Anyone who's alone at a bar fidgeting, smiling then not smiling, glancing at a phone screen, over and over — and over — is often on the verge of meeting a wonderful stranger. A wonderful stranger who fits some essential criteria on a website. One of the few and true delights I’ve found as a bartender is watching the online date unfold. It’s like watching a rom-com except you actually never know how it’s going to end.
I love it when I hear things like:
“Just so you know, I have a terrible headache. I can totally sit here with you, but my focus might be off. It’s NOT that I’m not intrigued, it’s that I’m hurting.”
"I’m mainly interested in Asia, that’s my favorite country, I mean continent, my favorite continent that I’ve been to, my favorite continent that I’ve been to that I liked. I would go to another continent though. If there was a problem and I was required or whatever.”
Intoxicating dialogue aside, I’ve noticed some basic patterns. These advisements, you should note, are created by an observer. I’m too cowardly to meet someone online. Consequently, I view all of you with great respect and awe, as I would a surgeon, Navy Seal, or vegan.
Additionally, it’s hard to mention the central protagonist, DATER #1, as well as the other person who shows up, DATER #2, without using gender-specific pronouns at times. My hand being forced, I’ve loosely designated the protagonist as a female and the other person who shows up as male. Still, no matter what the inclination, the general idea remains the same.
1. If you arrive first, try not to primp too much while you wait. You already did this at home. You already did this on the way there: in the reflection of subway window or in a rearview mirror or in your office bathroom. In particular, the barroom mirror is a woman’s curse. Most men can refrain from looking but women are seemingly mesmerized. Usually there are a lot of adjustments. Hair is fluffed, a duckbill pout emerges. Eyes grow larger, sultrier. The vibe is murderous yet intelligent. Or simply put: fucking nuts.
Stay away from the mirror. If you can’t resist it, try to sit away from it or across from a section that is obscured or conveniently smashed. If no such opportunity exists, use your hand as a barrier the way you would with the sun.
2. If you order a drink before your date gets there, pay for it. If you don’t want to order a drink, don’t. If you want a drink but don’t have a lot of money, buy a beer. If you want a drink, don’t have a lot of money, and are watching your calorie intake, get a white wine spritzer with the lowliest wine they’ve got. Most importantly, do what you’d do if you were alone. No need to completely depend on your date, like he’s your new dad.
3. After the first round if you don’t want another drink, don’t get another drink. The number one way to tell that two people don’t know each other at all, and are on an online date, is from this exchange:
Bartender: “Do you want another drink?”
Guy: “Do you want another?”
Girl: “I don’t know, do you?”
Guy: “I could…”
Girl: “If you want to.”
Guy: “It’s up to you.”
Girl: “We don’t have to. But I’d have another. Sure. I guess.”
The girl in question could be madly in love with this guy or hate every last thing he’s said. She’ll give the same response. This is also the abridged version of the exchange. It usually goes on and on. And on. If the bartender has a handlebar mustache, he may grow perturbed. He has some bitters to brew, some blocks of ice to chip. He is a craftsman. Why wouldn’t you want another of his drinks?
Who gives a shit what he thinks. As for your date, be tender, but still: who cares what he thinks, either.
Try to say what you want. I know, you’re the nicest chick in town. You can still be the nicest chick in town and say what you want. “Yes, I’d like another drink,” or “Actually, I have to get going.” You can add qualifiers so that you don’t seem too Cro-magnon. “Yes, I think I would like another drink if you want another drink, if you have time,” or “Actually I have to get going, but I enjoyed our drink and find your Hello Kitty vest delightful.”
You can also get another drink even if you’re not necessarily that into the date and be a perfectly upstanding citizen. But tread carefully around this curve because…
4. Drink #3 is treacherous. I understand enjoying a buzz, especially while talking to a stranger one on one. Introversion evaporates, wit thrives, warmth envelops. Things that were arrogant, off putting, or boring suddenly become tolerable. This is the problem. Nine out of ten times if a couple makes it to drink three, even if they were completely disenchanted with one another, they will suddenly fall into one another’s arms and ride out into the blurred night. If you’re overly controlling, judgy, or feeling eternally sexless, this might help you a touch. But more often than not, it’ll put you where you didn’t want to go.
My overall point is to try to be self-assured, self-sufficient, and in charge of what you want.
And to alleviate any paranoia: do bartenders really eavesdrop on dates? Hardly ever. They are way too self-consumed, thinking about their dreams, their hopes, their disasters. All you might provide is a flutter of amusement, a flutter of light. You are adventurers, after all, which is way more fascinating than the lone malcontent at the end of the bar.
Christina Fitzpatrick is the author of the novel 'What's the Girl Worth?' and the short story collection 'Where We Lived.' She is the recipient of a literature fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and is currently at work on a novel.