On Optimism

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So this is what happens:

You meet someone, and you think, he’s cute, he’s interesting, and—because you can’t help yourself—maybe he’ll be the One. Maybe this time will be different, and this will be the start of Something. So you dress yourself carefully, go to the Date, and sit carefully—no chewing of nails, no destruction of straws or sugar packets; legs crossed toward the date; arms never crossed; hands not clenched in your lap, but left lying carelessly on the bar, where they could potentially be brushed or playfully tapped.

And they are. He flatters you, and kisses your hand (in a split second you think, really? then experience giddiness, then irritation at yourself for being gullible, then more giddiness—that nonsense is stupidly effective). He expresses wonder at how beautiful you are. He likes Carol Burnett! You like Carol Burnett! He likes things, and you like things! You like all the same things! Destiny has brought you together! He exclaims over your beauty some more and wonders where you’ve been all his life. He insists that he’ll languish in the hours and days until your next date.

You’ll never hear from him again.

Or: You ask open-ended questions that allow the other person to say clever and witty things. He doesn’t. He stares at his shoes, chews his nails, and destroys sugar packets.

Or: He’s lively. He talks in excruciating detail about his bathroom renovation, or his favorite typeface; he reveals that he has some kind of thrill-seeking death wish that requires him to spend every weekend careening down muddy hillsides or getting electrocuted for charity on obstacle-courses; he reveals (in the first 15 minutes) that he has 14% body fat, and suspects his divorce was due, in part, to his wife’s being depressed that she wasn’t aging as well as he was (oh yes, I’m sure that’s exactly why she left, you think); he assures you that he was only at that glam party because his friend dragged him and that wasn’t his scene at all—not that there’s anything wrong with gay men of course, but he just doesn’t know what he’d do if one of them hit on him or something (and you, noting his attempt at being edgy by wearing his shirt untucked over jeans, with black slip-on shoes that you know are his only pair aside from sneakers, think: if he’s expressing an unconscious desire to get hit on, he’s going to have to start dressing very differently…); he offers his views on what “you women” think, or do, or believe, and expresses dismay at how bossy, or crazy, or high-maintenance his other dates and relationships have been—and of course, you’d never be like that (oh, you think, just give me a reason…); he alludes, provocatively, to having done things, and seen things, that he’ll tell you about some other time but which, in the meantime, are supposed to make you think he’s Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know. Which is why he’s still living with roommates and doesn’t think he needs health insurance. He says, apropos of you’re-not-sure-what, that he’s not autistic—he took the quiz. Maybe I should take the quiz too, you offer. He is incurious about that remark.

And still he’s talking, about theatre lighting, or buddhism, or bicycles, or Literature, or how you don’t need to go to university to be educated, you can be a graduate of the school of Life. Hours of your life have passed, and he hasn’t asked you a single question about yourself. You suspect that he’s not as amusing as you are. Your belief that he’s the One is wavering. But then you think of the Greek chorus which has been telling you your whole life that you’re spoiled or too fussy, from your grandmother when you were 6, to Snowy Owl at Brownie Camp when you were 8, to an interfering friend last week, to all of pop culture yesterday, and decide to make an effort to be tolerant and open-minded. Relationships take work, you remember, and since you’re working pretty hard right now, perhaps that means you’re starting a relationship. Look at you being an optimist!

He offers to drive you home, so you think, what the hell, he’s cute and surely he’ll stop talking at some point—and do the requisite coy thing with your head, look knowingly over the top of your glasses, and demurely agree. Some attempt at romance ensues, which could be better, but could also be worse. He insists he’s eager to see you again. The Greek chorus telling you not to be fussy prevails, and you’re back to hoping he’s the One. You wait the appropriate interval then spend a couple of hours composing a text in which you thank him for the evening, make a flirty remark alluding to his last attempt at witticism, punctuated by a few emoji calculated to be the right mix of cool-but-inviting:🍸🏆🔬😈. He texts back right away with enthusiastic punctuation and winky faces. You’re confident: he’s definitely the One.

You never hear from him again.

Over the next 24 hours you go from feeling rejected, to indignant, to irritated with yourself for bothering to be idealistic, positive, optimistic, or hopeful. You compose brilliantly-devastating critiques of the state of contemporary gender relations in North American culture. You have lengthy internal arguments with the Greek chorus, telling them that they what they call “fussy” you call “having standards” and order them to keep out of your business from henceforth because they’re really not helping. They fail to heed you, as Greek choruses are wont to do.

You threaten to swear off dating all together (again—just like you swore you’d never go back to grad school, twice). You work out. You read the self-help books all your single friends are reading, which tell you to dare greatly, to accept radically, to eat/pray/love (managing one out of three so far, thanks), to let You be You. You turn the experience into a bit that your friends seem to find entertaining. The coupled friends (who never seem to know any single men, anywhere, and who really need to get out more) go home and say to one another, with a mixture of relief and self-satisfaction, “Thank god we’re not single!” (you know they do, because you’ve done it yourself). You decide that you’re a strong independent woman who will work on her own happiness. You will focus on your career (you will binge-watch Game of Thrones).

You go out to some event somewhere or get an invitation in your dating inbox, and end up with another date. And you think, he’s cute, he’s interesting, and—because you can’t help yourself—maybe he’ll be the One. Maybe this time will be different, and this will be the start of Something…

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