John texted me on Thursday evening and said he’d be coming to Raleigh on Friday to take his daughter to dinner. Could I meet him before that? We’d already talked about a convenient restaurant where we could have drinks and meet for the first time. There’d been two phone conversations and I wanted to meet in person to see if there was anything worth pursuing in this new prospect from the online site Match.com. I’d learned that it was a waste of time to wait too long before meeting; you just didn’t get the complete picture unless you met in person.
I recognized that he’d given me short notice, but for the sake of getting that essential first meeting behind me, I agreed to accommodate his schedule and meet at four o’clock on Friday. He planned to join his daughter after six so it would be just enough time but not too long if it was awkward.
I chose the Village Grill at Lafayette Village because it was familiar to me as well as an easy location for both of us– me driving from Durham and John coming from ‘Down East’ as we call it in North Carolina– east of Interstate 95. I’d met there with another online date for dinner a few months prior and knew the layout of the restaurant and parking lot. It gave me a sense of control and safety to know the environment, especially since it was mid-April and we were still going through the pandemic and masking requirements.
Based on our profiles, we seemed suited as far as education, both having children, faith background, interests in outside activities and dancing. He’d also attended UNC-Chapel Hill and graduated with a law degree. John had sent a charming and wordy introduction of himself once we had both ‘liked’ each other on the site. Besides the messaging, in our phone calls he’d told me about living on the family farm since he returned there after college.
I arrived promptly at four and wore my mask to enter the restaurant. The hostess seated me in a booth not far from the door. The waiter came out to take my order and I told him, “I’ll just wait until my friend gets here. It shouldn’t be long.”
Soon after, I heard the ting of a text. It was from John– “Depending on traffic I think I’m about 45 minutes away. Could you text me the address of Village Grill so I won’t be riding around looking for it thank you.”
Forty-five minutes, I thought. You’re going to be that late when you know you’ll have to get to your daughter’s by six-thirty? I sent him the Grill’s address– for the second time.
The waiter brought me water and I mentioned that my friend had been detained–but I’d still wait to order. People were starting to come in for their Friday afternoon wind down. How I must look, sitting alone and waiting for my date to show up.
Finally, at ten of five, John rushed through the door, without a mask and I waved him over to the table.
“That traffic was something,” he said. “Had a hard time finding where to park in this place.”
What–no “sorry I’m late” or any apology for how you inconvenienced me when I accommodated your schedule?
“Yes, it seems it’s always worse on Fridays no matter where you are,” I responded.
The waiter came back to take our drink and appetizer order. I asked for my usual glass of Pinot Grigio and the coconut shrimp.
“Me, I’m a whiskey man,” John said, then told the waiter. “I’ll take a Jim Beam on the rocks.”
We launched into a conversation about our college days at Carolina and the careers we’d pursued afterwards. I learned he’d returned to his hometown and primarily practiced as a criminal defense attorney. I told him about my nursing career and that I’d specialized in psychiatric nursing. We did share in common that we’d both been raised on a farm and that led to an easy conversation about working in tobacco.
“Yeah, that was some hard work back then,” John said.
“Yes, especially if you had to be a primer,” I said, referring to the ones who went into the field to pick off the leaves. “I even had to do that once when Daddy couldn’t get enough guys. Made me so sick I never had to do it again!” I told him and explained my experience of what the doctor diagnosed as tobacco poisoning from exposure to the pesticides on those leaves.
John got a call and said he needed to take it. His ‘Baby Girl’ was on the phone. Listening from across the booth, it seemed she wanted to know her daddy was coming soon to take her out to eat. He assured her he’d be on time.
Baby Girl won’t have to wait.
“She’s the one who didn’t drink the Ex-wife’s Kool Aid,” he said. “When we split up, my daughter was in fifth grade. The older two kids believed all the negative stuff the Ex told them. They don’t have much to do with me.”
He’d told me this when we’d talked on the phone, referring to the Ex-wife’s Kool Aid and the problems it had led to later for John getting to see his grandchildren. In that conversation, he’d said he would like to meet me the upcoming weekend but he had to wait by the phone– in case his son called. He was coming into town and staying at his mother’s, the Ex-wife’s, for Easter. John hoped he would be invited to see the grandkids. That same weekend, I’d see my grandsons and hide eggs, celebrate the holiday with those two who knew me well from our many hours together.
“That’s too bad, ” I responded. “Divorce is hard on the children– no matter how old they are.”
He sipped his Jim Beam and continued.
“Yeah, my first wife . . . ” and then he told me about similar issues with her making him into the bad guy.
I felt confused and put up my hand in a stop gesture.
“How many times have you been married, John?” I’d learned that you couldn’t assume they’d just been married once, only had one divorce.
“Well, that’s a little complicated,” he said with a slight smile and took another swig of his drink. “I’ve been married four times to three wives.”
He saw the look of disbelief on my face.
“They say you shouldn’t show all your warts on the first meeting, but what the heck,” and he continued telling me about divorcing and then remarrying his first wife, against his therapist’s advice.
I slowly sipped my wine and listened to his story unfold. There was little time for me to talk about myself because he filled up the space. It was getting close to six and time for him to leave to meet Baby Girl.
He gave the waiter the check with his credit card and I reached for my mask.
“I never wear those things,” he said, looking at mine. “In our county the only place that makes me wear it is the ABC store. All that pandemic stuff is a bunch of nonsense and it wouldn’t have been such a big thing if it hadn’t been a presidential election year. No different from the pneumonia.”
“Well, you and I differ on that,” I told him. “I’m a nurse and I believe the science and the medical professionals around the globe. There’s been too much death and destruction to say it was made up.”
We got up to leave, me in my mask, John with nothing covering his face. We walked through the door and he said something about his president, President Trump.
This is where I may lose a reader, someone who believes differently, but this is what happened next.
“Well, again we differ because I had a hard time the last four years calling him anything but Trump. I didn’t respect how he treated people.” I was feeling more bold, relieved to be out of the confines of the booth. “And just so you know, I voted for Biden and Harris and I was ecstatic when they won the election.”
He said something about liberals that I couldn’t hear well due to the increasing noise of the Friday crowd. Then he remarked, “Well it’s good the No-maskers thing didn’t come up until the end of our time together.”
If he’d read my profile on Match.com, he would have seen that I listed myself as a Moderate. I wrote that while I am a Christian, I am not conservative. He hadn’t put anything down about his political affiliation; if he had, we could have avoided what felt like an ambush.
We walked to my car at a comfortable, not-six-feet distance.
He turned toward me and said, “Well, I’d give you a hug, but since I’m not wearing a mask, I’ll just give you my hand.”
I took his hand and said goodbye. While he’d shown me his warts, describing them in vivid detail, guess I really couldn’t catch them from touching that toad’s hand!
I was relieved to pull away from the Village Grill. How could a man who’d had years of preparing for court been so unprepared to meet me– coming late and leaving in a rush, walking out of the restaurant in disagreement? He obviously didn’t mind conflict the way I did. While I had friends and family who aligned with the Trump side of the aisle, we had made tacit agreements to respectfully disagree, and mostly didn’t talk about our differences; there was no use because each side would only dig further into what they believed. In past days, we may have been able to talk about our differing views with less vitriol– but not in more recent years. Sadly, it’s been hard to ‘respectfully disagree’ and even harder to put ourselves in one anothers’ shoes and try to understand the others’ perspective.
The rest of that day I smoldered, angry at the time and energy I spent meeting with John and the way he’d dominated our conversation with his talk of past wives and politics. Even if I was more knowledgeable about my political side, I couldn’t have gone toe-to-toe with a criminal defense attorney; I’m trained as a nurse.
I felt I had one chance to get in the last word–which is hard with online dating and often not getting closure. I sent this text to him on Saturday morning:
Thanks for the wine, shrimp, and conversation.
Glad we got to the topic of No-maskers. Obviously, we’re not a Match.
I believe the science, the medical experts around the globe. The pandemic has not just been a pneumonia.
I never drank the Trump Kool-Aid.
Best to you in your search,
Soon, he responded back:
“I had a good time talking to you despite the fact that you are a deluded leftist obviously supporting the Marxist takeover of the United States (emoji of face laughing hysterically).
No in all seriousness it was fun to sit and talk especially about priming tobacco and I’m glad you said it first that we’re not a match.
I’m afraid my tongue is too sharp to not argue with a liberal Democrat but you’re a lovely young lady and I wish you the best in finding your match too.”
He went on to explain more about his position as a dyed-in-the-wool constitutional conservative.
He ended that text with, “Take care be well and safe, sincerely John.”
He followed with a second long text that said I didn’t know him well enough to know that most of what he said in his first text was just bull for humorous effect; he didn’t mean to insult me. Guess that was just the lawyer in him!
A few days later, I saw that John had taken his profile down from the Match.com site. When that happens, all previous messages are erased. There was no record of our initial conversation that had been warm and engaging and showed his old-fashioned, gentleman style. I thought about the weekend he’d waited by the phone for permission to see his grandkids. I felt sad, thinking about John; he must hurt from being kept from his grandchildren; his sharp tongue had likely been an asset as an attorney and a liability as a husband and father.
John had brought me his warts, even without my bidding; he obviously needed to get them off his chest.
I think, given a different situation, we could have been friends if we’d stuck with conversations about growing up on the farm and priming tobacco. I think if I’d known him better, as he said, I would have seen his bluster and after the storm passed, we could have found a common ground.
Could two people with such different political views have ever been a couple? Could there have been attraction after we got beyond our differences? Is it possible to value being in a relationship more than being right?
I’m still trying to figure this out.