I live in a very small world. Most of my friends, I’ve known them for eight or nine years. I’ve met all their friends several times, so setting me up with someone they know is a moot point. Also, not many of my friends are men. My professional field is dominated by women and men who are not interested in women, for one reason or another, so I just don’t meet that many guys.
I see them though. They’re all over the place. But I don’t know how to talk to men I’ve never met. I have no idea how to pull off that smiling from across the room thing. Goldie Hawn does it perfectly in Foul Play. By simply beaming at him, she turns Chevy Chase into a bungling, maniacal idiot, which is how I probably seem to any man who tries to talk to me.
My problem, in any conversation with a new person, is that I immediately engage in a paranoid fantasy of what he or she is going to want from me. ‘Why are you talking to me,’ I think. ‘You must want me to give you money or claim Jesus Christ as my personal savior.’ Perhaps both, I muse. ‘Are you looking to sell me into sex slavery?’ is a question that often comes to mind. And yet, I want to be a nice person. I try to be polite and hear a stranger out. But while we’re talking, I become simultaneously overwhelmed by the burden of entertaining the stranger and escaping the demand I anticipate being put to me. Within a minute, I want to run away as fast as I can.
This does not bode well for casual dating, among other things. The last time I made a new friend, I was purposefully overcompensating for the above mentioned tendencies. Making a new friend was something that had to be written down on a list of things to do. Even then, if Karen hadn’t spoken up, we never would have met.
Consequently, the only men I end up talking to, you know, like a relatively sane person, are the ones who date my friends. I know they don’t want anything from me and right off the bat we have something in common because they dig one of my girls. Usually we get along really well. Sometimes, I don’t even have to grow on them.
I was out the other night with a couple of friends, meeting one of their beaus for the first time. I wanted to make a good impression and I had been cooped up in my apartment for too long working on a deadline, so I was extra chatty. I’m always nervous that I’m talking too much when I’m around new people, so I was extra nervous. Then my friend says, “Tell him about that guy you went out with who left when you went to the bathroom!”
Two things are disturbing here. One is that, yes, I used to go out with strangers I met online. People I knew were doing it and having fun and I was told to try it too. The second, and maybe this is only a problem for me, is that my dating history seems to be of benefit only to my friends, who love to rehash what has come to be a sizeable catalogue of what’s the worst that could happens.
But the self-deprecating story is the star turn in my repertoire, so I’m off and running. Nothing to worry about; I know what I’m doing here.
When he disappeared, I explain, I wasn’t that disappointed except for being stuck with the check. I was pulling out my wallet when he emerged from the men’s room. The beau says, “Well, at least he didn’t bust and run.” I say, “That would have been better. The runner might have been rash, but the guy who doesn’t wait for you to return from the ladies is thoughtless.” Also, I tell him, there were tip offs. Basketball shoes, pleated pants, no reservations for dinner; I should have seen it coming.
They are laughing, but, I feel, perhaps not for the reasons I had in mind. So I go again.
I go to meet another guy from online. I don’t know my way around the neighborhood, so he directs me from the train to his door on the cell phone. I stand outside and he invites me to come in while he finds his shoes or what have you. Because I’m me, my mind is already cycling rape scenarios—visions of hand cuffs, duct tape, a bed of nails. I say, “You know I can’t, right?” He doesn’t. He looks so confused.
We go have a glass of wine and I’m thinking he’s probably not a rapist. We’re talking books. We’re talking music. We’re having fun. He says we should go for a walk. I say sure. If there’s any place I can handle myself, it’s a city street. As he leads me into Fort Greene Park, I think he might be a serial killer. I stop and ask, “Is it safe?” Just to cover myself I ask three more times, but he doesn’t laugh.
I do my best imitation of a relaxed human being and, against every survival instinct I possess, follow him into the small, well lit park. After a while he walks me to a bench and we sit down. In retrospect, I imagine he was enjoying the misty summer evening. He was quiet because he was in a reverie. I was quiet because I couldn’t figure out if he had lured me out there to molest me or murder me.
So I say, “If you don’t kiss me soon, I’m afraid you’re going to kill me.”
He’s not looking confused anymore. My freak flag is flying high.
At this point, the beau has heard enough. He has some advice for me. He says, “You’re too hard on these guys. You don’t like his shoes or his pants? So what! You can change that.”
Immediately, I have about a hundred reactions to this statement, running the gamut from ‘You’re totally right,’ to ‘I want to dress my son, not my lover.’ All I can manage to say is, “I’m trying.” I have to keep saying it too because every time I do he says louder, “No you’re not!” And he’s from Liverpool, so it sounds like I’m being shamed to shit by one of The Beatles, which, for me, is a very heady trip.
Then he says, “I mean it. Kiss me or kill me? I’m looking for a fucking gun!” And I tell him that I know I’m an odd girl, I just think there has to be someone out there who’s looking for my kind of crazy.
Then he says, and this is my favorite part, “NOBODY is looking for that kind of crazy.”
This man is, in the vernacular of his countrymen, taking the piss out of me. Quite obviously, this is exactly what I need. I need as much of it as I can get. I can’t explain why, but it makes me feel so much better. It’s almost reassuring. This kind of exchange, it’s the closest I’m going to get to being at ease around an unfamiliar person. It was great!
And he was right that I need to ease up on these guys. The way I see it though, I am trying. By not dating them, I am sparing the many men I don’t know the nightmare that is a blind date with me. Instead, I’m getting better at making friends and I’m actually showing up to parties. I’m working on widening my social circle in the hopes of being my cool self in the company of men. Because if you were to meet me under non-hyped circumstances, odds are I’d be charming. If you were seated next to me at a dinner party, you might find my verbal acuity, broad base of trivial knowledge, and dated social graces endearing. If we were to get to know each other in this manner, the prospect of a date might just be bearable…maybe even inviting. So I concede that I need to be out there, but if I’m ever going to find anyone I can’t be looking.
Certainly this approach is unorthodox, perhaps even counterintuitive. But come back with me, for a moment, to Chevy Chase. He gets a second chance with Goldie of course. All it takes is a mysterious microfilm, a dwarf, a giant albino, Dudley Moore’s den of sex, a door to door bible salesman, a triple car commandeering sequence, a plan to assassinate the pope, and a Barry Manilow score to bring them together. Oh, and he has to save her life, twice. Don’t my chances look so much better next to that?