So I’m at a writers conference for the weekend, aka a place where the male-to-female ratio is approximately 1.2 to 300.
Let’s not even get into who’s actually single. But the whole scene has gotten me thinking that, as much as I deserve blame/intensive psychotheraphy for being compulsively drawn to men who are emotionally unavailable–the feeling is often mutual.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m a human hologram: attractive only to people who are prohibitively involved with other women or unhealthy substances.
Which brings me to a public service announcement of sorts: I understand it’s a delicate question, when two people come together in a potentially flirtatious context, at what point someone who is otherwise attached ought to say so. Too soon and you seem presumptious, too late and you seem like a jerk.
But I’d like to take this opportunity to recommend that all of us abandon our collective pride and for the sake of hopeful single people everywhere, tend toward the former. If after thirty minutes of talking and trading book recommendations I still don’t know you’ve got a girlfriend, that’s about twenty-five minutes too many. Because honestly, you’re not that smart or interesting and your writing isn’t that great and I really like to get eight hours of sleep if possible. I’ve got enough friends. We both understand hormones. Out with it.
And for the record, lest we forget, I have only actually been the other women exactly one time and that, as I’ve written, was one time too many and I never say never but if you’re interested in cheating I’m not interested in helping you. Relationships are complex enough with two people involved, thanks.
All of which, finally, brings me to a story.
It starts back in my DC days, when it was my job to book Important People on a big deal radio show. Once in a great while, one of those Important People actually showed up in Washington and took the time to come in to the studio.
One of those times, the Important Person was also very tall and very handsome and very much exactly my type: creative (a painter as well as a writer), quiet, hyper intelligent and hyper sensitive. We clicked instantly. The night before his interview, at his publicist’s recommendation, we went out with a group of colleagues. We flirted. We stood awkwardly on the sidewalk and sang karaoke and when he left the studio the next day, we shared a brief hug in the lobby.
At least, that’s what he said happened over a year later when we met up again in New York. I hadn’t actually remembered that hug. I’d thought he was attractive and fun, but basically figured he was out of my league: he was an Important Person, for christ’s sake, and I wasn’t. I’d had fun flirting and forgot about the interaction soon after it happened.
Until, a few months after moving back to NY, I emailed his publicist for a contact and he wrote back that he, the author, still talked about me. I assumed he was joking—publicists, you may know, tend to dramatize. Until the publicist and I planned to meet up for drinks, and hours beforehand he informed me that the author would be joining us.
Next thing I know our knees are knocking under the table and then we’re huddled agains one another, publicist gone home, on a Union Square side street—searching for the next bar.
“There was something so special about you,” he said as we strolled, arm-in-arm. “I’ll always remember that hug.”
All of which seemed forward enough to make me feel comfortable asking him, as I did over our next cocktail, why it was that he hadn’t kissed me that night in DC.
He looked at me, sheepish.
“Cause I’m shy and awkward,” he confessed with a giggle. And then, wait for it: “And cause I kinda had a girlfriend.”
Needless to say, make that had/has.
I mean, I have no idea whether they’re together now. On occasion he and I exchange pithy emails, he asks me how my writing is going and makes an empty suggestion that we have dinner or get drinks or trade writing. I respond, feel annoyed and move on with my life.
I don’t know if I can help being attracted to men who aren’t available, but I can certainly try to avoid them—just as I might need to avoid becoming involved with fellow creative types, too.
If two people of any variety are enough work in a relationship, one introspective, self-analytic writer in a given pair might be plenty.