At the edge of winter, I found myself at an in-between place. I had, out of strange coincidences, found myself standing outside of a restaurant called Cheddar’s in Columbia, Missouri. I had always seen the sign as I drove through on my way home from or to the university. Lit up orange, ironically, I never really knew what kind of place it was, but I was about to find out. I was there to meet someone. A woman whom I’d met through an online dating app that I loaded onto my phone for the purpose of entertainment, which sounds awful but the app existed on a superficial basis of prejudice to begin with. I was in college and my roommate and other friends had been using it for legitimate purposes and I found it interesting and a good way to waste time. I never thought I’d meet someone. We agreed to meet at the restaurant for lunch since it was a mutual, public place, and she lived in the area.
I planned to arrive fifteen minutes early because I hate being late. When I got there, she hadn’t arrived so I made a reservation and decided to stand outside. It wasn’t too cold, but I could see my breath. I wore jeans and a thick peacoat. There I waited, on a sidewalk, nervous yet excited. Then she arrived. She wore jeans and a pink coat. She seemed to bounce when she walked and her hair, tied up in a ponytail, bounced along behind her. From side to side like a counterbalance. A way to physically balance the life beaming out of her. She smiled and I froze. A giddiness rose in me that overrode the nervousness and I smiled back.
“Ryan?” she asked.
“That’s me.” We hugged, not really knowing what else to do.
We walked inside and waited among a small crowd of people until our table was ready. We made small talk about the drive in and the weather until we got to our booth. The small talk turned to food and she admitted she’d been there before so I asked for recommendations and she suggested the buffalo chicken wrap which I ordered. The conversation moved from topic to topic smoothly without a lull or any feeling of discomfort. We were strangers meeting for the first time but fell together like a flock of birds weaving through the sky. We’d talked through text for a short while before we set up the date. That was two weeks prior and she had initiated the conversation (something she will take credit for the rest of our lives).
As we ate, we discussed the strangeness of online dating. Neither of us had done it before and agreed it was a strange way to meet and joked about the possibilities of each other being murderers. Then we realized how small our chances of connecting had been. The app only searched within a maximum fifty-mile radius. She lived in the middle of the state and I was attending school on one edge of the state, but had driven home, to the other side of the state, the weekend we matched. My drive brought me within range of her. If I had decided to visit home a weekend earlier or later, we probably would never have met. It’s a small world, but at the same time immense, and our chance of meeting seemed infinitesimal. Smaller than being struck by lightning, yet we were both in that moment mesmerized.