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50 First Dates

Swiping My Way To Something Unscripted

My first-date outfit waits at the ready like a pair of army fatigues: silky black tank, tight denim jeans, black boots. Add cabernet-colored nails and just the right mix of limited expectations and unreasonable hope for the full look. The day after a date, I can tell how the evening went by the way my top primly rests on its hanger or lies crumpled on the floor. Whatever state it’s in, it will show up for the next skirmish. So will I.

I’d rather not approach dates like a military drill, but after embarking on over 50 of them I have my routine. I choose a place that serves both wine and beer, casual yet not so loud that I have to scream my life story. In case the date has the momentum of a two-drink or drink-plus-dinner combination, I make sure we’re in walking distance to other fun spots. These routines have brought me comfort. I know the script.

Yet many of my favorite parts of dating have been the improvised, messier moments; the stories that stick out are the ones where I forgot the script and surprised myself.

One date asked me to bring over two favorite ingredients so we could make a meal together. I came armed with prosciutto, asparagus, and more than a few question marks. I had no idea how the meal would turn out, but we got creative and ended up making a lovely dinner that was all our own. No recipe, no script.

   A friend of mine, a computer science whiz, once told me that dating is all a numbers game. The more dates, the better the odds: Keep trying and eventually you’ll find the one.

Another date invited me to a concert in Los Angeles. I live a couple of hours away, in Santa Barbara, but friends of mine were going and I liked the artist. I bought a ticket the night before.

The next morning, all of my fears surfaced.

I could not predict this date. I didn’t know how traffic would be, where I’d park, if this guy even liked me, or if I’d find my friends. The musician, Sufjan Stevens, was promoting an album that was definitely not happy or light; could we keep things upbeat while a dark soundtrack tinkered with our moods? I pictured myself crying in a corner alone while Sufjan spilled out his delicate soul onstage.

Far from the emo mess I’d envisioned, the concert was magical. We sat in an abandoned row way closer to the stage than the nosebleed seats we’d bought, one large enough to fit all of my and my date’s friends. As the night progressed, his group felt more and more like buddies of my own.

As the sun set over the Hollywood Hills, I saw my childhood friends dancing jubilantly in the fluorescent lights; on the other end of the row my new friends—and my potential more-than-friend—grooved to the exact same beat. I bopped a little closer to my date. I didn’t know where things were heading with us, but in the moment all unknowns were perfectly fine.

   The world is so much bigger than our capacity to control it. In a world of unknowns, there’s something special and emotionally generous about two complete strangers showing up for each other, presenting their best selves, and letting each other into their worlds, at least until their date is finished.

On a decidedly different date, with a different guy, I was told we were going camping. I knew we had to hike to the campsite, but I didn’t realize that, in addition to the Jansport I’d brought with my clothes (way too many for a one-night trip), I’d be carrying a heavy backpack almost as large as me filled with supplies.

In that final stretch up the mountain, with two backpacks strapped onto either side of me, all talking stopped; I needed to conserve breath. What have I gotten myself into? My cute hoodie was drenched in sweat; my makeup, smeared, looked more like warpaint. I didn’t know the path or its length, and there was certainly no wine bar at the top. There was not much I could control other than my attitude. I focused on the small act of putting one foot in front of the other.

A friend of mine, a computer science whiz, once told me that dating is all a numbers game. The more dates, the better the odds: Keep trying and eventually you’ll find the one. But I was an English major—numbers don’t really do it for me. As we made our way up above the clouds and neared the top, I realized that what I liked about dating was the trial and error. Instead of focusing on the soulmate at the end of a certain number of swipes, the beauty was in embarking on the unknown without a script, knowing that things might get messy.

The world is so much bigger than our capacity to control it. In a world of unknowns, there’s something special and emotionally generous about two complete strangers showing up for each other, presenting their best selves, and letting each other into their worlds, at least until their date is finished.

When we reached the top, I flopped myself onto a rock and gazed out at the ocean, the mountains, and the sky in a delirious, victorious haze.

Maybe that’s what it will feel like when I do meet the one and look back on my expansive dating past: finally, above it all. But, more and more, I’m enjoying the journey. When I open myself up to new experiences and find gratitude for the unique moment I’m in, the view from the valley can be pretty epic as well.

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  1. CW

    I love this piece. It’s poignant, personal, insightful and helped me reflect (and learn) about my own process in dating. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Probyn Gregory

    I hated the pressure of “will there be a second date?” and “have I just blown it?”. But you have more the right attitude, as long as the search does not descend into desperation. Hopefully it won’t take this long for you, but I found my mate in my 40s and my grandma found hers at 53 and they had 35 good years together.

Rebecca Horrigan
About the author

Rebecca Horrigan is an English teacher and freelance writer living in Santa Barbara. She loves music, writing, yoga, food, wine, and nature.

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