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The coffee-shop-first-meeting dance

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The coffee-shop-first-meeting dance photo

There are few things more awkward in this wide world of ours than having a meeting with a new person in a coffee shop.

Yes, it’s great to meet in neutral territory — otherwise, one of you would have to be behind your desk, with your silver name plate and family photos establishing that you are the king of this meeting — but logistically, it’s challenging.

As my fiance and I jump into the wedding planning process, we’ve had some wonderful meetings with photographers, videographers, and coordinators in coffee shops — but the few minutes before the meetings begin, I feel uneasy and stressed. Why? Because I don’t really know what this unknown person looks like. Here’s the process.

Pre-meeting stalking. If possible, I try to look up my meeting-mate in advance on Facebook, Google, or their website. Often, this is helpful, giving me a general idea of whether it’s a man or a woman and generally the shape of his or her head. However, these pictures are often five-year-old pictures that were professionally taken, and this person has recently cut her hair or is wearing a different outfit — how dare she! Plus, in these winter months, no one looks like their beautiful picture on Facebook or their website — everyone in Chicago looks like an Eskimo. I rely on the fact that thanks to this blog, my open-to-all Facebook profile, and various websites I own, my picture is all over the internet, so hopefully they’ve stalked me, too.

Reserving a table. I’ve been trying to arrive at these meetings early, often killing time by working on my grad school thesis paper — or, let’s be honest, looking at wedding bouquets on Pinterest. When I get there early, I try to save a table that can fit three of us, but then I become that horrible person who’s hogging the community table all by her lonesome. I spread out backpacks and scarves and paperwork to make it look like something very serious is about to happen, but inside, I feel like a one-woman army trying to protect my table from siege — and my only weapon is my adorable, apologetic smile.

Saying hi to everyone who walks in the door. I’m early, but chances are that our would-be vendor will want to impress us by being early, too. So for the half hour leading up to our meeting, there I am, flashing that smile at everyone who walks in the door. I pretend to be busy on my laptop, but not too busy. As people walk in, I try to catch their eye — if they just go straight to the counter, they’re probably not my person. But if they look around the room, I wonder, could it be her? Is this our wedding photographer? Do I feel a magical vibe from inside my soul, whispering that she’s “the one”? Nope, it’s just a college student doing homework, sorry.

Describing myself. Once or twice, I’ve said, “I’ll be near a red laptop and wearing a purple coat, and my fiancé has curly red hair.” I feel like I’m writing a “Missed Connections” ad: “I was holding my grande drink. You wore white earmuffs. You said to the barista, ‘Only three pumps of peppermint, please.’ Are you my [wedding videography] soul mate?” Often I wonder if I should put out a sign with their name, like at the airport. Dorky? Or brilliant?

Who’s buying? Okay, we’ve finally identified each other through one of these means, we’ve pulled two tables together, and our Eskimo coats are off. It’s time for the coffee dance. “I’m going to get a coffee — would you like anything?” Does that mean you’re buying? Or should I pay you back? Can’t we each just go up to the line separately? But then does that mean we have to chit chat about how much we do or do not like seasonal pumpkin-flavored drinks? In this department, I usually buy my chai tea latte well in advance of their arrival, or just say I’m not thirsty. Not worth starting out our meeting with the dance.

You know what? I think the next time I meet with a vendor, I’m going to ask if I can just meet at their office. Sorry, Starbucks.

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