Nobody wants to be a downer on a first date and generally topics such as bad breakups or ongoing medical conditions might be left until a possible second or third date. But when does trying to keep things light and fun actually become hiding, or lying about, your current state?
I met Irish Tech Triathlete online, he was 36, so entirely age appropriate (whatever the hell that means) for me, we had a lot in common in that we both worked in tech and we both enjoyed working out, not that I was training for triathlons or iron man races, and he was pretty funny.
We matched on a Sunday afternoon and by 5pm he called me. Like phoned me. On the telephone. I forgot people used them for that. It was a pleasant surprise in a number of ways – a) no one calls anymore, everyone hides behind texts (me included); b) often online matches can take what seems like an age to actually get to the meeting stage which bores me and; c) he was just as fun on the phone as he was on text.
He had a busy week coming up, and so did I, so he suggested we meet for drinks in the next hour. Um… what? I’m lying on my sofa, covered in cookie crumbs, wearing bed socks and now I have to make myself presentable not just to the world but to a first date. Ugh… fine.
An hour and a half later, cookie crumbs and bed socks gone, and we’re in a bar close to my house, having a really fun time. He was a super funny guy, we got on immediately, with a lot in common and easy banter back and forth. It’s the one difference I’ve noticed between dating North Americans and people from “back home” or maybe just outside of North America – there’s a sense of fun and banter and sarcasm and teasing that I haven’t found with people from Canada and the US. That’s not to say they don’t get there eventually but in the first instance, with someone new I don’t feel like they’re entirely comfortable with being that way. Brits or Irish on the other hand are happy to absolutely take the piss out of anyone and there’s something strangely comforting in it!
As the date went on, we had more drinks and he probably had two beers for every gin I had but he was a big guy, like 6”2 and he was well built so I didn’t think much of it. However by the time we got ready to leave he’d had a good few pints and I was aware he was definitely tipsy, while I felt fine, thankfully.
I lived a block round the corner which I didn’t strictly tell him but when he suggested walking me home, I figured I didn’t mind him knowing where I lived. When we got to my building though he made a comment about the building I lived in and how he was interested to see the view from my apartment. I’d had no intention of inviting him up but for whatever reason, in that moment I decided I’d let him come up. I was actually surprised by how much I liked him.
Did I feel pressure? A little. Did I think it was easier just to concede to a half drunk guy? Probably. Did I feel threatened? No, not explicitly. But it was another situation where maybe I should have found and used my voice more vociferously.
Voice MIA, we go up to my apartment, and in my head I know it’s literally going to be a look around, let him see the view and then say bye, no offer of a drink, no offer of a seat, nothing. I’m aware that trying to get rid of him from inside my apartment is arguably more difficult than from outside my apartment building when my concierge was 20 metres away. I’m not saying it made sense, but it’s what I did.
We duly look at the view, I show him around my tiny apartment which takes all of 20 seconds and then I say it’s time for him to go and me to go to bed. Of course he makes a joke about us both just going to my bed, which I laugh off. Then he says “but how am I supposed to get home? I drove and I can’t drive now.”
This is where, previously, I would have started feeling bad, offered for him to stay, offered to drive him myself (even though I definitely couldn’t have either), just tried to fix it in some way. But after bending over backwards for guys previously and it coming back to bite me on the arse, I decided he was a grown ass man who could figure it out himself. How had he thought this was going to play out? That I’d just let him stay? Not tonight my friend, not tonight.
He pretended to be hurt that I wasn’t helping him solve the problem he’d created for himself and then conceded that he would get a cab and come back for his car in the morning. He kissed me goodnight and it was a nice, albeit slightly drunken kiss. As the kiss went on I could feel him exerting some of that 6”2 frame on me to try and get me towards my bedroom from standing by my front door. I tried to resist, but at 5”4.5 I was really up against it.
So I pulled away, called him out on it and said goodnight. He gave me another peck, then just as I thought he was leaving, came back and started to kiss me again, and yet again tried to move me towards the bedroom. At this point I realised he had to go, so I pulled back, opened the door and essentially, hand in the small of his back (which was about mid-rib height on me), ushered him out.
I was disappointed the night had ended like that, he’d been a really fun guy and I had wanted to see him again but feeling like he was pressuring me first to come up to my apartment, then to stay and then to get me into my bedroom – it didn’t feel great. I put it down to him being drunk, he hadn’t seemed like that earlier in the night, but even if it was “just” when he’s drunk surely that was enough to be a red flag. And I wondered if he was even aware of it.
The next morning he messaged to say he’d had a great time, that he’d picked up his car and he was sorry for being a little “worse for wear”, he hadn’t realised how much he’d had to drink. I appreciated that he made mention of it. I’d have found it more difficult if he’d just swept it under the carpet. I also felt bad for him that it was a Monday morning and he was feeling rough – not a great start to anyone’s week.
Still, the end of the night before had definitely left a sour taste in my mouth and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see him again. So I replied to his initial text, something light and non-committal, wished him a good day and left it at that.
We texted a couple of times over the coming week, just small talk around our days, jokes from our first date and then the next Saturday when we were messaging, he said was skiing up in Whistler but suggested meeting up when he was back down in the city. I figured a second date was at least worth a go, so told him to text me when he got back and then we could see what time it was and make plans.
I never heard from him again. For two and a half weeks. No follow up to our potential Saturday night plans, no messages afterwards to say his day had changed or to catch up with me after the weekend. Then one random Thursday afternoon at 5pm he messaged asking if I was free and wanted to go for drinks that night.
I was already at happy hour with a couple of friends, but figured I could go meet him after that. In hindsight, between the weird end to the first date and him going MIA for over two weeks I should have called it quits at that point, but it seems I’m not a quitter, in the worst possible way, so we made plans and I headed to meet him around 8pm.
He was really apologetic about his disappearance, which I fully called him out on. He’d been busy with work and there had been a lot of stuff going on. I explained that inconsistency didn’t work for me, which he said he understood and it wouldn’t happen again. He’d wanted to see me, but had just needed to sort some stuff out.
In the next couple of hours he did a great job of turning around the situation because somehow we ended up back in my apartment, again, and this time I was more open to the possibility of him ending up in my bed.
He was really fun and funny and (despite the initial red flags) seemed to have his shit together. He had his own place, had a good job, seemed to have a busy social life. He also wasn’t bad to look at and that never hurts. The rugby sevens weekend was coming up and he hadn’t been planning to go but as we were talking about it he mentioned it would be fun to hang out together at it, so he’d look at getting tickets. It felt like he could actually slot into my life kinda nicely, if it came to that.
Back at mine, he was far more respectful and guarded than he’d been the first night. He didn’t seem in a rush either which was nice. Or at least, it would have been if it hadn’t been for the fact that as things were about to start getting kind of serious after a whole lot of getting naked (side note – triathletes have incredibly lean bodies!) he “lost that loving feeling” – as it were.
Now, I get it, shit happens, you can’t control that thing – I mean the feeling, not the actual “thing”, although I’ve heard it claimed many a time it does in fact have a mind of its own – but twice? I had to try my best not to take it personally and wonder if my less than triathlete lean body wasn’t quite doing it for him.
After the second time, it was clear he wasn’t up (pun intended) for trying to make it work and instead just lay quietly in the dark. I gave it a minute and then asked the darkness “so, what’s up with that?” I’m sure I could have been more sensitive but… fuck it.
He stayed silent for a few minutes as the question kind of hung in the air. A number of times I wanted to interject the sound of tumbleweed and make a joke or try and offer up a possible reason or solution but instead I let the silence fill the space.
Eventually, after what felt like a lifetime, he started to talk. With an arm over his face, like a little boy admitting to something he’d done. He explained to me that the ex he had mentioned briefly on our first date was not only an ex from just a few weeks ago (the most recent time they’d broken up anyway), she was in fact also the mother of his 18 month old child.
A child he was now in a custody battle for, but was already solely looking after. A child he’d had with him in Whistler those few weekends ago and so was never going to be able to go out when he got back to the city. A child that he was going to have at the weekend and so he was never going to be able to come to the rugby sevens. A child that meant he only worked 4 days a week, yet he’d made comments about being Monday to Friday. A child he’d had done a very good job of actively avoiding talking about. A child I didn’t know he had.
The fact he had a child wasn’t the issue. The fact that when he’d told stories, like how he’d been hiking the other weekend, he purposely neglected to tell me that the other person on the hike with him, had been his baby. That when we agreed about how great living alone was, he didn’t actually live alone, he lived with his child.
I get it, it was a second date, I was hardly about to walk down the aisle and was just hearing all this stuff for the first time but there was something about the fact that it was a massive part of his life that he’d left out, so the whole picture of his life he’d painted was in fact false. Plus, now that massive part of his life was impacting his ability to be present in this part of his life.
He had been trying to learn Canadian child custody laws so he could fight for sole custody without having to pay for lawyers he couldn’t afford, he’d had to get a restraining order against his ex to stop her taking the child out the country, which apparently she’d attempted to do a number of times, he didn’t have a huge support network here with his family being back in Ireland and the 4 days of the week he worked he would do 14 hour days so he was almost working full time hours.
When he was explaining the situation, and giving the backstory, he was clearly anguished, he was clearly stressed and, despite how little I knew him (clearly!), it pained me to witness it. I started having flashbacks to when I had felt trapped and unable to cope with a situation. But that was years ago and I wasn’t attempting to date while going through it.
I mostly stayed quiet throughout his explanation. There wasn’t a lot I could say. I quieted my first instinct to help and, I don’t know, offer to babysit?! This wasn’t my mess to try and fix and while I felt bad for him and thought it was incredible he was stepping up to be the sole caregiver and I hoped the situation would resolve itself, I knew that I didn’t have the capacity to support someone through something like this. And in fairness, he wasn’t asking me to. But he clearly also wasn’t able to put it aside, which is no surprise, and so there really wasn’t a lot else to say.
He admitted he had hoped that dating might help him take his mind off it and would bring some light relief to an otherwise fairly stressful life, but had realised that in fact he wasn’t ready for it. Well no fucking shit. If he’d actually told me the situation right off the bat I would have told him he was attempting a triathlon before he could even crawl.
I halted the dragging night from taking either of us down further with a swift and entirely inappropriately cheery “well, you should probably go now!” I’m not sure I’ve ever asked someone to leave as they were lying naked next to me in my bed. But I guess there’s a first time for everything? And this felt like the right time to try it out.
And that was that, Irish Tech Triathlete, and his complicated custody issues, was never to be heard from again.