“If I have one more crappy date, I’ll kill myself.”
Dina, my friend from work, laughs at me. “If every girl killed herself after every crappy date, the world would be empty.”
“Half empty,” I say, gesturing to the bartender for another gimlet. I glance at Dina. “You sticking with beer?”
Josh-the-charming-bartender stops in front of me and grins. “Another round?”
“Keep ‘em coming.”
“Bad week?” he asks, making a sad-puppy face.
“How about you?” he asks Dina, leaning forward a touch.
I swear to Christ. These two. They’ve been playing this flirty cat-and-mouse game for over a year.
“Nope. I’m all good,” she says in a lower voice than normal.
“Hell, yes, you are, Hotstuff.”
I don’t have enough energy for the number of eyerolls this exchange deserves. I rap my empty glass on the chrome bar. “Hey! I’m empty.”
“Hold your horses,” says Josh, swatting me away like a gnat. “What happened with that guy from last weekend?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” she asks, licking her lips.
He bites his lower lip. “I love a good bedtime story.”
She chuckles and it’s this sexy, throaty sound that some girls can pull off and some can’t. Dina can pull it off. Me? No way. I’d sound like I have laryngitis, and some well-intentioned, grandmother-type would tap me on the shoulder and offer me a lozenge.
I hold out my glass. “Dying ...of …thirst. So…very…parched.”
“My bestie needs a drink,” says Dina, giving her beer bottle a quickie blow job to finish the swill before offering the now-empty phallus to Josh. “Do your job for a change.”
“Tease,” he growls, winking at me before turning his back to us to refill our drinks.
“Why don’t you two just do it already?” I ask her.
Dina laughs, but the sound is lighter and higher now. She’s back to her normal, non-bitch-in-heat self. “With Josh? Ha. No. No way! Josh’s just…you know, fun. It’s just a game, our back-and-forth.”
“Couldn’t it be more?” I ask.
“Nuh-uh. He’s not my type.”
She shrugs, turning around on her stool to look at the crowd of Wall Street-types that populate this particular Battery Park bar. I join her to find a vast sea of dark blue blazers and dark gray suits. White and light blue dress shirts abound. Here and there you get someone with a little personality—a jaunty red tie or a daring purple pocket square. But mostly the uniform is the same. Some are blonde, some brunette. Some Asian, some black. Virtually every ethnicity is represented, and they all reek of Justice Kavanaugh-style prep school shenanigans.
Once upon a time, I looked forward to after-work drinks with Dina at Tidewaters Bar & Grille. But after five years? I’m over it. I’m so over it, if “it” was sex I should find the nearest nunnery and check in a-sap.
Except I like sex. A lot. I just wish I could find a steady partner.
“That’ll be nineteen-fifty.”
I twist back around. “Put it on my tab.”
Josh gestures to Dina, who’s flirting with the nearest bond trader, with a flick of his chin. “Flavor of the night?”
I tilt my head to the side and look at Josh objectively as he helps another customer.
Aside from being my favorite bartender, he’s good-looking. Like, movie star-hot, good-looking. Like, take a second-, third- and fourth-look good-looking. Like, way-out-of-my-league good-looking.
With dark brown hair and light-blue eyes, he has this Ian Somerhalder thing going on, only he’s not smirky and he doesn’t look like he wants to suck my blood. He’s super sexy, but less dangerous and more charming, if that makes any sense.
That said, I don’t fawn all over Josh like most of the girls who walk in here, and he doesn’t flirt with me like I’m a moron with half a brain. I look forward to chatting with him, and he always has a cold gimlet waiting for me.
“Why haven’t you ever asked her out?” I ask him.
“Dina? She wouldn’t say yes,” he says, grinning at me. “Besides, she’s not my type.”
He’s not my type.
It’s enough to make my head explode. “So, you two flirt…every single Friday night…for no reason at all?”
“Not for no reason. It’s fun.”
I release an exasperated breath, thinking about my last in a series of terrible dates… with Dan.
Dan-Dan, the Stockbroker Man, who had his hands down my shirt before the cab even left the curb in front of the restaurant where we’d had dinner. When I pushed him away and told him I didn’t make out on the first date, he called me a “frosty bitch” and a “waste of time.”
So maybe it’s thoughts of slime ball Dan, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m on my fourth drink, but suddenly, I hear myself saying with absolute and total honesty, “I just don’t understand.”
Josh nods at a guy standing behind me and shifts slightly to the right to pull a pint of beer from the tap.
“What don’t you understand?” he asks.
“All of this,” I mutter with disgust. I pluck out the straw from my drink because… more alcohol. Stat.
“All of what?”
He places the beer next to my elbow and a twenty-dollar bill quickly replaces it.
“This!” I toss a thumb over my shoulder. “This meat market. This boy-girl, man-woman, flirtation-without-expectation, I-buy-you-dinner-you-put-out, game-playing bullshit.”
He raises his eyebrows at me. “Whoa. I’m—”
“It’s all a game, but it’s not fun,” I insist, on a genuine rant now. “It sucks.” I prop my elbows on the bar as Josh mixes a martini for the woman sitting on a barstool next to me. “You play hard to get, they want you. You act like you want them, they don’t want you back. Everyone around me’s speaking a language I don’t understand!”
He grins. “I think that’s just the ongoing battle of the sexes. Me, Tarzan. You, Jane.”
“Gah! I don’t want a caveman,” I moan. “I just…I want the real thing. I’m done with shitty dates and one-night stands and booty calls and guys who don’t call back and mixed messages or no messages and—and—and all of it. I’m done. I just want…”
“Marriage,” I blurt out.
He recoils. “Marriage?”
Wait. What? Is that what I really want? Marriage?
I picture a little house in Connecticut like the one I grew up in, with a big oak tree in the back, and a white picket fence around the front. Some sweet guy wearing jeans and a T-shirt is mowing the lawn with his back to me. A couple of kids come running out of the house and climb into the minivan and—
“You know what?” I say, this crazy idea gaining steam in my head. “Yeah. Marriage. I’d like to skip all of this crap and cut to the chase.”
“Marriage,” he says softly, staring at me intently, like I’m teaching him a new word. In Swahili.
“Yeah. I think that would be nice,” I say, finishing the rest of my gimlet. “Cash me out, huh?”
His gaze drifts over to Dina, who’s draped over her Judge Brett doppelganger like an expensive pashmina, then he looks back at me. “You’re leaving?”
“Yes. Yes, I am. I’m going home. I’m going to go home and figure this out.”
“How to get married.”
“After four gimlets.”
“No time like the present.”
“And what about her? You’re her wingman.”
“She won’t even notice I’m gone. But! If she’s solo at last call,” I pluck a twenty from my wallet and place it on the bar, “make sure she gets into a cab, huh?”
He slides my card to me. I sign the receipt with a flourish before looking up to find Josh-the-bartender staring at me. Slowly, a grin spreads across his face, and it warms me in the weirdest way, because it makes me feel new to him. And for a split second, I think he’s a little surprised he never noticed before right now how very new I am.
“Good luck, Courtney,” he says, his voice soft and earnest.
“Thank you, Josh.”
I grab my coat and purse, waggle my fingers good-bye, and walk straight through that sea of suits to the nearest exit.
On the short walk home, I stare out at the Hudson River, pulling my coat tighter over my chest as the wind whips up a little over the water. It’s April in New York City which can offer sunny skies one day and snow flurries the next. Not that it’s actually going to snow tonight, but it’s a chilly 50 by the water, so I speed up my steps, thinking about my conversation with Josh.
I have no idea what made me tell Josh-the-bartender my deepest desire—I’m ignoring you, four gimlets—but there it is: marriage. To meet someone nice, get married, and live happily ever after. Why can’t it be that easy? Why the hell does it have to be so hard?
Sighing as I arrive at my doorman building, I give the concierge a small wave as I beeline to the elevator and press sixteen.
My one-bedroom apartment is snug, but the building has a gym overlooking the Hudson, a pool on the roof and a small lawn where you can sit in the sun on summer Sundays and read a book.
Not that I work out much, swim often, or have a lot of time for reading.
I’ve been with the same financial firm—DeWitt, Morris & Jones—for five years, since I graduated from the University of Rochester with my MFE. And frankly, they keep me pretty busy.
I unlock my apartment door and step inside, feeling, as I always do, a deep sense of satisfaction at being home. Here in my sanctuary, which I paid for on my own, all of the hustle and noise of the city melts away, and on a night like tonight—a Friday, thanks be to God—all I want to do is kick off my heels, change into pajamas, pour myself a glass of wine and watch bad TV.
As I walk by the remote, I pick it up and press ON, then throw it on the couch as I head down the short hallway that leads to my bedroom and bathroom.
I can hear the chatter of a talk-show or reality program as I toe off my shoes and unzip my knee-length camel skirt. I throw it in the bag to be dry cleaned, my silk blouse and black cashmere cardigan following. I unclasp my bra, mewling with pleasure as my size C breasts are released from long hours of confinement.
Opening my dresser drawer, I pull out a Haverford College t-shirt and pull it over my head, then open a second drawer to grab some black Yoga pants, which I tug on while I walk barefooted back to the living room.
“Why did I want to be married at first sight?”
I stop in my tracks, looking up at the twenty-something guy being interviewed on the plasma screen.
“I guess I’m ready to meet “the one.” I’m ready to get serious. Have kids. The whole thing.” He pauses, a sweet smile spreading his lips before he continues: “You know what? I can’t wait to meet my future wife.”
My mouth is hanging open as the show cuts to a commercial, an announcer promising us that we’ll meet his arranged match, Simone, as soon as the program returns.
I can’t wait to meet my future wife.
Yes, I think. Yes, yes, yes! This is what I’m talking about!
Hurrying to the kitchen to pour myself a large glass of wine before the show resumes, I grab my laptop from its charger on the kitchen counter and hustle back into the living room just as a commercial begins. A preppy-looking blonde man is standing in a backyard, a bright green lawn and children’s swingset behind him.
“Are you a fan of Lifetime’s hit reality show, Arrange Me? Well, now you can meet your future spouse at the altar too!”
Slowly, transfixed by the man speaking, I lower my body to the couch, letting my laptop slide back through my arm onto a cushion as I raise my wineglass to my mouth and take a huge gulp.
“After my experience on the show, I decided that it wasn’t fair for the viewers at home not to be able to experience the level of matching expertise from which I—and my wife, Jen—were able to benefit.”
He walks over to a gorgeous red-headed woman helping a strawberry-blonde baby take steps across the pristine green lawn.
“You probably recognize us from season four, right?” she asks, swooping the baby into her arms. She stands beside her handsome husband, beaming at the camera. “But did you know that this little bundle of joy arrived exactly nine months after filming wrapped?” She kisses the baby before smiling at her husband. “Baby Casey made us a family. Brad and I couldn’t be happier.”
“That’s right, Jen. And it couldn’t have happened without the help of our new best friends: relationship guru, Dr. Jake, spiritual advisor, Pastor Ken, and sex expert, Dr. Sydney Morningstar.”
Three pictures of said experts flash across the screen, and with intense concentration, I stare at their faces, wondering about the magic they are somehow able to procure.
Happy-Jen giggles demurely when Brad says, “sex expert,” and I find myself chuckling with her, like she’s my long-lost BFF and I totes get where she’s coming from.
Back to Brad who says, “For only $399, payable by credit card, we will send you the same thirty-page application that we had to fill out before we were successfully matched.”
“That’s right! Then, your information will be sent to the same experts who matched us! Once they find your perfect mate in the Arrange Me Too database, they will put you two in touch. The rest is up to you!”
“Isn’t it time to leave the rat race to the rats?” Brad chuckles as he puts an arm around Jen’s shoulder and pulls her closer. “What have you got to lose? Log in at www.arrange-me-too.com and start the process today!”
“And maybe,” says Jen, propping up the baby so that their three adorable, happy-family faces take up the whole screen, “you’ll find your very own happy ending.
“Just like us,” finishes Brad, turning her and Casey away from the camera to walk across their perfect yard and leaving the website address in bright white lettering for viewers.
I only blink when the theme song to Arrange Me returns, and suddenly we’re at the bridal salon with Simone, who’s choosing her perfect wedding dress under the disapproving gaze of her mother and sister.
Placing my wineglass on the coffee table in front of me, I grab my laptop, flip it open and type in the website address for Arrange Me Too, my knee bouncing with excitement as the site comes up.
Suddenly, Brad and Jen’s happy faces are smiling back at me, with smaller pictures of the three experts just below.
Ready To Get Married?
I click on the tab, biting my bottom lip as another screen appears, this one with a list of instructions another click box:
Pay $399 Now To Start the Process!
I pause for a second, no doubt my father’s shark-in-the-boardroom genes asserting themselves as I consider paying almost four hundred dollars for something that isn’t guaranteed. But four gimlets and half a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are determined to have their way. I click on the tab and my credit card information loads immediately.
Fill Out Your Application!
Taking another big gulp of wine as Simone declares a heavily beaded, Cinderella-style ballgown “the dress,” I refill my wineglass before clicking on the tab and waiting for the form to download.