Looking for Love, for a Friend
The singles event, a “Match mixer,” was held on a Wednesday night at a restaurant in Boston. My friend Amy and I met after work and scribbled our first names in black ink on sticky nametags after arriving.
“These are kind of tacky,” she said. She was nervous.
We ordered drinks in a private room reserved for the mixer and stationed ourselves at a high-top table. Small groups of women were scattered around the airy room, anchored to tables like us, while a few solitary men floated between the islands we made. A short cheery man joined us right away.
His name was Ryan. He told us about his auctioneer work and love for travel. Amy and I stood close to each other, interviewing him from across the table. She wasn’t interested, I could tell, but the conversation was pleasant. I tried to strike a balance between friendly and unavailable.
Two weeks earlier, Amy had called to tell me she had decided to sign up for a dating site, marking a major shift in her approach to meeting someone. There was more.
The dating site was hosting a local singles event. She asked if I would join her, as she wouldn’t dream of going alone. When I got her call, I was walking to my apartment, the chill of a cold night against my face. My stomach immediately tensed.
I was in a committed relationship with my boyfriend (now-husband), whom, coincidentally, I had met online. I also hated most types of networking.
“The event information says you can bring a friend,” Amy said. “You don’t need to be single.”
I agreed to go, provided it didn’t make my boyfriend uncomfortable. When I told him, he didn’t mind but mentioned that Amy might unwittingly use me as a crutch – that it could be easier for her not to meet new people if I was by her side. I was more concerned about seeing someone I knew at the event, making an awkward situation even more so.
But I agreed to go. Amy would have done the same for me.
A man wearing a dress shirt and fitted blazer drifted over next, evening out our table. Steve was tall, a point in his favor for Amy. I stood between them, excitement bubbling for a potential match.
Amy, Ryan and I listened as Steve told us about his work as a lawyer, his time living in Brooklyn, his love for Uber. Amy talked about work and where she grew up. I chimed in, highlighting my friend’s successes, eyes darting back and forth, thrilled by their banter.
A videographer for the dating site came around and zeroed in on Amy with his camera. Blinded from a spotlight, Amy said something about not being able to see.
“Trust me; you look great,” said Steve.
Amy was glowing. I was ecstatic.
When Dave joined our table, the dynamic shifted in an unfortunate direction. He made jokes about committing a felony and quickly dispersed our group. Steve left to grab another drink or meet others. Amy and I headed to the restroom.
When we returned to the bar, in classic middle-school fashion, Ryan told us that Steve was interested in Amy. I wondered how they had had enough time to talk; we were gone for fewer than ten minutes.
Steve joined us at the bar, and Ryan and I stumbled over each other to get out of the way.
For the next hour, Ryan and I talked about Boston, feeling like familiar friends. From time to time, we glanced over, wondering how Amy and Steve were doing. Early on, I told Ryan that I had a boyfriend. I expected him to make up an excuse to leave and spend the remaining time meeting single women, but he didn’t.
Instead, he shared recommendations for his favorite local restaurants. The best place for ramen in his neighborhood. An Italian sandwich shop he liked. A soup factory near where I lived. An Afghani restaurant not far from either of us. I struggled the next day to remember them and saved the ones that I could in a note on my phone.
It’s not lost on me that Ryan’s kindness spared me a number of mini-dates that evening or a table for one in the corner. Instead of the uncomfortable night I was expecting, I experienced the graciousness of a stranger and the comfort of human connection, though I wasn’t looking for either.
Amy and everyone else who attended the mixer had taken a chance to find something or someone, perhaps stepping out of their comfort zones, as I had a year before when I joined an online dating site, as I think many people are doing in one way or another.
Like Amy, I had signed up, excited, nervous, uncertain. For the first time, I went on self- orchestrated blind dates with strangers and practiced dating with nothing to lose. What I grew to gain was confidence, connection, a few funny stories and, perhaps most surprisingly, my best friend and future husband.
Names have been changed.