We met at a pizzeria called En Guay Si. The pizza was not as good as N Y C pizza. Very small and quaint, I hadn’t been there previously, a friend recommended it. I was struck by how she looked better in person than her pictures, maybe because she had barely any make up on when we met, which was refreshing. She had that naive eagerness of the typical Type-A career girls who view everything as a competition and need to prove something. Tonje was 21 and spending the next 5 years studying an advanced psychology degree. She came from Bergen, the student-city in Norway, I later learned. She let me know that my bachelor’s in Psychology must not be very rigorous if there were no biology courses.
We exchanged horror stories about tinder. I told her I met a girl in New York that revealed that she had cancer to me on the second date and I didn’t see her after that. I had known the girl briefly 3 years earlier as my Spanish tutor. I made a comment “Your hair looks so different now, and wavy.” on the first date. The second date she showed up bald and with a bandanna on, I had been duped by a health insurance funded wig. My friends said I should go on one more date with her and then phase her out to soften the blow. “Well now I want to shave my head and I’ll see if you ditch me too. ” Tonje said, and smiled.
“Haha, well I just didn’t see the point with this, there was no spark.” I said. “Maybe I would have done it if it was just a one time fling, but there was too much baggage, she wasn’t a serious prospect.” I said. I wonder if this girl thinks I’m a douche. Many think that at this point.
Around 11 pm, we finished up the small pizza we shared, I asked “Are there any parks nearby?” I asked.
“Why, you want to take me there and kill me?” She snapped back. I laughed and blushed a little bit, kicking myself for walking straight into it. “I thought we would just find a bench and get some fresh air.” I said. “Ok, let’s go.” She said.
She had a face that seemed to morph into slightly different shapes when the light was reflected at different angles off her face. We sat on the side of this heavily trafficked 3 lane highway in Madrid. She had an exotic beauty, and a facial structure that I couldn’t quite fit into one of the categories my brain had created over the years in the US. I am fascinated by Norway’s culture, being a sparsely populated, remote Scandinavian country, ever since I read My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I was starting to get cold.
At some point in the conversation, she asked me, “Do you have any kids?” She asked.
“Of course I don’t have kids, do you?” I said.
“Yeah, I have a daughter that’s two.” She said.
“I’m serious.” She said. I was hesitant and almost believed her. Mostly I was just afraid of offending her, but also the norms for marriage and children are very different in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, to generalize. They are less concerned with finding a perfect marriage and sometimes are practical about settling for a reliable partner with capable parenting skills. It seems in Denmark at least, women are incentivized to have children around the age of 22-25 to get it out of the way and so employers know they won’t have to eat the 6 month maternity leave payments.
Later Tonje asked probing questions that felt like “gotcha” questions about guys intentions and why guys aren’t just upfront about their intentions. Before the date, she had been so cautious and said how she would not travel too far to meet some stranger from tinder. Once on the date, when we got to talking about her only FIVE previous tinder dates that took place in Norway. One had taken her in a car to show her the houses of each of his family members and their respective partners, one was a blind date set up through a mutual friend where they spoke on Facebook and coordinated a day of camping/hiking in the Norwegian wilderness, as a first meeting activity. A third was through a family friend where she had many mutual friends, and booked a plane ticket to Italy to meet the guy and ended up becoming one of her best friends. Norwegians are weird people. And she was afraid to meet me for one date right by her apartment…
Tonje said she is usually intrigued when she can’t put a guy into a box and can’t quite figure him out. That’s the category she put me in. She said I was weird and sometimes she couldn’t read my facial expressions, but in a good way. Yes that makes me feel so much better. “Have you ever been to jail, Pete?” I think my beard prompted this question.
We stumbled upon the pleasant topic of unplanned pregnancies later in the conversation as we sat on this bench facing the front entrance of a nice apartment building in Arguelles, the student-dominated district of Madrid, cars and noisy motorcycles whizzed by. Tonje described the experience of her friend having a baby unexpectedly. She then asked me if I was against abortion, and before I could say, “it depends on the situation” She launched into a diatribe about how difficult it is and the physical and emotional toll of having an abortion and how women should not be made to feel guilty. She seemed to like being on the side of the self-righteous moral people. So I got the sense my response didn’t matter and it was more about her expressing her polarized and passionate opinion.
I had waited far too long to go in for the kiss and when she asked, do you want to walk to the metro or get a cab, I froze and went to kiss her. Then she said, your not a bad kisser either. “Just not bad? So average?” “No , that means you are a good kisser.” I was elated, and I thought I actually had a chance with her, I’m always wary of this feeling though. Like a hit of crack cocaine for an addict, feeling good at the beginning, feeling sky high and invincible, but the way romantic endeavors end for me always leave me feeling homeless and in the gutter emotionally. So I have come to not trust this initial injection of ego and validation. We played text tag for a few weeks and then she stopped responding to me. I was used as a tool to prop up her ego, just as I attempt to use girls to prop up my ego.