or, Eating Humble Pie
It's good to come to terms with disappointment, especially when it dawns on you that the person who disappointed you was only doing exactly what you would have had your positions been reversed. Could I have some whipped cream with that humble pie?
Yeah, funny story about that. I was at a seminar, one of these that's organized by students for students. It's just us medievalists, and every couple of weeks we get together, one of us spends 20 minutes rambling on about his/her research, we all clap politely and then walk to the nearest pub and get pissed together. (Do i have the coolest department or wot?!?!?) So i'm sitting in one of these seminars, and guy that I had seen around in my Latin class and other places was there walks in, looks around, and sits down next to me. Let me add at this point that this dude is C-U-T-E. Bit of a babyface, which isn't quite my style, but fair to behold nonetheless. And tall. Tall is necessary. You must be at least this tall to ride this ride. He mutters something about "thought there would me more MAs here," I ask to borrow a pen, he obliges me, it's all very humdrum.
After the seminar (some wank about 12th c theology. I have no stomach for theology. Every time i hear someone babble on about the nature of god I want to quote R&J and scream "Thou talkst of NOTHING!") we wander out the door and discover it is raining. I am unsurprised by this development and pull out the ol' brolly. Mr. Cute MA has no umbrella. I ask if he would like to squeeze under mine, he is pleased, thanks me, and offers to hold the umbrella, which he does all the way to the Penny Farting.
The group grabs a large table, I sit down in the corner, Mr. C. MA sits down next to me. We chat. We chat about theatre, art, music, and the general fuckupedness of UK higher education. We chat for over an hour. We barely notice when the group breaks up and heads for the door. They are going for pizza on the department's dime, but I have to be at a boat club thing. We hurriedly exchange pleasantries (but not details) and scuttle off in separate directions.
I am on cloud nine. It's been ages since anyone paid me that kind of attention. He's attractive and, more importantly, interesting, articulate, and pleasant. There's a concert on saturday at the cathedral. Handel's Messiah. I've been wanting to go, but no one I know is interested. It occurs to me that Cutie might be interested. I don't know when I'll see him again. I need to reach him. I don't have his details. What to do?...
Email the chick who organizes the seminars. We're on friendly terms, and if he was there, he must be on the email notification list. "Cathy... Help! I need Cute MA's email address. Do you have it?"
"Si," she replies. "Here it is. Erm, your intentions may be purely friendly, but before you do anything embarassing, you should know he has a live-in girlfriend. -C"
I shouldn't be so surprised. There's no such thing as an interesting, polite, attractive, single guy. They're all taken. Often and well, presumably.
Oh well. Better I should find out this way after only 16 hours of hoping than, say, by bumping into his girlfriend after I've spent 3 months hoping. Coulda been worse.
So is he an asshole? why was he being so attentive to me? Do i have a neon sign sticking out my ass that reads "Bit on the Side!"? This is where the socially inept bit comes in. I find I still have a hard time interacting with British people sometimes and understanding what's going on. It sounds stupid, but there are some significant cultural differences that I have yet to get a grip on, espcially in social environments where behavioural cues are really subtle. My first reaction was to declare him a dickhead for hitting on me when he already has a girlfriend.
That's because where I'm from holding a lady's umbrella and then spending an hour talking only with her to the complete exclusion of the rest of the group would be considered blatant flirting and a sure sign of serious romantic interest. It wouldn't even be open to interpretation.
But I'm not where I'm from. I here, thank the Force. And here, casual interaction between the sexes is more common and more, well, casual. And then I remembered something. I remembered that comment he made when he sat down by me in the seminar, the one about "thought there would be more MAs here." He's not on a PhD, he's on an MA. And he walked in, looked around, and saw a room full of older, really intimidating people that he'd never met before. And then he saw me, a phd yes, but a phd who comes to his latin class and with whom he has exchanged pleasantries. A familiar face, someone safe, someone less intimidating. And so he did exaclty what i would have done: he latched himself on to the one person in the group that he already knew and felt comfortable with.
Speaking as one who is socaially inept and generally terrified of parties, his behavior is completely understandable. I would say forgivable, but it's not anything that even merits forgiving. I'm ok in small groups, but large groups scare the pants off me. I'm getting better, I really am, but I still struggle a lot.
This is partly due to one of the symptoms of the mild autism that I have: faces all look the same to me. They are no more animate than a chair or lamp, they are wooden, and almost indistinguishable. I have been known to introduce myself to the same person several times over the course of an evening, being unable to recognize them from one encounter to the next. Fortunately, this usually comes across as drunken antics (even though I'm stone cold sober) and is laughed off and laughed over at breaky the following morning. (When i was in australia, I even introduced myself to the girl who had been my bunkmate for 2 days. I was told to expect a new girl, and SB walked in, i thought she was the new girl, and you can see where this is going.)
So when I go to a party with another person, I have a habit of following that person around purely because I feel more safe and comfortable with him/her. Then of course I become afraid that I'm being a puppy tag-a-long, and so I leave to go mingle, whereupon I proceed to make an ass of myself, at which point I start to feel guilty for ignoring the person who brought me and being a bad friend, and i go in search of my friend and return to my previous state of puppyness. wash, rinse, repeat. It's all very awkward.
In light of this, then McCutie MA's cozy behavior is completely fine. Perhaps I didn't recognize it at first because all my life I've been the awkward one; I've never been anyone's 'safe zone' before. And in my state of dire singlehood I saw what i wanted to see and mistook his attention for romantic interest. Millions of years of evolution, thousands of years of perfecting communication, and look how easy it is to completely misunderstand one another. Sad, isn't it? Sometimes it amazes me that we manage to communicate at all. Or do we?...
Friday, December 09, 2005
or, Eating Humble Pie