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Two Wrongs Don’t Make Mr. Right

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When my Hinge match said on our first date that he wanted a serious relationship, a house with a fence, and children soon, I thought, “Maybe I should introduce him to Zerrin.” She, my dear friend, wanted something like that, too. I could not know that later that same night, in a city of eight million, Zerrin had a first date scheduled with the same man.

I also did not know what I wanted, but a house and children with this individual didn’t immediately resonate with me. This was my first date as a vaccinated person, which I still went on virtually from the safety of my apartment. It was early on a Friday night, during the same week that New York’s cherry blossoms opened, and the botanical garden’s vibraphones sang to me at the top of the hour to honor those lost to Covid.

That weekend, I sat in my apartment for hours doing my work in a meditation retreat to cultivate intuition, befriend trauma and get free — or something like that. I had spent most of the last 15 months physically alone and emotionally communing with loved ones on a screen, so what was a few more days? I had spent most of the last 15 years in serious relationships with a few different men who I believed at various points were each my person. I was sure of it each time — until I wasn’t.

The meditation teacher invited me to slow down enough to hear the sound of my body’s intuition, as if my life depends on it, because it does.

“Not easy,” he acknowledged. The meditation teacher — a queer, H.I.V. positive survivor of now two cruel pandemics — is alive and grateful for each breath.

On Monday night, I agreed to a second date with my Hinge match, this time in the flesh. When he asked if I wanted a third round of drinks, the voice in my body said, “If you want to go back to his apartment, say yes.”

“Sure,” I said.

The first thing I noticed when we entered his home were the portraits of naked women on the walls.

“Is this safe?” I asked myself. “Yes,” I thought. “He is an artist, and the portraits are beautiful, not creepy.” So I stayed the night.

In the morning, while we were still in bed, he mapped out our five-year plan, promising I could have my “fun” for one more year living alone before we found our house. A generous friend would later point out to me how unsettling this was.

Sitting in bed after his five-year planning exercise, I asked him what traumas he was working through. Despite being the daughter of a social worker, or perhaps because of it, I still haven’t learned how to gently ask that question, or rather I still haven’t learned how to not ask it.

“I’m actually doing really well,” he said.

I wondered about the voice in his body, one that I learned keeps him awake most nights with its anxious chatter. Living far from his family and divorced from a woman he used to love, he had a black hole in his chest so evident I could already feel its gravity trying to pull me in.

The voice in my body said, “This person might suffocate you.”

On Tuesday afternoon, I would later discover, he canceled a second date with Zerrin at the last minute because he had a sore throat. The sore throat was because of his late night and deep connection with another woman, which he confessed to Zerrin in an honest but unsolicited overshare.

Zerrin, of course, did not know that the other woman was me. (Nor did I.) Rather, she was confused and annoyed. He had been so affectionate and proactive with her — so intent on building a life of adventure together, which was music to her ears after years of New York City dating.

“This doesn’t feel right,” her body told her.

On that same Tuesday afternoon, after leaving his apartment still under the spell of rekindled human connection, I thought, “Well, you have some things in common, and you can’t have it all, so maybe he’s The One.” After all, he likes folk music; I write folk music. Also, whenever he buys a new T-shirt, he donates one from his closet, just like I do! And when he asked what kind of fruit I most identify with, and I said, “mango,” he said, correctly, “Ah, you must have delicate skin, sweet insides and a strong core.”

It is sometimes these delightful but accidental alignments that fool us into thinking we are meant for each other.

Within 24 hours, thanks to a therapy session, a friend’s gut check, and my intuition, I knew that he was not, in fact, The One — a course correction I am proud of. It took just hours this time, not years.

Soon after I told him we were done, he rescheduled his second date with Zerrin, who believes in second chances. Over dinner at the same restaurant that he had brought me to, though, Zerrin also sensed that his love was the kind that could smother, so she went home, and then they were done too.

Two weeks later, Zerrin and I decided to adorn our faces in glitter and bright lipstick for an evening of eating grilled cheese on a quiet street corner and treating each other to overpriced cocktails under the setting sun. When we arrived at the restaurant, we were surprised to find our mutual friend, Hannah, sitting outside. She was struggling through a bad date with a man who didn’t wear a helmet while biking in the city, even though he had lost a knuckle and toe in his last bike accident.

I listened with a full heart as Zerrin described the recent journey of freezing her eggs. The bloating, the back pain, the exhaustion. The love song she serenaded her ovaries with each morning. The belly rubs from friends for good luck. The privilege of a forgiving workplace and money for daily doctor appointments. The profound desire to nurture life.

Through tears, she whispered of the embarrassment of needing an insurance policy for love. The doctors harvested 34 eggs from her, one for every year of her life, the most they had ever seen from one womb. “I feel like I am already a mother,” she told me.

Meanwhile, Hannah informed her bad date that she had to take the dog out and subsequently walked around the block until he finally biked away alone and unprotected, and we told her it was safe to return.

As Hannah joined our table with a big smile and an eye roll, I said a silent prayer for the sweet gift of sisterhood. We spent the next round debating whether a spark is a prerequisite for everlasting devotion. Whether chemistry can emerge slowly or must be felt at first touch. Whether our bodies can be trusted in the search for someone worthy of our energy, our labor.

While rehashing other dating trials, Zerrin mentioned in passing the name of the stranger I briefly contemplated marrying after a grand total of 21 hours in his presence. I told her I had recently gone on a couple dates with someone of the same unique name, a man I actually had considered introducing her to before realizing I should spare her.

“Wait,” she said. “Did you see him on a Monday night?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Our second date was a Monday night. First date was the Friday before. But early in the evening — just a FaceTime date. Why?”

I watched Zerrin and Hannah slowly lock eyes and burst into laughter. “Oh my God,” Zerrin yelled. “You’re the other woman!”

In a city of eight million, 35,000 of us can perish in a plague while others are still “doing really well.”

In a city of eight million, two dear friends can unknowingly start dating the same man on the same night and independently both conclude that he — despite saying some of the right things — is not worthy of our love.

In a city of eight million, a man who shows a lack of care for his own precious life on a bike in urban traffic may not know how to care for others’ lives either, and sisters appear right when we need their protection.

In a city of eight million, it’s hard to find The One. The math is dizzying — so many options, always another option, never the right option. I am told to follow my gut, and to offer second chances. To live a little, and to get home safe. To freeze my eggs, and not to worry. Never to settle, but always to compromise.

For what it’s worth, I do know that my body can be trusted. I’m just still learning her language.

Kayla Ringelheim is a health and environmental justice strategist and a musician who lives in New York City.

Modern Love can be reached at modernlove@nytimes.com.

To find previous Modern Love essays, Tiny Love Stories and podcast episodes, visit our archive.

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