When I first arrived two months ago — to the day, actually! — I knew relatively no one. There were a few friends (four, actually) who I either hadn’t seen in years — like, before Facebook and when-Hotmail-was-still-cool years (holla Zoey and Louise!) — and ones who I’d only recently met in NYC. This being the case, many people (Ellie, included) connected me with their friends. And their cousins. And their nephews. And the person they met that one time at synagogue who now lives in London. I kid you not, I had so many “set ups” I created an excel document to keep them all straight. I listed the person setting me up, their connection to said connection, their contact details and where they live. In total, there were 23 people “I should totally call and hang out with while in London.”
Now, if you’re thinking this is eerily similar to that banker dude who was outed after the New York Post exposed his dating spreadsheet last year, well, you’d be forgiven. It IS similar. But I have no shame. I just think it’s me being organized. After all, I’m not rating them. (IMO, that’s really where he went wrong. Can’t fault a guy for trying to keep track. Telling and showing his dates how they stacked up? Just stupid.) I can remember who I want to, er, go out with again, and who was just fun for the night.
The fact is, these “friend dates” were not much different from regular dates.
There were blind set-ups — i.e., people who weren’t on Facebook. I actually sent a few “I’ve got curly hair and am wearing a black coat” texts before arriving so they knew how to find me.
There were totally awkward greetings: Do we shake? Hug? Kiss? And wait, we’re in Europe… so one kiss, or two?
There were awkward silences. Like, why-hasn’t-the-food-arrived-yet, we’ve-got-nothing-to-talk-about silences.
There were even sets-ups that started out sorta dull, but after a few drinks, I was all, ‘ThankyousirIllhaveanother.’
And there were the best kind — where we had so much in common, one conversation turned into another and then another before we hadn’t really finished any of them and had to circle back around a few times before we did. That this-might-last, comfortable feeling.
But each of these people have one thing in common: kindness. None of them had to take time out of their busy lives to meet me. Surely, they have their own friends to brunch with, partners to shop with and children to take to the movies. They’ve got to find time to get to the gym, and do their laundry, and watch the most recent episode of Girls. I know that life. I had that life. This one I’m living now? This utterly free and exhilarating life of Anything Goes and Exploration 102, is a bit abnormal. And yet, they carved time and fit me into their normal.
While one treated me to super-pricey cocktails at Claridges, another organized a ladies lunch. There were the ridiculously potent martini’s at Dukes, and most recently an extra ticket to the Lumineers in Brixton. I’ll never forget the delicious meals at White Rabbit Dalston and the Princess of Shoreditch or the cocktails I drank after walking through a fridge. One took me to the oldest pub in the city where I tried my first bangers and mash, and another booked ahead for tea and shopped the High Street with me in the snow.
We all started off as strangers, and whether we left as new friends who already had another “date” in the diary, or just enjoyed a few hours of new company, there was kindness. Unconditional kindness.
Though there are still a few I hope to meet, I don’t think I’ll get to connect with each of the 23 people. After a while, there’s only so many times I can explain the swap, how long I’ll be here, what I like about London and what I MUST do/see/eat while in town. Plus, the point isn’t just to pass the time, fill up my schedule and stay surrounded. I do like my alone time and want to go beyond those first date how-do-you-dos. I want second and third and even fourth dates! I want connection. I want butterflies and rainbows!
I feel quite lucky to have a wonderful, diverse group of new pals here in London. But really, it’s because of the remarkable ones back home in NYC — and not just the ones who have set me up, but the ones I’ve known since Kindergarden and drama class and late nights at the student paper and second jobs and wedding weekends. Not only do you make new friends and keep the old, but you learn from them, too. They set the standard. High as it may be, A++ all around the world, peeps.