Chapter 5: The Dolphin Trainer

You know how in movies people always come up with a code word before a first date, so that if it completely sucks their friend can call with “an emergency” to help get them out of it? Well, that happened to me. 

Ash and I met through a mutual friend. A friend I made shortly after moving to Orlando, I’ll call him Cornelius, introduced me to his friend group, and we frequently hung out together within this group – dinners, escape rooms, movies, house parties, Halloween Horror Nights… you get it. He was a really nice guy, not what I thought of as my usual “type,” but I liked talking to him. He was funny, smart, seemed like a good friend to everyone in the group, and worked as a dolphin trainer at a certain well-known ocean focused theme park in Orlando. 

I don’t really remember how or when this happened, but eventually, Ash asked me out. The funny thing is that later on I found out through another friend in our little group that one guy was trying to find the right time to ask me out, but then someone else told him he thought I had a boyfriend (I didn’t) so he never did. So then Ash swooped in. Whoops. I wasn’t sure that I was really looking for anything at the time, but I figured, I’m trying to break my walls down, I need to meet more guys, he’s nice, and I’ve only ever hung out with him in group settings – I’ll give him a chance, what do I have to lose?

We met for dinner in Downtown Celebration (which is super cute, by the way). We got Chinese food, he paid, which was very polite and gentlemanly of him. We had a really good talk, it was nice to get to know him one-on-one versus the group interactions we’d had so far. I remember at one point he told me that he felt like I see the world very differently from most people, and that it’s interesting to hear me talk the way I do. In my head this makes me think like I sound like some sort of wise Buddha, but I could be wrong. Either way, I’ll never forget that. It’s still one of my favorite compliments I’ve ever received. 

After dinner, we walked around downtown for awhile before deciding to get some ice cream. He has a really severe allergy, so I don’t even remember if he was able to even get any but I was hardcore craving Kilwin’s, and he obliged. Then, we sat on a bench by the water to talk some more.

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We’d been talking for awhile, but it still didn’t feel like “that moment” where you know the date is about to end so you need to start wrapping things up and making plans for next time and all that. Which is why I’m still not sure why he decided to take that moment to say that he was having a good time, and did I want to go out with him again?

I panicked. I HATE turning people down. I’m that person who texts people I don’t click with after a first date to tell them, “I just didn’t feel that spark I’m looking for, but best of luck – you’re a great guy!” I refuse to ghost people, and I hate having to reject people. I knew Ash was nice, but “I just didn’t feel that spark I was looking for,” so I knew I had to tell him that. So, I told him no. “But not a hard no, a soft no,” is actually what I said. Which then I had to clarify as not meaning to ask me out again at a later date, but that we could still hang out in a group, just not one-on-one. Then I swiftly changed the subject.

Not even five minutes later, Ash got a call. I could hear panic in his voice, something was wrong. It sounded like someone, or something, was sick. He hung up and told me that there’s a dolphin at work that’s been sick lately and she just took a turn for the worse, and he has to go now because this might be his only chance to say goodbye. In my head I was thinking, this is a bit fishy (get it?), but being the nice person I am, I go with it. I like to believe the best about everyone and everything. I told him to run and that I hoped the dolphin was okay, so he said goodbye and ran off to his car. I left a little bit later.

Later that night, I got a call from him apologizing for running off. I ask how the dolphin is – she’s doing okay, they’re optimistic – we had some friendly chit chat for a bit, then we hung up. I never told anyone in our friend group about this, I didn’t think they had any reason to know we went out once, so we just acted normally next time we saw each other. It was a little awkward at first, but we got through it. I’m pretty sure he went out with someone else in our friend group shortly after, which was great for me because it meant less pressure and guilt.

Months later, I was talking to Cornelius about funny dating stories and I finally told him about my date with Ash, and he said, “Oh, yeah, I knew about that.” So I asked him if he knew that it ended when Ash had to go check on a sick dolphin, and he burst out laughing, asking me if I really believed that was a real phone call. That’s when I found out that the call about the “sick and possibly dying dolphin” was actually from Cornelius, thanks to an SOS text message he’d been sent by Ash to get him out of the awkwardness of me refusing a second date. My naiveté knows no limits sometimes.

So, that’s The Dolphin Trainer. Honestly, I think it’s pretty hilarious that I actually believed that, and I still think Ash is a good guy (if you’re reading this, no hard feelings!), but the fact that I actually had someone use an SOS text/emergency call on me is pretty classic. Especially since I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the world whose emergency call involved a fake dolphin story. There’s a first time for everything, right? I just hope that was the only time someone has had to use that call on me.

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