There’s a café up the block from my apartment that my husband and I frequent. Buceo 95 is a cozy, lively place with decent wine and tasty tapas. We eat there a couple of times of month, usually parking ourselves at the bar. From that perch, we have a bird’s-eye view of our fellow patrons, most of whom range in age from about 30 to 60. On almost every visit, I lean over to my husband and whisper, “See that couple? They’re on a date.”
How can I tell which twosomes are new and which are more like the left-and-right mates of a pair of old shoes? Here are six signs I rely on.
1. Daters Consume More Alcohol than Food
Since alcohol is the ultimate conversation lubricant, the wine is copiously flowing from the get-go on a first date. Women typically have white or sparkling; men tend to order red or beer. Even when the duo consists of two men or two women, I rarely spot hard liquor, as neither party wants to seem like a sot so early on. As for a female’s bird-like appetite, I often see her pick daintily at a beet salad and order nothing else. He tends to follow her lead and eats light. For one thing, he’s picking up the tab. Plus, a heavy meal might make him sluggish later and no one wants that should the evening ramp up. My husband and I, however, indulge in equal (and ample) quantities of Rioja and paella, since the rest of our night will consist solely of lying on our sofa watching a documentary about Franklin Roosevelt.
2. Daters Actually Pay Attention to the Conversation
They listen to one another as if they’re sharing hot stock tips or secret ingredients. They lean in and pause at appropriate moments: “You were saying…” she says as they start to speak simultaneously. “No, you first,” he insists. Neither will stand for a moment of silence as that might indicate a lack of chemistry or worse, that they or their date is a bore. As for my spouse and me, we talk over each other without a thought while we check email or send texts from our barstools. Sometimes we say nothing at all for a long stretch, with the possible exception of, “Please pass the hot sauce.”
3. Female Daters Wear Very High Heels
This isn’t a remarkable fact on its own, but it becomes interesting in contrast to the female halves of the “old-shoe” couples, or the giggling women who fill the girls-night-out tables. There you’ll see a mix of footwear — from boots to flats to kitten heels — but absolutely no stilettos. I’m typically in my crusty Ugg boots, which I might be wearing with my gym clothes from that morning’s workout. (Hey, I’ll shower tomorrow.)
4. Male Daters Are Chivalrous
The knight pulls out his fair lady’s chair as she returns from the restroom. He stands when she does and holds her coat as she slips into it. He opens the door for her, placing a guiding palm on the small of her back as they head off together into the night. As for me, I usually leave the café alone so I can walk the dog while my husband enjoys another glass of wine at the bar. Hmmm.
5. Daters Look As If They’re Expecting a Pop Quiz
First-daters wear hyper-alert expressions on their faces as they strive to assimilate the massive amount of information being presented in a short amount of time. Take this example: The man tells the woman he’s an accountant. In the span of 1.5 seconds, she strives to process and analyze this tidbit: Accountants are reliable. Accountants are boring. He can balance my checkbook. He has nice teeth. Okay, I’m good.
Another example: Across the bar, I can practically see the veins throbbing in one woman’s 40-something-year-old forehead as she struggles to remain casual despite the news that there is not one but two ex-wives: “One of them is garnishing your wages?” she asks with a smile. “Wow, that’s so interesting.” My husband and I, on the other hand, have known each other so long there are no surprises. Except that night he ordered the octopus instead of the lamb burgers. That totally threw me.
6. Daters Look Hopeful
I’ve seen several people at my little cafe return for first dates with someone new. Despite the evidence that their previous first dates were a bust, they’re still at it. They still chitchat like champs, nodding empathetically across their Chardonnay, sometimes throwing their heads back and laughing with abandon. I get a vicarious thrill watching these little dramas play out, remembering how it feels to uncover, layer by layer, what’s interesting about someone. Every revelation, every mannerism, every shared joke is potentially important. And when the date is apparently going well, I can almost feel the sizzle of synapses firing across the room. Lucky them, I think, as I look back on my own exhilarating journey from first date to lasting love.
Besides amusing me (and tugging on my nostalgic heartstrings) the first-daters’ willingness to put themselves out there one more time touches me deeply. Because as my husband and I well know, sitting there on our comfy barstools, finding your other shoe is well worth the search.
Here’s wishing all love seekers – and especially those at Buceo 95 – a very happy Valentine’s Day!