I wasn’t hungry for a partner that fall. Thirsty at times, but certainly not starving for a relationship. After finally severing emotional ties with a guy who mastered the carrot-on-a-stick approach, I was taking well-deserved time to focus on other things that would keep me satiated: a shift in my career, the new creative opportunities that crossed my desk, my family, and the upcoming holiday season.
He’d likely tell you the same thing, but still, we came to each other unexpectedly. He was experiencing something similar: content in dating casually and creating freely. He was a full-time freelance photographer; his physical presence at events was the linchpin to his potential projects, clients, and a way to meet new people.
I’d say the stars aligned the night we met, but they were likely hidden from the city skyline. Like most evenings, I was at yet another event wearing my usual hats: part guest, part publicist who was tasked with taking iPhone photos for a client’s social media, coyly sipping cocktails while mingling with the new faces present. He was there to photograph, too — equipped with more impressive gear than mine — capturing the candor of the event attendees and the beautifully plated dishes as they left the hands of the chef.
The aroma of warming spices floated in the air and my stomach growled quietly. Was it time to eat?
“Have we met before?” a baritone voice said. His intrigued eyes locked with mine, catching me in a stare.
I smirked, flirting subtly. “I certainly would have remembered,” I replied with a smile.
The night went on, and a formal announcement asked guests to find their way to their tables for dinner. The first course came from the makeshift outdoor kitchen. Between passed plates and small talk with others, the photographer and I would exchange glances and just enough conversation to keep each other coming back for more.
We were serving a meal of our own. As the next course came out, we shared a smirk with a side of flirtation.
A full stomach was my exit cue. I started to bid adieus, making his my last.
“I’m going to head home,” I said to him reluctantly.
“Same for me. How are you getting home?” he inquired.
“Gonna grab a car. I live in Harlem.”
Lucky for me, my assumption that he was a Brooklynite was pleasantly disproved as he offered to share an Uber uptown. We exchanged business cards before I headed out of the car. At the turn of the key into my apartment, my phone illuminated: “Do you like duck?” the text message read.
“I could eat duck,” I replied, salivating at the thought.
The following day, it was a date.
Off the Grand Street stop, the sticky and subtly rotting smell of durian wafted from around the corner. He chivalrously took to the street side of the sidewalk, slowing the pace of my metronome-like stride. I accepted the hand he offered to me as we weaved through the crowds.
Turning a sharp corner, he led to me down a small alleyway that housed an inconspicuous storefront: “Fried Dumpling,” it read. How did I, foodie resource to my friends and writer on the topic, not know about this gem? From its entryway came the sound of a sizzle escaping a flattop where pan-fried dumplings were doled out quickly to customers. He entered, confidently sounded off an order, and passed me the tools I’d need in my arsenal: plastic fork, bottle of vinegar, Sriracha, and a couple of napkins. He grabbed his iPhone and took a shot of me, plate in hand and a genuine grin across my face. I sunk my teeth in the piping hot dough, allowing the steam to escape, added vinegar to the pork and chive filling, like I had on many dim sum occasions, and savored the rest.