In tackling fifty first dates, I’ve had to face a fear I think most singletons fret about (at least a little bit): rejection. Yeah yeah, I know very little is at stake on first dates and I’ve got nothing to lose by going on one (plus, I’ve basically signed onto it for the next few months). Just because I understand that rational sentiment doesn’t mean I don’t question myself when a date cancels, when I don’t get a response to a message or when I get a No, thank you.
The return rate on messages I send out is about 25%, and many of those equal wish I could but cannot for X, Y, or Z reason. And they’re always understandable reasons. Almost no one has written back and said you’re wack (thank golly — I’d probably feel a bit bad if that happened); I do appreciate that online dating tends to adhere to the if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all rule.
So when it came to South Dakota, it wasn’t a surprise that I messaged a lot of guys, some of whom looked at my profile and didn’t respond, others of whom responded yay or nay. Finally, however, I found a guy who interested me, was different from me and seemed like he might have something to say about dating in the state. Before I went on said date though, Megan and I had to go to Mount Rushmore.
We leisurely toured the monument, Megan taking in the audio tour (available in English, French, German, Spanish and Lakota), me snapping photos of the true melting pot of America. Both of us randomly interviewed two women — self-proclaimed “sisters of another mother,” different as peaches and pinecones, who had met each other and their current boyfriend/husbands online, and who were meeting in person for the first time. All of us gazed at Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson’s reassuring composure.
As we set ourselves to leave the park and return to the Avenue of Flags, we rounded a corner and found ourselves facing a ranger who was carving Greek busts as a means of demonstrating how the builders created Mount Rushmore. I wandered to where he was working, complimenting the still life he had accidentally created: a fireplace, ranger hat on the mantel, world’s oldest boom-box humming soft music. The ranger asked me if I had ever taken an art class — if that’s where I had learned the term still life. Blushing, I admitted I’d only taken photography once, back in ye olden days of high school.
Chitchat led to conversation, and eventually the ranger asked where I was from and what brought me to Mount. Rushmore. As I explained Fifty/Fifty briefly, the ranger clammed up, focusing on his sculpture and not meeting my eye. After a long moment he said, “Well now I feel awkward. I think you messaged me a few days ago, and I never responded.”
For once in my life, I didn’t make an awkward moment more awkward. (Progress!) Instead, I told him that it was fine he hadn’t messaged me back, that the project wasn’t for everyone and that we were here now, so that was plenty nice. Discussion of dating in the Mt. Rushmore area ensued, and the ranger noted it was hard to meet new people as there weren’t many new faces. Eventually Megan called me, reminding me it was time to move on and shaking me out of the conversation — one that had started organically but was as interesting as those which I’ve sought out since hitting the road.
As I walked away, the ranger called out to me: “I kind of wish I’d said yes now after I know how enjoyable it is to talk to you.” I hope I remember that sentiment in the months to come. When people don’t respond or when I’m accidentally taking rejection personally, it might just be because they don’t know it’s rather pleasant to talk to me.
*Side note: Is using X as a placeholder in writing akin to using X in algebraic math? Did I just do literary math?! I’m kind of excited!!