My father has described Ragland men as “late bloomers.” There’s probably no better way to describe my dating history. Sure, I was married by 21, but getting married is kind of easy- all you have to do is ask. My ex-wife and I had barely dated when I proposed to her, and I had almost zero understanding of what dating meant anyway. I was aware that it meant going on “dates,” but I didn’t really get the process of learning about another person. We started to get to know each other better in our marriage, and it turned out we weren’t that compatible. The same thing happened with me and my next girlfriend. We didn’t get married, but we did end up living together almost immediately, and that also fell apart as we realized it wasn’t the best fit. After seven years and two relationships, my idea of dating was fuzzy, and I’d never dated two women at the same time. A couple of messages on Tinder and PoF does not dating make, but it was a new experience for me as I blossomed at the age of 32.
And what women they were. Both Adaku and Rose were smart, beautiful, hardworking and looking for something serious. Beyond that, they couldn’t be more different. Adaku had gone to one of the best colleges in the country, with a degree that spoke directly to my writer nerd heart. She was a 32 year old manager at her job. In our first conversation on the phone, we were making jokes about Chaucer and the unbearable seriousness of English survey classes. She told me that French was the language she’d studied as part of her major, and that while she’d been studying abroad she was hit by a motorbike. She laughed at the minor drama of me trying to get submissions for my writing group. I would open up Tinder to look at her pictures while we talked. She was a great woman, with one not-so-minor drawback: she lived over sixty miles away.
Rose was 25, working as a CAN and looking to move into occupational therapy. She loved to travel, having gone to Jamaica over the summer and planning to visit New Orleans in the fall. She described herself to me by saying, “I’m half-Jamaican and half-Puerto Rican, I’m an Aquarius, and I’m impulsive.” Our first phone conversation went like this:
Her: Okay, I want to make sure I’m pronouncing your name right. It’s Jamil, right?
Me: Yes. You’d be surprised how many people get that wrong.
Her: Let’s just say that I have a lot of experience pronouncing ethnic names.
Me: You mean nigga names?
Her: (laughs) Well I wasn’t going to say it, but yeah!
Rose was a partier, but she was also serious about her work. We talked when we could, exchanging messages on her breaks and brief phone calls when she was driving to or from work. I really liked her too, despite the fact that we could only squeeze in time to talk here and there. Eventually, texting and phone conversations had to give way to meeting. The stage was set for the first date, times two.
This was a new challenge for me as well. In the past, I had no problem spending time with the woman I was seeing. Now I was dating as an adult, trying to find time across two busy work schedules, family commitments and social engagements. After arranging the Rubik’s Cube of our calendars, Rose told me that she was free on Monday morning. Who could go on a date on a Monday morning? I could, because I’d already taken the day off! We were on for a late August, Monday morning date at Wickham Park.
Meeting Rose when I did felt dangerously close to one of those universal timing things people keep telling me about. I’d just gotten the life-changing haircut, so I was looking fresh to death on that front. The next step was to upgrade my wardrobe to match. Dating can be expensive on its own, but I hadn’t considered how much the periphery elements around dating, like clothes, cost. But that’s why the Non-Denominational Deity created the clearance rack. Abercrombie and Fitch had me covered, and I had my first date outfit ready: a black polo with stars dotted across it, and close-fitting khaki-colored pants. The only thing dragging the outfit down were my busted ass kicks, but we were going to the park to walk around. I figured I could get away with them.
Monday morning, 9:00 AM arrived. I reached the front gate of Wickham Park, and stood next to a small stone building that housed the park attendant. At 9:10 AM, I got a message from Rose. She was running late and would be there as soon as she could. I didn’t mind at all; I was talking to the attendant, a friendly woman who knew all the best places in the park to take someone on a date. We were discussing the lotus park when Rose arrived. The attendant let us go into the park without paying the $5 car charge. Things were already off to a good start.
Rose was wearing a white T-shirt with red shoulders, blue jeans that were ripped up and down her legs, and flip flops. We walked through the aviary and talked about our high school experiences, and in the arboretum we learned more about each other’s families. By the time we found the lotus park, the topic had turned to politics. We talked for hours about Democrats and Republicans, Trump and how regular people could act in a system that seemed to proscribe our choices at each turn. Before I knew it, it was almost 1:00 and Rose was telling me that she had to leave to get ready for work. I was feeling a little overwhelmed by her energy and curiosity. She knew a lot, but she was ready to learn more, and so was I. Talking to Rose was already addicting.
My first morning date was a success, but it would continue to be a challenge for us to see each other. She was usually free on the weekends, but that was the time that my son came to visit. We’d have to find a way to see each other that didn’t interfere too much with my time with him. The only time we could find for the next weekend was Sunday evening, after 6:00 PM. Gabe would have to go home a couple of hours early. But what could Rose and I do on a Sunday night?
She had mentioned to me that she’d never seen a play before, and that seemed like the perfect idea for a second date. As luck would have it, the play “Hand to God” at Theaterworks had extended its run one extra day, with a Sunday show at 7:00 PM. Our tickets were bought and the evening was set.
The play was wonderful. It was a comedy about a church puppet show gone wrong, with everything from accusations of demonic possession to simulated sex between hand muppets. There couldn’t be a better play for Rose’s first theater experience. She loved every minute of it. As we sat in the audience eating ice cream and laughing at cute puppets swearing profusely, she wrapped her arm around mine. My heart started beating a little faster as she leaned her head on my shoulder. On the ride back to my place, we talked about how great the play was, and how different live theater was than a movie. Her face was lit up with excitement, and the glow made her even more beautiful.
We arrived at my place, and we stood in the driveway and talked for a few more minutes. I didn’t want the night to end, but she had to go to get rest before her Monday double shift. Before she left, I asked her if I could kiss her, and she said yes.
Kissing is probably my favorite sexual act short of intercourse itself. I could make out for hours like a horny teenager if allowed to. A great kiss is almost always a prelude to great sex, but even before that, kissing lets you explore another person’s body intimately without the pressure of performance. How do your lips fit together? How do your tongues dance around each other? How does your partner feel in your hands? Squeezed against your body? How do they taste? A great kiss can tell you all of that.
As you might have guessed, Rose and I had a great first kiss.
There’s no feeling like kissing someone you really like for the first time in the afterglow of an amazing evening, right at the beginning of a warm summer night as the sun falls behind you. We kissed, parted just enough to look into each other’s eyes, and kissed again. Eventually she pulled away, saying that she had to go. We were going to see each other again that Friday.
But wait. You may be thinking, “Isn’t this section called ‘Double Duty’? Wasn’t there another girl in all of this?” Yes, the lovely Adaku. I would finally be seeing her on Saturday.