"Let’s play the question game," I suggested as Dimitri and I sat down over pints of cider atop the Bristol Harbor. It had just stopped raining and my Vans were filled with water. It was our first date and it was Valentine's Day.
"Nice to meet you too," he answered. "Is that an American thing … to always ask questions on first dates?" I smiled back self-consciously, suddenly aware that I was miles away from home.
Throughout my year abroad, I endured pleeeeenty of boring dates: There was the date that turned into a five-hour lecture on American history. There was the proposal after one glass of wine on the beach in Barcelona. There were numerous wasted nights on people that spoke too much, too loudly, or not at all. But just when I was about to give up on romance abroad all together, I noticed a cute boy in the back of my English Lit lecture holding Willa Cather’s My Antonia, a beloved novel written by my namesake. It felt too meant to be — so after class, I boldly slid into his DMs and casually asked what he thought of it. After sending a few ambiguous emojis back and forth, I asked him if he wanted to join for me a drink on Friday. What I didn’t realize until days after my initial DM invitation was that Friday was Valentine’s Day.
What I didn’t realize until days after my initial DM invitation was that Friday was Valentine’s Day.
The following week went by quickly and the next thing I knew, it was Friday and Dimitri and I were overlooking one of the most beautiful views in Bristol, discussing Virginia Woolf. I remember looking around and realizing we were surrounded by couples. He asked me about American pop music, if I knew Kylie Jenner personally (I didn’t), and then asked me if seven-year-olds really pluck their eyebrows "over there." I tried to joke back, "Believe it or not, I don’t know what the eyebrows look like on ALL American seven-year-olds. But I’ll let you know when I go back!" He frowned, and brought the conversation back to the book he was reading.
I was impressed by him, and I found comfort in the fact that this was the first date since I’d been abroad that didn’t feel completely forced. Although we didn’t acknowledge the pink hearts pasted on our table, or the comment from our waiter asking how long we’d been together, nothing about our evening felt awkward. We were just two people, laughing on a vast harbor (and getting progressively drunker). I even told my best friend over text, "I don’t hate this at all. I’m shocked." She was just as surprised as I was. We then ordered another round of drinks, this time taking our ciders around Bristol with us. It had finally stopped raining, and my shoes were dry.
"I don’t hate this at all. I’m shocked."
"Now I’m ready to play the question game, Miss America!" he said to me confidently. I could tell the cider was starting to hit him too.
"Okay… What was your favorite part of My Antonia?" I asked.
"The part where the author has the same name as the girl I want to kiss."
He inched his body closer to mine, eventually grazing his cheek against my collarbone. Moments later, I leaned in to kiss him. He grabbed my hand and then bit my ear, moving his lips back to mine. My heart was racing. But suddenly, he pulled away and started apologizing profusely. Confused, I backed away. He apologized again. I looked up.
"I’m SO sorry, but I think I’ve bled all over your face," he declared as he wiped the blood pulsing out of his left nostril. He had in fact, gotten a nosebleed all over my face.
"Wait, what?" It took me a minute to realize what had actually happened. "Can you uh… clean it up?"
I tried to be nice about the situation, but I naturally started laughing. I felt bad for him, then confused on how to handle the fact that there was a stranger’s blood all over my face on Valentine’s Day in a foreign country. Kindly, he proceeded to clean off the blood on my face and invited me back to his room, as an apology. I giggled, and then continued to spend the evening with him as he wiped his now-dried blood off my face in his small bathroom.
"By the way, happy Valentine’s Day!" he said when the blood was finally off my face, sheepishly kissing my forehead and complimenting my eyebrows.
It was time for us to part ways. I told him I was going to go home and shower. He seemed to understand.
I walked home slowly that night, laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. This was not an ideal first date by any means, and there was nothing romantic about letting a stranger bleed on face. But there was something about the way we spent this notoriously romantic holiday that felt more intimate than most of my interactions abroad and I couldn’t stop thinking about that.
When I finally reached my flat, I was greeted by my all of flatmates and their respective long-term significant others. I thought about telling them the story, but decided against it. I probably wouldn’t remember most of the people I tried (and failed) to feel close with, or all the specific places I went abroad for every detail. But I knew in that moment, I’d never forget the way I genuinely laughed on the harbor over cider in soaking wet Vans right before a boy’s nose bled all over my face on Valentine’s Day. So I said, "My Valentine’s Day was great!" and immediately retreated to my room.
I was excited to ask Dimitri on a second date.
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