I enter a bar, order a drink, sit at a corner table facing the wall. It’s more convenient to sit at the bar, but there are people there. Humans. I’m more of a wall-facing sort in places like this.
I’m supposed to meet a co-worker here, but I arrive early so that I can drink a little and hopefully feel less anxious.
A few days before, the co-worker had walked up to me after a staff meeting and said, “We should hang out!”
When she started speaking, I began nodding my head in the affirmative, because that’s how I get through most social interactions. I’ve learned that if you just nod a lot, it makes people happy and if they’re happy they are more likely to leave you alone. But in rare instances, the nodding backfires and results in more, not less, social interaction.
Example of the latter: me nodding to “We should hang out!” understandably came off as agreement to the idea.
Before I could switch to shaking my head “no”, the co-worker had asked, “You drink, right? We should get a drink or something.”
I just kept nodding my head in the affirmative. I added a thumbs up to seem life-like.
So, that’s where I am now. In a bar, trying to process my context.
A day or so after agreeing to this, it suddenly occurred to me that I should try to figure out whether or not this was going to be a date. I had initially assumed “hang out” meant “hang out”…and I imagined this to mean sitting and talking or something fairly boring along these lines. But the “get a drink” part sounds more date-like. However, the more I sorted through our brief exchange, the more I realized that I simply lacked enough data to arrive at a conclusion. I was going to be out with a person, clueless about the nature of our outing.
Moments like this always make me wonder how other people figure it out. How do people know when they are going on a date? People rarely use the word “date”…they use ambiguously worded phrases like “go out”, “get coffee”, “hang out” and so on. I don’t know how anyone ever understands anything that involves another person.
I see people intuit the social and, every single time, it’s like watching a clever magic trick. I’m delightfully stunned.
I could have asked about her intentions, but my sense is that directly asking, “Do you mean a date?” is more awkward than just guessing. And needing to ask is embarrassing. I decide to just go and see what happens.
Co-worker enters the bar. She sees me in the corner, slumped over a drink, facing the wall…she says, “Why are you over there?! Let’s sit at the bar, it’s more fun!”
I death-march over to the bar.
We sit there and I’m relieved to see that she is dressed casually. That had been one of the other big questions on my mind: how to dress. If it’s a date and I go too casual, that might seem rude. If it’s not a date and I over-dress…that might seem odd. But as I note her clothes, I realize that maybe this is how people dress on dates. Is it? I have no idea. I’m 32 now; I haven’t been on a date since college (and those few dates were as incomprehensible as this one…if it’s a date.)
I had decided to dress casual, just because I thought it would be more comfortable. Still, I worried about the clothing question. Seeing her in comparable wear, it’s a relief.
We drink our drinks. I try to recall conversation topics. I had memorized a dozen or so of them so that I could more easily say words and seem like the kind of person who does things like say words out loud in a social kind of way. I’m nervous, though, and can’t seem to remember the topics.
Eventually, I come up with, “How is work going?”
She waves that one away, says, “Dude, we’re not talking shop.”
That was it. That was my selected topic of conversation. I don’t know what to do now.
She digs around in her purse, takes out her phone and says, “Hey, I just got this. Do you like it?”
She shows me various features on the phone and says things about…I don’t know. I guess it does a lot of things. I don’t understand a lot of new technology. I nod a lot and that seems to work. Mostly I’m trying to figure out whether or not this is a date.
She puts the phone away. I finish a drink.
She asks how long I had been here before she arrived.
I tell her, “A bit. I wanted to have a drink or two ahead of time. I think that I’m basically self-medicating against…you know, free-floating anxiety stuff, but my therapist says I use alcohol to self-sabotage during social interactions as a way of minimizing opportunities for human connection.”
Co-worker laughs loudly, says, “Oh my god! I love your sense of humor!”
I fake laugh, partly out of old mirroring habits, mostly to cover up the dawning realization that she thinks I’m kidding.
I still can’t tell if this is a date. The clothing thing isn’t giving me any real clues. One thing I’ve observed in others is that when they flirt, they will do little touches. Like, brush a hand against someone’s hand or arm…just small things like that. Signals.
I don’t know the signal language. I’m always too nervous to try it myself. But I’m paying attention, trying to note any instances of little touches on her part.
A few times, it happens. As she’s talking, telling a story, she’ll reach over and tap my hand. However, I also notice that she is generally a hand-talker. She waves them around a lot, gestures as a way of emphasizing her words. Some people are naturally sort of hand-centric when talking, so I can’t tell if this really connotes interest.
I had been struggling to think of conversation topics, but she’s comfortable telling stories about her friends, so I go into my nodding routines and that seems to cover up my lack of verbal contribution.
The first story she tells is about a friend who got into an argument with a bouncer, resulting in her group getting ejected from a bar. The second story she tells is about a friend who got into an argument with a police officer at a party…different friend, similar result, they were ejected from a party. The third story she tells is about the time she and her friends drank too much at a party, left completely wasted at 2a.m., decided they were hungry, drove somewhere for food, only to fall asleep- all of them, at the same time- while parked in front of the ordering kiosk of a Taco Bell drive-thru. She said an employee had to walk out to their car, wake them up and shoo them away.
She continues in that vein for awhile, each story getting filed under the heading of “party drama”. I particularly liked the drive-thru story. Most people are better story tellers than they realize.
Is this a date? Nothing within our discussion is making this any clearer for me.
I keep drinking and nodding. She keeps talking. Eventually, she concludes a story and says, “Okay, well…this was fun!” She gives me a hug, leaves. I go home.
I was told to write out these sorts of interactions, to memory-sketch people and conversations, as a way of feeling my experiences and connecting with others. I was told, “You use words like antennae, and that’s good. It’s okay to do that. Run with it.”
This is that. I am writing a thing. I had an experience involving another person.