I would love to say that the moment my husband and I first met was magical and romantic, but that would be untrue. Ryan and I met casually six years ago, through a friend at a party in Mexico City. I was living there at the time, and he was visiting from Los Angeles. The music was so loud, that in order to talk to each other, we had to yell, and for a large portion of the time, I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying to me. I acted as if I did, organically agreeing with my head every couple of seconds.
Even though I wasn’t listening to everything he was saying, I was observing. There was something different about him, and I couldn’t truly put my finger on what that was. I kept examining him: His thick eyebrows, brown skin, and bright white teeth that shinned under the club’s black light… and then it hit me: This guy had the most symmetrical face I had ever seen. His bone structure was so proportional and perfect that I just knew that if I took a ruler out and started to measure his face, the results would add up to the Golden Ratio.
“I want to take you out on a date,” he pronounced suddenly, interrupting my analysis. “Does Wednesday work for you?,” Do you like sushi?,” he added. Wednesday worked, and sushi was my favorite. Intrigued by his charm and symmetrical perfection, I said yes.
The morning after, not only did I wake up with a terrible hangover, but also with the certainty that this date was never going to happen. I liked him, and it seemed like he liked me back, but I was also realistic. I was used to what we Argentinians call ‘chamuye”, a slang that refers to something most Latin men tend to do, which is to say things they don’t actually mean, just for the sake of the flirt. I think it would be safe to say that “el chamuye,” after futbol (soccer), is the second more practiced sport by heterosexual men in Latinamerica. Another reason I was certain that this was not going to happen was the fact that he hadn’t asked me for my phone number. Sure, he could easily get it from our friend, but, since this request had taken place at a noisy club at four in the morning, did it even count? Would he even remember asking me out?
To my surprise, he did, and when I received a text message from him a couple of days later, it caught me off guard.
“Does around seven still work for you? I’m gonna make a reservation”, the message read. It confused me at first, so I had to re-read it, and then a second message popped up: “ This is Ryan, by the way.” This certainly was an unexpected outcome. Maybe Americans didn’t know about “el chamuye”?
In an attempt to act cool, I waited a full ten minutes before I replied: “Yes, seven sounds good.”, and then we texted back and forth to coordinate the details. I was working until late that day, so we agreed to meet at the restaurant directly.
It looked like, after all, this was going to happen.
The next day, like the good Latin I was, I arrived late. I got to the restaurant at seven twenty and scanned the place looking for him. It was a silent two-story eatery, with dozens of tables, and zero people. I spotted Ryan pretty fast. He was their only customer. No one has dinner that early in Mexico.
When he saw me, he smiled, and I recognized his shinning chiclets in the distance. This was a very different scenery from the one where we had met: No drinks, no loud music, no club lights. It was a long summer day, the sun was still out, and as I walked towards the table, the place was so noiseless that I could hear the sound of my steps. From one moment to another, I started to feel awkward. First dates often made me feel this way. They’ve always resembled job interviews to me: Cordial words, fake smiles, and a lot of standard courtesy etiquette, things I had never been a natural at. As I got closer to him, a voice in my head reminded me some of them: “Sit up straight and lean slightly forward, look in the eye and smile, don’t step on his last couple words.” I frequently did Ok at job interviews. At first dates, not so much.
Ryan looked so serene that it made me nervous, the kind of nervous that makes your hands sweaty, and turns your face completely red. He was in a foreign country where he didn’t speak the language, at a date with someone he barely knew, alone at an empty restaurant that had nothing cozy about it, just sitting there, smiling pleasantly. I always admired people who felt comfortable everywhere they went.
After a first-round of food and sake, the conversation started to flow. We talked non-stop, and it looked like we had a lot in common. I was still a little anxious, but something about his warm personality made me feel safe. Who cared if we were the only people at the restaurant? We didn’t need them. This interview was going great!
After half an hour, I had already warmed up and, to my amazement, I made a rampant volte-face. I stopped trying to look cute or put together, to just be my goofy self. I talked to him about my job, about my friends and family, about my hopes and dreams. Words flowed out of my mouth like a fondue fountain, and then I did something common sense people would probably strongly discourage you from doing on a first date: I told him a poop story. It wasn’t mine, but of who was my roommate at the time. The poop event had happened one week before our date, so it was still very fresh, and I guess I still was trying to digest it. What happened was that my roommate had accidentally pooped inside my purse. “What do you mean by accidentally?” you are probably wondering. Well, in order to explain that to you, I would have to dig into it in detail, and I’m pretty sure this is not the reading you anticipated when you chose to read an article titled “Best Birthday Ever.”
Even though some details were pretty disturbing, Ryan was very engaged in the story. He didn’t seem to think I was a freak for telling him this. In fact, I’m pretty sure he found the chronicle to be hilarious. I remember how, as I was telling him what had happened, he couldn’t contain his laughter, and all I could think was, “I think this guy gets me.” I’ve heard a theory before that said that poop stories brought people together, and now I was confirming that hypothesis. Everyone can relate to a good poop story, I guess.
Right after dinner, our server walked towards us with a colorful dessert and placed it right in front of me. Next to a scoop of ice-cream, in melted chocolate, in cursive writing, it said, “Happy Birthday,” and next to it, there was a heart.
“Sorry, wrong table. This is not for me.” I explained to the waitress as I grabbed the plate and attempted to return it.
Ryan bent over the table to get a closer look at it, and then faced the server, with a confused look. The woman stared back at him, befuddled as well. He then murmured something to her, and she didn’t understand him at first, but after he repeated it a couple more times, she stared at the dessert one more time, now with certainty.
“Oh!” she exclaimed and then chuckled. Ryan started to laugh too.
What was going on? What were these two laughing about? I wanted to know.
“It was supposed to say Happy First Date. Not Happy Birthday.”, Ryan then said to me.
He explained that he had called the restaurant earlier that day asking for that, and the employee on the other side of the line had clearly misunderstood him. After those words came out of his mouth, I dropped my chopsticks on the table and stared at him. Then our waitress left, and we shared the dessert in complete silence; he had exceptionally found a way to stop my verbiage.
“That is one of the sweetest things someone has ever done to me,” I later said to him. I felt as if he knew how much I struggled with first dates.
Romance is not dead, my friends. It is still alive and kicking. You just might not find it in its conventional places anymore. You won’t necessarily see it in a walk on the beach, a rose, or a hand-written letter. Instead, now it could be hidden in an inarticulate four a.m. party conversation, an empty sushi restaurant, or an atypical poop story. Keep your eyes open (and your purse closed), because times have changed.
Argentine writer based in Los Angeles