Over the weekend, a Facebook friend hosted an informal gathering of writers. Feeling brave, I RSVPd yes. I’m interested in meeting people who have a similar schedule to mine, as I do most of my writing at night. Plus, the host was someone with online magazine experience and I wanted to introduce myself. My plan was to ask her if I could take her for drinks and – for book research purposes – get an insider’s perspective on the industry and learn about the various responsibilities involved with being an Editor in Chief. I also needed more experience pitching my novel, and being among writers sounded like an ideal way to achieve that goal.
I arrive at the Lower East Side bar about an hour into the soiree. By then, everyone there had consumed at least one cocktail and had loosened up. I decided to use the knowledge I’d gleaned from a Whiskey tasting a few weeks before and ordered a finger’s worth of Johnnie Walker on the rocks. Normally, I’d order a Merlot and nurse it, but it was a holiday weekend and I’d given myself permission to slack off.
“Bold choice,” said a voice next to me. I turned my head to see a lanky man wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. With dark hair graying around the temples, he looked about forty.
“Wish me luck,” I said. “I’m a Whiskey virgin.”
As I waited for the cubes in my drink to melt and water down my scotch, I learned more about him. His name was Max*, and he’d just completed his first novel and was in the process of querying agents. Max asked me my one sentence pitch for my book (“It’s a story about risk and resilience”) and nodded in approval, adding that he wanted to know more. I told him about my struggles with finishing the draft and said I was getting frustrated.
“Feel free to reach out and vent,” he said. “You can find my profile through [a Facebook writer’s group we both belong to.]
The next morning I looked him up in the group directory, found his page, and took a peek. Most of it was private, but in some of the photos the same woman appeared. I clicked through to her page and learned very quickly that she was Max’s girlfriend.
Continuing on with this theme of disappointment, I showed up for my running class today and not one but both of the men I’m currently crushing were on the treadmills next to the one I’d reserved for the class. The first one, let’s call him Luc, was just finishing his run. He was cooling down and I was warming up. We made small talk about the class and I suggested he join us next week. He leaves and there’s an empty treadmill between me and the other guy I’ve been “flirting” with. We’ll call him Paul.
“Did you bring your workout bagel?” Paul teased.
“No, smarty pants. After you bagel-shamed me I switched to low-fat yogurt and a banana.”
We made small talk about a class we both want to try until a woman showed up and took the empty treadmill between us. Side note: The thing I enjoy about this class is that it’s pretty much the same people every week. We all know and encourage each other throughout the class.
We finish the class and the instructor says he’s noticed an improvement in my endurance. I tell him I credit my Friday yoga class for that. Paul joins the conversation and we start talking about yoga. He mentions that most of the early morning classes don’t fit with his schedule, as he has to get his daughters ready for school. Since I’ve never seen him wearing a ring, I assumed that meant he was a single parent.
“Is it just you?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “My wife and I both get them ready.”
Dammit! It never occurred to me that many people remove their wedding bands before working out, as the ring can sometimes get in the way. We talked some more and parted ways. The whole time I was doing my core exercises, I wondered to myself if the flirting I’d thought had transpired in previous classes and floor encounters was all in my head. I always thought I knew the difference between a guy being friendly and a man being flirty. Apparently, I don’t, and it really bums me out and makes me feel foolish.
With online dating, you know when someone is flirting with you. There’s no question. You’re on a dating site, so of course if they’re messaging you that means they’re interested. But what about real life? Have I been online for so long that I don’t know how to recognize when a man is just being friendly? I think back to my “dates” with Michael and how I was sure – so sure! – he was interested in me. He wiped crumbs from my mouth with his finger, for God’s sake! But there again, I was wrong. He just wanted to be friends.
I work on two speeds: awkward wallflower and seductive siren, with no in-between. Now I’m totally rethinking every interaction I’ve interpreted as flirting. Max was never flirting with me, he was networking. How stupid am I? Paul was probably just being nice. Am I really that stunted that I take any attention from men as flirting? Is that how starved I am for affection?