I am perched on a bar stool, facing busy Wilshire Boulevard through a decorative patio, halfway through a glass of crisp, white wine when I come to the realization that I have been stood up by my date…
This fact had been creeping to my attention for the past twenty minutes. Like a penny, placed haphazardly on a concrete street, catching the sun and radiating its beam directly into my eye. Something gleaming and glinting brightly; dodge to the left, dodge to the right and it’s still there shining in your face rendering you slightly blind.
4 pm movie. Drinks before at 2:30. A first-date simple plan. Walking into the bar moments before I felt calm and confident, jet propelled by the fact that I was having an absolutely utterly fantastic Hair Day.
“Can I have a glass of that beautiful Riesling?” I chirped at the waiter half an hour earlier, hoisting my five foot four frame onto the tall stool, grateful for the foot rail. My glass comes. I sip. It’s cool and crisp. I checked my phone (it was 2:37) and enjoyed a few more sips, noting in my head its perfectly ergonomic shape in my hand.
10 minutes passed meet up is still an acceptable time to arrive, no? I make small talk with the bartender, splay my fingers across my floral skirt, scroll through Instagram.
19 minutes passed. Now this, I know, is not normal. No email, no text, no call.
I feel sweat pool behind my knees as the back of my thighs start to stick to the pleather stool. My pulse has quickened a bit, my cheeks feeling a bit flushed. Yet I fluff my hair, arch my back and sit tall in my seat. A couple sits down two stools over and greats me with a smile. I return their smile with enthusiasm.
(Sip… Sip… Instagram scroll. Facebook check. Email check. Phone restart? Yup, still working…)
This is not good.
31 minutes late. Shiiiiiiiiiiit.
This is the moment it hits me. Perched on my bar stool, facing busy Wilshire Boulevard through a decorative patio, with the lingering last few sips of crisp, white wine still in my glass.
[tap tap] I send a text to BFF.
Me: I think I’ve been stood up.
BFF: Maybe he’s just running late!
Hopeful, yet delusional. I appreciate her optimism yet want to smack her upside the head.
I place the phone down and glance around to see if anyone is staring at me. To the left. To the right. Behind me… Nope. Nobody looking. Everyone caught in their own world. Here I am, just another big, beautiful woman sitting at a bar alone on a Sunday with perfectly-beached beachy waved hair.
If you have ever spent any extended period in life dating you will, inevitably, find yourself stood up at some point in time. Sometimes you are spared the public display and The Stand happens in the comfort of your own home, where you wait, dressed in your strategically picked out outfit for a date who fails to show, neglects to text or bows out without a call. Sometimes, as has happened to me, The Stand is public. You are left to wonder, in full view of the general public, amongst confusion and anger and an (un)helpful dose of shame, did he arrive and see me here and then decide slip away? Was I not what he expected to see? Or did he simply not come at all? Did his grandmother die? His dog get sick? Did he find a better date last minute? Did he ever actually intend to show or was this a last minute jump-ship sort of occurrence?
All that matters is that you are sitting alone on that stool with your sweaty back-knees and almost-empty glass of wine because your date decided he had something better to do than show up for you OR grant your rejection in private.
For a brief few seconds you wonder which of the above options-as-reality would feel worse? Or feel better? But then you conclude that none of them actually matter. All that matters is that you are sitting alone on that stool with your sweaty back-knees and almost-empty glass of wine because your date decided he had something better to do than show up for you OR grant your rejection in private.
My phone beeps.
BFF: You ok?
It takes me a few moments to answer this. Am I ok?
One side of my brain says, no. I’m like a balloon, pricked by a pin and flying through the atmosphere, dumping farts of air while flopping back and forth a few times before collapsing dead to the ground for passersby to step over like plastic, Dating Roadkill. I think of the $54 I spent to secure movie tickets and the $9 glass of wine (because, you know, some dates go Dutch) I just consumed and the $4 parking fee, none of which were in my weekly fun-budget that I spent regardless.
The other side of my brain, though, says yes. Yes, I’m ok.
At this very moment, I’m reminded of the departure for my first summer at sleepaway camp when I was eight years old. Piling onto busses parked outside the Museum of Natural History on a balmy summer day in NYC, hundreds of girls in matching navy blue shorts and tee shirts hugged parents and clasped pillows and bags of Lisa Frank stationary and ascended the stairs of fancy coach-style busses. Once inside, friendships were reunited, laughing swelled and, “New People” such as myself were left to quietly observe from the outside.
Sitting in my seat, I squished against the large window of the idling buss, no friends to talk to, no companions to greet. Moments before I had hugged my mother, my grandmother, my uncle and father; the ultimate cheerleading squad, complete with cameras to document the milestone. They fought back tears as they said goodbye to their little girl as she left for, what they knew deep down in their souls, would be a summer full of memories. That would be me, for sure, once the activities started and ice was broken. But, for now, I was a chubby, nine-year old girl with long blonde braids and a wobbly chin, holding on to my floppy stuffed animal, Lucy and feigning bravery.
I could do it. I knew I’d be fine. But around me the clamoring of girls hopping over seats to hug one another painfully illustrated how utterly alone I felt at that single moment. With life blooming around me, I hunched down and kicked the metal footplate of the seat in front of me, feeing the buss rattle in stillness under me.
And that’s when I felt the knock. My uncle had climbed onto a mailbox to see me through the window and make eye contact. And when I looked up and raised my eyes, he was beaming down to me, as if to will me to smile.
He held up his hand and made a thumbs up gesture and then a thumbs down. Repeated a few times. Up and down. Thumbs up and thumbs down. (This was our not-so-secret family code language, our way of asking if we were ok?) Thumbs up? Good. Thumbs down? Bad. He looked down at me, with big Aviator glasses pulled up and camera hanging from a strap on his shoulder, the single lifeline between my anxious family and me.
And though I felt a tear creeping into the corner of my eye, and a choke rising up into my throat… Though I felt small and scared and both blazingly invisible and oh, so painfully visible to the hive of girls around me at the exact same time, I raised my small hand and answered… Thumbs up.
I couldn’t look him in the eye so I sank down into the seat. On the inside, I was crying. But I knew it would be ok. I knew it would be fine. Thumbs up. So I told them, I gave the signal. Thumbs up, Sarah T is going to be fine, guys… I had to tell them I was fine. That I’d be fine. That it would all be ok… I could be scared, I could be afraid, but I could still be ok at the same time. I made a conscious choice, the best one my eight-year-old brain could process. I could choose to live in the sadness and fear I felt… or I could choose to plow through it. So I gave a thumbs up.
Moments later the fancy coach-style buss lumbered into motion and my summer began.
I was fine.
The phone vibrates in my hand again. I’m pulled back to my reality.
BFF: You ok, girl?? Answer me!
I feel a tear creeping into the corner of my eye and a choke rising up into my throat. I am both blazingly invisible and oh, so painfully visible to the bar patrons around me, and it seems that the entire universe has its eyes peering down onto me at this single moment… And at this exact minute I face the same choice I made oh, so many years ago sitting on that coach bus. To give into the fear and uncertainty, or to plow through it.
I chose the later.
And at this exact minute I face the same choice I made oh, so many years ago sitting on that coach bus. To give into the fear and uncertainty, or to plow through it… I chose the later.
Rather than cry, I breathe. With one deep inhale and I take in a sense of calm, and with an audible exhale I drop my shoulders, close my eyes and release.
I pay my tab. Fluff my perfectly beachy beached out hair and text a reply to my BFF before turning my phone off and stowing it in my bag.
Me: All good. Going to movie anyway. Already have the tickets, going to enjoy it just the same!
And as I hop down off that bar stool, sweaty knees and all, I silently pat myself on the back. There were a dozen options before me in this Which Door Chose Your Own Adventure book of dating, doors I could take to determine how to handle my rejection.
I could have made the decision to go home and cry. Or order a second drink and than a third one and then a fourth one… Text an ex for some palpable reassurance. Blast off a series of semi-desperate texts to Mr. No Show, hurl expletives and loudly proclaim my high-value to a deaf pair of ears.
I chose to do none of those. But plow forward. And so I head to my movie, head held high.
Dating is journey with a hundred variables, none of which you can strap down and lock in. And if I make the choice to keep on dating and putting myself out there, who is to say this moment won’t happen again? I’ll surely be rejected in the future. In some form or another. But this doesn’t stop me. Not one bit. And yes’ I’m scared, and yes, I’m uncertain… but I’m also resiliently optimistic and afire with confidence in the woman I’ve become.
Thumbs up, guys, Sarah T is going to be just fine.