I have a tattoo that says, “She’s battling things her smile will never tell you about.” It’s to remind me everyone is vulnerable, we all hurt, we all have pain. It helps me remember to be nice, be kind, be sensitive, and be FRIENDLY to everyone I come across.
This plays an important part in the story I’m about to tell.
The other night my family was each doing their own thing, so after my social-distancing gym routine, I went to a social-distancing brewery in my neighborhood to treat myself to my favorite salad. The brewery is laid out oddly, with a bar-area in the middle and the dining area built a few steps up, around the perimeter. I presume this is so you can sit in the dining area and still see sports games on the TVs because, well, it’s a bar.
But what it resulted in is that while I was surrounded by a sea of empty, off-limits tables, I was about two feet ABOVE a guy sitting at a high-top in the lower level bar, who was also surrounded by a sea of empty, off-limit tables.
Location, Location, Location
It was a bit awkward because I felt like I was literally breathing down his neck. I kept my mask on until the very last moment when I needed to eat. He was doing work on his laptop and I also didn’t want to seem like I was spying on him, so I pulled out my kindle and buried myself with the last three pages of a mystery that had completely captured me.
After a few minutes of being very aware of pretending we were not aware of how close we were, he finally turned around and said something like, “Hey, they kind of f’d this up, didn’t they? I promise I don’t have Covid, so you don’t have to hold your breath while you eat.”
I smiled politely and said as far as I knew, I don’t have it either, so he could uncover his beer. He mentioned he has to get his temperature taken every day for his job, which is why he knows he’s currently safe-ish.
Welcome to Chat-anooga
In the spirit of being friendly and kind and all those other things I strive to be, I continued with the polite small talk, thinking, ‘here we are living during a period of time when people are polarized and isolated, we could all use someone friendly to talk to these days—me included.’ And I’d finished my mystery, anyway.
We talked about what he does for a living and it turned out that his occupation could provide a benefit to where I work, so we started discussing how we could connect our companies. From there we discussed sports, cause, well, it was a bar. And then talked about the elections, cause, well, what else is anyone talking about?
At one point I mentioned how “we” had moved to this neighborhood about a year and a half ago, and he asked if I was married, based on the use of “we.” I confirmed. He said he, too, was married, they also live in this neighborhood, and it turned out our kids went to the same school, back when such a thing existed.
Basically, it was a pleasant conversation with another human being. When I left, I gave him my email address so we could further discuss the opportunity for our businesses to collaborate, we fist-bumped because that’s what you do these days, and I headed home
In the ten minutes it took me to get home, I had received a slew of emails from him starting with “Are you happy?” moving along to “Let’s get together again this week, maybe we can play pool?” and ultimately getting to “My marriage is about to end, I’d like to see you again really soon.”
I shut it down asap but the whole thing left a terrible feeling with me. My husband thinks I should just be flattered and let it go but flattered was definitely not what I was feeling.
Before we get into an “Accused” situation, you should know I arrived at the brewery still in my gym clothes—the same ones I’d just worked out in. The only thing hot about my ensemble were the rings of sweat all over it. I am not a strappy-sports-bra-with-tight-running-shorts kind of work out girl. I don’t understand women who wear full makeup with neat, high ponytails and “glisten” at the gym. I wear zero make-up, an oversized t-shirt, loose yoga pants, and shove my hair into a ballcap that hasn’t been washed in three years. My “glistening” drips down my face and armpits like a boss. I guess you could say I was dressed to kill that night, but it would have been a result of the way I smelled. So, I definitely did not have the appearance of a woman at a bar who was looking for anything outside of a shower. A solo shower. I hate that I even need to clarify that.
No matter how I turned the conversation over in my head, I didn’t think I had done anything to invite those emails and was disappointed this seemingly nice neighbor turned out to be an aggro-creeper. Yet, when I complained about the situation to one of my best friends, he said, “Well he’s only partially at fault.”
Am I naïve? Did I set up the wrong expectation by continuing the conversation? Is there some unspoken time limit where if you have continued to chat with a stranger after, say, three minutes, then you’re sending “come hither” signals? After we talked more about it, he changed his assessment, but it really bothered me that his knee-jerk reaction was that I shared the blame.
Look I don’t deny that I am often oblivious to being hit on and because of that, it may sometimes seem like I’m interested when I think I’m just being nice or polite. I’ve had friends literally laugh in my face when I tell them stories about my ignorance about these things. “Wait, you mean the random guy at the grocery store who asked me about what flour to use really wasn’t interested in hearing about the scone recipe I got from ‘The Great British Baking Show’? And that’s why when I said I made them for my kid, he disappeared without getting any kind of flour? Ohhhhhh…” So maybe being hit on shouldn’t hit me so hard.
But I can’t help but wonder—did I miss some signal here? Did I mistakenly use some secret word that everyone else knows about? Did I really do something wrong by having/continuing a conversation? I’ve felt ashamed, embarrassed, confused, and, honestly, sort of dumb since the experience. Does this EVER happen to men?
Maybe I need to change my tattoo—and my mindset—to “Trust No One.”
A full-time copywriter, Lilly Winters lives outside Washington, D.C. in a house full of animals—which include her husband and teenager. Under a different name, she’s written a book of short stories, a Young Adult novel, and was most recently published in Gravity Dancers. Lilly Winters isn’t posting her real picture because it’s possible she is currently wanted by the Mexican drug cartel. It’s also possible she watches too much Ozark.