awkward moments of dating in a small world.
Sense, so shallow is the reserve from which we construct our most precious selves. Not much more than a sharp turn, a missed step or an unwelcome coincidence—and it is all so easily lost.
When I saw him, my first thought was run, and a part of me did run. The rest of me realised that I had been standing at the entrance of the restaurant for quite some time–aimlessly, as I so often do. Swept up by a wandering thought or a private joke: momentarily taken from the world. So I decided to sit down, as he had been sitting in front of me this entire time. My instincts, however, betray me; barricaded up against a pillar, I sit so obviously attempting to hide. I feel pinned under the overwhelming weight of a collective scrutiny. Questioning my every move, frantically trying to plug the imaginary holes in my personality. Crippled by a fear of discovery, and seldom the discovery of anything specific—just absurd utter discovery. So often do we fall victim to the delusion of our own centrality. Forgetting that the world is realised through a plethora of uniquely narcissistic observers. The summation of which reduces to nothing but a cacophony; falling far short of what could arguably be considered malign.
We had only gone on a single coffee date. We were not in a relationship. We hadn’t even spoken since… I do not have to feel guilty for choosing the same restaurant as him and his new date. I got up and found a better table. Passing him, I coyly waved hello and make small talk—just like old friends. Like I didn’t stop texting him after he shrugged off our second date. Like we haven’t not been speaking at all since then. We both didn’t acknowledge his date—the invisible man that was once me. I too didn’t dare look at him, even though he seemed thin and considerably less hairy than Edward; dammit, he is probably perfect for me (I thought to myself)! Edward, for the obvious reason of not making an already painfully uncomfortable situation worse—fails to introduce me. I proceed to sit—by myself—a few tables away, facing them this time.
To be fair, I was the one that didn’t respond to the last text. And the way we parted the last time: he virtually bolted! In hindsight, that was probably an early warning sign and not the weird social quirk I chose to assume. If only he knew the context of my present fragility; the disposition of a bruised ego. That I had gone through a series of failed second dates; now to the point of self-sabotage. That that was the reason I was so relaxed on our coffee date—detached almost. I was even taken aback when he later called it our first date. I certainly didn’t consider it a date. It was more like the audition for a date. The tone was formal, professional even. I had no desire to touch him, when he extended his hairy arms across the table, or to kiss him afterwards, when he awkwardly returned my compliment of him being very sweet.
If I may be perfectly honest. I am concerned about the prospect of dating a wealthy person; which in my country mostly means a white South African or Jewish person. Their Achilles’ heel is always their unconscious privilege. And like a veneer that keeps cracking and peeling, no matter how many times it is repainted; this unwelcome third person, that sometimes addresses the waiter, the one I catch leering at the car-guard or beggar. The self they always default to in all discussions of class inequality, structural racism and black economic empowerment. Who regards their present fortunes as solely the outcome of their own hard work. The white elephant of their religious and racial exceptionalism. I tabled all of these concerns, we had a shared obsession with Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (he could recite the opening lines by heart). We both loved India and travel. There is a lot I would brush aside, for these rare congenialities.
Luckily, in the end my hand was forced by a more primal mind. The mysterious play of light and smell and freak circumstance; that somehow rings the bell to the salivating hounds of my lust. Edward simply didn’t do it for me. He was also too far removed from the initial impression I had created of him. And this, sadly, cannot be forced. It is completely out of my control—almost magically so. Utterly unpredictable, unilateral and usurping. I secretly like my submission to this unthinking self—to lust. Absolved of the duty and accompanying responsibilities of reason. Free of justification, simply existing and acting thereupon. It is beautiful, I think; like to orgasm or to laugh. It is both decisive and unashamed of itself, very unlike the rest of me most days.