Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Strangers Without Candy

I had dinner with Miss K last night, and we were talking about how, some days, one just wishes one could walk through the world and be invisible. We got started on this topic because although she has a car, Miss K takes the bus certain places, and apparently there are certain bus routes in Seattle that are fine and non-eventful, and certain bus routes that are to be avoided because they are just chock full of scary people. Scary people who all seem to be riding the bus more as a social event than as a mode of transport from one place to another, and there you are with them. Hi!

Both Miss K and I tend to be reserved about talking to strangers in public no matter what. But there are days when you really really don’t have the energy to fulfill to the social needs of random whoever. Miss K was telling me about how she was standing in a parking lot lately, completely absorbed in trying to make her cell phone behave, when all of a sudden this guy was right up next to her, saying “I just wanted to tell you that you’re beautiful.”

(Author's note: Miss K is indeed beautiful. Plus she’s six feet tall so it’s kinda hard to miss seeing her.)

She said, “He had some type of accent so it took me a minute to understand what he’d said. I was startled, but I just barely glanced up at him and said thank you and then looked down again.”

And to his credit, the guy did immediately go away. But this has happened to me, too, and it’s really jarring when you’re moving through the world alone, mentally composing a grocery list or the plot of your next novel, and someone decides that the two of you are going to have some sort of moment together. (Remember, I’m not talking about a social event or even a bar, where conversational sallies are expected. I’m talking about, say, Bartells, or the corner of 15th and Harrison St, or the aforementioned parking lot.)

There’s also the fact that I don’t believe any man makes a remark like this to a woman without at least some hope that she’ll respond by wanting to know him better. I know, some guys will say, no, I wasn’t trying to hit on her, I just wanted to tell her she looked beautiful. But I have never had a stranger approach me like this when I’m actually with a man. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. You gentlemen who claim you’re just being friendly, consider this: would you walk up to a strange woman who was with a guy and say, “You’re beautiful”? If not, why not? What would you think if you were with a woman and another man did so? (We won't even get into the whole issue of how two women together could very well be...together.)

Whatever the motivation, I myself think approaching women in public works better when you give them a little ramp-up. You know, make some eye contact, smile – then when you get closer and speak, they’re not so startled. And if they’d rather be left alone, they can signal that with the averted gaze, the turned back, or moving away from you. Want to ignore those signals? Well, I hear certain Metro buses are a great place to meet interesting people.

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