relationship we’d built, the most mindful, fulfilling one I’d ever had. I didn’t want to go back to square one. I wanted to celebrate everything we’d become. What the f-ck were we doing? The day of the date arrived. I paced. I sweated. I felt like I was cheating or like he had died or like I was dead. I got angry with myself for being so emotional about a silly experiment. I cursed and cried, and then drank a glass of wine and put on a low-cut red dress I never would have worn on a first date with anyone, let alone my already boyfriend. I listened to Iggy Pop. I thought I might puke. I left.
And then, there he was, sitting in the same New York bar he sat in a year ago: the guy I knew but didn’t know. We hugged. We were both nervous. Neither of us said anything.
And now, here we are: two drinks in. With expediency, we relearn that our fathers are both dead, that our Italian families’ ancestral villages are miles from each other, that we both love The Simpsons. Then we get weirder. I discover that, as a child, he saved stacks of newspapers in his garage like an aging shut-in; he comes to know that I once nursed a paranoid fear that restaurant employees were adding bodily fluids to my food. Realizing we’ve both revealed something truly new, we have a laughing fit that draws the ire of a nearby couple. They move. We give them the finger.
Suddenly, I’m relaxed. It’s not as hard, and much more fun than I thought, to relinquish our shared past. I can’t lie to him about even tiny things, as we all do on first dates. I also know I can’t really f-ck this up, no matter what I say. There is glorious freedom in that. Most important, I’m fully present—I have to be, in order to remember what not to say—and I’m not worried about what I look like because I know he already thinks I’m sexy (the dress is helping). It’s a combination of factors that makes for the consummate first date.
Soon I am rubbing my foot against his leg, and my third wine is blurring the line between the real us and the re-date us. He goes to the bathroom and I text him something filthy; he responds, “Can’t wait to see you tomorrow,” playing along like a good boy. When we leave the bar, we kiss for the second first time and I’m surprised at how intensely it registers, like any first kiss would. Does it feel different or am I just paying better attention? After the kiss, he grabs hold of my hand, and I almost snap the elastic band on his wrist, but I don’t. I would let this man hold my hand on any first date in any dimension. We walk to the East Village. We make out heavily on the street, which we’ve never done, and I can feel both our hearts hammering in our chests.
When we get back to his apartment, he warns me that his dog, Pelusa, sometimes feels nervous around people she doesn’t know. Miraculously, she likes me immediately. I relearn that he lives in the same apartment complex I lived in when I first came to New York City. His studio apartment is a little messy, which he later apologizes for. I forgive him. Much later, we sleep. I gently remove the elastic band from his wrist. In the morning it will be our first anniversary. Next year, if we’re both lucky, maybe we’ll go on a second date.
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