This is an excerpt from “The Cringe,” one of the stories about dating in midlife in First Date Stories: Women’s Romantic and Ridiculous Midlife Adventures, a new book by Jodi Klein (published in September 2021 by She Writes Press.)
Adam walked to the bench and sat down. Instead of looking at Maria, who seated herself to his right, he directed his gaze downward and fixed it on his left shoe.
“Is everything all right?” she asked.
“Ah, sure,” he said, still looking away.
They sat in silence, Maria’s hands folded in her lap, the lakeside breeze gently tossing her curly hair and rustling the tree leaves behind them. Her heartbeat escalated as she waited for Adam to say something, anything.
What’s going on?
After a minute or two, Adam turned to Maria. “I need to tell you something.” The levity in his voice had evaporated. Maria braced herself.
“What? Just tell me. Whatever it is, it’s fine,” she replied, with a mix of warmth and exasperation in her voice.
“This is not the first time we’ve met. We’ve been out on a date before. Maybe you remember? We had lunch at a French restaurant downtown fourteen years ago.”
Maria stared at him in disbelief. She scoured her memory, desperately waiting—hoping—for a recollection of their prior date to emerge. Even a faint reminiscence would provide her with needed clues. She was sure her synapses were firing, but no flashback appeared. Her memory was a wasteland. Her muscles tensed up. A cringe swept through her body.
“So much time has passed. I’m sure neither of us looks exactly as we did nearly a decade and a half ago. Are you sure it was me you went out with?” she asked after an extended pause.
Have I just spent all this time with a guy who I’ve already been out with? How come I can’t remember him?
“When you told me you’d had cancer, it hit me. Years ago, I went out with a brunette woman. She was a real estate broker, like you. She had gone through thyroid cancer, like you. That’s why I asked for your last name.”
Maria sat silently.
“You probably don’t remember this either then. At the end of that date, I asked you out again,” he continued. “Your answer was no. When I asked you why, you told me it was because you wanted to be with a guy who is more sensitive than I am.”
Maria wanted to look away, to redirect her gaze to anywhere but his eyes. But she didn’t. She felt the red crawling up her face. She wasn’t sure which was worse: going on a second date nearly a decade and a half later with the same guy she’d rejected once already, or not remembering anything about meeting him the first time. But her embarrassment didn’t matter. She needed to hear him out. It was the least she could do.
Adam leaned forward, his hands pressing down on the edge of the bench. “I don’t know how you came up with that take on me,” he said. “I’m not some guy who is all jacked up on testosterone. I have a soft side. For goodness sakes, I like cats!”
Maria managed to squelch her laugh before it burst out; the noise that escaped her lips sounded more like a hiccup.
“After you turned me down, I remember replaying the date in my mind. I tried to figure out where you got that misimpression of me. It may have been because I changed the topic when you started telling me about your thyroid cancer.”
Maria wasn’t sure what to say. She hoped it would come to her as she spoke. She inhaled, released slowly, and began.
“That may have been it,” she said. “From what you’ve described, we probably met about a year after my treatment ended. It took me a while to realize that, back then, I was overly sensitive to how people responded to my illness. I’m sorry about that.”
“The reason I changed the subject was because I didn’t want to force you to dwell on your cancer,” he said softly. “There has been cancer in my family, and I just didn’t want to bring you down during our date. It wasn’t avoidance. It was concern.”
I feel horrible. Why can’t I remember anything about that date?
“You know what? It was a long time ago,” Maria said. “No need to dwell on what happened between us then. As far as I’m concerned, this is our first date.”
“You’re right. It was ages ago,” Adam said. “How about we get together another time?”
“That would be lovely,” she said. “One thing you can be sure about—I’ll never forget this first date!”
This is just a small slice of First Date Stories by Jodi Klein. Order the book here on Amazon.
Jodi Klein is the author of First Date Stories: Women’s Romantic and Ridiculous Midlife Adventures, published in September 2021. A demanding career and desire to find the right “Mr. Yes” for her led to Jodi becoming an alumna of nearly 400 dates over the course of 26 years. She founded First Date Stories—the podcast and the blog—as a platform for women to share their tales and wisdom so that others can overcome the trials of dating in midlife and find the long-term love they seek. Jodi is a graduate of UC Davis and holds an MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. She lives with her husband in San Francisco, where she spends time working with non-profits and rooting for her favorite sports teams.
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