by Mariana Meriles
photo by Emma Condie
There’s a long list of first dates that tween me consistently dreamed of (aside from just any date in the first place). But the one that always made the top of the list was a date at the carnival. The bright lights, the adorable stuffed prizes, the ferris wheel—oh so essential for the perfect first kiss —it all just felt… perfect.
That was my image for how my first dates would go—perfectly. The romanticized image of interlocked fingers, ice cream dripping onto my hands, both butterflies and free dinner in my stomach. Awkward silences instead moments we could look into each other’s eyes, different interests or opinions just a chance for growth. Nothing, I thought, could go wrong.
And I do still try to hold onto that image of the perfect first date. The preteen in me relentlessly takes my friends on dates, buys adult me chocolates on Valentine’s Day, and watches romance movies in bed with my stuffed animals (you know, single person stuff).
And yet, the preteen in me falters—especially when I think back to the first dates I’ve actually been on. I think of the discomfort, of forced laughter, of the painful seconds before the first kiss. I’m reminded of tinder skeeves, of unwelcome advances, of just plain, unenjoyable, sheer awkwardness. I think back to the guy who performed magic tricks, of the guy who interrogated me for all but my social security number, of the guy who somehow managed to kiss with his teeth. Yeah, I haven’t had the best luck.
But more importantly, I’ve visited the carnival.
I’ve stepped over vomit, I’ve sat against seats sticky with sweat, I’ve experienced the oil and the mess and the insane decadence of fried dough. (And tell me, does anyone really know how to eat a candied apple?)
And yet, it’s this exact dichotomy—the beauty and what can only be described as the grossness —
that the carnival captures that makes it the perfect first date spot. Because what more is a first date, if not the perfect combination of potential and disgust?