It was Memorial Day weekend, and my friends and I were celebrating Clare’s last fling before the ring in Scottsdale, Arizona. While sitting poolside in a Miraclesuit that disguised the permafrost layer of chips and salsa adhering to my hips, I was regretting my choice in buying clothes from a boutique in the mall that sold to elderly women. My cover-up looked like a floral-printed biohazard suit. A few weeks before the bachelorette trip, a moment of weakness had enticed me into Simply Sarah’s after hours of trying on bikinis that made me want to throw myself onto the escalator steps. A Simply Sarah’s customer, a woman with a melted-cheese face and a gravelly voice, power scootered next to me and suggested that I look at the “adorable” beach hats and the made-by-SPANX swimwear. Next thing I knew, I traded my estrogen for Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe. In Scottsdale, I was trying to align my chakras and ignore the fact that my new straw hat made me look like I was in Children of the Corn, and by aligning my chakras I mean drinking champagne. I have known Clare and the three bridesmaids, Laura, Katie, and Michelle, for over seventeen years. I call them my grown-up friends because these women have translated all of that A-Honor-Roll energy into successful careers as lawyers, engineers, and doctors, while I recently ate more slices of deep dish pizza than my brother and dad combined. My grown-up friends know how to give directions with words like “East” and “West.” They taught me what a FICO score is, which apparently is not my credit card company playing Wheel of Fortune. When given the choice between the bread or apple as their side at Panera, they pick the apple. Naturally, Clare’s bachelorette party was an Instagram influencer’s wet dream. We sipped out of monogrammed flutes the kind of champagne that I hoped would be served at my funeral as we basked on giant pink flamingo pool floats. I was thinking intellectual thoughts like how green peas rhyme with string cheese when our married friend Laura brought up dating. A lone cloud glided across the desert sun, and the champagne bottle made its rounds.
At age twenty-eight, romance did not come easy for my single friends and me. While I acknowledged that I could use some improvement, especially since I now dressed like one of the Golden Girls, even Katie and Michelle had found dating to take acts of God, tequila, and the Internet. Laura, who was going on four years of marriage, put down The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and gave us the I-know-this-guy stare, which is the face married people make when they want to play matchmaker and set their single friends up. For those who have not experienced the I-know-this-guy stare, it is the Stanley Kubrick face of insanity: head tilted down and looking up beneath the eyebrows. When this happens, it is best to ask three questions: have you actually met him? Does he have a job? Would you want to see him naked? Those questions can reveal tabloid-talk-show material like what was on Oprah before she became all Eat Pray Love. For example, a colleague thought Johnny, a Bunco friend’s son, and I would be “cute” together since we both like yoga and aromatherapy. After further questioning, I found out that Johnny, whom my colleague had never met, practices Ujjayi breath and huffs eucalyptus to manage his anger problems. As Laura made the Kubrick-esque face, I assume Michelle and Katie felt their bodies go into fight-or-flight mode like mine did.
“I know this guy who works with me,” said Laura. “He’s so nice.”
Clare, a lawyer who not too long ago was on the same sinking ship as us, went straight to question three: “Would you want to see him naked?”
“He could lose a few pounds,” said Laura. “He’s also balding, but at least you know now instead of ten years into the marriage. He’s so sweet, though. A first date with Steve could be fun!”
“Fun,” “exciting,” and “adventure” are words married people like to use to describe a single person’s dating life. Those words more accurately describe shopping after a bottomless mimosa brunch. Dating in 2020 is more like the Do Lung Bridge scene in Apocalypse Now where everyone is suffering from PTSD except ghosting and unsolicited nudes caused our trauma.
“What about getting out of your comfort zone?” asked Laura, seemingly agitated by our unwillingness to go on a date with Steve. “Have you tried online dating?”
Michelle mentioned the stakes are a bit higher in Chicago than in our hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma; shooting your shot could get you shot through the skull. Katie, who is completing her medical residency in Salt Lake City, said the Mormons have turned from Temple to Tinder to find their wives thus leaving her with very few matches. Five months prior to Clare’s bachelorette trip, I joined Bumble after I saw a dead spider in the middle of my panties. I pulled my pants down to use the restroom when, behold! A spider’s corpse. My throat went dry. Ringing in my ears crescendoed. Darkness swallowed up my vision. The sound of my cat coughing up a hairball jolted me to consciousness. I wrapped the brown, shriveled spider in Charmin Ultra Soft, apologized, and flushed the victim down the toilet. The spider, who must have lived in my dresser drawer, was clearly a metaphor for my romantic life. The last time I went on a date was over a year ago. What would I find the next? Tumbleweeds? A thirty-day vacate notice signed by my reproductive organs? Before the spider trauma, I was happy with a solitary evening of watching HGTV and drinking a glass of red wine. Bae was the delivery guy from Papa John’s who brought me a large Hawaiian-barbeque-chicken pizza with his trembling, meth-withdrawal hands. After the spider incident, I plucked my eyebrows, ate a carrot, wept, and bought a $5 anti-aging, hydrating, de-stressing avocado face mask, which tasted just like guacamole. Now I was ready to date. I created a Bumble profile and to my surprise matched with Andy, a lawyer with six-pack abs and Patrick Dempsey hair. After a few days of casual questioning like are you employed, when was your last serious relationship, how much debt do you owe, do you have any kids, are you a psycho killer, we agreed to meet for drinks at a hipster bar in downtown Tulsa. Who knew online dating could be so fun, so exciting, so adventurous?
While waiting for my future boyfriend to arrive, I drank a glass of rosé to calm my first-date jitters. It was like drinking inside of Post Malone’s armpit; the bar’s damp air smelled of fried rice and weed. The ripped vinyl cushions scratched my thighs. The tables wobbled. Guys with man buns bobbed their heads to Vampire Weekend while girls with sleeve tattoos let loose by smiling. When I saw Andy’s reflection in a gold-etched mirror, I thought oh no. Andy had buzzed his hair and grew a beard that was probably full of secrets. He wore a lemon-print button-down shirt that failed to conceal his gut; his jeans sagged not swagged. I should have recognized the puka shell necklace in the shirtless photo as not an ironic fashion choice but as a sign that it was taken over a decade ago.
“Isn’t this dive bar evocative?” Andy said. Evocative of a tetanus infection? I nodded and smiled. There was a rhythm in his blinking, a groove in his voice as he rambled on about his work in clean energy and community outreach programs. “Anything can be reused,” he said after sipping from his craft beer. “Egg cartons, tea bags, onion skins. While dumpster diving last weekend, I found a perfectly good toaster oven. I haven’t bought anything new in four years.” His eyes glowed like big, wet moons. Perhaps it was my second glass of rosé, but I was beginning to find Andy attractive after listening to his do-gooder rhetoric. The only outreach I do is reach for the TV remote. The only nonprofit I’m a patron of is The Girl Scouts of America because I like Thin Mints. According to my resume of half-ass deeds, I don’t need a visit from the Ghost of Yet to Come to tell me how my soul ends up. I began to imagine the kind of life Andy and I could have together. After the Queer Eye team gives him a makeover, we would help children in remote places like Bora Bora or The Caymans by educating them on the benefits of paper straws. We would become skinny from eating fruit and tan from sunbathing naked.
“I have to tinkle,” Andy said. “I’ll be right back.”
Oh no. Did a grown man just use the word tinkle? My body reacted violently: my left eye spasmed and my gut cramped. Suddenly I was free from the cult-like spell Andy had put me under with his talk of boosting WiFi signals with empty beer cans. I decided the occasional spider in my underwear was not so bad. It was a Friday night after all, and I missed my routine of inhaling a Hawaiian-barbeque-chicken pizza while binge-watching Chip and Joanna Gaines perform shiplap exorcisms on old crack houses. When Andy returned from tinkling, we both admitted that it was time to part ways, which made me wonder if he had said “tinkle” fully aware that it would cause a girl to crawl out of a bathroom window.
Back in the Sonoran Desert, a cool breeze signaled the sun’s official departure for the day. The cacti basked in a lick of moonlight. I gazed at the cosmos and imagined Hydra, the celestial serpent, hunting for heat and constricting the sky. As a teen, I looked at the stars, prayed for true love, and fantasized about meeting my soulmate at my favorite Chinese buffet as both of our hands reached for the beef and broccoli stir fry. I will admit that my teenage dream of finding a life partner was MSG-heavy and unlikely, but perhaps I needed to regain the optimism I had lost for love somewhere in between my first real heartbreak at age twenty and swiping left on Bumble nearly ten years later. Clare, the bridesmaids, and I drank what little was left of the champagne in honor of nearly twenty years of supporting each other through breakups and bliss. While wearing my Simply Sarah’s muumuu, I lay starfished on the pink flamingo pool float, sipped from a cocktail that was three-fourths chlorinated water and one-fourth champagne, and proclaimed that I would go on a date with Laura’s friend from work Steve.