It was that elusive second date. It was at my place and I was cooking dinner.
I mean, it was more of a ‘construction’ of dinner rather than actually ‘cooking’ it.
First of all, I had been at work all day so, naturally, I was completely preoccupied with food websites and what I was going to wear and how I was going to maintain an air of effortless cool.
But no poring over whatthehelltocookforaguyonyourseconddateohgodimgoingtostuffituphelpwhereisthe vodka.com was going to help me.
I had a tight timeframe and hadn’t recently perfomed this ‘food shopping’ that is required from time to time.
The sad thing is, I know how to cook. I’m pretty damn good at it. But I was doubting my kitchen prowess. Before I had even imagined what I was going to Macgyver, in my mind, the result was already on Cook Suck.
So I did what any self-respecting girl with zero time and an overwhelming need to impress did: I cheated.
Well, I didn’t just cheat, per se.
I had to make it look as though I wasn’t, in fact, one feeble step from Shake n’ Bake and lashings of Deb.
For instance, I previously found this fantastic BBQ pork shoulder which all you needed to do was chuck it in a hot oven for 40 minutes.
Now, normally, I would have chosen the cut myself and smothered it – nay, massaged – the gorgeous piece of meat with my own viscous, sweet Texan sexy (Texy?) sauce. But, because time, I pulled it from its packaging (taking care to throw the packaging in the big bin outside and to not leave such evidence in the kitchen bin where a carelessly thrown scrap could unravel my whole ruse) but instead of popping it in the oven, I first put it on one of my baking dishes and re-covered it with cling wrap and a tea towel.
TO MAKE IT LOOK LIKE I DID IT MYSELF.
Shamefully (but also shamelessly) I did the same with the dip and crumbly vintage cheddar. But not the quince paste, because Maggie Beer. That shit’s expensive.
So in the minutes leading up to his arrival, I made sure I looked good but not dressed up, like ‘oh yeah, sure I had work today but look how effortless I am’ in my ripped-knee jeans (yes, bought without a sense of irony), a band T-shirt, a jersey-knit blazer which I had the arms casually rolled up – and bare feet. Minimal makeup but enough to blame on having been at work, and hair down (after wearing rollers at my desk. It was a Sunday so it was probably the only day you could get away with it). Remember ladies, effortless *cough*.
I had no real clue as to what tunes he liked, so when I wasn’t spending half my workday cavassing Rachel Khoo’s noshery archive, I was creating a Spotify playlist that was the musical equivalent of ‘oh, this old thing? I just threw it on’.
Any minute now he’d be ringing the doorbell.
I cracked a beer.
I was twitchy.
I don’t care what anyone says, second dates are far more brutal on my nerves than first ones.
AND it was in my house.
AND I was cooking.
What was I thinking?
Just for a second, imagine the big doorbell sound-effect from My Kitchen Rules. Because that’s exactly what my doorbell sounds like.
There he was.
And there I was, looking calm on the outside… but my inner sanctum was going for a more deer-in-headlights look.
I invited him in and he poured the wine and, with a groovy teatowel over my shoulder, I finished putting together the cheese and crackers.
(Pro tip: this happened quite organically, but as I was brimming with nerves, I tried to open the quince paste and it had one of those tricky little seals on it. He was obviously thinking how munted I was that I couldn’t even open that so he gently just took it off me and opened it. He thinks he’s helping because, let’s face it, he was, and you get to give your two cents on Maggie Beer. Or tricky packaging. Or that you’ve never actually eaten a quince.)
We took our glasses of wine and my poor attempt at a charcuterie board into the living room where my overly-thought-out Spotify playlist was playing nochalantly-but-purposefully.
Thanks to a healthy splash of Houghton Classic White, I slowly went from an awkward perch to a comfortable, normal posture.
Now that I think about it, I don’t think it was purely the wine that took the edges off for me… it was him.
I suddenly wasn’t so bothered about my antics before he rang my front doorbell, which had the cat scampering upstairs or how I had orchestrated absolutely everything, right down to the lighting (what up, Clueless fans). The dumb stuff I was generally so consumed with was falling away. And I was just left with me. And the Badloves crooning away in the background.
Then. It happened.
I have no idea what I was talking about at the time but it involved descriptive hands, arm gesturing and probably the use of a lot of adjectives.
He was listening while he started to build a little morsel from the plate.
I continued whatever I was talking about as he placed a sliver of quince paste onto a crumble of cheese on a cracker.
I then stopped dead in my tracks.
He had handed it to me.
He made me a cracker.
He perhaps didn’t know it, maybe he saw the sudden rush of blush, maybe not, but for a moment I couldn’t speak. He must have heard my rising inflection when I said ‘thank you’, partially giving away my suddenly-lost train of thought. He must not have realised that at this moment I wanted nothing more than to rip his clothes off.
My dating life had been so choked with ‘hmmm, that doesn’t seem OK’ moments, that to get a flash of fairytale was almost like life was winking at me saying ‘See? I told you there are some good ones, you untrustworthy heathen, now lets move along, shall we?’
I’m also painfully aware that I just compared decent manners to a fairytale.
Putting aside that this guy was devastatingly handsome and that our banter had the rhythm of Edberg and Lendl, it was this damn cracker that had me noticing the tiny green flags that were, like Perth’s obsession with food trucks, popping up everywhere.
In my experience, after the first date, you know whether you want to see them again. It’s usually a firm yes or no. In other words, you’re either quietly fantasising your wedding with this gorgeous beast of a man or left genuinely wondering how this person gets by in life.
It may not feel it at the time, but the first date? That’s the easy part. It’s the second date where shit gets real.
So. Here I have to mention the concept of The One.
Like how 12 astrological signs orchestrate the lives and destinies of 7 billion people, I also doubt that each person has that one unicorn of a person who is made just for them. Or how so very often people find The One who just happens to live two suburbs away.
It’s not that I think that The One doesn’t exist. I just don’t think there is one, One. I think there are hundreds and thousands of Ones. Zillions. Knowing this, the pressure of finding that one magical unicorn becomes redundant.
It’s about ‘rounding up’.
I say the first date is easy because chemistry – you either have it or you don’t. But the second requires more than this. You’re now in the first real throes of investing in someone by fleshing out common ground, working out where they fit, where you fit, if you fit at all. You’re also praying to sweet baby Jesus that they don’t drop a casual sexist/racist/’Mark Latham is just misunderstood’ remark.
Through cues like their treatment of wait staff, how they refer to their family (or even exes), body language, their ability and interest in making you laugh (and not just giggles, but serious unpretty roaring) and being attentive to what you’re saying… the rounding up can really start.
I usually start in the middle at 50 per cent.
By the end of the date, if they’re still hitting around 50 to 60 per cent… it wouldn’t be a terrible time to shake hands, thank them for their time and be on your way. Or do what seems so dickishly fashionable at the moment and just ghost them, amirite?
Similarly, if by the end of the third date their stocks aren’t, at the very least, nudging the higher end of the 80th percentile, you get the idea, apply the brakes.
After a couple of months – and this can change as you slowly get to know someone – you might settle on a not-too-shabby 93 per cent.
You end up rounding this up to 100 per cent.
In other words: One.
While I’m not saying that I had just rounded this guy up to 143 per cent purely based on this one cracker of a move, what I am saying is that these are the little things that add up to big things.
Such as being led through a crowd by gently touching the small of our back, showing kindness to our pets or subtly (but deliberately) brushing a hand on our knee while placing a drinks order with the barkeep. To me, these are all roundy-uppy green flags.
Until now, he’d have no idea what that damn cracker meant to me. And as it turned out, this wasn’t just a move, this was the way he was. If someone likes you, they’ll show you. While red flags shouldn’t be ignored in relationships, neither should green ones.
A few days later, we went on a third date, then a fourth.
Then, before we knew it, we just stopped counting.