I’ve been dating a lot, asking strange women to coffee or to meet up.
Now that the initial adrenaline of moving and unpacking has started to wear off, I’ve noticed I’m a bit out of practice at the art of dating—err, friend-making. So I’ve accepted the fact that if I’m going to make any friends here at all, I’m going to have to put myself out there and go on some dates.
It’s slightly easier now with kids as they provide the perfect dating trope. Oh, we should have a playdate is the equivalent to ‘let’s grab a drink’ and is a clever little hook to make it appear as if I’m asking the person out for our kid’s sake and not my own. This can work quite well, but only if the other party (a) has kids, and (b) your child is not sitting on, pushing or biting theirs.
But no question about it, dating is awful. The way two people size each other up, the nervous laughs and awkward silences. It’s hard enough trying to find the right person to ask out—oh, she looks nice, I’ve thought to myself while the kids and I kill time at a local park/pool/mall. And then ‘she’ scampers off with a gaggle of chic-looking moms, never even batting an eye in my direction. Damn.
And it’s not liking finding your potential date is the whole battle. The toughest part of dating is “making the ask” which, if you talk to any single person or watch any Ben Stiller movie, you’ll find is so much easier said than done.
The other day we were at the zoo and this dark-haired gentleman was standing behind me at the café. As I ordered my coffee (apparently in a thick American drawl) he turned to me and asked me where in the States I’m from. When I told him, he smiled widely and said his wife was from Oregon. I looked to where he was pointing and saw a fair-skinned woman in a long abaya (the traditional Muslim black dress) tending to three small children. He explained that they met in college but now live here in the UAE, his hometown. I nearly went weak.
Ever since arriving in Dubai I have been dying to meet someone local. Emiratis have a particular reputation for being an insular group, and hardly any American or Westerner I know has penetrated their inner circle. Because of this I feel certain empathy towards them, partly due to the mystery of it all but also because the same criticism is often cast upon San Franciscans. SF is a city teeming with transplants and it’s a rarity to meet someone who actually grew up in the city. And if you are lucky enough to find them, good luck trying to score an invitation home for Thanksgiving. These kids have rolodexes brimming with friends with an intense loyalty to match. Breaking into their inner circle requires the same fortitude as sneaking backstage at a Taylor Swift concert—you’ll need persistence, luck and a high threshold for rejection.
But here I am standing and chatting with a real, actual local couple. The woman and I exchange pleasantries and after a minute or two we’re nodding in unison about how amazing it is raising kids in Dubai and how hot the summers get and how long our flights are back home. Several minutes go by before Justin comes over and joins the conversation, the three of us smiling and chatting as if we come here every weekend. And then, just as abruptly as it started, one child is crying and another has his hand in the ice cream freezer (that would be mine) and we apologize and shake hands and head towards our respective emergencies. And it’s only when I’m watching them walk away that I realize the moment had passed. I didn’t get her number!!!
My husband consoles me by rubbing my shoulders and tells me to go back, but I refuse. The thought of trailing after her and asking for a ‘do-over’ makes me feel utterly lame. I’m sulking like a teenager who lost a date to the prom. So this is what dating is like. No wonder I got married.
Ok, the honest truth is it hasn’t all been losses. In fact, when we first arrived in Dubai we were fortunate enough to meet a handful of truly great people. These folks are interesting and kind and hail from all corners of the world: London, Pakistan, New Zealand and, of course, the United States. And I’m proud to say that real friendships are forming, the kind that (I hope) will long outlast our time here in Dubai.
Which goes to show that friendships can be formed at any time, and at any age. All it takes is patience and a sizeable amount of hutzpah. Sometimes it’s hard to remember this, especially late at night when I’m trolling Facebook and feeling envious of all the fun my friends back home are having. My heart aches and I’m homesick.
However, it’s a good reminder to me that great times and new experiences are still ahead, but for now I need to stop pining after the old flames and instead go out and make some new ones. Even if, at times, it feels totally lame.