I was having a great Friday night. I was wearing a pair of wild, patterned leggings, a tight black dress that made me feel powerful, and my favorite pair of boots. Before I got to the show, I met a dear friend for a drink, and then I walked across a city at night by myself. The muscles in my legs burned under my brisk “city pace,” and the winter chill bit a nice, pink blush into my cheeks. I had already seen about three dudes peeing in the snow, and I felt on top of the world.
The show started out great. I met some new people, learned a new board game, heard some music. But, as my friend’s band got up on stage, and as I moved closer to get a better view, I could tell my good vibes were about to be interrupted by a particularly onerous situation.
I could feel him staring at me from the bar. Every time I glanced over to see if he’d left, he was there, fingering the cold, wet girth of his beer bottle. I knew what was going to happen, and I braced myself for it. I am not exactly quick to warm up to strangers. Most conversations in bars involve me being incredibly rude to any man who approaches me in an attempt to nip it all in the bud. I’m either glaring at the floor while a stranger chats up my friends, or I’m lying, apologizing, and explaining that I’m madly in love with my [fake] boyfriend. I saw this guy looking at me, and I thought, “Here we go, Jen. Let’s play nice for a change. Maybe he’ll be interesting.”
Below is an illustrated account of the conversation that transpired as I recorded it later that night. All names have been changed to protect the drunk and awkward.
“Hi, I’m Gary,” he said, extending his hand as I fought every urge to glare and ignore. He just wants to know your name, I told myself. Be nice. I took his hand and shook it awkwardly. It was soft, damp, and cold.
“I’m Jen,” I replied, trying to look pleasant but hoping he would just go away. “Nice to meet you.”
“Are you a student?” he asked, leaning in close to shout in my ear. His breath smelled like my college apartment after a big party.
“No,” I said curtly. Then, remembering that I was trying to be nice, I added: “I graduated a few years back.”
“Oh, from where?”
“Oberlin College,” I answered, keeping my eyes on the band. I was hoping my friend on stage would notice how close he was to me and send a knowing glance of solidarity.
“Oberlin!” he cried, all too joyfully. I had given him something to talk about. “I almost went to Oberlin!”
“Awesome,” was all I could say, and it came out as bland as mayonnaise. I really didn’t care, but I reminded myself that I always tell people I almost went to OSU, and that those people probably didn’t care either. Be nice. Be nice. Be nice.
“Do you play an instrument?” he forged ahead. “Did you go for music?”
“No,” I responded. He hadn’t used the words sexy or hot yet, so I decided to reward him with a few extra words. “I play a little, but I didn’t go to school for it.”
“I’m really into music,” he confessed, still leaning in, still shouting. “I do records for bands and stuff. That’s what I do, helping them out with records and stuff.”
“Yeah, I am pretty cool.”
“Did you see me dancing out there?”
I had seen him dancing. He’d had his arms out like he was going to do a cartwheel across the floor, and he was bobbing his head like a giant bird as he moved back and forth doing what looked like deep lunges.
“I was looking for a partner,” he suggested, holding out his hands.
Oh, my God, no, I thought. What is a nice way to say ‘Oh, my God, no?’
“I’m sorry,” I said out loud. “I don’t really dance.” It was the first lie I told that night, but it wasn’t the last.
“Do you know anyone in the band?” he rebounded quickly.
“I know the fiddle player,” I answered, gesturing towards the stage.
“I don’t know anyone in the band. I just really like music and stuff because of what I do.”
“The record stuff,” I said, throwing him a bone, letting him know I had been listening earlier. “Cool.”
There was a pause, and I got excited. Had I actually diffused a situation with a drunk man without being overly rude? Could this be a turning point in my young life? Did I really just—
“Hey,” he said, cutting my triumphant moment short. “I think you’re really cute and sexy.”
“Ohhhh,” I breathed, pretending to be flattered beyond words while my brain worked overtime. Be nice. Don’t lie. Be nice. Don’t lie. “Hey, thanks, but I’m not really here for that sort of thing.”
“Me either,” he mused, and I thought for a moment it was over. “I’m really into music, you know.”
“Me too, and I really want to hear my friend play, so…”
“Well, I really think you’re sexy,” he repeated. “We should hang out afterwards.”
The true test had come. Could I get out of this situation feeling okay about myself, without lying or glaring? I inhaled deeply and took the plunge.
“I’m not from around here,” I said honestly. “I have a long drive home, so I don’t think so.”
“Oh, where are you from?” he said, too far gone to take a hint. His breath turned my stomach. This would not be easy.
I paused for a second and considered my answer carefully. I needed a place that was so far away there could be no denying I would have to go home early. I needed a lie.
“Oberlin,” I answered, deciding that lying about where I lived wasn’t the same as using a fake man to justify why I didn’t want to go home with him. “It’s like an hour and a half away.”
“Well, then you can stay with me tonight,” he shouted in my ear.
“No, man,” I said, more firmly this time. “I really just want to listen to my friend’s band and then go home.”
“I have work in the morning super early.” Another lie to spare his feelings. “I have to go soon, anyway, so I’m just going to listen to the band now.”
He had been shouting at me their entire set. I was frustrated now, and my voice was getting that shrill, helpless, childish tone that always reminds me of arguing with my parents and fills me with self-loathing. I’d had enough. I just wanted to hear my friend play. I had tried to be nice. I really had.
“Hey,” he said, doing the exact opposite of what I wanted. “You know, when a cute guy says he thinks you’re sexy and wants to hang out with you after a show, you really should say yes.”
“Okay,” I replied despondently, realizing that I actually hadn’t looked at him since he told me about his job. All I knew was that he wore glasses, was an awkward dancer, and that I didn’t care for him at all. I felt guilty and almost took a second look before I reminded myself that I didn’t have to be sorry about not liking him. With more resolve, I repeated: “I don’t want to do that right now. I just want to listen to my friend play. That’s what I’m here for.”
“Alright,” he finally conceded, “but I’m going to tell you a story.”
Oh, my God.
“I used to play football.”
Oh. My. God.
“I said I used to play football,” he repeated, even closer to my face this time.
“I used to play football,” he continued, apparently satisfied with my response, “and we had a game at Oberlin.”
Of course you had a game at Oberlin. Because I told you I live in Oberlin.
I suppressed an eye roll and nodded instead.
“Oh, man,” he laughed, apparently caught up in the memories. “I partied so hard there. It was around Halloween, and I had a raging night before the game. I remember I was in this white jump suit dressed like Wonder Bread, and I fell asleep on some stranger’s couch. I woke up 30 minutes before the game and had to run through the streets in this jump suit. I got there just in time, and my coach was so pissed that he…”
“…the whole team thought it was hilarious and called me Wonder Bread. That’s how I got my nickname. Wonder Bread.”
He finally quit talking, and there was a brief moment of silence before I realized he was waiting for me to respond.
“Yeah, well, what I’m saying is, you need to learn to have fun. You need to learn to live your life. When a cute guy asks you to have some fun, you should say yes.”
“Listen,” I tried one last time, “I’m going to focus on the band now, okay? It was nice to meet you.”
“Fine.” I felt relief rushing over me and suppressed an outburst of laughter. “But if you change your mind, I’m going to be over there, watching you.”
He left, and true to his word, he kept his eyes on me the rest of the night. When he turned away to order another drink, I was ready. I sprung into action, bolted for the door, and eagerly pushed my way out into the night.
“Have a good night,” an actual cute guy said to me as I power-walked to my car past a group of smoking friends.
“Yeah, sure, whatever.”
Mean Jen was back, and Mean Jen was going to bed.
Just a note: I didn’t share this experience because I wanted to shame any of my male friends or acquaintances. I shared it because I think it is a hilarious and relatively harmless example of what it’s like to talk to a drunk person when you’re sober and of what young women often endure when they have the guts to go outside alone looking fabulous.
Ladies, I’m not saying you are obligated to be nice to everyone if you don’t want to be.
Gentlemen, I’m not saying you should never try to talk to cute girls. I’m just saying that you should probably not be hammered when you do. You should probably interpret her disinterest as disinterest. You should probably not shout in her ear. You should probably not assume that she is unhappy just because she is alone or try to instruct her how to live her life more fully. Oh, and you should definitely not tell her you’ll be watching her.