Breaking my own rule*.

I dated a lot last summer.Date is not quite the right word, but that's what I'll call it. It was't Peter Pan–collar-and-poodle-skirt, two-straws-at-the-soda-shop dating. It was not-many-clothes-at-all, happy-hour-and-stumbling-into-the-night dating. There were quite a few men in and out of my life (five, at one point), and I called it dating because there was no boyfriend.

Dating was exhausting. Because when you're seeing five people at once, there are bound to be complications — scheduling conflicts, at least. And white lies told to avoid hurt feelings. And too much information floating around. As much as I like attention, especially from men — the more, the better, usually — I started to feel cheap, spreading myself so thin. Dating became emotionally debilitating. Which was as much thanks to the men in question as it was the overscheduled, oversexed madness and my psychological state at the time.

And so, after the chaos and folly of last year — culminating in the flaming destruction of not one but two disastrous relationships in the frame of about four months — this summer was to be a time where I simply did not date. I had grand designs of rediscovering my sanity and enjoying a bout of self-induced celibacy, beginning with my solo transatlantic journey. But then I met someone. A couple of weeks before Paris, I met someone. Who started as this faraway figure I admired for reasons I only sort of understood. Who became a friend. Who kissed me unexpectedly. And I'm now…dating him. Fluid and natural and unnervingly…simple.

Gradually, I am learning a new, better definition of the word "date." (Related: The word "men" is taking on a more positive connotation as well.)

Date ˈdāt noun 1 a: the time at which an event occurs < the date of his birth> b: a statement of the time of execution or making < the date on the letter> 2: duration 3: the period of time to which something belongs 4 a: an appointment to meet at a specified time; especially: a social engagement between two persons that often has a romantic character b: a person with whom one has a usually romantic date 5: see also: Friday, May 29, 2009

At 7:15, my doorbell rang. After having changed my outfit four times, I gave myself one last glance in the mirror, nodded firmly and trotted down the stairs to meet him. Through the dirty glass of my building's front door, he stood waiting for me, shirt tucked in, cellophane-wrapped flowers in hand. Flowers. No one brings flowers. He brought flowers. I put them in water while he waited, then we walked to the Brown Line and rode downtown with our Trader Joe's bag filled with picnic food. At Millennium Park, night was beginning to fall, and Pritzker Pavilion was filling with Polish Chicagoans celebrating the fall of communism in their home country with music and dance. (We had no idea the concert was even happening.) We spread out our blanket — OK, a beach towel that was really too small for both of us — and made barbecue-pork sandwiches with cole slaw and carrot sticks and sparkling water. And chocolate-covered cookies (to die for) called Joe-Joes. We endured the music as long as we could then walked east to the lakefront and through the harbors. In and out of orange pools of streetlight, we kissed and talked about our families. Yachts (mine) and house painting (his) and grandparental quirks (both of us). We found ourselves looking across the Chicago River at Navy Pier, and I stared at the flashing lights on the Ferris wheel while we had a Very Serious Conversation about love and trust, and the past and moving on from it. I hope. Strolling along the river, I watched workers scrub down the decks and chairs of the tour boats from a long, sunny day full of tourists. Up the stairs and back to Michigan Avenue, we waded through a crowd of pedestrians and made our way toward the El again — it had felt like we owned the city, walking alone by the water. Maybe we still did, even with other people around. I nodded off on his shoulder and he brushed the hair from my forehead to kiss me as the train rumbled homeward. Fluid and natural and simple.

This is dating. Worth the wait to redefine.

"I'm scared to call you my girlfriend," he said. "Then don't," I said. "Wait until it doesn't scare you anymore."

* of no loveblogging.

Today's Special: Burger with a Side of Date

Following my weekend in North Carolina, where I was clearly deprived of all sources of sustenance — what — my plane landed at O'Hare, and all I could think about was Kuma's.
Perfect beef and fluffy pretzel rolls and salty, salty fries and icky generic soda — KUMA'S. Goodgod.

So I dropped my suitcase off at the apartment, put on crappy clothes, hopped on my bike and toddled down to Avondale, where I perched myself on a stool at the quiet end of the bar and unpacked the supplies from my purse: leatherbound journal, Paris book, cell phone. I drooled over the menu for 15 minutes only to order the exact same burger I had the first time I went; why mess with a classic?
The High on Fire (yes, it's a metal band) begins with the aforementioned perfect beef, which is then piled high with prosciutto, roasted red pepper, a grilled pineapple ring and then laced with sriracha sauce. It's messy and disgusting and, quite frankly, amazing. Add hand-cut waffle fries to that, and you've got a glorious heart attack waiting to happen. And after working up quite a healthy appetite over the weekend and consuming nothing but a chocolate doughnut and an iced latte all day, I planned to eat the. whole. thing.
I sipped my Diet RC Cola and stared blankly at my Paris guide, forever daunted at the prospect of planning this damn trip, until I overheard the bartender and two guys next to me talking about iPods. Why yes, I'd love to join the conversation. I interjected some wit and tech savvy into their discussion, and to my surprise, the gentleman seated next to me decided he'd like to continue talking.
Well, all right.
Turns out this gentleman is a bartender, a cyclist (who calls himself an amateur yet rode his bike all the way across the country), a writer, a foodie, a world traveler and a convenient neighbor to me. And he thought I was hilarious. Whaaaaa?

We were discussing the best Thai food in Lincoln Square/Ravenswood — and how he thought it compared to what he'd tried in ACTUAL THAILAND — when my burger came, and we continued conversing between my mammoth bites of burger. God, we had so much to talk about. My life adventures aren't nearly on par with his, but I think he's got a few years on me, and I'd say I still managed to go toe to toe with him in conversation. Halfway through my meal and on to my second RC, I swooned, "My life just got 20 times better. Right. Now." And I wonder if he knew I only kind of meant the burger.
As I finished wolfing down that dripping half-pound of beef and prepared to pay my check, he said he'd like to take me out to dinner. And asked for my phone number. Like. A normal. PERSON. I actually had to ask him to repeat himself.
Let me reiterate: I did not meet this man online; I was wearing an orange ballcap and my crappy "University Daily Kansan: We Put Out Daily" (oh, the irony) shirt. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. This girl, right here, got a date the way real humans get dates.

So. I mean. Obviously, I'm going.
The best part of this story: He joked about stalking me and offered to ride home with me because he lives in the neighborhood. We coasted side by side back up the desolate stretch of California leading toward home, talking about who cares what. When we got to my corner, he shook my hand and said it was…a pleasure.
Yes it was, sir. And will be.

* Results not typical.

If Jenny Craig and L.A. Weight Loss can have a disclaimer under all their happy customers, why on Earth shouldn't online dating services? Not that I get my hopes up — if anything, I have manage my expectations far below normal levels in all situations — but I'm sure there are some people who put all their rotting, lovelorn eggs in that sad, soggy online-dating basket.
The ads for eHarmony and make me want to throw things. With eHarmony, it's middle-aged, multiethnic Christian couples dancing around and smooching to old Natalie Cole songs; on, it's confident, attractive single people vamping in an empty room for a black-and-white camera. Whispering, "Date me, you equally sexy beast" through pouty lips.
I'm here to tell you: It isn't like that. in no way tries to pass itself off as a legitimate dating site with a proven track record for love connections. It's more of a beta test for brave — or bored — souls in major metropolitan areas who are comfortable letting computers match them up nearly randomly with other similarly brave/bored souls.
On a sort of "Twitter dare" from a high school friend last week, I thought, "Hey! I'm both brave and bored. This sounds fun," and signed up for an account. Two days later, I got an e-mail "offering" me a date the following week.
All I got was a name, age, vague body-type description and a few lines he'd written about himself. No photo — nothing else. I wouldn't be allowed to contact him until 30 minutes before the date, and even then it would be only through CBD's double-blind text messaging system.
Fast-forward to tonight. At 7 p.m. on the dot, I got a text message from George, 28, self-described average body, essentially downplayed his personality and everything about himself. "Tall w lite beard," he said in his description, and wearing a black sweater and jeans. We would meet in Wicker Park for a drink, and that would be that. A crazy blind date.
Except that when I arrived at the restaurant, the space was dark. A closer inspection of the establishment's hours showed it had closed two and a half hours earlier. Strike one, CBD.
Pointing, "Closed."
"Fucked, right?" (I'm charming.) "Where to next?"
We walked half a block south to one of my favorite restaurants and had a glass of wine. Conversation was easy; he was a gentleman. We shared the cursory small talk and even feigned vulnerability about our dating pasts. I was a real gem and revealed practically nothing about myself. This was a first date first. Though part of me wonders if I would have given away more if I hadn't been so busy learning about his Serbian family or the road trip he took earlier this year with his godfather's son-in-law to Billings, Montana.
No matter.
The unkempt receding hairline, penchant for action movies, vague homophobia, excessive walleye consumption and total ignorance of all things social media–related — he hadn't even heard of Twitter, for Christ's sake — were instantly forgiven when he paid for my brownie sundae. I even let him tease me for leaving one single bite on the plate.
I was FULL!
The population of the friend zone grew by two when we parted ways with a mutual handshake. Mine was all business.
I hastily flagged down a cab and headed home for a photo shoot in my new sailor-stripe dress. It's a little silly.

The evening wasn't crazy. In fact, it really wasn't even a date, unless any situation financed by a man is a date.
But then again, I wasn't looking for much. Gossip Girl was a rerun anyway.
Results: pretty typical.