Jessai Flores

When you’re getting ready to go on a date, especially the very first one, there’s so much anticipation. You get caught up in your own expectations, questions about the future, how to impress them, or any other number of things that aren’t related to the actual person you’re going out with. Once you’re able to remove yourself from expectations, you open yourself up to learn a lot more about a person, which I believe has value in itself. 

When I studied abroad, it was the first time I was really able to step outside of my expectations and stop worrying about what people thought of me. It helps when you can’t set any reasonable expectations for where something will go. When I was in Rome, I felt a little tapped out and split off from my friend group to explore the city alone. In an Irish bar down the street from our hotel, I met a stranger I ended up spending most of the weekend with.

As it turned out, he was on a vacation from Scotland that was supposed to be with his friend until the friend got COVID-19 and had to meet him three days later in Naples. Neither of us had been to Rome and so decided to spend the rest of the night touring the city. We saw the Trevi at 1 a.m. — which is in my opinion the best time if you actually want to enjoy it — then found ourselves on the steps of a church while we planned the rest of our night. Naturally, whether because of the location or the time of night, the conversation drifted to what we were doing with our lives, the things we wanted most and everything you never learn unless you ask. Then, we finally got off the steps and ended up at the Roman Forum. 

The first date turned into a second when we decided to visit a Scottish bar. Most of what I remember about the Scottish bar was that no kind of traditionally Scottish drink was had and, for some reason, three Scottish-Italians were playing “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow” with accents I can only describe as Southern American, Italian and Scottish all at once. While we nearly died laughing — and though I am a southerner who admittedly loves country music — this was a bit of an overwhelming cultural melting pot so we decided to go somewhere a little more Italian. Accompanied by a comically large bottle of Heineken, we made our way to a quieter part of Rome. We talked a lot about music and poetry. By the time we finished the bottle, it was sunrise and he had a train to Naples to catch and I had a class bus ride to the Etruscan ruins in Tarquinia an hour later. 

Though it wasn’t assured either of us would see the other again, I gained a lot just from knowing him and agreeing to go out that weekend. He introduced me to some of the lesser known works of William Blake, who is now one of my favorite romance era poets, and gave me an extensive list of places to visit and advice on studying in Scotland. The weekend was also just better having had someone new to spend it with. I doubt I would have laughed half as hard at the “O Brother Where Art Thou” song playing in a Scottish bar in Italy of all places if I were alone. Nor would I have seen how beautiful Rome was at night without someone to drag with me. Some joys in life are just a little better shared. 

Though I haven’t seen my Scottish travel companion since, we still exchange a text every once in a while to reminisce, ask for travel recommendations or just to check in. I can’t say that every first date will go nearly as well, but sometimes it is worth it to put yourself out there. At the very least, you’ll have a story to tell.