back in august of 2013, while i was still living my humble little life in iowa, one of my belgian colleagues was in town for a meeting. while we were making small talk during a break, we started discussing my move to belgium. this led to one of the most quoted/repeated conversations i had that year:
Colleague: “And you never know, you might meet a man.”
“That’s not the point,” I said, a bit condescendingly, as if I was discouraging the road this conversation was going down.
“…the point is to meet a lot of men.”
fast forward to present day. i have officially been in belgium for a month. i’ve had my ups and downs, as anyone would who has moved to another country. but throughout it all, i did remain faithful to my word. in this past month, i have met a lot of men.
to be clear, i’m not looking for “the one,” “mr. right,” or whatever you want to call a life-long romance with the only person who understands me and fills that empty void inside my heart… i’m simply looking to meet people. yeah, good looking males would be first choice. but mainly, i want to make antwerp/belgium a home and enjoy my time while i’m here.
and i want to share this adventure with all of you.
so, what’s the easiest way to start meeting new people when you are alone and new to a country? a bar? sure. but meeting people when you’re alone in a bar can seem a bit desperate. and scary. and here in belgium there’s even the possibility that they don’t speak english. we could meet through mutual friends? also a decent idea- except that most of my friends over here are work colleagues who are either married, in relationships, or just asexual as hell (yes, jeroen. this is referring to you).
which leads me to… and you’ve probably already guessed it… online dating.
for the record, i was never against online dating before. i just never signed up for anything because, honestly, i pretty much knew what des moines had to offer. but a new, interesting, foreign, and different land? sign me up. no, wait. i get to make a profile and talk exclusively about me? i’ll sign myself up, thanks!
date #1: “not-evan”
i started talking to guy #1 on okcupid for a few reasons. the first reason was that i noticed he was from the states and had just moved to antwerp a few weeks before i did. what better way to get to know the city than with someone who is in the same boat as you? the second reason, which i’m not too ashamed to admit, is that i thought he looked a bit like a nerdier version of evan. and despite all of evan’s flaws (i mean, he was the flawed one, that’s obviously why the relationship didn’t last, right?), he’s cute to boot. i mean, best looking guy i’ve dated, hands down.
so not-evan and i start chatting it up. he’s funny and makes a comment about his youthful appearance, something that i can relate to. he also drops some intellectually nerdy comments throughout the conversation, which scores major points with me. i love myself a good looking nerd. he suggests that we meet up at the museum of modern art, an awesome idea because it’s perhaps the one place i know how to get to in antwerp, being a 5 minute walk from my apartment.
18:30 rolls around and i see a boy-man (again, youthful appearance) sitting on a bench outside of the museum. when he sees me, he gets up and greets me with a good ol’ fashion (yet extremely polite), american hug. there are a few things i notice about him at this point:
a) he looks nothing like evan (though still very cute)
b) he is really fashionable
we make a bit of small talk as we walk towards the museum, and conversation flows with relative ease the entire night. i’m not overly impressed with anything on exhibit, but neither is he. he’s funny in person as well as online. he’s a bit pretentious, but in a way i could see myself being as well. he’s traveled a lot. you can tell he comes from a bit of money. he’s got a boyish charm, but also a bit of arrogance that comes with someone who thinks he’s a catch.
after the museum we walk to nick’s bar, a bar he tells me is named after some hemingway character. he’s a big fan of hemingway. cute. we drink. we chat. we try to one up each other on travel adventures. i’m here for work and nothing has gone right so far. his father is the owner of the company he works for and he’s over in belgium gaining experience to one day possibly take over. …there’s a clear winner here and it’s not me.
after we were done drinking our fill, we start to get a bit hungry. we walk over to den artist, a little restaurant that had been recommended to me from a friend. we walk in… i’ve been here before. shit. oh well. we sit. we eat. the portions are way too big so i do the most embarrassingly american thing possible. i get a to-go box. he smirks at me. i smirk back and tell the waitress that i’m boxing it up for him because he’s too embarrassed to do it himself. well-played, lundberg.
overall, the night ended fairly well. we parted ways after dinner. i got a text from him the next day asking me if the food was delicious enough the next day to lose face over. a month later, we still talk occasionally, but i don’t think there were major sparks for either of us. don’t get me wrong, i had a good time and think that we could be friends. but one thing was really holding me back from actually being interested.
i’m not saying he’s gay. i’m not. i’m just saying that, if in the conversation somewhere he said, “i also like bicycling, photography, and dating men,” i wouldn’t have been surprised. still super cute though. and damn, was he a good dresser.
date #2: the texan
i started talking to the texan for similar reasons as i did guy #1– i saw he was an american. a cute american. and while i was stalking, i mean, browsing through his photos, i found myself giggling at his verbiage. i mean, this guy was funny. he was quirky. he liked sushi. yeah, i was going to attack.
we talked online for a bit and i was immediately impressed at the texan’s bantering ability. i have a tendency to be overly sarcastic sometimes and that can come off as unkind, but he matched me step-for-step. i offered to get sushi with him when i got to town and he shot the idea down, saying he liked to reserve dinner for a second or third date as he had some weird first dates over dinner that felt like a waste of time and money. brutal and honest. respect. we switched from okcupiding to texting. banter continued. we decided to meet for drinks. he picked the time, i picked the place.
i picked den engel. it’s in the grote markt, which is about a 25 minute walk from my apartment. sounds a bit far (for an american) to walk, but it was somewhere i had frequented enough that i knew i could find the bar with relative ease. and, in case he was catfishing me like he claimed to be doing, i could easily run back home without having to check my map on how to get there.
a few minutes before 19:00 i walk up and see a perfect-heighted male speciman standing outside of den engel with a very stylish coat. i give him the eye, wondering (hoping?) that it was the texan and was reassured with an awkward half-wave that it indeed was. we went in for a drink.
first off, den engel is not really a place where you bring younger people. it’s an old person bar. but i absolutely love it. it’s a bit of a dive, but it’s got great character and a good view of the markt. we sat down and had a few drinks. he asked me how i had heard of the bar and i said i was taken there by a friend the last time i was in belgium. he asked if my friend was 80, which seemed to be the average age of the bar patrons. i laughed. still brutal and honest.
the date went, by my standards, exceptionally well. there were no lulls in conversation. we walked around the city for hours, popping into occasional places for a drink or to warm up. i outdrank him, but i’d like to think i can outdrink most people who, well, aren’t belgians. belgians can really drink.
the date ended at my doorstep. there was some playful physical contact throughout the night, but no kiss, which was fine. i would’ve accepted it, but i wasn’t going out of my way for one. plus, he had already admitted to me earlier in the night that he was going to the netherlands the next day for a second date with a girl. i went up to my (barely furnished) apartment with a smile on my face. it was a good night.
— as a note, i’ve been out with the texan a few times. the second time we went out we went on a bike ride and for a walk around the lake. i thought it was going rather well so i immediately sabotaged it by losing my phone. he later tried to cheer me up by offering to buy me a girl in the red light district. the next time we hung out he taught me how to play magic. he’s way into magic. then we got dinner (third date rule), drinks, and parted ways. still no kiss, which in my mind, puts me/him in the “friend zone.” but honestly, i’m not too worried about it. regardless, i like him and he’s someone i’d like to continue hanging out with.
date #3: the pho-phriend.
i met the third guy on my beloved app, tinder. i don’t know if you are aware of my love/hate relationship with this app, but if you aren’t you should know that i find it extremely addictive. i also have the tendency to forget that the people i am rating are real people, so i have a ton of matches, most of them who i have never said a word to.
but i was feeling bored and feisty one night, so i logged into tinder to scam on some hotties. i came across a guy with a belgian name i really like, so i made sure to tell him i dug his name. he quickly responded with “thanks. i have no particular feelings about the name amanda.” oh. it’s on.
we talked a little more- how i had just moved to antwerp, typical small talk chatter. he offered to show me around town that night, but it was cold and dark and i was comfortably in sweatpants on AB’s couch watching orange is the new black so i respectively declined. but we kept chatting. somehow we got on the topic of food and i mentioned that i was on the lookout for a good pho place.
HE HAD JUST HAD PHO THAT DAY. um, say what?! no one in this country has even heard of pho, and this guy talks about how he has it all the time. one of his favorite foods. i knew then and there this was, at the very least, a wonderful friendship blossoming over our love of asian food.
so we made plans to go get asian food the next day. the pho place closes at 18:30, which is absolutely ridiculous, so there was no possible way we were getting any of that beefy noodley goodness. but he said he would take me to one of his favorite authentic chinese food places called fong mei in the chinatown area.
the main problem for meeting was one of logistics. he was living in antwerp, but was from more of the city center and i was from the south side and no idea how to get around. solution? meet at the grote markt after work and go from there. if we were hungry we’d eat there, if not, we’d move on to the other area.
…but if we were at the grote markt to begin with, we might as well go to den engel. 🙂 i pretty much decided after i set the meeting spot that it’s a good place to go at some point during a date to judge reactions. plus, it’s not too loud so you can talk. plus, i love it there.
my pho-phriend was cool. he does finance for a company in brussels. he likes to travel. we had good conversation and he didn’t laugh too hard at my attempts at the dutch language. after a few drinks neither one of us were so hungry we felt the need to gnaw our arm off, so we took that as a good sign to take the subway to chinatown.
the food at fong mei was pretty decent. the conversation was better. i learned how to order a “pintje,” which is essentially a draft beer of whatever’s on tap. the night ended with him showing me how to order a tram ticket on my phone (and it will just be added to my phone bill at the end of the month, which is totally swank) and a quick hug. when i got home i shot him a text to let him know i made it in one piece and we both agreed it was good to meet one another.
overall, i didn’t feel an overwhelming amount of romantic chemistry, but i really enjoyed my time and hope to hang out again soon. he had sent me a text the next day asking if i wanted to get pho that weekend, but my days were already filled up. i’m sure we will get together fairly soon, though. just thinking about how long i have been in pho-withdrawal gives me the shakes.
date #4: the unexpected
i’m not going to lie- i didn’t expect too much out of the date with guy #4. and it was nothing that he had done wrong, he just didn’t really strike me as my type. maybe it was our lower match percentage. maybe it was the fact i read on his profile he was really into the gym. or maybe it was that he had “casual sex” checked as one of the categories he was looking for. it really could’ve been a mixture of all three. and besides him telling me i had a cute pic on my profile, there wasn’t too much of a spark. (i mean, his photo was pretty cute too, but he only had one and sometimes it’s hard to judge off of just one angle.)
regardless, i’m new to an area and he said he would come to antwerp to get a drink with me some weekend. perfect. we exchanged numbers and, to my surprise and delight, i would occasionally get some witty text from him that would allow an equally playful response.
but the first time we were going to go out, i ditched him. i can’t remember why exactly, but i’m guessing it had to do with my laziness. i think we were planning on doing a dinner on a sunday night, but i had gone over to AB’s earlier that day and she and her fiancee were feeding and watering me and letting me use their internet and watch their tv… yeah, there was no way i was leaving that.
the second time, he ditched me. he sent me a message online (i had just lost my phone) to let me know he had forgotten he had to go to a car show that day for work. i didn’t think much of it. when i got my old phone reactivated i let him know and we made plans for the following sunday. i jokingly asked him if he was sure he didn’t have some fancy, manly motocross race to attend instead and his response was that he usually fights bears in the woods on sundays, but they’re hibernating, so for now he’s all mine. good answer.
so sunday rolls around and i make my way to the grote markt, where we agreed to meet. he was from a different town and had to take the train in, since drinking and driving is a big no-no in this country. we meet up around 14:50 and walk until we find a cozy bar his antwerpen friend had recommended. we get two bollekes (which i’m getting pretty damn good at ordering, if i do say so myself).
his profile picture didn’t disappoint. he’s very cute. he’s short too, which is always a plus with me. by looking at him, you could tell that he was in shape, but he wasn’t a meathead at all. he was actually kind of soft-spoken. at first, when i realized he was a bit quiet, i was worried that we wouldn’t have much to talk about. however, after a few hours of constant conversation that fear dissipated. he spent a year living in japan and spoke fluent japanese. he liked karaoke. he wasn’t afraid to go dancing. i was having a blast. at around 17:00, he asked me if i was hungry and if i would like to get some food.
now, here’s the thing. if you live in japan for any time, chances are you probably like my favorite food, which is sushi. the best sushi place in antwerp is in the grote markt. but it is SUPER expensive. i casually mention to him that there is a good sushi place close by, but it is pricey. he shrugs. he doesn’t care, he wants good sushi and is willing to pay for it. major points there. it’s not that i care if people have money or not, that’s really not an issue to me. but i liked his “go-with-it” attitude. i check their website, but they don’t open until 18:00. whatever should we do in the mean time?
two words: den engel. i mean, come on, it was really close by! we walk in and i warn him it’s a bit of a “brown bar,” but he laughs it off and calls it charming. we order a few drinks, continue chatting, and then we notice the bartenders are moving tables outside. the bar is getting more and more crowded. something is going down. i immediately text my friend jeroen because den engel is “his bar” and if anyone was to know what was going on, it was going to be him. guy 4 and i finish our drinks and decide to go back to the bar after we get done eating to see what is happening.
we went to go eat at roji, which again, is the best sushi i’ve had in antwerp. okay, truth be told, it’s the only sushi i’ve had in antwerp. but i’ve heard sushi palace is sub-par, and i’ve seen some of the maki in the stores and it doesn’t look all that impressive. i order a ginger mule because this is the only place in antwerp that i know of that has ginger beer, and guy 4 follows suit. he loves it. we cheers over my good decision and look at the menu. he doesn’t even flinch at the price and instead suggests we get one assorted sashimi and one assorted maki plate. um… done and done.
130 euro later we exit the restaurant, fully stuffed and satisfied by our selections. conversation has gone from good to great and we are already planning where we are going to go the next time we go out. he’s from leuven so i agree to go there for some exceptional pasta next weekend. but the night can’t end quite yet. not when our curiosity has been peaked so high to see what is going on at den engel.
it’s ‘sunday night fever!’ (that was the only thing i got back from jeroen, but from that we had gathered it is some sort of dance party.) we get back to the bar, grab a bench seat, and watch old people dance to techno versions of old songs. it’s fantastic.
the night ends with us agreeing Sunday Night Fever is one of the coolest things ever, cheersing, and downing our drinks. he walks back to the train station and i take off in the wrong direction for home, then realize my mistake and do a 360 to get situated to the right direction. no one saw, it’s fine.
guy #5: smuggy mcsmuggerton
i started talking to guy 5 on okcupid not really because we were a match, but more out of boredom. truth be told, we weren’t really a match at all. 46% match, 53% friend, and 26% enemy. (wow, really, okcupid? you rate your enemies?) but, he seemed decent enough to look at and definitely had an adventurous attitude. every time we talked he came across as smug and arrogant, but in a way that made you feel he was just kind of elbowing you in the ribs to be funny. the online version of a boy pulling your pigtails.
honestly, what really made me inclined to meet him was that he pretty much flat out told me he just broke up with a girl and wasn’t looking for anything serious. just moving to a new country and in the spirit of meeting new people, i was thinking a bit of the same. i felt we could easily go out without having too much of an expectation in either direction.
this date activity was definitely my favorite that i’ve done in antwerp (so far). mr. mcsmuggerton took me to a basketball game. he picked me up in his BWM (that he has paid for in full and, of course, had to mention), and we walked arm in arm to the stadium- halfway for warmth, halfway because he initiated it and you got to give a man credit for that.
at the stadium we met two of his friends, who were both extremely handsome. is it terrible of me to maybe have wished i met one of them first?! (answer: yes). we watched the game, which apparently was a very good match up because the antwerp giants are the best team in belgium and they were playing some very good russian team. and the game was incredibly fun to watch– even though the giants were very obviously the underdog team, you could tell their fans were very dedicated. guy 5 and i didn’t really talk too much during the game, but that was perfect because… well… i love basketball.
the game ended, we left his friends, and we got in his car to go back home. he had told me earlier in the night that he didn’t drink very often, and because of the drinking/driving rule in belgium, if he was going to have anything alcoholic he was going to stay over at my place.
i assured him he was not. i mean, i liked him all right, but definitely not that much. maybe we had different ideas of “not looking for anything serious.” i saw that more as meeting people with no expectations and i think he saw it more as sleeping with people with no expectations. oh, well. potato-potato. 🙂
because of his smugness/arrogance/confidence/whatever you want to call it, i will say he was the only guy that initiated a kiss at the end of the night. and i was impressed with that. i mean, heck, he was probably mad because that’s all he got and he wanted to sleep over, but honestly, if i was eyeing his friend the whole night it probably isn’t a match made in heaven anyway. at least he wasn’t looking to get serious. 😉
guy #6: male me?
i went out with the last guy on the very last day of the month. we had chatted online here and there, but not often enough or with enough zing to make him a forerunner in the game. (i mean, in the dating. it’s not a game. it’s dating.) but he was cute and we were a 92% match, so i figured, what the hell. he lives in gent, which is about a half an hour away, but offered to come to antwerp for a night and have a few drinks.
the idea of going on the date was a good pick-me-up during the week, but it was actually the first date that didn’t go according to plan. we originally planned to meet on the south side at a pub at 20:00, but the closer it got to 20:00 the more i felt like i was about to be stood up. he wasn’t responding to texts or calls. 20:00 rolled around and he was nowhere to be found. (i did make some random friends in the pub, though, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time.) at 20:40 he called me to let me know he had missed the exit and was making his way into antwerp. at 20:50 he called back to say he was in the city center area instead of the south side like we had planned. i told him i’d meet him in the grote markt and started walking.
i get to the grote markt around 21:00 and park myself down on a bench. a few minutes roll by and i text him that i’m at the statue. he calls back. he is also at the statue. hmmm. puzzling. turns out he was in the groenplaats, not the grote markt. it’s starting to rain. i tell him to head to the cathedral. i see him there, and we finally meet.
now, this would normally be a large turn off, but i can’t bring myself to blame him. for one, i have to admit, it sounds like something that i would do. i’m not the best with directions and even with a gps i can get lost at times. this guy drove over a half an hour to see me, doesn’t even have a gps, and i should cut him some slack. fine. let’s go to den engel and get some drinks.
we sit down and order a few drinks and it is at this point that male me asks me if he can stay over, because of the drinking and driving law.
okay, i’m also a bit annoyed about this. what is with these belgian guys just assuming they are invited into my apartment? he isn’t pushy or insistent on it. he admits that he is a bit of a lightweight and is more than happy to sleep on the couch. i inform him i don’t have one yet. maybe something he could’ve asked before he drove into town with plans to drink.
but, whatever. our drinks are here. we cheers and begin drinking and actual conversation. the first thing he says impresses me. he knows the capital of iowa is des moines. he knows we are ‘the hawkeye state.’ and how does he know this? he plays pub trivia every week. he also has board game nights with his friends. um, what? kind of irresponsible, but loves pub trivia and board games? i feel like i’m describing myself here!
we had a few drinks at den engel. he sat on the same side of the bench as me. i don’t really know what to make of that, but i think it’s interesting to point out. it wasn’t like we were staring each other down across the table like an interview. but even though it wasn’t an interview, he did get one strike against him.
…he was currently unemployed. that’s not shallow of me, is it? i mean, i can overlook tardiness and unpreparedness if it’s not a reoccurring theme, but unemployment kind of bothers me. but he was unemployed because he was taking classes and wants to be an engineer. he wants to do something. he’s got ambition. okay. i can respect that. …for now. if it’s true.
after we finished our drinks we started our walk back to the south side. i knew i couldn’t send him home drunk, so i resigned myself to realizing i was actually letting someone stay over. also equally surprising- i wasn’t as annoyed about it at this point as i was at the beginning of the night. we stopped at the bar on the corner by my place for another couple drinks, but mostly to get out of the rain.
sidenote: how come rain makes guys look disheveled yet handsome and makes me look like a messy, drowned rat?
we finish our drinks around 1:30 and it’s very obvious the bartender wants to kick us out. we nod and pay and basically get escorted out the back exit. we walk the fifty steps to my apartment door. when we get in i give him a quick tour of the place and show him that i was serious, i honestly have no couch. “that’s okay,” he says (a bit drunkenly). “i can sleep on those pieces of carpet.”
i have two disgusting rolled up segments of carpet that were left by the previous tenant and i don’t know how to get rid of them because they are too big for the garbage sacks and i don’t know the number for the oversize loads. but anyway, the statement in itself was so cute that i told him he could sleep in my bed.
“but,” i warned, so he didn’t get the wrong idea, “i’m very tired and drunk. if you try anything, i will make you sleep in the hall.” he grinned. i grinned back… but i was serious.
to sum it up: i’m not sure how i would feel about dating myself. but i did have a good time and i will probably see him again to find out.