Yesterday during a girls’ brunch that I’m refusing to call “Galentine’s brunch,” we were asked: “What is the funniest, weirdest, or most interesting Valentine’s Day you’ve ever had?”
The first one that came to mind is the one I alluded to in a recent Motif article, about the Scotsman in a Red Fez. And since I believe the statue of limitations is up, I’ll offer you some reading material on this Valentine’s Day, for which Hallmark has been making money since the 1800s.
Fun (unsurprising) fact: Women buy 80% of Valentine’s Day cards.
As a spoiler alert, the focus isn’t Valentine’s Day. In early 2020 there was a call for Little City Love Scenes in which we were to “send your awkward, your unusual, your scary love stories (but only funny scary, not dangerous scary) about your Rhode Island dating experiences.” Dougal was certainly unusual, but not scary [ahem, that was “Crazy Joey”], which I will save for another day so as not to alarm my parents. It’s fine, I’m fine, everything is fine!
Without further ado:
My Little City Love Story
I met Dougal in January of 2017. We matched on Tinder, during the days of my on-again, off-again relationship with the dating app. He worked at Hasbro and was Scottish. He was tall, kind of quirky, and Scottish. He had nice teeth, and was Scottish. I swiped right, basically, because he was Scottish. (When I was 24 I took my first international solo trip, and I chose Scotland because I hoped to find Gerard Butler or someone who looked like him and get married. I was unsuccessful.)
Dougal didn’t look like Gerard Butler—he’s got red hair, for starters—but I thought he was attractive, and he initiated our messaging by telling me he was a seal tamer. This, I presume, was in response to my bio in which I said (honestly), “I’m a former dolphin trainer and current blogger.” And I have a weakness for witty banter.
We planned to meet at the Eddy for drinks the last Thursday of Providence’s Restaurant Week. I know this because I double-booked myself with dinner plans at the Dorrance afterward (with my girlfriends, not another Tinder date. That was so 2015). Mid-day that day, Dougal texted me asking which hat he should wear to dinner, followed by two photos: one was Dougal in a velvet red fez with golden tassels, and the other was a rainbow-striped beanie with a propeller at the top.
“Wow, such winning options,” I said. “I’d go with the fez.”
“Maybe we should go to the Red Fez instead for drinks?”
“That would be appropriate, but perhaps too expected,” I countered. I had my heart set on the Eddy, so he relented.
At 6pm, I spotted our table through the window. Through the dim lighting, I could make out a red fez sitting as the centerpiece. I thought he’d been joking about wearing it.
“I never joke about wearing the fez,” he said.
“Well, you’re technically not wearing it,” I said, and he put it on his head until I asked him to take it off. Later, he would ask if I wanted to try it on, then snap a photo. One of the yellow tassels clung sideways across the front, “a Fez Combover” he called it. “I never thought someone could look so good with one,” he added.
Our conversation flowed easily and covered a range of topics, from his job to my first experience fasting to online-dating pet peeves. Dougal explained that he, along with some friends, made a Bumble profile (with permission) for a female coworker who was “really awesome” but wasn’t putting herself out there.
“Why Bumble?” I asked.
“Because we want nice guys for her. Bumble is classy.”
“What—did we match on Tinder?”
“Oh,” he paused. “You should think about joining Bumble.”
Because of Dougal’s involvement screening dates for his coworker, he’d seen his share of male profiles and the range of photos they use as profile pictures. He commiserated in the overuse of gym selfies, car selfies (in the driver seat, while driving), and an endless number of caught fish. “I’ll give you one,” he said. “But seven?”
I also confided that I hated the whole messaging process because guys often attempt entire conversations via text. “Tell me your whole life story!” they seem to ask, or a series of banal questions, like “How was your day?” The most unsettling are the early morning texts wishing me “good morning, beautiful,” before we’ve even met. Dougal circumvented these faux pas and went straight to witty banter and a date proposal. Although his accent wasn’t quite as Scottish as I would have hoped, it was there in a subtle way and added to his charm.
At the end of our date, which flew by, he told me to take the Fez. “Wear it to the Dorrance,” he said. “You’ll make a grand entrance.”
I couldn’t imagine walking into the Dorrance, with its high ceilings and stately manor, wearing a fez. But I did. The friends I met there were first confused, then bemused, then asked a hundred question when I revealed I’d gotten it from my date. We each took turns wearing the fez and even got our waiter, Jim, to snap a photo in it, which I sent to Dougal that night.
“Your hat was a big hit,” I said. “Thank you.”
“No worries – it’s yours now. It’s your ‘thing.’”
“No, no. I could never deprive you.”
“You know, as a food critic celeb, you need to have a ‘thing.’”
“Haha fine. But you’ll have to wear one, too, on our next date.”
“I actually have two. Well, now one. You have one. I have one.”
“We can be the fez people.”
“‘They’re coming to eat again. The fez people.’”
“Jenny from the Fezzi.”
“We can keep our leftovers under the fez.”
“Or just eat out of the fez.”
“And we can give small indications on our delight by the angle at which our Fez strings are placed.”
“The two-string combover indicates extreme delight, or maybe one too many bevvies.”
“Restaurant owners will relish the day they see the full ‘trump combover’.”
A few days later he went to the UK and Nuremberg, and when he came back I went to Washington, D.C., but in between he took me to dinner and gave me souvenir candies and Icelandic chocolates (“You were in Iceland?” “The airport”). We spent Valentine’s Day together at his apartment, and he made us a Scottish classic—deep fried milkyways—after which we binge-watched Friends.
Dougal was the kind of guy who, on our second date, I was unafraid to ask him if he wanted to circumnavigate the world with me as part of an Amazing Race type adventure called The Global Scavenger Hunt (despite evidence to the contrary, this was a serious question). He couldn’t, but only because he’d already planned a cross-country road trip and a Firebird, complete with a Firebird decal on the hood. But it was Dougal who came up with “Thundersnow” as a team name, which my future teammate and I used as we competed on our trip around the world.
Five weeks after our first date, Dougal and I met at Local 121 for dinner, just before it permanently closed its doors. He had shaved his face and told me he was adopting a minimalist lifestyle for the next month, which included a Whole 30 diet, putting all of his things, including shelves and shelves of trinkets and toys, into boxes, and moving to a microloft inside the Providence Arcade.
As part of this minimalizing effort, he also thought it would be best to stop seeing each other. “Not that we can’t ever talk,” he said, “but I realized I never dealt with the end of an 8-year relationship, and perhaps I should.”
It turns out his nearly-decade-long relationship ended just before the holidays, and his friends encouraged him to join Tinder immediately. He’d never properly “processed” the breakup. I thought it was wise of him to do so, though it bummed me out because I really liked him. I thought, If it’s meant to be, it’ll be. His minimalist journey would last him until I was on the Global Scavenger Hunt, but I promised to get in touch afterward. “Good luck,” he said. “I hope you win.”
Team Thundersnow, sadly, did not win, and by the time I returned in mid-April, Dougal was somehow in a serious relationship with someone else. As the memes say, I’m like the foster girlfriend who takes care of men until they find their forever homes.
Therefore, I am still waiting for a Knight in Shining Fez (or a very charming Greek man who loves Jesus) to sweep me off my feet, if anyone happens to know one.