Seven months ago, being in a relationship was the furthest thing from my mind. I had just enrolled in an online PhD program at Regent University. I was in the midst of reconfiguring my life to make room for school. And work and teaching and blogging and family and friends. And, oh God, sleep. Somewhere along the way, I stumbled upon a great guy who has been making me happy ever since the day I met him. And it scares the hell out of me. This is how it all started…
I met the rocket scientist on Match.com. Nobody believes me. People still think online dating is for serial killers and depressed, obese women who lie and say they look like Halle Berry. The truth is that 1 in 8 couples married in the U.S. in 2006 met on the Internet, so I’d say the odds are pretty good that you can find a normal person to date online. It was totally random that I met the rocket scientist because I had posted a dating profile on the site, but I’d been really passive about checking my email to see who’d “winked” at me or sent me messages. One night I logged in and saw that this guy had marked me as a “favorite.” I was flattered, so I looked to see who it was, and here was this cute guy who boasted on his profile that he was a lot of fun, close to his family and loved salsa dancing. I’d like to say that I was taken by his personality, but without having met him yet, I have to admit that it was his incredible smile that blew me away.
His incredible smile. He was the kind of person that smiles with his eyes, so you already know how happy he is before his mouth proves you right. He had the kind of smile that said ’please‘ and ‘thank you‘ without uttering a single word. He also looked like the kind of guy that always won the award for perfect attendance in school.
I call it serendipity (or fate?) that a few nights later we just happened to be online at the same time. He instant-messaged me on Match.com and after a few boring pleasantries, asked me what I thought was the dumbest question in the world. “What are you looking for in a man?” I don’t even remember what I said, because at that point I was just playing along with the whole interview question game that people play when they are trying to find out if they want to date someone. Plus, I wasn’t really “looking” for a man. I was about to make dinner, so I told him I had to log off. He gave me his email address and we exchanged phone numbers. I wondered who would be the one to make the first move.
Turns out I didn’t have to wonder very long. He called me the very next day. “You don’t sound like you’re from New York,” I said. I immediately slapped my forehead. What kind of thing is that to say to someone in the first 30 seconds of talking to him over the phone? The easygoing voice on the other end of the phone just chuckled. I think he thought I was flirting with him. But the truth is that I don’t really know how to flirt. I either go overboard with the sexy eye or don’t do enough to let a man know I like him. It’s very rare that I get the combination right. I told him I was a blogger. He told me he was a rocket scientist. I didn’t believe him, so I Googled his name. Turns out he was not only a rocket scientist at NASA, but he was in the top of his class and won several scholarships from prestigious universities and foundations for his academic ability. I was more than impressed. Because for me, intelligence is the sexiest thing on earth. A good cologne comes in at a close second.
We talked for about an hour. He told me about where he grew up, in a predominantly Asian part of Queens. His parents had been married, while mine had been mere teenagers when I was born. My background growing up in the projects in Cleveland, Ohio couldn’t have been more different than his. He seemed to want to know everything about me. Then there was a pause. “Do you think you might want to go out with me on a date?” he asked haltingly. There was a swell of hope in his voice. Like he was afraid I might say no. At this point though, I was too intrigued to say anything but yes. I’d never met a rocket scientist, let alone been out on a date with one. I figured it would be something I could tell my grandchildren one day.
There was a snafu. He had to cancel our date because NASA wanted to send him to Florida for a few days to work on a project. I thought that maybe he looked like an ogre and he was chickening out of meeting me. Yes, that’s how my mind works. I blame all the nights I spent watching Law & Order marathons. Someone’s always lying on that show. Then he calls me back. They changed his flight. He’ll be able to make it back in time. At this point, I tell myself I don’t care whether we meet at all. I have papers to write. Books to read. Students to teach. Hundreds of emails to return. I don’t have time for a man. Not even a rocket scientist.
But I agree to meet him anyway.
On our first date, the rocket scientist took me to Habana Village in Adams Morgan for dinner and salsa dancing. We both arrived in the parking lot at the same time. I climbed out of my car and there was this brief awkward moment where I saw him from a distance and couldn’t figure out if he was who I thought he was. We walked toward each other, anyway. This probably would’ve been a good time for a hug, but I was too flustered to do anything but walk out of the parking lot with him and try not to get my strappy heels stuck in the cobblestones on the way to the restaurant. We got there a little too early, before it even opened, so we took a walk around the block and talked for a bit. I tried to size him up without him noticing me looking him up and down. He had on his good clothes: a maroon collared shirt, black slacks, nice black dress shoes. I’d chosen to wear a deep purple wrap dress with a bouncy skirt that twirled when I moved my hips. I had never gone salsa dancing, but I imagined it was the sort of dress that salsa dancing women wear. We had dinner and drank mojitos outside on the patio. I told him I had been engaged before, but couldn’t bring myself to the altar. He told me that he’d never been in love.
Inside, there was a saucy Latina woman giving salsa dancing lessons. In between dance instructions, she cracked jokes like, “don’t do it too fast. Women hate when you do it too fast.” I was the newbie stepping on his shoes, but the rocket scientist was patient and gracious. We danced with a kind of body symmetry that I realized was due to the fact that we were almost the exact same height. I was 5’5″ with my strappy heels. I liked him even more because of his height. In college, my longtime boyfriend R stood at 6’4″ and all of our pictures looked they came straight out of the circus freak files. Like he was on stilts and I was his midget woman.
There was one point during the dancing where I almost kissed him. In the midst of the booming Latin music and the heat of other couples swirling around us, he did this fancy move where he pulled me close to his chest with our hands locked tight and our eyes locked tighter. I needed some air.
We left the restaurant and walked across the street to Perry’s, a rooftop bar I had never been to until that night. Truth be told, I would have gone anywhere just so I could catch my breath. Perry’s was just the closest. We had another round of drinks and talked for a couple more hours. He talked about how close he was to his mom. I talked about school, work and how I hadn’t been on a date in a while. Then it happened.
He reached up toward my face and caressed my hair.
It was the most gentle touch I had ever felt in my life. I was so glad I had chosen to wear my hair down instead of up. It was almost like a feather except that a feather gives you a tickle and this gave me a tingle. I experienced the entire three seconds in slow motion. It was like the forehead kiss in The Best Man. It was what sealed the deal.
I had to see him again.
To be continued…