My dear readers know that I’ve been on a lot of dates. And a lot of really bad dates. But this was, perhaps, the worst date I’ve ever been on. Not because he was mean or anything, but because, from the second I said hi, I wanted to leave.

Instead, I stayed. For two hours.

Let’s back up, here.

This guy messaged me on OKCupid. He was very tall (yes), bearded (yes), and kind of chunky (yes), so obviously I replied.

There were some red flags. He was 49, and I’ve learned that, at that age, there’s usually a reason men are still single. He had never been married, which was good, for me, but also – had to be a reason. But he had no kids, and he owned a brownstone, so he was basically landed gentry in Brooklyn. If we fell in love and got married, I’d basically be a marchioness.

Also, he had three pictures up online. In two of them, he looked attractive, chunky, bearded, normal. In the third he looked really, really awkward, leaning slouchily against a bridge in a pair of sweatpants and an ill-fitting t-shirt. But the other two looked fine, and we were hitting it off so well, that I ignored that flag, too.

We had amazing nonsense banter. I love to be silly and talk about nothing, and we talked about such silly nothingness. Over text, I thought he seemed smart and interesting and down with a kind of bossy woman, so I was really looking forward to our date.

Almost immediately, we connected on how we both liked black licorice. That’s a special connection to share, because not many people understand the nuanced beauty that is a black licorice wheel. It’s one of my favorite things. Licorice is even made with wheat flour, and I love it so much that I pretend it isn’t. And it never makes me sick. Licorice is so magical, that, unlike anything else with flour in it, it doesn’t make me vomit. One bite of crusty bread? Vom-town. Pizza? Puke city. But, out of the power of love and sheer force of will, licorice doesn’t make me sick. I flat out refuse to be allergic to licorice.

But I digress.

I mentioned how hard it was to find good licorice anywhere, and he told me about Economy Candy, an old-fashioned candy store on the Lower East Side. And, of course. If anyone was gonna sell black licorice and cheap candy, obviously it was gonna be a store on the Lower East Side. He suggested we go there on our date, and I immediately agreed.

I was thrilled. What makes for a better first date than a trip to a candy store? Answer: nothing, except for an evening of champagne and oysters, because that trumps everything. He suggested we get breakfast first, in my neighborhood. Lovely. And, because we were going to the LES, I looked up my favorite pickle place, The Pickle Guys, on Grand Street (side note: I discovered The Pickle Guys because they were next door to the Judaica shop where I bought my tallis for my bat mitzvah. That’s how good these pickles are. I’ve remembered and drooled over them since I was twelve). A plan was in place that I felt good about. Breakfast. Then candy. Then good, old-fashioned, kosher full-sours.

I woke up the morning of our date bright and eager to meet the guy I had been texting with. He seemed so smart. So interesting. So, at 9:00, when I realized I wasn’t falling back asleep, I suggested we meet up earlier than planned. He agreed, and we set a revised brunch time of 10:30.

The diner is only a few blocks away from me, but they’re long blocks, and it was chilly and drizzling. I was cranky, but still hopeful. I had a good podcast to listen to. I was meeting a tall, chunky, bearded man. I approached the diner, feeling good.

And then I saw him. And I knew this date was not going to go well.

The guy was wearing a too-tight, pallid yellow polo shirt, and olive green cargo pants made out of windbreaker material. They were also too tight, and about two or three inches too short. What I thought had been lumberjack-scruffy in his profile pictures was really just unkempt.

I had made a mistake I’ve made before: mistaking super awkward and maybe a little autistic for smart and quirky. There’s a thin line that divides the two. It can be hard to determine which side someone stands on, through text and the internet. But it was clear that, this time, I had judged wrong.

I walked up to him with a smile on my face, already dreading what was to come. He went in for a hug, which I hate from even the most attractive, charming stranger. Don’t touch me. You don’t know me. From this gross guy, it was even less palatable.

We walked into the diner and the host led me toward a booth.

“Um,” the guy said to the host, with a really fucking irritating smirk on his face. “Come on!”

The host smiled and redirected us to what I soon learned was the guy’s usual booth. Turned out my guy was a “regular” at the diner. And he basked in the imagined glory of that status. He was performatively chummy with the waitstaff, and made a big show of them already knowing his order, and knowing what table he sat at, blah blah fucking ugh.

“They might bring some weird stuff over for us,” he said, smiling a weird, playful, irritating smile.

Sure enough, the waiter brought him a few assorted things – seltzer water with cranberry juice and a lime, and a plate of wheat toast with honey and cinnamon? Each time, he looked at me smugly, as if expecting me to be impressed.

The waiter came back to take our orders. The guy was still kvelling (I wish I could show you how obnoxious that smile was) and said, “the usual,” followed by some apparently special insider code words to clarify his order. The waiter then turned to me, looked back at him, said “She’s so pretty!” and then took my order. I wanted to die. Literal death seemed better than the prospect of sitting through a meal with this man.

I’ve developed a rule that I don’t laugh or smile if I’m not truly amused by something a man says. Just because I’m out with someone doesn’t mean I need play stupid girl and smile and laugh at anything a guy says. Especially if it’s not funny, or just fucking irritating. So I sat through our entire meal barely talking, miserable, trying not to flip the fuck out and be mean to this sad, irritating, awkward man.

After what felt like an eternity, I had picked at my scrambled eggs, he had eaten his broccoli-cheddar omelette and short stack of blueberry-ricotta pancakes (I heard all about them, apparently they were called “Danish” style). He paid. We left.

But the date wasn’t even close to over. We walked to the subway, and I tried to make awkward small talk. Then we got on the subway. I sat next to a man wearing horrible cologne, so I had to get up and move to the other end of the car. That provided a little bit of conversation. For the entire trip, I sat with my arms crossed across my chest, as closed off as possible. When we got to our stop and stepped outside, it was raining.

I am a baby about bad weather. I hate being cold. I hate being wet. And it was wet, and cold. I had to go into a drugstore and buy a $13 shitty umbrella. Then we had to walk ten blocks, in the cold, nasty rain, to the candy store. In near-silence.

And then, one, bright, shining moment, in a cold, rainy, dark, dark day.

Economy Candy.

It. Was. Amazing. A magical Mecca of candy, packed into a little crowded storefront. The owners were not Jewish, as I had expected them to be, but the candy exceeded expectations. I bought four pounds of black licorice wheels, a quarter-pound of Dutch salted licorice, a half-pound of chocolate-covered apricots, a half-pound of mixed loose candies (Mary Janes, Tootsie Rolls, Bit-o-Honey), and a pound of red licorice shoelaces. All in all, I blew $30 on candy. I do not regret it. It was beautiful and inspiring and an experience that I will not forget, for the opposite reason of why the rest of the date is something I will never forget.

We left the store. I knew I couldn’t sustain any more time with him, so I told the guy that I had promised to call my friend after we left the candy store.

“How’s the date going?” my friend asked, when he answered the phone.

“Not well,” I said.

“You ok?”

“No,” I said. “Can I come over?”

He laughed and said yes. I told the guy that I had to go meet my friend. He insisted on walking me to the subway.

I was still basking in the glow of all the black licorice I had just bought. I actually considered going to get pickles. No, I didn’t want one more second of this man’s company, but – I mean, those are some damn good pickles. Ultimately, I decided against it and cut my losses. When we got to the subway, he gave me a hug. I returned the saddest, most anemic hug ever, and pretty much ran away. Over my shoulder, I heard him say, “I hope the debrief with your friend goes well!”

I was free. I ran down the subway stairs in my rainboots in a state of shock and relief.

Ultimately, the day ended well. I met my friend and got out of the rain into a cafe. I had a Perrier with lemon. Then some very good bone broth. My friend and I sat in a park and watched pigeons for an hour. I met a very short old lady who told me all about her labradoodles, Bert and Ernie. Ernie jumped on me and got mud all over my sweater, but he also gave me some kisses, so that was ok. Around 4:30, I headed back to Brooklyn, with six pounds of candy in my tote bag. The day had been salvaged.

But I really cannot recall a worse date, ever, in all my history of bad dates. It was just so painful. So excruciating. It felt kind of like when I did a sleep study and had to try to sleep with a tube up my nose and electrodes on my head. I was so uncomfortable, but I knew that I couldn’t leave. Up until today, that was the most trapped I had ever felt. This date was, at the very least, a close second.

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