Saturday, May 22, 2010

Relationship Notes from the Last Two Months

This is two separate people and two separate stories.  The main character of the first story is me -- that story deals with involving my social group in my prospective relationship.  The main character of the second story is a woman I know.  Her story involves the perception of her by her social group.

So, there's me.  You all know me.  If you don't, you may be in the wrong place.  Start reading from the beginning of my blog and you'll catch up.  I'll be here when you get back.

And you're back!  Such a fast reader you are.

This story involves me and my interest in a woman who wandered into my social circle.  She was friends with a bunch of my friends and we just hadn't ever orbited at the right places.  I'd seen her before and been impressed with her conversation and intelligent sense of humor.  We'd crossed paths at a couple of parties and during a conversational lull, I introduced myself and we started talking.  She was very pleasant and a bit reserved, but we'd only just met.  And the party was tedious, so perhaps that was to be excused.

Flash forward a few weeks, when we happened to be across from each other at a dinner party.  We made more pleasant conversation.  Susan was animated, interested, and interesting.  [Susan isn't actually her name, but I called her that anyway because I wanted to break her spirit and bend her to my will.]  She did something that I find extremely flattering, but which almost never occurs on dates -- she looked like she was paying attention to the content of what I was saying, and then... she asked a follow-up question.  I fought back the urge to propose, managing to divert the impulse at the last second by awkwardly kneeling in the previous dining party's accidentally-dropped hummus.  The distraction lessened the romantic tension nicely. 

Things had gone so well, I decided to begin preparations to think about starting to make an introductory offer of possibly hanging out.  I consulted her webpage which identified her has "single".  And when was the last post? (wouldn't want to awkwardly offer to date someone who hasn't updated since 5th grade...)  Two days prior!  Hooray, while double-checking recent pictures to be sure.  No close embraces with men who straight!  Hooray again. 

Time to ask a friend of hers -- not one so close as to report back to her that I was interested, but not one so unrelated as to not know which person I was describing.  "Say," I say.  "Does Susan have a boyfriend?" Already I was prepping my response to the negative: it should be mostly aloof, but with enough awkwardness to let them know I'm serious.

"Oh, yeah.  They've been dating forever."  I don't... close my mouth right away.  "Gosh, everybody knows about him.  It's long distance, but they're totally serious."  She narrows her eyes. "So she's your type, huh?  I always wondered, Mr. Close-to-the-vest."

I try to pull my cloak protectively around me -- except that I'm not wearing one because I don't live in the 19th century.  "Well, I generally prefer my type to be a bit more single," as I try to inject some humor back in.  She laughs and I disappear in a puff of smoke.  I may not have a cloak, but I do carry smoke bombs for effect -- you'd have to be a fool not to in today's society.

It wasn't the embarrassment of being preemptively denied that smarted most.  It was the fact that I'd tipped my hand unnecessarily and people had reacted as they do whenever I dance, curse, or quote a song from Lady Gaga: as though it was the single most unexpected thing anyone had ever done.  "Aren't you silly for behaving like all the rest of us do!" they say. 

It's not fun.

*** *** ***

Alicia has a problem.  She's old.  Like 30 old.  Decrepit.

But what's worse is that she's started to get desperate in her romantic relationships.  I should stipulate that she's always been a little on the emotional side.  She cried when a boyfriend of yesteryear ordered red wine, as it meant he was thinking about cheating.  She devolved into a sobbing mess when another boyfriend wanted to hang out with his friends instead of leaving himself open for the evening she'd carefully concocted but neglected to mention.

Alicia's someone who gave me the shudders early enough that I was pleased when some years had gone by with only occasional social proximity between us.  It's too bad she can't master herself just a bit more, because she's attractive, she's funny, she's pleasant, and she's considerate.  She's also got a relationship clock so loud that I nervously peek around corners for Captain Hook's crocodile when we're at the same cocktail parties. 

Guys who know Alicia treat her civilly, if coolly.  Should a waiter's cart advance on her from an unseen angle, we'll tap her politely on the shoulder, but not engage in the more intimate "opposite shoulder quasi-hug" grab or the still-more personal "small of back ballroom dance" steering.  We've all learned it's never good to be perceived by her to be "so nice" or "really sweet".

The women, though... whew.  They savage her.  They mangle her.  They decimate her.  And they do for the benefit of whomever is listening.

And they do it until her front is turned.  Then it's all barely-restrained faux concern.  And insincere questions that bite at the end.  And passive-aggressive weakness-testing.  It's disturbing to hear.

And it turns my Spider-Sense back on the mockers.  Is it discomfort with their own state?  In some cases, yes.  Alicia's had brief relationships with guys that other quietly-lonely girls would slaver over.  She doesn't have as finely-tuned a sense of shame as some of the back-biters so they excoriate her for things they'd really love to try, if they believed they might work.  Or perhaps they're trying to curry favor with other disaffected single guys: "Look at her, isn't she so obvious?  She doesn't know what guys want..."

But it's the happily-relationshipped women I don't understand.  They've got stable lives.  They've done their time in the trenches with too-few-decent-men.  They've "won" the prize, so to speak.  And still they mock her -- still they jeer.

For the benefit of their single friends?  Maybe.  For the reason that people gave them trouble when they were "out there"?  Possibly.  To cover old grievances?  Could be.

Maybe they'd tone it down if they knew how ugly it makes them look.

It already kind of feels like a stigma to be single at my age.  People who aren't single say lots of things like, "I used to love going to the opera.  But now, with the kids..."  Or, "Man, I miss the days of seeing lots of different women.  You enjoy this time, Andy!  If I weren't still with Lisa..."  I feel like I'm letting all kinds of people down by not having a fantastic alone time!

I do have some well-adjusted single friends who -- while not being happy about it -- are philosophical about their relationship status.  They're OK with just working past small failures, polyamorous Wicca-enthusiasts, and sadomasochistic options-traders in the hopes of trying to find somebody decent.  I prefer to think of it as "not settling" just because the peer pressure gets thick.

After all, why else did we watch all those self-esteem filmstrips in middle school?  Not just so the teacher would be forced to push the next-slide button if the automatic tape side didn't work -- I can tell you THAT right now. 


  1. Andy, we need to hang out and talk about this stuff. It seems to me that you are thinking far too often than necessary, which is typically a bad idea. Lemmeno when you're free. I am all ears.

  2. Well, you'll be relieved to know that most of this thinking happens after the fact, when I'm trying to whip up a compelling blog entry that won't disappoint the maddening crowds.

    Real life tends to be busy enough to be a lot more fluid and less "dwell-worthy".