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Safe Word

by Mari Zurez about a year ago in dating
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Why Blind Dates are a Bad Idea

Safe Word
Photo by Lefteris kallergis on Unsplash

As soon as I arrived at the wine bar, I instantly regret agreeing to this blind date. I don’t know why my older sister, Alyssa, keeps trying to set me up on these things; I’m perfectly content on my own. Extroverts never seem to understand.

When Alyssa was in high school and college, she went out on a lot of dates. Despite my introversion, Alyssa would send me downstairs to “entertain” her dates while she was getting ready, and boy, she took a long time doing herself up for her dates. She keeps telling me I should be flattered that she trusted me with her dates, but in reality, I think I was the least bad option: our father was embarrassing, our mother was intimidating, our brother only wanted to talk about comic books, and our tomboy little sister would greet her dates with a kick.

“Besides,” Alyssa would tell me, “this will help you get out of your shell.”

How I hated those words, yet my begrudging middle school self would go downstairs anyways and offer refreshments and keep her dates company. Over time I devised a fool-proof list of questions to ask her dates to fill the awkward silence: “What college do you go to?” “What’s your major?” “Do you like it?” “What do you like doing during your free time?” Usually, her dates were only too happy to talk about themselves while I pretended to listen and nod. The worst ones were the mumblers, or the ones who gave one word answers. Suffice it to say that these efforts to “get me out of my shell” were unsuccessful, because I’m still a quiet person.

Yet here I was, schlepping my way to a wine bar downtown because my blind date lives across the river so Alyssa wanted us to meet in a mutually convenient location.

“You’ll love him! A friend told me he’s such a great guy!” Alyssa had exclaimed earlier in the day.

“Wait a minute, you don’t know this guy?” I asked, upset.

Alyssa rolled her eyes. “Oh don’t worry about it. Just have fun! Dating is fun!”

I cringed. “I don’t want to go on this date.”

“Oh Rachel, don’t be so dramatic! I promise I’ll come rescue you if things go south. I’ll be at a friends place nearby, you can just text me a safe word or something.”

“Fine,” I said, “my safe word is aardvark. You BETTER come for me.”

So here I was, seated at a small table at a wine bar, when I very much preferred to be in my pajamas with my cat, reading a good book. At least I insisted on drinks earlier in the evening (rather than full on dinner), so I can get this over with earlier. Besides, it was easier to get out of a “happy hour” than endure a whole meal with someone. I even got here earlier so I could pick a table with an easy exit.

Suddenly, the hostess seated a guy who was clearly not my type. He also seemed much older. Alyssa was really scraping the bottom of the barrel here.

“Hi, you must be Rachel,” he said, reaching out to shake my hand before catching himself to do that awkward elbow tap (we’re still in a pandemic after all). It didn’t land. Who shakes hands with their date?

“Hi, you must be Mike…”

“Matt,” he quipped. I was pretty sure that Alyssa was setting me up with a Mike, but whatever. I’m not going to see this guy again after this.

He sits down and gets settled. “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me here. I know we could have done this via Zoom but I prefer to meet in person."

Dang,’ I thought, ‘we could’ve done this on Zoom?’ I even had a pre recording of me listening and nodding that I could’ve used. “Yeah, it’s nice to meet you too,” I respond, unconvincingly.

“It’s also my first time doing this,” he said, awkwardly, “ I just got promoted!”

Here we go again. Though it’s not unusual for people to talk about their jobs; it’s Washington, D.C. after all, so it’s not out of the ordinary for people to just talk about your jobs. Aardvark, I text Alyssa, discreetly.

“Congratulations,” I responded, “so what do you do in your new role?” Might as well start going through my list of questions. I have to admit I was a little proud that I adapted one of my questions to his random promotion announcement.

Matt was somewhat taken aback at my question. “Well, that’s a good question, thank you for asking. I suppose you should understand my role.”

'Rachel, you've only been there for five minutes,' Alyssa responds. 'Just give it a chance!'

I’m confused, I wasn’t that interested in his job, but I nod anyways as he drones one about whatever it is he does. Two weirdos don’t just cancel each other out, Alyssa. Aardvark, I text again.

After a few minutes Matt pauses. “I feel like I’ve only been the only one talking.” ‘Oh, no,’ I thought, ‘here it comes’. “Tell me a little about yourself.”

Just then the server came by to take our orders. “Could I have a glass of Bordeaux?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m sorry, we’re out of the Bordeaux,” the server responded, “would you like a glass of one of our other reds? People really like our Merlot.”

I’m not crazy about Merlot, but I agree anyhow. At least it’ll be cheaper than a glass of Bordeaux, and it pairs well with food… though I don’t want to order any food. Matt gives me a stern look. “I’ll just have water, please.” ‘Great,’ I think to myself, ‘Alyssa has set me up with a judgmental non-drinker.’ “You’re drinking wine?” Matt asks me, inquisitively.

“We're at a wine bar, aren't we?” I respond, dumbfounded.

“Right,” he shrugs, “I’m just not used to how casual millennials are.” ‘Yup,’ I thought, ‘he’s old.’ “So, tell me a little about yourself.”

I quickly look at my phone and see that Alyssa read my message but hasn’t responded. I’m annoyed. I really hate this question but I figure that it’s safe to talk about my job and what I do; after all, that’s all Matt talked about. I start my spiel.

“Wow, I’m really impressed by your background,” Matt says when I’m done. “Did you bring your portfolio?”

I’m confused. “Why would I bring my portfolio?”

“Oh right, it is a little early for that, isn’t it?” He pauses, gathering his thoughts. I glance at my phone. 'Aardvark', I text, 'all this guy talks about is work!'

“Tell me about a time when you were really stressed and what you did to handle it,” Matt asks.

Like right now?’ I thought to myself. Why does this guy want to know about my stress levels? Just then, the server came over with my glass of Merlot and Matt’s glass of water. I take a sip and find that the wine is actually really good. I’m not that into fruit-forward wines but this one had a hint of spice. Maybe it was a French Merlot? I look over at Matt and realize he was waiting for me to answer his question. “That’s an interesting question,” I answered, stalling, “I suppose I’m the type of person who needs to ‘recharge’ from a stressful situation, if you will.” I give him a thoughtful look as I try to come up with a question. “What are your thoughts on what constitutes effective stress management?”

“Huh, that’s interesting, I suppose we all need to recharge once in a while. I’ve actually been thinking about this lately,” Matt starts, then continues droning on some sort of management speak.

AARDVARK,’ I text again. As much as I’m enjoying the glass of Merlot, my glass is almost empty and I want to leave.

At the other end of the wine bar, a woman suddenly stands up and dumps her glass of wine on her date, storming off with her briefcase. ‘That must have been a fun date,’ I think to myself, sarcastically.

Matt ends his monologue. “You know, Rachel, I have a good feeling about you. I’ve heard great things about you and want to take this to the next level.”

I turn my attention back from the wine bar drama to Matt. “Wait, what? We’ve just met.”

“I know, but I’m really impressed with your background.’ He takes out a notepad. “I know it’s early, but I’m prepared to offer you a good deal,” he says, as he writes a number with a bunch of zeros on a notepad.

“May I excuse myself for a minute?” I said, abruptly, heading to the bathroom.


Wait what?’ Alyssa texts me back.


Mike isn’t like that at all!’ Alyssa responds, ‘I’ll come over!

You mean Matt,’ I responded.

No, I set you up with Mike. Who are you talking to?’

I suddenly realize I walked into what was meant to be an interview. I smile because I have an escape from this situation.

I go back to the table. “I’m prepared to offer you a higher salary,” Mike states, “we’re a small start-up but we do offer a generous benefits package.”

“It was really nice to meet you,” I smile. “I need to go now but I’ll be in touch.” I walk to the bar to pay my tab. While the bartender closes out some tabs before mine, the guy whose date spilled wine all over him starts chatting with me.

“Man, I just had the weirdest date,” I nod and smile, waiting for by receipt. “The date started well enough and she was really enthusiastic, but things got weird after I gave my honest opinion of her work and asked standard date questions.”

‘This must be Mike,’ I thought to myself.

“I honestly don’t know what happened. Would you like a drink?”

I get my credit card and sign my receipt. “Nah, I’m good. Have a great night!”


About the author

Mari Zurez

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