Date Night by Shanna
As a young woman, Grace never would have imagined that she would find himself at 30, reduced to finding a date from an internet dating website. She followed the hostess through the maze of tables at the Olive Garden as she led her to an empty table. Grace silently sat down in her chair and gave the hostess a faint smile as she handed her the menu.
Grace glanced at her phone. 7:20. She had 10 minutes until her date for the evening would arrive.
Grace was always early for things, a habit ingrained by her mother. Of course, her mother was married by the time she was Grace’s age and had three small children, a fact that she never failed to mention to Grace whenever they talked on the phone. It was those comments, plus the reminder that the last of her school age friends had gotten married over the summer, that had led Grace to sign up for the dating site, which had led to tonight.
She had been talking to Mike for a while now and they had finally agreed to meet in person. Grace was a bit nervous, as she knew she wasn’t the prettiest girl. Her eyes were a little too small and her mouth a little too wide. Her hair seemed to have a mind of its own and she could stand to lose a few pounds, a fact which her mother also never failed to tell her. Grace had posted her pictures on the dating website but, like everyone, she only posted pictures where she looked good. She hoped Mike liked the real her.
She looked at her phone. 7:30. Mike would be here any minute.
Grace picked up the menu to make it seem like she was doing something. She didn’t want to be just sitting at the table like a dork when Mike arrived, as if she had nothing better to do than wait for him (even though Grace suspected that she didn’t). She perused the entrée section even though she already knew what she would order. Grace had looked over the menu at work today. She didn’t want to seem like she was one of those girls that took forever to decide what she wanted to eat. But on the other hand, she didn’t want it to look like she had the menu memorized. She settled for a compromise and turned her attention to the dessert menu.
“Can I get you a drink?” asked the waitress, who had seemed to materialize next to Grace.
Grace scanned the drink list. “I’ll have a white wine,” she said. The waitress nodded and left Grace to her thoughts.
She looked around the restaurant to see if she could see Mike. Olive Garden wasn’t her favorite restaurant (all those carbs), but it was close to her house so it was easy for her to get to and she knew that if she had a lot to drink she would be able to get home okay.
The waitress brought her wine and set it down on the table. “Did you want to order?” she asked.
“No, not yet,” Grace said, pointing to Mike’s empty seat. “He’s just running a little late.”
Grace looked at her phone. 7:35.
Grace sat and waited for Mike. She looked around the restaurant again and noticed that the Olive Garden was a large mix of families and couples. She watched the family across from her as the father tried to coax the daughter into eating just one more bite. She smiled faintly as she realized that she wanted that. She wanted the family, and the kids.
“Maybe tonight will be the beginning of everything,” she thought. She imagined telling her children and grandchildren the story of how she met their father and grandfather on a dating website and how they would all find it adorable.
Grace looked at her phone. 7:45. Mike was running real late.
She clicked over to her messages to see if he had emailed or texted to say he was on the way but her phone lit up with no new messages. Grace sighed and ordered another glass of wine from the perky waitress. She wished she had brought a book or a magazine so that she could read while she waited for Mike to show up. Grace was no stranger to eating by herself in a restaurant. As a single lady she had come to the realization that, with no boyfriend to take her out, if she wanted to eat in a restaurant she had to go by herself. Grace usually brought a book or work to do while she ate. Most of the time she would sit and eat in the bar section. It was usually full of other single people so Grace felt she didn’t stand out as much. She hated just sitting there, at a table for two, by herself.
Grace couldn’t wait until Mike arrived. Yes, they had emailed and texted, but they had never actually spoken to one another. Grace wondered what his voice sounded like and what his favorite expression was. Would he talk with his hands, like Grace did? She wondered what he would order and if he liked dessert. She thought again about all of the conversation topics she had written down in case they ran out of things to talk about. She had flashcards in her purse that she could consult in the bathroom if it came down to it.
Grace looked at her phone. 7:55. Mike was now 25 minutes late.
Grace could see the waitress hovering in her peripheral vision, probably mentally calculating how much money she was losing in tips while Grace just sat there. Grace really hoped that Mike wasn’t standing her up. She didn’t want to go through that again. The last guy she had met on the dating website, they had arranged to meet at a bar for drinks and he had never shown up.
“That’s what I get for trusting a guy named Larry,” she thought. “Loser Larry.” Grace had drank a little too much that night when she realized she had been stood up and had suffered the next day at work. She couldn’t help but think that Larry had gotten one look at her and changed his mind. Grace knew she had a lot to offer personality wise, if she didn’t have it all looks wise. All her friends said she was smart and funny. She just wanted a man to realize that too.
Grace looked at her phone. 8:05. Mike wasn’t showing up and Grace knew she was done with online dating. She waived the waitress over to order dinner and more wine.
“At the rate I’m going, I should just order the entire bottle,” Grace thought morosely.
“Is this seat taken?” Grace looked up hopefully at the guy standing there and her stomach sank when she realized it wasn’t Mike. This guy wasn’t the most handsomest guy, but Grace was a little drunk and a little lonely so she waived him into the seat.
“It’s all yours.”
He slid into the seat across from her. “I’m Sam.”
Grace nodded. “I’m Grace.”
“So what is a beautiful girl like you eating by herself?”
Grace looked down and blushed. She knew she wasn’t beautiful and that Sam was most likely using a line, but it was still nice to hear someone say she was beautiful.
Sam smiled to himself as he watched Grace describe how her date couldn’t make it to dinner. He had watched her all night, from the moment she sat down. He knew better than anyone that her date couldn’t make it, because he was Mike. He was also Joe, Ben, Larry, Scott, and a bunch of other names that he couldn’t be bothered to remember.
Sam had many personas in the online dating world. As soon as he realized that he could say and be anyone he wanted and no one would know, he used that to his full advantage. He knew that he was less than average in the looks department and that most girls wouldn’t give him the time of day. He was a little too short, a little too awkward, and spent most of his time playing video games.
Sam was having a great time chatting to girls online until the girls he was talking to wanted to meet in person. He went to the first meeting and saw the girl’s face when he walked in. He saw the look in her eyes as she looked at him and he could tell that she was hoping that he wasn’t her date. He’ll never forget the relief he saw in her face when he continued on past her table. He sat at the bar and watched as the girl waited in anticipation, waiting for him to show up. He saw the despondent look in her eyes as she consumed more and more alcohol as the night went on and she was left at the table by herself. It was then, watching her stumble drunkenly out of the restaurant, that Sam had the best idea ever.
It was easy to pretend to be other guys online and to strike up conversations and eventual relationships with unsuspecting women. His dating persona would arrange to meet these women in person and then he would stand them up. Sam would be waiting in the wings and once these distraught women realized that their date would not be showing up, Sam would sweep in and play the hero. And just like in his video games, the hero always got the girl.
Sure, it was time consuming to talk to these women online and to get them to form an attachment to Sam’s persona. Then he had to go on all the dates because even if his persona didn’t show up, Sam was always there, watching and waiting to see what the girl did. He watched to see how long she would wait for him before she left and he watched to see what she would do when he didn’t show up. Sam was only interested in the girls who became despondent and drank. He had found that a depressed drunk girl was far more readily to like the real Sam than a sober one.
Sam smiled at Grace over their shared chocolate mousse.
“So,” he said. “Can I get your number?”