I’ve had a tummy bug for four and a half days now. This means I’m generally nauseous and irritable. And it just so happens that today was my first Set Up. I almost didn’t make it because I couldn’t bear to leap out of bed and be bright and perky while feeling bland and sort of like the flat Coca Cola I’ve been drinking all this while. But the Set-Up coordinators insisted.
Now, perhaps my entire experience has been tainted by my virus-plagued, plain-toast-overloaded, lame and feverish state of being. And the fact that Mr Match was made aware of my tummy bug. Sexy. Very sexy.
So I go to the event which is a braai. And luckily I’m vegetarian because that makes for great opening remarks around chops and chicken sausages. Apple juice in my glass looks like whiskey and I’m okay. My lovely friend sells me unabashedly to Mr Match. And we go about the afternoon in general chitchat and jovial banter.
Just as I start to think this is not entirely unpleasant, the conversation turns to me. I feel instantly nauseous and a gas bubble rises in my chest making me want to burp loudly. Either this is gastro-bug related or I’m beginning to feel that this social encounter suddenly resembles work and looming deadlines. And this is the problem with The Set Up.
It is too conscious for my liking. The threat of disappointment lingers in the entry hall. The pressure wafts around your face like braai smoke. I know why he is there. He knows why I am there. Every word I utter will be analysed as will his. A thousand and fifty mental notes are being taken. And nothing feels like a chance encounter. One feels like a game player and a strategist and a tap dancer rolled into a massive ball of “Hey look at me!” And while there is nothing wrong with Mr Match (or me) the whole scenario feels A-W-K-W-A-R-D. You feel like you’re in the midst of bricklaying the path to your future and treading with utter precision is required. (Of course, when one’s gut is not in a state of conviviality it makes everything seem worse).
I’ve been pondering it all from the safety of my Shoebox this evening and this is what I’ve decided: Set ups are well meaning and the people that want to set you up love you dearly. They can be harmless encounters and if anything, the opportunity to meet someone new and interesting. But they’re hard work.
It’s starts with deciding what to wear. You think – what if this is the guy? Then I have to think hard about what I wear so that one day when we we’re together for 40 years he can say: “I remember your mother the first day I saw her – she was wearing a blue blah blah” Also, you don’t want to make too much of an effort because then you set the bar way too high and there’s no coming down from that. So you go as you normally go hoping they like you just the way you are. (Thank you Bridget Jones’ Diary for making all women believe that it is possible for men to like you just the way you are!)
Conversation is tough because it feels prompted and much like wearing a CV on your head. Searching for commonality feels like the mission of the day and is overrated really. Being aware that you’re being observed makes you feel like a house on show day or the hamster at the petting zoo and saying goodbye is AWKWARD – do you wave, shake hands or hug?
Nonetheless, I survived my first Set Up, despite the fact that Mr Match probably will forever remember me as gastro girl. But one has to be open to these things I hear my inner school principal saying, especially if there aren’t dozens of men banging down your door, dear!
But, hello? How can life be so business-like and….and…ordinary?
I blame Hollywood and Bollywood for building up my perceptions of the first encounter as sweeping, epic and swooning. Yes, yes, that’s naïve but hell, even a Tarantino-esque encounter would do! I just want it to be somewhat memorable, heart-stopping perhaps, unique maybe, puzzling and strange even. Just something that, for a moment, unsettles the mundane beat of my heart.