Post-lockdown dating diaries: ‘My first date back and I go straight to level 100. Broad daylight for a sober croissant‘
Hannah Kingston reports on the joys (and trials) of post-break-up, post-lockdown dating in Australia.
Being newly single is disorientating. You find yourself in a constant in-between of emotions. On one hand, you are accepting of your decision, and empowered by the newness of being alone on the other, you feel like you’re in a confused haze, off the trajectory of a partnership you saw stretching infinitely into the future.
In the beginning, Sundays are always the worst. Your body is used to a Chinese takeaway and a cuddle to reset before the dawning of a new week.
Being newly single is even more discombobulating when your break-up takes place over a Google hangout, after two and a half years of togetherness, and one year of trying to go the distance while on the side of the world (Australia).
I hate swiping but I hate celibacy more.
Dublin remains in a freeze-frame since I left and despite best efforts to shake it, I can’t seem to imagine a Dublin in which my former significant other isn’t holding my hand as we stroll around town, and lecturing me about putting wet towels on the bed.
Nonetheless, I know I must move on, because that’s what people do, and if not for myself, for the folks back home who really and truly must be allergic to Zoom at this point. I’m doing it for my comrades who haven’t been able to lock eyes with a hot stranger at random or have a spontaneous roll around in the hay.
A couple of months trudge by, of snotty cries in the bath, staring longingly at pictures of my ex, drinking copious amounts of Guinness to feel closer to home and relistening to the same sad songs on repeat, but I know it’s time, time to get back on the horse.
Here we go. Apps. The dreaded apps. I was brought up on Notting Hill and The Princess Bride. The thought of marketing myself this way makes me feel queasy. Why can’t I just bump into a normal, intelligent, funny, hot person in a bookshop? Why doesn’t my generation know how to pour orange juice over eachother and promptly fall in love thereafter?
He mentions that he doesn’t drink coffee, like it’s a personality trait. An instant red flag that I choose to ignore.
After three years of telling my friends that I don’t believe in the apps, in a similar superior tone to those who say that they hate kindles and prefer the feel of a book in their hands, I download the apps, upload the pictures and try to make myself sound like a catch.
I hate swiping but I hate celibacy more. Following on from one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, I just want someone to look at me like I’m a slice of pizza. It’s really that simple. My desire is made easier by the fact that Australians actually do the dating thing. It’s nothing like Irish culture in which the beginning of any blossoming romance tends to begin after midnight and under disco lights (Coppers), a joint enthusiasm for jager bombs and a decent shift. Pending the quality of your midnight shift, both parties may become comfortable enough with one-another to actually have a sober conversation. Imagine!
My nerves arrive
I’m harping on now. Let’s get to the meat of my first first date, post-break-up and post-lockdown. I decide to go straight to level 100. Broad daylight for a sober croissant on a Sunday.
The guy, we’ll call him *Ben has good chat online. Dry witty humour, no extended back and forth. I suggest that we bump into each other, literally, and pretend that we haven’t spoken on an app for some added theatrics. He mentions that he doesn’t drink coffee, like it’s a personality trait. An instant red flag that I choose to ignore.
The conversation is so jilted it reminds me of practising hill-starts around Fairview.
When the date comes around, I’m weirdly calm. I can do this. I put on jeans and a nice top. I do seven variations of a low ponytail. Change my no-make-up-make-up lipstick colour three times. Text my look to seventeen friends for sign off. I douse myself in so much perfume, they can probably smell me through the time zone. I arrive in Melbourne’s CBD an hour early to ensure a cool and confident exterior. As I am walking around a candle shop, I realise that I no longer know how to talk to people in real life.
I phone a friend.
“SOS, what do I talk about?”
“Ask him about work.”
“And then what?”
“I don’t know, like life stuff.”
I have lost all of my game if there was any game to begin with. My top lip starts twitching involuntarily. The nerves have arrived to my bladder, and I can’t find a loo. “I might just cancel.” “You’re not cancelling.”
By the time I find a loo, I am going to be late for the date. Curly-haired, dark-eyed Ben is already being introduced to one of my plethora of flaws, tardiness.
“I have to go, wish me luck.”
It turns out the croissant shop is at the top of a very steep hill, and unless I run, I am going to be 37 minutes late. Sweat is pouring down my lower back by the time I reach my destination. I pretend to walk past him without recognition, the joke doesn’t land.
“Hey!” I say cheerfully, “Oh hi!”. Ben is not making eye contact with me, I immediately believe that I have accidentally catfished him. I can feel my face growing hot and red. We enter the famous croissant shop and throw out our orders. At this point, my body must be 400 degrees and I can only be thankful for not wearing grey.
I always panic when it comes to bill-paying on a date. I think it needs to be 50/50 but in my sweaty panic I just throw my card out and pay, while attempting to coyly say “You can get the next one!”
He kind of chuckles, I think? This is hell.
The croissant shop has a modern aesthetic, including a large island, no seats and exposed low-hanging Edison light bulbs. Very Instagrammable but not at all functional. I meekly say we should bring our goodies to the park but he’s into the spaceship-sized island.
I position myself beside the no eye-contact giving non-coffee drinking Ben, the air is thick and quiet, no one else in the cafe is really talking so every time I say something, it feels like I’m performing at Live at The Apollo, except I’m not funny and I am not getting paid for this.
His eyes dart around and he can’t think of a response so I just ask what his favourite cereal is
I think back to the pre-game phone call.
“So, do you like work?”
“Yes, what about you?”
“Yeah, love it.”
The heat of the Edison light bulb above is cooking me. Sweat beads are now forming on my temples. I want to suggest leaving but I don’t know how to be assertive when I’m a melting lump, buzzing with adrenaline and the sheer embarrassment of being alive. Now I understand why Irish people/I don’t date, it’s awful.
Without the pause to think of a witty comeback, the conversation is so jilted it reminds me of practising hill-starts around Fairview.
A bead of sweat slides down my nose and onto my mouth and I simply can’t go on like this. I take out a napkin and use it like a face-cloth, apologizing for the bodily malfunction. To make matters worse, the almond croissant, while delicious, is too flaky to eat seductively. I wish I came with a friend so I could face-plant it. Alas, I must act like I have manners.
During another awkward silence, I imagine a scenario where I become so frustrated by trying to eat it that I just rinse the croissant under a tap and stuff it into my face. I start laughing at my own hypothetical.
“Would rinsing a croissant under the tap be a bit French?”
Another clanger. His eyes dart around and he can’t think of a response so I just ask what his favourite cereal is, my shoulders relax and I lean into how painful the whole experience is, hoping that my next attempt at finding a situationship will be more successful.