“So,” she said, with one of those forced, straight smiles which do a wonderful job of portraying the awkwardness of a situation.
“Yeah,” I replied, returning the same expression.
“It’s been nice,” she said, nodding gently as though she had to really convince herself of the statement.
“I mean, it hasn’t really,” I responded. “You haven’t enjoyed yourself. Why?”
Her eyebrows shot up towards her hairline and her mouth gaped. Her cheeks started to flush pink. “I… I don’t know what you mean.”
Of course she knew what I meant.
“Look,” I said breezily, “I’m not offended. I just genuinely want to know what it was about the date you didn’t like. Is it me? Could I be better? Should we have gone to a different restaurant?”
She looked at me for a while and I flashed her as genuine a smile as I could muster to convince her that she could be honest without hurting my feelings. It worked.
“I just don’t really love going to restaurants on first dates. It makes me feel a bit trapped, y’know? If we’d just gone for a couple of drinks I could have made my excuses and left whenever I wanted.”
“No, I’m not saying that I would have done that,” she insisted, her cheeks growing redder. “It’s just me. History of disastrous dates. Going to a restaurant – especially one like this…“ She jabbed her thumb towards the window we had been sitting on the other side of just moments ago, nestled in the warm, cosy glow of the candlelight, where I’d hoped romance would have taken place. Now, we were stood the cold, sad reality of the street, where rejection was taking place.
“It just feels like a bit too much pressure, y’know? I feel like… I mean, I don’t want to offend you, but like you were trying a bit too hard?” She phrased it like a question, but I didn’t know what answer to give. I let the silence hang, instead, waiting for more details.
“The way you told me it was a surprise,” she continued eventually, “instead of us figuring out something we’d both enjoy. And taking me to a restaurant that is notoriously hard to get a reservation at. My friend had to wait three weeks to get a table. You and I only met four days ago. It felt a bit like you made reservations and then went hunting for someone to go out with you.”
She wasn’t wrong. But I didn’t tell her that.
Instead I sighed, and asked “Where would you have liked to go on a first date?”
“A quiet pub? Cocktail bar? Even just a walk in the park with a coffee would have been nice,” she suggested. “Not that this wasn’t nice, like I said, I – ”
I held up a hand to demonstrate that she needn’t explain any longer. Then I hit pause.
People and cars and buses became as frozen as my date and I let out a sigh of relief. The sound of engines had stopped, and even the insistent rush of the wind had ceased. Stopping the world at will always allowed me to take a deep breath, assess my situation, and figure out what to do next; whether to hit play and let the car crash keep going, or rewind and have another bash.
I looked at her. She was a lovely woman. Ambitious, career-driven, independent, funny, intelligent. She was pretty too, but it was her personality that made her stand out to me. It was her cheerful voice and captivating laugh which had initially drawn me to her when I sat at a neighbouring table in Starbucks three days ago. I listened in on her conversation with her friend; she’d shared stories of recent dates and admitted that she felt as though she was never destined to meet the right person.
Enter me. I’d be the one to change that.
Too impatient to wait for the right moment to offer her my number, I hit the fast forward button, watched her sip her coffee ten times faster than she should have done, and then returned her to normal speed just as she got up from her seat to leave.
I told her she was enchanting and that I’d love to take her out on a date. I didn’t give her chance to agree; I simply wrote my name and number down on a napkin, told her I’d look forward to hearing from her, and left.
You might say this approach was a touch arrogant, but I’d call it confident. After all, if I didn’t hear from her in a couple of days, I could always rewind and try a different approach. Luckily, I didn’t need to; I received a text from her the very same day and after a mildly flirtatious exchange of messages, we arranged our date.
So, the restaurant wasn’t right. But that was fine. All I had to do was rewind.
The restaurant was our fourth date, but still the first in her mind.
When we initially met up, I kissed her on the cheek as I greeted her at the Tube station and tried to take hold of her hand as we headed down the street. She didn’t appreciate that and she told me so. I felt like a fool, and couldn’t bear to continue our date having started on the wrong foot.
On attempt number two, I offered a polite greeting without any physical contact, but during my ramblings about how pleased I was that I could take her out, I enquired about the guy who had stood her up last week. She stared at me, appalled, the realisation sinking in that I’d been listening into her conversation with her friend days before in Starbucks. That’s not what normal people do, I suppose. Or at least, it’s not something they admit to.
I rewound and started over. This time the polite greeting was followed up with pleasant chitchat about her day. We got to the restaurant without a hitch, but as we headed over to our table a waiter, carrying a tray of freshly poured drinks, stumbled as he passed us by. The drinks flew as he lost his footing, and my poor date found herself drenched in gin and tonic. Her white shirt became sheer, and she turned pink as she realised her underwear was visible not only to me, but to the rest of the restaurant too.
I knew the date wouldn’t go well if she felt uncomfortable, so in a flash we started over. Polite greeting, pleasant chitchat, into the restaurant, and this time I was ready in waiting for the stumbling waiter. I managed to reach out and support the tray as he wobbled. The gin and tonics and my date were saved.
And after all that effort, here I was, listening to her tell me that I tried too hard. Of course I did. I liked her.
“Well,” I finally conceded, staring at her still frozen face. “I guess I’ll just keep going until I get it right.”
I hit rewind and prepared for date number five.
How on earth do normal people manage the trials and tribulations of dating without a remote control?
Prompt no. 262, “Remote Control”, taken from ThinkWritten