Confessions Of A Late-Bloomer

Having a first date at age 24? Yup—listen in as one man (who prefers to stay anonymous) shares his story…

By M.G.

wo years ago, I was on a date with a woman I’d met online. Her profile said that she was looking for someone who “likes to try new things” and “knows who they are” and “enjoys having a good time.” It was kismet. “I enjoy having a good time!” I said to myself and quickly cut and pasted my thoughtfully written “opening_letter_template_1” into an email to her.

That’s when the trouble started. Emailing was easy. The date was
By the time I reached my 20s, I had the dating experience of a 7th-grader.
going to be a problem.

So we were on this date, and she was talking about how her family is the same as the Dewey Decimal System, and how, as she’s sure I can imagine, this makes it harder for her to… do something. Or something. I really don’t really remember. I wasn’t paying attention. I was more concerned with what I was going to say next, trying to come up with some clever on-deck topics of conversation. My anxiety spiked as I tried to think of something original to say, something that would indicate I’m charming, intelligent, and witty, but I would have settled for simply “not a moron.”

This might not sound like an unusual blind-date interaction, but I didn’t know that at the time. You see, although I was 24 years old, this was the first real date of my life. That’s right—my very first actual date. How was I to know that other guys felt awkward on dates, too?

The secret code I didn’t know
I glanced around the restaurant and saw all the other couples engaged in what looked like terribly interesting conversations. I felt cheated, like there was some secret how-to guide for dating that I never got to see. Like everyone got the copy of the dating operating instructions but me. It was all so new, and I desperately didn’t want to make a mistake. My palms sweat just thinking about it.

I’m not sure why I didn’t go on my first real date until I was almost in my mid-twenties. After all, I’m not freaky looking or freaky acting (unless I’m having an anxiety attack and ignoring what a woman’s saying so I can come up with the next topic of conversation). I’m actually cute and smart and successful. Out in the non-dating world, I seem so normal and even self-confident. But somehow I became what my grandmother liked to call a “late-bloomer.” For whatever reason, whether I was shy, or insecure, or scared when most of my peers started to discover girls up-close and personal, I
The moment I feared had arrived—I was at a complete loss for words.
only discovered them from afar. I never dated in high school and made a few ill-fated attempts in college. By the time I reached my twenties, I realized I had the dating experience of a seventh-grader. But I just kept waiting for it to happen.

It never happened. I wasn’t even sure what “it” was. But I wanted it to happen.

Taking the next step
“It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it,” I’d often heard, although not from any friends, because I never admitted my inexperience to any of my friends. I was incredibly lonely, but I just kept plugging along, and when nothing changed, I joined an online dating service. I can email, I thought. How hard can that be? I forgot — or tried not to think about — the fact that if I was good at emailing, this inevitably would lead to a date. And then what?

That’s how I ended up sitting across the table from Dewey girl, my mind spinning like that scene in The Terminator when you see the machine’s point of view and it’s scanning through a pre-programmed list trying to match the correct phrase with the situation. At that moment, The Terminator and I had a lot in common. We were both trying to pass for normal without the experience to back it up.

For late-bloomers, it’s that inexperience that leads to the biggest fear, that there’s a necessary skill set for dating that we never learned and don’t have, so we’ll be continually humiliated if we try. It ignites a self-fulfilling prophecy that only postpones any potential blooming. When the cute assistant from accounting would ask me to join her for lunch, I’d usually decline. (She’s just being polite, she doesn’t really want you to go, you’ll just embarrass yourself.) I never said it was rational.

The big moment
But then it finally happened—and I discovered immediately what the missing “it” was. On the date, Dewey girl stopped talking, and since I hadn’t been listening, I wasn’t even sure how to respond, let alone what I was going to talk about next. In seventh grade, when I was too nervous to ask girls out, a lot of it was because I feared this exact moment—that I’d have nothing to say, and the date would go up in flames. At a loss, I smiled—and to my surprise, so did she. Instantly, everything changed. I relaxed. I stopped feeling responsible for keeping the conversation going, and I stopped worrying about potential silences. Miraculously, the fire department did not have to douse the flames of a tragic first date.

At 26, I now have dating experiences pretty close to those of my peers, who, I found out, have no secret handbook either. It’s just about practicing until you don’t feel so clueless and realizing that even the guys who seem smooth don’t have it down perfectly either. Post-bloom, the most striking part is how easily everything unfolded once I got a little momentum. Besides, dealing with potentially embarrassing situations isn’t nearly as difficult for a quasi-well-adjusted adult as it is for an insecure teenager. (If late-bloomers have one thing going for them, it’s that.) Regardless, what I know for sure is that we’re all late-bloomers to some degree. Even Dewey girl, who, it turned out, ended up learning a thing or two from me.

M.G. works and dates in Hollywood.
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