They met at a bar because neither of them wanted to waste a good date idea on someone they met online. They both knew the odds were slim for second dates (let alone thirds), so it didn’t make sense to spend time and money wandering around a unique museum together.
The bar was Nitecap on the Lower East, her choice. According to both Yelp and her junior year at NYU, it was a "clean dive" (she liked oxymorons) that served an $18 "orange wine" (if not perfect oxymorons, at least things that felt wrong). That wine was a security blanket — one of her favorite tastes in the city and worth the trip in itself; a shining half orb for her to cradle, chug, and sign for. It was expensive, but it was a sure bet — the rest of the night was just a gamble, another Wednesday fed to the wolves.
They’d met on a new app called RightPlace. No one could see the app’s intentions just yet — whether it was for hookups, long-term stuff, or gamified Tinder-esque swiping — but it was so controversial that even people in relationships could tell you how it worked. It tracked your location, and if you had three locations in common with someone, the two of you were a match. Tara’s couple friends said the app was creepy, calling it “an invasion of privacy.” “But isn’t invasion of privacy the point of relationships?” she’d said. Her couple friends had changed the subject.
Thus, instead of Leonard Cohen, she and J (according to a brief chat conversation, that was his full name) had two bookstores and a Panera Bread in common. She decided to look past the Panera Bread and hoped he’d do the same.
The last time she’d had Sex was two months ago. She’d met that guy in person, the way she kind of still believed love had to be done. But when she met men in person, she became enamored with the idea of having met in person. She would write a little fairy tale with a happy ending, fall too hard, and move too fast. She usually slept with them that night and followed them on Instagram the next morning, never sure which made her seem easier.
Once Tara got off the subway, she tried not to look at her phone. Not texting made her feel powerful; gave her command. Men could sense a lot of things, her mother used to tell her. Especially willpower, and she needed every ounce of fake willpower she could get.
It was 9:07 — she was appropriately late; he would be there first. She wanted a cigarette for the first time in years, but a bodega run would have made her inappropriately late, and besides, she didn’t know his opinion on smoking yet. Too many risks, and none of them were lung cancer.
Two months ago, just after having The Sex, she’d made a mistake. They’d been lying there, breathing and putting off dealing with the condom, and she’d said to the guy, “You’re good at Sex.” Her mother had always told her to give compliments, said people liked to hear nice things about themselves. But only seconds after delivering this one, she realized the damage it had done:
1. It implied that this Sex was better than her usual Sex.
2. That meant that, if he didn’t think this Sex had been good, they could both ascertain that her usual Sex was bad Sex.
3. It put the ball in his court: She now needed him to say “you too,” not because she wanted to hear she was good, but because it would level things out, and she could go back to thinking of her Sex life as, at the very least, average.
He tugged the condom off and tossed it onto her floor, whispering the words “thank you.”
“Tara?” A blonde guy seated alone waved. To say her name out loud like that, inflection rising at the end, meant telling the whole bar that they were just meeting for the first time. She sighed, imagining the spectator couples that would go home and talk about the “awkward online date in the corner.” They would discuss the vulgarity of dating apps; how they’re all designed based on shticks and put into practice by people whose libidos are low because they aren’t getting any. They would remind each other how lucky they were to have met in person.
“Hey,” Tara said, scooting into the booth. He looked weirder than his pictures — alien-like, skinnier. She couldn’t tell where his eyes pointed and his hair was gelled, albeit slightly, in a bad way. The booth was tiny and their knees touched.
“Do you need a drink?” He looked better when he smiled, but not by much.
“I do, but I’m not gonna make you buy it for me.” She’d been dreading this moment — the reveal of her motives in choosing this location; having it come across as a confession of the lack of faith she knew they shared. “I picked this place because they have this amazing $18 wine.”
“$18?! For a bottle in this town? That’s a steal!”
As advanced as she fancied her sense of humor, she still liked it when people referred to New York as a small village. Slightly warmer inside, she considered how to let him down.
“No…it’s $18 a glass.” Before he could flip the table in anger: “I know, it’s absurd.”
“Oh. Shit.” He stared down, she assumed, to plot his escape from the tiny booth. “Must be good, then,” he said. ”I’ll get two.”
Curveball from the dude she’d “met” at Panera! He’d roll with it. Maybe they both needed something external to get them through the night. “Awesome — ask for the orange one.”
Their legs stayed staggered like unwilling watch gears, and it took him two full minutes to wiggle out. They laughed, then Tara watched him at the bar — cool and competent, a good height, and slightly weathered in all the right places. Maybe that was why they called it RightPlace, she wondered. Already she found herself ignoring his hair.
It took him a while to get served, especially for a Wednesday. She considered that perhaps he didn’t have what it took and felt her fingers itch for her phone. Still determined not to use it, she let her mind drift, inevitably to The Sex — gritty, sweaty, with an element of destiny. She clenched her legs and chewed her tongue, then stared at a guy across the room, wondering if he was alone by choice.