There are no stupid questions.
But there are damn confusing ones. Questions that beget more questions, filling the listener with untold uncertainty. Something as simple as “Do you want to come to yoga with me this Thursday at 8?” can contain layer upon layer of potential hidden motives and trapdoors which, if you take so much as the tiniest misstep, you will plummet into, and you can bet your ass there will be spikes at the bottom.
You may think dating is the worst, but the true epitome of unpleasantness is almost dating. At least when you’re on a “date,” you can shoot for the stars. Go for that kiss, and when you find your lips landing firmly on the cheek of denial, rest easy knowing that at least you tried. You may not have even made it to the moon, but thanks to the heat shield of certainty, your reentry into the atmosphere of loneliness will be smooth and relatively flameless.
But what about those other times, when you end up doing something fun with a girl, just the two of you, but nothing is ever specified? Is this romantic? Are you just friends? Was that stop to pick up a bunch of heavy objects after dinner truly spur-of-the-moment, or was the whole thing just a set-up to get your burly arms along on her errand?
There’s just no telling! Sometimes you’re on a date and you start to believe in the idea of mutual attraction. But other times one person is into it and the other is totally oblivious, and despite every sign you throw at her, she manages to dodge the hint.
Is her adroitness due to her obliviousness, or is it a concerted effort to avoid leading you on? And is everyone as neurotic about this as I am?
There you are, staying up late in your dorm with the girl of your dreams, just talking, experiencing one another, and it seems like neither of you wants to go to bed. Every lull leads to extended looks, and you can tell the feel of the evening is about to shift, but then conversation picks up again, and throughout it all, you’re too chicken try to take things in a physical direction. You’re good friends, and you don’t want to ruin that with your bullheaded presumptuousness. You’d be crushed if you revealed yourself, only to find out you’d read it wrong from the start. Eventually night drags on to dawn, and the two of you head your separate ways, last lingering gazes held until one of you closes your door.
Of course she’s into you, you dolt! But it’s impossible to convince yourself, and the devastation of being wrong is unthinkable. So instead you’ll let that moment slip through your fingers, and you won’t be able to sleep because the doubt and regret will course through you like a poison, and for the rest of your life, you’ll regret not taking that leap.
At least, that’s how it is for me. To be fair, I haven’t lived a complete life yet. Maybe I’ll have wild, romantic experiences that will get me to stop thinking about that night on the cruise ship when I stayed up with that nurse with the southern accent and watched the sunrise, and somehow didn’t kiss her. Maybe I’ll stop thinking about the time that naked girl called me into the shower to help her adjust the heat, and I did exactly that, then left. Maybe, but I doubt it.
And sometimes you end up on the other side. Someone will come to your apartment with her friend to bake cupcakes, and the friend will mysteriously have to leave, and suddenly you’ll be alone with this person you have no interest in, but now she’s hitting on you, and now she’s opening wine, and now she’s leaning closer, and oh god.
It’s a part of me, this inability to interact with women, to know what they’re thinking and what to say to them. It’s plagued me even longer than my acne or asthma or my ever-embarrassing tail.
My dad did his best to train me in the art of interacting with the opposite sex, but I took to his lessons like particularly inept oil takes to water. I think all of my failures and awkwardness and imperceptions can be traced back to a single moment, one I’ve never been able to live down. My dad likes to tell potential mates of mine the story of how, one morning when he was dropping me off for elementary school, a couple of girls from my class greeted me. Being relatively normal human females, they said something friendly, like “Hi Russ!” But even this simple salutation skyrocketed my scared-and-confused meters off the charts, leaving me too dazed to respond at all. My dad seized the moment to give me some of his point-in-time instruction, which was a piti.
I was a Nickel, and by god, I was going to learn the subtleties of basic conversation. In order to introduce me to the concept of pleasantries, he posed a hypothetical scenario: “Suppose, for example, you noticed that a girl had on a nice pair of shoes. What could you say?”
Ever clever, I immediately came up with the perfect comment:
My father was impressed. Maybe I could catch on after all. So he took the scenario one shoe-step further. “And suppose,” he continued, “you didn’t like the shoes she was wearing?”
This was tricky. I was thinking something negative, and yet, to meet social standards, I was required to say something positive. A puzzle! I gave the situation a lot of thought, imagining where each potential response might lead, before answering with: