New message: "I had a great time last night..."
That should be a sight for the sore eyes of a serial dater, especially when it arrives within 24 hours of goodbye. But now I hold off on the excitement: Just because he texts me doesn't mean we're going out again. In fact, if my new normal is any indication, we're probably not.
That's why my latest dating trend -- the morning-after (or night-of) text -- has left me less than thrilled and completely confused, which is especially confusing as it's the realization of a dream I'd had since the '90s, when I was still living in New York City. Back then my friend and former roommate Rick used to kiss and tell, regaling me with stories of the dates he went on. Some went better than others, but the good ones always ended the same way.
"I had a great time tonight..."
This was before texting, Facebook and WhatsApp. Rick used to actually call his dates that night to tell them how much he enjoyed the evening. I listened to every denouement with stars in my eyes. Why couldn't more guys be like Rick? Most of the ones I went out with back then I never heard from again, even when I took it upon myself to make the first call. The chase, I quickly learned, was the most exciting part for most guys, if they were interested. "Don't call me. I'll call you (or not)" seemed to be the unspoken rule.
This knowledge was particularly useful in Buenos Aires, a city full of "hysterical" porteños who always seemed to want the one they couldn't have -- until they got him. (As Fiona Apple sings in her song "Dull Tool," probably to a porteño: "You, you stuck around/You stuck around/You stuck around/Until you got me/Then, then you dropped me.") It was so prevalent among typical males there that Argentines had a word to describe it: histérico.
So I played along. As it was, I rarely had to make the first move. It was pretty easy to get porteños to do that for me: I was the exotic black guy. Many of them had seen us on TV and fantasized about us (or more specifically, the alleged size of our manhood) in private, but they'd never actually test driven one. That put me in an excellent position. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it kept my dance card full.
After the first dance, whether there was a second one was usually up to them, too, for I knew if I appeared too available, those histérico tendencies would kick in. That's when a guy like Rick, one who never failed to follow a great date with an appreciative phone call, or SMS, or email, became even more appealing to me. Why couldn't more porteños be like Rick?
Most of them had lousy timing. They were almost always late for dates and with following up. I had a saying: "Guys in Buenos Aires always come back." The problem was that it wasn't necessarily that night, or the next day, or the next week. They had a way of re-entering your orbit when you'd stopped expecting it. I once received a morning-after email from a guy named Ariel a year after we went out: "tengo muchas ganas de verte, ganas de abrazarte fuerte y darte un beso super poderozo si me dejas?" When I asked what took him so long, he offered a new one: I was so amazing that he was terrified of falling in love with me.
It wasn't the answer I was expecting, and had the sentiment arrived some 365 days earlier, it might have gotten him at least to second base. But if I was interested in Ariel after our first date, a year later I had forgotten all about him: He had to remind me who he was! That definitely wasn't how Rick used to do it. Why couldn't more guys be like Rick?
Be careful what you wish for.
About a year and a half ago, everything changed. I was back in Melbourne after 10 months in Bangkok, and I suddenly found myself dating a succession of Ricks. It began with Jayden, my ex who welcomed me back to Melbourne on the evening of my arrival and messaged me within a few hours of the end of our date. He wrote to tell me he'd never slept better, and he definitely wanted to see me again. Oh, but he wasn't ready to pick up where we'd left off a year and a half earlier.
Although I was disappointed and perplexed by his preemptive caution (I hadn't suggested a permanent reunion or even a second date), I was pleasantly surprised to hear from him less than an hour after he'd left me. I'd soon get used to such prompt reviews. With only a few exceptions, from January of last year to two weeks ago, I received a message from every guy with whom I had a first date within 24 hours of leaving them. But there was one utterly frustrating catch: Only about half of them expressed any interest in seeing me again, and only about a quarter of them made that happen.
For my part, I replied to them all, even the ones I wasn't interested in seeing again, and when I was, I always suggested a second date if they didn't first. By my rough estimation, only half of them responded to my reply. In Melbourne, I came up with a theory: Australians are so gregarious by nature that they must feel compelled to reach out to everyone they go out with at least once so that no one would think of them as a bad guy.
While the "I had a great time" message was a lovely gesture, if "Let's go out again" wasn't implied or directly stated, what was the point? Not responding to my response wouldn't leave me thinking you were a particularly good guy. The lovely gesture thus became an empty one, which, to me, was no more preferable than no gesture at all, for it only raised my hopes before dashing them. It was like the prospective employer who sends you a thank-you email, telling you what a strong contender you are, only to deliver a rejection letter a week later.
Things were easier when I never heard from my dates again. At least I knew exactly where they stood. "I had a great time," with its suggestion that they'd like to have another one, became a crushing letdown when they didn't.
I thought it was just an Aussie thing until I started experiencing it everywhere else -- in Buenos Aires, in Dubai, in Berlin... During my first five months in Cape Town, I averaged a post-first-date-text rate of 100 percent (a few of them even added me on Facebook first!), but guys here are even less likely to pursue a second date than the ones in Australia were. I'd blame it on the South African temperament -- "friendly but friendless," as one local put it -- but the guys I've gone out with in Cape Town have come from places other than South Africa, including Scotland, Spain, Germany, Turkey and the United States.
To be honest, I wasn't dying to go out again with any of them until Mark, an expat from San Francisco, "whatsapped" me the afternoon after we went out.
I agreed, so I threw caution to the wind and suggested that we go again, perhaps to the cool rock & roll bar he said he'd wanted to take me to during our date. I didn't hear back from him for two days, until I sent him another message asking for travel advice. We texted back and forth a few times over the next few days, but he never said a word about that cool rock & roll bar. It was almost like I'd never mentioned it all, which told me everything I needed to know.