Nathan was the first date I’d had in 26 years. Based on his emails, I was pretty sure it would be magical. He was brilliant and literary. He’d gone to Harvard and worked — in a somewhat vague capacity — for a think tank in Washington, DC. I pictured him spending his days lounging with other think-tanky people on leather chairs in some opulent office on Massachusetts Avenue. From what I could glean, he doled out advice for less-smart people somewhere, and that was plenty good enough for me.
His emails contained perfect spelling, and this seemed important to me, as if bad spelling were a character defect I wanted to avoid in a man. His messages were didactic in spots, but then he would write, “I really like fun. I want to be part of a fun couple.” I sent him my telephone number. He called when he said he would. We talked for a while. He didn’t seem like a serial killer.
“Shall we meet at the zoo then next weekend? That might be worth a giggle,” he said.
I shuttled to the back of my head a few red flags that had surfaced during the call. For a man who’d grown up in Michigan, he had quite a British accent going for himself. I could tell he didn’t think I was funny. And I am funny.
I was game. “Baltimore Zoo or Washington Zoo?” I asked.
Was that a snicker? I believe it was. Nathan was clear he didn’t actually ever leave Washington, which he called The District. He suggested we meet at the Elephant House, and added, “It’s the National Zoo.” But he wasn’t finished. “And, by the way, the name of yours is the Maryland Zoo,” he added, just so I’d know I got both zoo names wrong.
Traffic was horrible, and then I missed the exit for Connecticut Avenue. I was almost 45 minutes late. I didn’t want him to think I’d ditched him, so I ran for the Elephant House as soon as I parked.
There he was, at the entrance of the smelly building, jacket slung over his shoulder. Black hair, very tall. Eyebrows that had merged together to form one serious, knitted line, probably years ago.
“So have you ever been to our zoo?”
“How about our Smiths? Our Hirshhorn? Our Corcoran?”
We kept walking, and Nathan kept talking and taking credit for Pierre L’Enfant’s life work. The history of the zoo, the pandas by name. He knew a lot about the llamas, too, which didn’t surprise me. He was like the Chamber of Commerce with a unibrow.
Nathan had planned ahead — lunch at a restaurant within walking distance after we’d seen everything the zoo could teach me. My feet hurt in my ill-advised shoes. He’d chosen a place known for its wine list, which sounded like a great idea at this point. But it also felt like we were walking to Philadelphia.
When we finally got to lunch, the mere act of sitting down felt glorious. Especially since I knew there would be a glass of something earthy, with mellow tannins and a strong finish on its way. For the last five blocks, Nathan had been talking about his wine collection. I had no idea what tannins were but I was in favor of them floating down my throat. Soon.
As soon as the waiter passed out menus, my first-date jitters arrived. I like to stay ahead of worries, so I was already nervous about how the whole paying-the-bill thing would play out. I’d brought lots of cash, in all denominations, covering my bases. I knew most men were now comfortable splitting the bill, so I came prepared. If the bill had come to $350, I was still prepared, so I probably had nothing to worry about.
“What are you thinking about having?” Nathan asked, peering at the wine list. He was asking about my food choice, I knew, because I’d come clean I knew nothing about wine in bottles (although I was hardly a neophyte when it came to wine in boxes, my little joke that had dropped dead on arrival).
“I was thinking of the chicken and pasta.”
More looking at the wine list. More eyebrow. When the waiter came back with his pencil poised, Nathan seemed pleased that the waiter answered, “Excellent choice!”
It seemed like a lot of work just to get buzzed after a long day at the zoo.
Then Nathan leaned over the table and touched the top of my hand. It was the first physical contact beyond the awkward introductory hug we’d shared hours before at the Elephant House.
“So, Linda. . .”
A pause followed. It seemed to last a week.
“I have just ordered an expensive bottle of wine, and I will pay for lunch.” (Another pause almost as long as the first one.)
“But I don’t expect you to sleep with me on our first date.”
On my way home, as I exited Nathan’s Capital Beltway and Baltimore came into view, I was wondering how I was going to tell him. I thought, “Nathan, Nathan, Nathan. Not enough grapes in the Napa Valley for that to happen” was much too harsh.
This would be the first time — but hardly the last — that rehearsing exit lines would be a total waste of time.
It was a new world. Men appeared as words on a screen. They disappeared with no follow-up email, on their quest to be part of a fun couple. Which, clearly, I wasn’t ready for.
[Up Next Week: A Date with Ben and his Hair]