To be perfectly honest, I reveled in a personal era of good feelings after I sealed the deal with It’s Just Lunch. I was really thinking outside the box this time. My coping mechanisms in the face of desolate dateless-ness usually involves contacting ex-boyfriends, so the futility of that habit more than justified spending $1,800 on a service that might actually lead to something promising.
My office phone rang first thing on the Monday morning after my interview with Lizzie.
“Your first date is slated for Wednesday night!!!” Jenny, my newly assigned IJL rep, squealed through the phone in a voice that you only encounter in Chicago—rough, scratchy, and unequivocally indicative of the fact that she: (i) grew up on the South side; (ii) went to Mother McAuley High School; and (iii) spent the last night drinking Miller Light, chain smoking, and making out with a stranger, pinned against a Golden Tee machine somewhere on Lincoln Ave.
My first potential mate, Jeffrey, was described as “handsome.” In addition to the expected roster of impressive-sounding characteristics, Jenny referred to Jeffrey as a “really sincere, genuine guy.”
I arrived early in hopes that it would spare me the painfully self-conscious sensation of walking into the restaurant after Jeffrey and allowing him a glimpse of me nervously approaching the hostess. And my strategy appeared to be successful. There was no one within distance of the hostess stand except for a small, gay man in cowboy boots, tight jeans, and an embroidered Ted Baker dress shirt. So imagine my surprise when the hostess said, “The other person in your party is already here,” and extended her hand towards him.
I recognize that there are multitudes of shades of gay on the spectrum, so let me be very clear: When I say that Jeffrey was gay, I don’t mean metrosexual—nor do I mean slightly effeminate or even ambiguous. Jeffrey could only be described as a bitchy queen. (Think Charlie from Shear Genius.) The last time I’d been in the presence of a guy as gay as Jeffrey, it was Wet Boxer Night at Roscoe’s. I even caught myself copycatting his lisp when we discussed our favorite boutiques in Bucktown. My signal to leave was when he asked the waiter if the bartender could perhaps prepare him a kumquat mojito.
Didn’t Lizzie or Jenny notice that Jeffrey wasn’t exactly the guy who straight girls fork over tons of money to meet? The IJL team was presumably aiming to please with their first match-up, so was this the best they could come up with? Wanting to remain optimistic, I accepted that cocktails with a gay man still beat a dinner date with a psychopath from my past—or the humiliation of sending around (yet another) mass email to my friends seeking set-up options.
I was brutally honest during my feedback call with Jenny. I cited Jeffrey as “too effeminate” and “too short,” to which she immediately replied:
“I have just the guy in mind. Brian.”
I immediately recognized Brian’s statistics as that of the accountant whose profile Lizzie read to me during my interview. How was it possible that I was already going on a date with the guy whose profile had been read as just a sample of the countless enticing options IJL supposedly provided? In any event, Jenny emphatically underscored Brian’s masculinity.
“He is really adventurous,” she assured. “In fact, he has even tried skydiving.”
Christ. Based on my experience with Jeffrey, if “sincere and genuine” was sales-speak for “flaming homosexual,” what the hell could “has tried skydiving” mean?
Nevertheless, I prettied myself up the following Monday and met Brian for drinks at Jenny’s suggested meeting place—Primehouse. (It’s hard not to feel ridiculous simply ordering a Ketel and soda from a waiter who just described the different marblings in multiple cuts of dry-aged beef.) Six minutes in, it became clear that “has tried skydiving” was pretext for “27 and recently divorced.” The only thing Jenny was right about was his “adventurous nature,” which he demonstrated during his creepy post-date hug at the valet stand and subsequent e-stalking.
I was pissed. Was I to believe that the only people desperate enough to spend $1,800 on IJL were the mothers of gay sons and divorced men? I can meet a divorced man any given weekend in Chicago for free. The whole point of this was to tap into some heretofore-unknown vein of interesting, fantastic guys who don’t pay alimony. I was drowning in a rising tide of hopelessness. And I wanted out.
I reviewed the disclaimers in the three-page IJL contract, and my professional opinion was that I completely signed away any legal claim for a refund. Those bastards had foreclosed every theoretical route to rescission with their countless disclaimers. I even tried researching common law, but unfortunately not even the Illinois Dating Referral Services Act—yes, there is such a thing—could provide me with any recourse. An irate demand of Jenny to let me talk to her supervisor was a surefire way to end up stuck in another full-court press with Lizzie, so I just decided to suck it up and be patient.
Which is how I ended up trudging through the snow to meet Michael at an odd Greek restaurant just off of Michigan Avenue. Given the crap nature of the prior two dates, I decided not to risk hypothermia and changed out of my kitten heels and into my Uggs when I left the office. (Please note: In 2009—as in 2008—I only condone wearing Uggs while riding the bus to and from the office during inclement weather. No exceptions.) My suspicions about Michael arose as I approached him at the bar—his slight frame was ensconced in slim, Belgian-looking dress pants and a Prada cashmere v-neck layered over a Thomas Pink shirt. My suspicions were then confirmed when he took one look at me and quipped (archly), “Nice Ugg boots. However, your Rolex is beautiful.”
I sucked down Shiraz while Michael bragged about all the fabulous dinner parties he throws for his vast collection of friends—a group including several wealthy women in their late fifties. My cue to flee came right after he finished lecturing me about how the Japanese have a word, “umami,” to describe the overall flavor gestalt of a dish.
Which, again, brings me to the present. Still alone. Still $1,800 poorer. But now with absolutely no remaining faith in IJL or humanity. Any hope that fledgling domestic bliss is just around the corner is so dashed that I can’t even bear to fight for a refund. I guess I could continue to allow IJL to set me up. But it doesn’t take a statistician to figure out that an $1800 cover charge doesn’t weed out the bad umami.
As yet another (dateless) wedding season approaches, I guess the only consolation is that the Summer Associates arrive soon. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a dark, dashing journalism-expat in the bunch that will sweep me off my feet. Although, thanks to the economy, the summer class has been whittled down from 85 to a more fiscally responsible 10, leaving me behind the eight ball yet again. Which, when it comes to dating, is a place I am growing accustomed to.
This post is a follow-up to “It’s Just (the Most Expensive) Lunch (Ever).