Mark: Ridiculous randomness in six parts

There’s a lot of backstory that you’re going to have to deal with on this one. It’s also a little six degrees of separation-y.

As I’ve never laid claim to being a storyteller along the lines of Quentin Tarantino, I won’t be jumping around. So you’re just going to have to bear with me, and we’ll get through this together.

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Yeah, it’s one of those stories. How did it come about? Here we go.

Part 1: The Cookie Party

Christie is one of my best friends; she’s been in my life for over ten years now. She loves to entertain and is a fantastic hostess, and anytime I have a chance to get to her house for a party I’m there.

This time was no different, it was mid-December, and she had invited a bunch of us girls over for a cookie baking party. There would be tons of cookies, a shit load of wine and adult beverages, and some fun conversation amongst friends.

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I arrived at her house, armed with the pre-prepared dough for my famous chocolate chip cookies, and the pre-prepped batter for my famous brownies (no, not those kind of brownies!).

Sidebar - is there anything better than walking into a house that smells like fresh baked ANYTHING?! Honestly, it’s got to be one of the best olfactory experiences ever.

Several of the gals were already in the house baking and mixing cookie dough, so I headed to the kitchen poured a glass, and the party commenced.

About an hour later, a new arrival came in - Denise and her 6-month old adorable daughter Carrie - and we struck up a conversation. It turns out that Denise and Christie became friends when Denise was a patient of Christie’s (she’s a dental hygienist), and from the get-go, they got along like a house on fire. It was the same for Denise and me when we started chatting.

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A short while later, another new addition arrives at the house; her name is Karen. Karen is the neighbor two houses over from Christie. Karen is also the mother of Denise’s husband’s best friend. Who is apparently single. And after about an hour of all of us talking, Denise says to Karen “I like her for Mark.” Her being me.

To recap:

  • Christie and I are friends
  • Christie knows Denise through work
  • Denise is married to Jim
  • Jim is Mark’s best friend
  • Mark’s mother lives two houses over from Christie
  • Mark is single
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Anyone have any questions so far? None? Awesome. We continue.

We’ve now established that Mark is single, and his mom and friends are on the lookout for a new lady for him.

The cookie party continues, but now it has become imperative for all parties that we find a way to connect Mark and me. Because his family thinks he needs a girl and I’m well. Very single.

It’s ok by the way - I’ve owned my impending spinsterhood for a long time. I mean, for God’s sake, I have a cat. (Just one though. Jesus, I can’t even imagine having more than one. Crazy cat lady, I am not.)

But I digress.

I learn through Denise and Karen that Mark:

  • Is in his late 30s
  • Has been single for about 8 years or so (uh, red flag!!! We’ll circle back to this, don’t worry)
  • Works for his dad’s company (not a red flag at that time)
  • Loves sports
  • Is a fantastic son and friend
  • Is a lot of fun.

Aside from the eight consecutive years of singledom (even I haven’t had that long of a dry spell, thankyouverymuch!), I thought this wasn’t a terrible setup. I mean, what did I have to lose right?

That’s the attitude, Ashley. Way to think positive.

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So, after like, 8 hours of cookie and wine consumption, we reach a consensus.

Karen will host a dinner party on Christmas Eve Eve, and that’s when I will meet Mark. We will see what happens from there.

At this point, I should note that I told everyone that I didn’t want to see any pictures of him. I didn’t want to form any preconceived notions about his appearance, etc., because I was already going to be nervous and slightly awkward, as per usual.

I didn’t want to put any additional pressure on myself or to make anyone think that this was going to be the most incredible set up in the history of setups. Because, in all honesty, what if it wasn’t?

I’ve learned to become a realist in the 20 years I’ve spent dating. Doesn’t mean I’m not optimistic, in fact, I’m usually over-optimistic and end up in shitty situations. But there’s now a touch of “yeah, but what if it doesn’t” that pops into my head these days.

Anyways, onto the next part of the story. Thanks for sticking with me so far.

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Part Two: The Christmas Eve Eve Dinner Party

Christmas Eve Eve arrives, and I drive up to Long Beach for this dinner party. I’d spent a ridiculous amount of time panicking about everything from my outfit to my makeup to what dinner conversation I was going to make.

Lesson learned here: don’t go on a blind date. I’m too awkward and too much of an overthinker.

I am greeted at the door by Karen and her husband Dean, a big bluff Texan who immediately takes a shine to me.

Jesus, I’m full of awkward cliched sayings today. My apologies, everyone. We continue…

I walk into the house and head towards the kitchen where I hand over the bottle of wine that I had purchased as a thank you gift for my hostess and meet the man of the hour.

He walks over to give me a handshake, a solid salesman-y handshake, and I introduce myself to Mark.

After getting a good look at him, I realized the following:

  • There was no instant attraction. He wasn’t horrible to look at, but he’s no Tom Brady
  • He’s shorter than me (I was wearing flats, so this is a very valid observation)
  • This dinner party was two couples, plus me and Mark

Conclusion: I had a feeling this night was going to be awwwkkkwwwaaarrrddd.

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So it’s Mark and me, his parents, and Denise and Jim (and their daughter Carrie, who was six months at the time. So she doesn’t count…. Moving on). That’s it for the dinner party. I had assumed - wrongly - that there would at least be another couple of people with us for this. But holy shit, talk about a lot of pressure.

Also, if he didn’t think it was a setup before the dinner party, he apparently had to know something was up. Well, at least I hoped he did. He seemed intelligent enough, but who knows.

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So the dinner commences, and we had a lovely time. Strategically seated next to one another, we chatted about football and sports, Mark asked a few questions about me, but otherwise, we just let the conversation flow with everyone around us.

It wasn’t a bad evening; I enjoyed the dinner thoroughly. Mark's parents are fantastic, and Denise and Jim are fucking rockstars.

At the end of the dinner, we all hugged our goodbyes, and I left to go home. No numbers exchanged, no mention of further plans, nothing.

In all honesty, I was super ok with it. Christmas was coming, I was taking a trip, and to be perfectly honest I wasn’t entirely vibing with him.

So the next day rolls around, and Denise is texting me asking how I thought it went, wanting details, etc.

I fill her in that nothing happened, he didn’t ask for my number, etc., and that I wasn’t expecting anything.

And then about an hour later I hear from Denise.


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Well, that’s surprising to me. But hey, alright.

About a half hour after this, I get a text from an unknown number.

(In the interests of journalistic integrity, all grammatical and spelling errors are his own)

“Hey ashley its Mark. Thanks again for coming to dinner last night it was a blast! My mom said you can bring an appetizer for the USC party.”

Welp, I think we have our answer as to his thoughts about me. I laughed it off and shared the text with Denise.

I also replied back.

“Hey, Mark! Thanks for letting me know, see you on the 2nd! Merry Christmas Eve!”

I got back a couple of Christmas present emojis.

Things were not looking up.

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Part Three: The Rose Bowl party

A week or so later on January 2, I was back at his parent's house for a USC football watching party enjoy the 2017 Rose Bowl Game. It was a good time among people who were all USC fans.

Well, except for his dickhead brother who made a snide comment about my scarf being a Harry Potter scarf. First off, bro, I was sorted into Hufflepuff. Secondly, I bought the scarf at the USC bookstore. Go fuck yourself.

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Mark and I said hello to one another, but he made it clear he was helping his parents host the event. This made it easy for me to go and focus on hanging out with the people I wanted to see. Denise, Jim, Carrie, her husband Scott, and their neighbors who had also come to join in the fun.

This party turned out to be a good time. We watched one hell of a fun game, and it was casual. Nothing happened, we just hung out as friends.

At that point, as far as I was concerned, he was in the friend zone. And I felt that it was likely he’d done the same with me. No hard feelings, it happens.

But alas, this ridiculously long story does not end here.

Part Four: The Pseudo-Group Date

The next day, I’m at work, and I get a text from Mark.

“Hey ashley, it was nice seeing you yesterday. Wondering if you’re free friday night for dinner with me and my parents and another couple?”

Soooo, clearly, I’m in the “hey, Ashley’s probably free” category of people now?

What the fuck?! When did I become the only viable option as a rent-a-date?

I tried not to be insulted by this, but it was difficult. I also wasn’t thrilled or overjoyed with excitement at his invitation. It was pretty apparent to me that Mark was being pushed to interact with me by someone (ahem, his mother). Don’t get me wrong, Karen is a lovely woman, and I genuinely loved spending time with her. But no one wants to have another person foisted on them due to maternal pressures.

I’m not fucking brussels sprouts, people.

Immediately I’m texting with Denise and Christie about this situation. Both of the gals are of the opinion that I need to go for it, and just enjoy myself.

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So, I figured what the heck it’s better than sitting at home. Again, my powers of positive thinking strike again.

So, I accept his invitation and get the deets. I'm to be at his parent's house by 5:30pm on Friday night, where we will have some cocktails and then take an Uber to dinner.

Cut to Friday evening, I manage to get myself out of the office a little early and up to Long Beach. (The 405 on a Friday afternoon is no one's friend. If I could firebomb that freeway, I probably would. Sorry to go all Californians on you, but it's the truth.)

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I arrive at the house, somewhat close to on time, and as I walk in the door someone says "Happy Anniversary, Karen and Dean!"

Uhhhh... wait, what?!?! I'm the date for the anniversary dinner? What in the ever-loving hell am I supposed to think now?!?!

My brain had two streams of thought on this newly awkward situation I found myself in:

  1. Either Karen really wants her son to date me
  2. Mark just needed a plus-one to stave off awkward questions like "so why aren't you dating anyone?"

I did not relish either scenario at this point. But I did call out Mark for not telling me.

"What the hell?! Why didn't you tell me it was their anniversary?!" I hissed at him after we had toasted the happy couple on their 39 years of marriage.

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"What do you mean?" he asked me.

"Well, I would have appreciated a heads up that we were celebrating," I said. "I would have at least gotten a bottle of champagne or a card or something!"

I wasn't in the best mood at this point, because I felt incredibly awkward and also like I was crashing on their anniversary dinner. Since I'd known these people all of like, a month, it seemed a little untoward.

But, the Uber arrived and off we went to dinner. Had a delightful time at this fabulous restaurant in Seal Beach where I ate and drank way too much. Halfway through the evening, Karen made a point to inform me that I was staying in their guest room that night because she didn't want me to drive home.

Looking back, I sense that there were ulterior motives behind that statement. Mom's are the best at making innocuous comments that seem harmless but are in fact laden with innuendo. But I digress...

Dinner ends, and we're all decidedly intoxicated off of the like, eight to ten bottles of wine the six of us have shared (Karen and Dean had invited a few other people to join us so at least it wasn't a double date for their anniversary). But, the Uber got us back to their home and Karen, and Dean promptly went upstairs and crashed.

Mark and I stayed downstairs watching Sportscenter, and all of a sudden he makes a move!

Color me shocked. No seriously, I was totally floored. I was also totally drunk. So I mean, I went along with it. To quote Jack McFarland, "All I wanted was a little Mr. French!"

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So we ended up making out for a few hours and then crashing. I hauled myself out of there around 7:30 in the morning to get home and ready for a shift at my weekend job.

When I left, Mark walked me to my car and kissed me goodbye and said he'd call me when he got back home to Vegas (did I mention Mark lived in Vegas? He did.).

To be honest, it was an ok interlude, but I still wasn't like, feeling it. 

Part Five: The next three weeks

So Mark gets back to Vegas, and suddenly I've got someone texting and calling me on a consistent basis.

Like, we were dating but not dating. And I was enjoying the fact that I had someone around, but there was just one hang up.

He lived in Vegas.

Now, I'm always down for a trip to Vegas. Another of my best gals lived there for a few years, and I loved getting out there to see her.

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But date someone that lives there? Meh. I wasn't too keen on the idea of a long distance thing anyways.

There was a slight carrot on the end of a string. Mark was allegedly moving back to Southern California within the next six weeks. I figured, pfft, six weeks? I can manage that no problem.

So, we got in the habit of texting or talking nightly. We'd check in through the day, and it was fun playing 20 questions and getting to know one another without any of the weirdness that comes with having these conversations in person.

After a couple of weeks, we agreed that Mark needed to come back to Southern California to visit, for us to actually go on a date. In kind, I would book a trip out to Vegas for after said first date in exchange.

So he plans a trip to drive back out, for Super Bowl weekend. In return I booked a flight for President's Day weekend, giving us a three-week window between the first date and the trip.

I figured it would be okay, we'd figure this out and make it work.

Ohhhhhhhhhh, how wrong I was.

Part Six: The zombie date

No, you're not reading that wrong.

Thanks for sticking with me this far, guys. I promise it's not too much longer. In my defense, I did say that this was a story that included a ton of backstory in it.

There was so much that went wrong here, I'm going to break it into sections.

The planning.

Two days before our scheduled date, Mark calls me to discuss plans. Here's how the conversation went:

Mark: "So, what do you want to do on Saturday?"
Ashley: "Ummm, how about we keep it casual and just get dinner and a movie?"
M: "Sure, that works. Want to figure out the movie now, or on Saturday?"
A: "Let's check on Saturday after we're done with dinner. That way we're not feeling a time crunch."
M: "Cool. Where do you want to go for dinner?"
A: "Do you have a preference?"
M: "Let's go get sushi. I'll look up some places near your apartment. What time do you want me to pick you up?"
A: "How does 7 work? And if you're looking at places by my apartment, I'd recommend looking for a spot where we can make a reservation. Most of the good spots by me don't take them, and we'll get stuck waiting for an hour or more for a table or a spot at the bar."
M: "No, I'm sure it'll be fine."
A: "Are you sure you don't want me to find a spot where we can get a reservation just in case?"
M: "I mean if you want to go for it."
A: "Ok, I'll see what I can find."

And that folks, was the date plan. As I'd felt throughout the entirety of our acquaintance, I did not have a lot of faith it was going to go well, nor did I have a ton of excitement for this scheduled evening out.

But, ever the planner, I booked us a table at a sushi joint that fortunately took reservations, and we were good to go.

The date.

Saturday rolls around, and Mark was picking me up at 6:30 for dinner. At 6:10 - SIX TEN - I get a text that he's at the gate for my apartment complex.

Ok, I'm all for being early. But 20 minutes early? Dude, play some Candy Crush on your phone and then text me at 6:25. 

My dilemma? I hadn't started putting on my makeup. I was dressed and could be ready pretty quickly, but if I was going to put on my face, I preferred to do it without an audience.

My good hostess genes (thanks, mom & grandmas) forced me to go outside and let him in and invite him to wait inside my house while I finished getting ready. I go out to get him, and he says "Hey!" and just walks through the gate.

No hug, no kiss. Just "Hey!"

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I was at a loss, and we hadn't even started our evening.

So he comes in and starts looking around at the pictures I have around my room, and I said, "I can turn on the TV for you if you'd like." He said thanks, but no thanks.

And he just sat on my bed watching me put my makeup on. A little weird, but hey, I can handle weird.

So I finish getting ready, grab my coat, and we head out on our date.

He doesn't get the car door for me. Doesn't try to make much of conversation in the car, just asks for the address for where we're going.

As more time passes, I'm a little confused as to his attitude and really not sure about what is happening.

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But as we've discussed previously, I'm nothing if not an optimist that things can turn around, so I didn't sweat it too much.

We go to the restaurant, and I check us in, and they take us to our table.

As we sit down, Mark says "Oh, I guess this is ok."

Internally, I got PISSED. First, I wasn't going to deal with another three-table debacle like with Alex. Second, the hostess asked us if we had a preference to either sit at a table or the sushi bar, and when Mark didn't say anything, I said: "table is fine." 

I looked at him and tried to hold my temper in, and asked: "What's wrong?"

He replied, "Well, I usually like to sit at the sushi bar."

And I probably shouldn't have, but I did anyway. I offered to switch by saying "Well, we haven't even ordered drinks yet. There are spots open at the sushi bar, I'm sure we can move."

He said, "No, it's fine."

Welp, I did all I could there. And at that point, I'd arrived at the conclusion that I was going to be cashing in my ticket to Vegas and going somewhere else for President's Day weekend.

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During dinner, our conversation never strays further than what I've come to realize is his favorite topic. Himself.

Ugh. This just kept getting worse and worse and worse.

We finished our meal in an hour, that's gotta be some kind of sushi date night record. Because we had discussed going to the movies, we looked at the schedules for the theatres nearby and discovered that we were outside of the window for anything either of us wanted to see.

So, we left the restaurant, and I made a few suggestions. "We can go over to Muldoon's (the nearby Irish Pub) for another drink?"

Mark: "No, I don't want to drink anymore, since I'm driving." (He had ONE beer with dinner)

Ohhhh-kay then. Next option "I guess we can go watch a movie at my house?"

I was not really trying to encourage him that something was going to happen because Lord knew I was done at that point, but hey, maybe he was nervous or something.

Mark: "Yeah, that works."

Huh. Ok, well back to my place we go.

The post-date.

So we return to my house. I suggested a few titles, and we landed on the new Ghostbuster's movie since he hadn't seen it.

I turn it on, we both sit on my bed. ON MY BED.

And proceed to watch the movie. Literally, we were sitting like this:

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(yes, I understand these are cats. Google image search wasn't helping me with GIFs or images.)

We sat like that, for the entire movie. He didn't try to hold my hand, hug me, anything.

And then he fell asleep. So, like an idiot, I let him crash.

When he woke up in the morning, I saw him out, and that was that. I swear to God, the only thing I could think of was that I'd been on a date with the Zombie version of the same guy from January. It was BIZARRE.

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Part six: The aftermath

Yep, we're almost done.

So Mark returns to his parent's house, and then back to Vegas. I started to pull back on our daily communication because duh, I wasn't going to wait around for a zombie to come to his senses.

I also was firm in the belief that if this guy honestly liked me a lot, he would have at least shown a little effort to try.

A week later, I hadn't heard from him in four days. And then it stretched to seven.

A week and a half later, it was the week I was supposed to travel, and it was Valentine's Day.

I got a text from him at 5pm "Happy Valentine's Day!" with a GIF from Parks & Rec:

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It was official, I was done. I replied with a thank you and left it alone.

Thursday night rolls around, and it occured to me, that he still thought I was flying out to Vegas on Friday evening.


I realized that I wasn't about to be a bitch to him, but that I needed to at least make it clear that I wasn't going to visit.

But I chickened out. And said I had an ear infection and couldn't fly.

I'm such a wuss sometimes.

And that was pretty much the end of Mark & I. The six part zombie date of weirdness.

To this day, he goes out of his way NOT to speak to me when I see him at various events with the whole gang of our friends.

That's not awkward or anything.

But as always, this is just more proof of the random, the weird, and my inability to cut someone loose when they're clearly not the right guy for me.

I don't know that I'll ever learn. Fortunately, I get a good laugh out of these stories every time I tell them.

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Ashley Ragland