Wednesday, 24 October 2012

First Second Date

Hopeful 7  Hopeless  3

Since Sia didn't take me up on a second date, that privilege went to Amin.  We had been in better touch by e-mail and he had asked to see me after my exams.  I thought this was a great idea, because I was sure to be more relaxed and rested.  Amin added that if I could see him before September 30th, we could use these free passes for the Biodome and the Botanical Gardens that he had been given.  I realized that it was the time of year for the Magic of the Lanterns at the Botanical Gardens and thought that would be really interesting to see.  I had never been during the festival and, as it turns out, neither had Amin.

We exchanged a few e-mails during the week finalizing details.  It made me feel very comfortable when Amin told me that we would adjust and readjust as needed based on my energy level that day.  I hardly needed to ask any questions about how we should organize the outing because pretty much everything that occurred to me, he anticipated.  It was amazing just how much he was on the same page as me and how well he understood my limitations and concerns without my even having to explain anything.  It was extremely thoughtful and quasi-telepathic.  All he kept saying was that he wanted a "good companion" to go on this outing with, that is, someone who would be good company, which is not possible when that person is tired or otherwise unwell.  He wanted to ensure that the outing was pleasant for both of us by adjusting according to "our mutual energy level". 

We met at Berri, which is probably the worst sort of place to meet someone.  We had agreed on exactly where, but something got lost in translation.  In any case, Amin figured out the mix-up and found me about ten minutes later and shook my hand as agreed.  I was grateful to no longer have to stand.  About an hour before leaving home, I had started not feeling all that well.  I was tired, but then I had started getting a bit weak and shaky.  So we sat while waiting for the metro.  I brought him up to speed on how I was feeling.  I was the one that was quiet; when I get tired, I am generally less talkative but also have difficulty generating ideas to lead a conversation.

We arrived at the Biodome and Amin marvelled at how quickly I was walking.  Sometimes I don't realize how fast I am going because I have been trained on a treadmill to go up to four miles an hour while walking.  I'm glad he said something about it, because it allowed me to think about slowing down and conserving energy.  I was feeling a bit better, but I wanted to be safe.  I found myself nervous in the Biodome a little and not really knowing what to say.  I felt I should remark on a certain amount of things, comment on what we were seeing.  I thought it must sound stiff or awkward, but I couldn't stop myself from saying something about almost everything.  Otherwise, I figured we'd both be observing silently and for whatever the reason, that didn't sit well with me.  We didn't see the golden lion tamarin monkeys, which are one of my favourite things to see.  But we were certainly in luck that day, because we saw the beaver.  I have not seen the beaver since the first time I went to the Biodome when I was 11.  Amin had never seen him, so we watched him breaking off some wood and swimming with it in its teeth and all the way through to the dam where we saw him shaking himself dry and bringing his wood inside.  Although, we had to go back and see the beaver for all of that; I got distracted by one of the employees who said that we should come see something if we had time.  I translated for Amin and we followed.  It was the lynx enclosure just next door.  I thought I had seen a poster in the lobby about it, but seeing it in person was just incredible.  The lynx had given birth to a kitten about four months prior.  We got to see him out and about.  It was so adorable!  I love cats, so I was just thrilled.  I rarely ever see the lynx when I go, but here not only was Mom, but baby too!  She was calling him from up on high and he was trying to get up, but having some difficulty and otherwise being distracted by sand running down the rocks which he thought would be fun to pounce.  Finally he figured out that climbing the tree might be easier for him to get to the top ledge and that's what he did.  It was incredible.  I continued translating for Amin what the employee was saying about the kitten.  It was incredible to think that he had been the only one of the litter to survive and that none had made it from the previous litter.  For everyone who says that the Biodome is repetitive and is always the same, I say to you that there is always something new to see.  Amin and I were just exceptionally lucky that day.

Official advertizement for the litle guy
taken from the Biodome website

We sat for awhile on two occasions going through the Biodome.  Once was with the view of the fish in the St. Lawrence habitat and the other with a view of the penguins.  I was feeling much better, but again, I wanted to make sure that I was going to have sufficient energy for later.  Here the conversation began to be a bit more relaxed.  When a little boy had started calling the fish sharks, I told Amin that I used to think that they could live in swimming pools when I was little.  As we talked, we found that we both are uneasy about swimming in lakes or rivers because of whatever could be living in there.  While watching the penguins, I was feeling increasingly comfortable and that is when I told him my name.  I had planned to that day, but I think I was looking for a better moment.  Sitting beside him, I couldn't really see his facial expressions or his reaction.  I got the impression it went well enough at the time.  Though he didn't say much, Amin thanked me for telling him.  He has since told me that it was one of the highlights of the day for him.  I'm glad; I had been wanting to tell him for awhile, but I really wanted to wait to tell him in person.  I also wanted him to be the first person to know my name.

We checked the time and decided to head to the Japanese garden.  There was enough time to see it before it got dark and the lanterns would be lit.  It was my first time there, so I was drinking everything in.  It was interesting to see the exhibit all about paper in the pavilion: lanterns, fans, origami...  We spent quite awhile looking at the Bonsai trees.  It was funny to see that the Japanese maples had their tiny leaves starting to turn red.  We marvelled at the artistry of sculpting each tree.  The conversation was beginning to flow more and more comfortably.  We walked along the water and saw regular sized trees starting to change colours too.  We watched the bright coloured fish in the koi pond.  The feeling of serenity there was just incredible.  I couldn't stop thinking of my friend Crush, who would've loved to see all of that.  I am going to have to take her some time.

We had pretty much gone all around by that point, so we ambled over to the Chinese garden.  We read a few signs about the lanterns and the theme for this year's display.  I noticed that there was a tour scheduled for 6:30 in English.  I asked Amin if he was interested and we decided on that.  We thought we could listen to the guide and then go around on our own afterwards.  In the meantime, we figured it was time to reenergize with something to eat.  As established during the week, we had brought a sandwich.  I had been so impressed by that.  I am a sandwich person and I am not too keen on eating out and I didn't even have to state my preference, because Amin had anticipated me once again!  So we left the Chinese garden in search of a bench to sit and have our sandwiches.  That of course put us in the rose garden.  I had no idea that there would be any roses at that time of year.  I thought it was too cold.  It struck me a couple of minutes later that sitting in a rose garden on a bench could certainly be considered as something rather romantic.  So I took a deep breath and tried my hardest not to notice.  However, one of the best parts of the date from where I was sitting took place right there.  Amin told me that he had made some banana bread and wanted to know if I would like to try it.  Who am I to say no to baking?  It looked like it had some nuts, an ingredient my Mom never puts in hers, so I was intrigued.  I broke myself off a small piece and tried it.  I soon discovered that there were walnuts in this bread: my favourite!  I checked to be sure, but they were definitely walnuts.  And... I could scarcely catch my breath.  I was sure I tasted chocolate.  So I asked about that too and Amin said yes.  I couldn't believe it: chocolate and walnuts in the same recipe!  It was, in a word, divine.  He told me that no one but his roommates had ever sampled his baking and that he was nervous about sharing it with others, lest they wouldn't like it.  I was so glad he had made an exception for me.  I was trying to tell him how good it was, but trying to contain my exuberance at the same time.  I asked if I could have a whole slice to myself and he gave it to me.  This is when we both discovered that the other was a chocoholic.  Yet one more thing we have in common.  It was so good, I was over the moon and trying not to melt on the spot.  It occurred to me that this is kind of the opposite of the stories I'd heard.  I always hear the ones where the girl bakes for the guy and wins his affections.  But here was Amin giving me banana bread and melting me.

Picture of the 2012 lanterns from the
Botanical Gardens website
We headed back to the Chinese garden just in time for the tour.  Our guide didn't speak very loud, but we managed for the most part to stay near the front, so we heard all right.  We learned about all the mythology surrounding this year's display.  It was the legend of the Monkey King crashing the Celestial banquet, at which the peaches of immortality were being served.  I had heard this story on Wishbone! as a kid, so I was a bit familiar with it.  Go figure, the one Taoist story I actually knew.  It was Amin's first time hearing the story.  He was watching out for me and trying to make sure that I could see (this is oftentimes a problem for me in crowds, because I am so short!).  The tour was thus very short, but nevertheless interesting.  Then we went to explore the garden and see the lanterns a little more close up.  Most of the lanterns were in the lake (like in the picture), which was itself lit-up by a soft aqua glow, which made it look rather magical.  The stone paths led all the way around the lake and the waterfall, so that you could see the illuminated characters from different angles and proximities.  Amin regretted not bringing his camera at that point.  I was rather surprised that he hadn't because he had linked me to some pictures on his facebook page that he had taken while traveling and it was not only evident that he was skilled at getting good shots, but that it was also a hobby he enjoyed.  He told me that he sometimes doesn't like to bring his camera when he goes somewhere with someone, because he doesn't want to make them wait while he's snapping away.  I told him that it wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest and that he should feel free to bring it along in future.

We walked on the paths all around the water and explored the inside of the buildings, one of which featured tea and the other, the descriptions and names of the characters present at the celestial banquet.  I began experiencing some difficulty because the paths were mostly made of large stones, which were a challenge to navigate, particularly going up steps in the darkening twilight.  I felt unsteady on my feet and let Amin know so that he didn't wonder at my pitching around.  I said, to make light of it, "As long as I don't end up in the lake, I'm good!"  So I felt that what happened next was entirely my fault.  If I had not been explaining my occasional spatial disorientation, surely it should not have prompted him to ask to hold my hand.  I felt like I was frozen for a moment.  I was calm, which was good for me and for Amin.  I hesitated, because there was internal dialogue erupting.  I wanted to be amenable, yet at the same time I did not think it was very prudent to hold hands.  I reminded myself that I didn't hold hands unless I was dating a guy, which I was not prepared to do; I was not prepared to commit to him right then and there.  But that part of my brain shut off and I heard myself saying "sure".  It seems that in that moment, what was more powerful was my desire to do something nice for Amin.  He had worked up the courage to ask me and had asked me very nicely.  I did not have the heart to say "no".  So I extended my left hand without looking and he took it.

That's when we entered the realm of feelings.  I have to say that holding his hand, I felt worried still about the repercussions.  But there were other feelings quickly overtaking anxiety.  This was the first time I had held a guy's hand in seven years.  It had been so long, I had forgotten what it felt like.  I felt warm.  I think I felt a bit of a tingle too.  I don't remember the sensation very clearly; it's a bit blurry, I suspect, from my brain trying to ignore it and shut it out.  It was an "unquantifiable, indescribable feeling" as I later said.  A good feeling.  Amin held my hand the way I like to hold hands: he wrapped his hand around mine only with his thumb apart from his other fingers, as though he were wearing mittens.  My ex always insisted on holding hands with interlaced fingers, which was not my favourite; he never wanted to alternate to please me.  Yet Amin had guessed instinctively my exact preference.  That felt very nice.

It was a warm feeling, though both of us had cold hands!  We argued briefly as to whose hands were colder, each convinced that ours was colder than the other's.  At that point, I actually had gloves on, the kind with the fingertips uncovered.  I thought it was good if my gloved hand could warm up his even if only a very little.  And I can't imagine what it would've been like to have had full contact with a bare hand.  Lightly touching, it gave me such a sensation.  Fully touching, I think I should've been quite overwhelmed.

We did not hold hands very long before we had finished going around the Chinese garden and it was time for another rest.  I don't know who let go first.  We sat for awhile on another bench before heading back (we had decided not to stay out late so that I wouldn't get too tired).  This is when the conversation became the most comfortable and the most open.  I asked Amin about something he had written about in one of his messages and had said was important to him.  He explained it more fully to me and here we began to broach the subject of cultural and religious differences.  I made sure he was clear on my not having bad opinions about or prejudices against Muslims.  He said he already knew as much.  I then wanted to talk to him about where he stood with me.  I related, in as few details as possible, my Plenty of Fish experience.  I explained that, though I am the kind of girl that dates only one guy at a time, I now found myself in a situation where I was trying to give each guy a fair and equal opportunity (much as, as I was saying this, I was becoming biased in favour of one of them!).  I told him that I couldn't decide very quickly because I had made that mistake with Frédéric.  Had I taken the time to get to know him properly, I would have decided rather differently.  I told Amin that I could guarantee him a friendship, because it was clear to me that we get along well and are very alike.  More than that, I could not promise him.  Here I related the story of Kyle (which I should probably write about in my blog at some point), a good friend that I lost because he got a crush on me but whose feelings I couldn't reciprocate.  I told Amin this to convey that I understood that friendship is not always possible in a context where one person is hoping to date the other and to show how much it pained me to hurt Kyle.  Amin's response to this was very reassuring.  He told me that he was okay with being friends if I did not feel more for him.  He wanted to be in my life in whatever capacity I was comfortable with.  Truly, he considers a guy a "jerk" if he is unable to be friends with a girl he likes (an opinion that I find too strong).  This conversation reinforced for me that Amin and I really are on the same page for this matter as well as so many other things.

As I was sitting with him, I felt an incredible amount of emotional closeness.  Finding a kindred spirit is not something that happens every day and it truly gives you a wonderful feeling.  I wonder which came first in this case: the physical closeness or the emotional closeness?  I would tend to say that the emotional closeness came first, then came the hand-holding.  The feeling of closeness just kept deepening as we were talking, so much so that I had a sudden impulse to lean over and kiss him.  My self-restraint was back, though and I managed to contain myself.  I simply do not kiss guys I am not dating.  It is a rule I adhere to in order to make life much simpler and avoid major problems or heartbreak.  I think I did, however, once or twice, give him a light touch on the arm to show emotional support when he was speaking.  The touch was not reciprocated, so I knew I had surely done right by him by not trying to kiss him.

Yet the question of physical contact came up again on our way back to the metro.  Amin asked me how my balance was.  From a friend, I would consider this thoughtful.  In this context, there was no other way to interpret it than as an indirect way of asking to hold my hand again.  The question was not posed the same way and the answer could not be interpreted in the same way either, even if I assented.  Saying "yes" a second time would send an ever stronger message, be an even more conscious choice.  I could not pretend anymore that the question caught me by surprise and that I didn't know what to say.  This, if any, would've been the time to say "no", but I still found that I couldn't.  So if I agreed, it needed to be prefaced.  This conscious choice had to be explained so that there could be no misinterpretation as to its meaning.  So I brought out my right hand which was again clasped without my turning to look since I was concentrating on talking about how he had no gloves and how his hands must be cold.  Since I didn't have a spare pair of gloves handy, I added, I should do the next best thing: hold his hand.  I told him it was my policy not to hold a guy's hand unless I was dating him.  I had learnt in psychology class that guys experience an intense and overpowering chemical reaction from physical contact, something I shamelessly repeated to Amin.  I finished it up with, "But I know you can handle it."  This contradicts what I believe, but it was in line with the strong intuition I had about him in that moment.  I impressed upon him that I was making an exception due to extraordinary circumstances.  The phrase I repeated was "because your hands are cold".  That was my justification, is my justification and I am sticking with it!

While I was holding his hand on the way back to the metro, Amin requested that I send him an e-mail to let him know that I arrived home safely.  "I'll do one better than that," I announced.  I told him I would go home and add him on facebook, if of course he found that I was admissible as a facebook friend (this comment referred back to a a discussion we'd had earlier in the day about having too many facebook friends as well as the feeling of obligation about adding certain people that you would prefer not to have access to your facebook page).  At this, he exclaimed, "Am I allowed to be happy?"  To which I assured him that he certainly was.  I was glad to make him happy in this small way.  He was very happy that I had told him my real name and had in turn given him facebook permission; this meant so much to him because of the level of trust in him that it showed.

Amin also asked if he could travel with me by metro all the way to my stop.  He again insisted that he didn't want to pressure or me or appear creepy in any way.  It is not something I like to allow because I view it as an inconvenience to the other person and an otherwise completely unnecessary gesture.  I knew it was important to him, so in the interest of being amenable, I made no objections.  He later asked how I perceived it, so I ventured an opinion.  I told him that I found it a bit old-fashioned, that indeed in the 21st century a girl does not need to be accompanied for her protection.  I felt that was why he asked, because he does have some old-fashioned notions and that he may have felt responsible for my safety, since he was the one that was out with me.  To this, he simply said, in a very quiet sort of way, "Think about it this way: it's a way to spend more time with you..."  I was silenced rather effectively with that.  The thought had not occurred to me.  Then I remembered: that is what it is like when someone likes you.  They search for any excuse to spend more time with you.

When it was finally time for us to go our separate ways, I thanked Amin for inviting me on the outing.  I told him that it was nice to have something fun to do on a Friday night for a change.  "In fact," I added, "this was the funnest outing I've had in a long time."  He seemed a bit flustered and was thanking me for going with him.  I was again feeling that extreme closeness and really felt I wanted to hug him.  I love hugs and am truly a hug person, but I don't hug just anyone.  I am selective about who I hug and it actually serves as a good indicator that you are one of my very favourite people if I just skip the kiss-kiss  greeting and give you a hug instead.  I considered that Amin deserved it and that he had gained that status.  This had a bit of forethought, but not a lot.  I suddenly found myself saying, "My friends get a hug."  I didn't give him much warning, which I fretted over later because I know that he doesn't just let anyone into his personal space (like me).  I was worried that I didn't give him enough time to react and that I may have made him uncomfortable.  He assured me not long afterwards that it was totally okay, that it had actually been a very nice surprise.  This hug was so nice, he implored me not to apologize or take it back.  He said it was one of the nicest parts of the entire outing.  I felt it was a bit rushed and thus an inferior hug in terms of quality.  My mind blurred it out again, like it did for most of the hand-holding.  Luckily, it did produce the desired effect anyways.

I have been using the word "outing" in this entry, but it occurs to me that the word "date" is actually much more appropriate for how it felt.  It was and still is, the best date I have ever gone on in my entire life.      

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