Thursday, February 16, 2012

Today's Placeholder

I submitted this to GOOD Magazine over two months ago and received no word. I assume this means I didn't pass muster. Even so, I'm quite proud of this story and am pleased to share it with you. Be forewarned. It is much more lengthy than most things I post.

She Had a One-Track Mind

I met her at a house party that began in the early evening and lasted late into the night. After my share of them, I’ve begun to notice a pattern. Attendance seems to arrive in waves, spaced periodically throughout the evening. People arrive, alcohol arrives, alcohol is consumed, people excuse themselves, and alcohol may or may not depart with them. Another wave goes through shortly thereafter.
Like me, she showed up early by herself, not part of any group invasion. Knowing only one other person, I found myself, as I always do, in search of interesting conversation and appealing company. As it turns out, I did most of the talking that night. There was enough of an attraction present between the two of us to keep me there longer than normal. Usually, I am among the first to excuse myself for home. 

I remained in her company until well after midnight. She did nothing to dissuade me from leaving.  Sometimes I don’t mind being the sole center of someone else’s attention. As evening turned into early morning, we exchanged contact information and then went our separate ways. Following that, I waited the requisite but cliché two to three days before contacting her. And I waited. And I kept waiting.

Prior experience usually states that receiving no communication within a week is usually not a promising sign.  But I really liked this girl, so I tried to stay patient. By ten days I was beginning to feel abandoned. Had she merely been humoring me? I had given up ever hearing or seeing from her again when I received a brief e-mail. Approximately two weeks after my initial communication, her response was Spartan and to the point.  It also contained what I thought was a heartfelt apology, this for the extended period of no contact.  She had, she said, been overseas and busy with work. 

I proposed a date at a trendy coffee shop frequented by young professional types. Her reply was surprisingly prompt this time and we set a time. My expectations were high, perhaps more than they ever had any right to be. Even so, I’m afraid I could never have foreseen the outcome. Here is what I mean.  On the occasion of this, our first date, I started several usually interesting discussion topics. Most people who I encountered immediately caught on, contributing their own opinions and experiences. She stared at me blankly with each one. 

So I was forced to improvise and try different options. Nothing was making as much as a dent at first.  I began to get a little worried. Working the topic eventually around to what she did for a living, a decision made nearly in desperation, she became instantly animated and talkative.

After fifteen minutes or so of conversation exclusively centered on her occupation, I realized something as revealing as it was disheartening. Work wasn’t just a fixation; it was her only real interest and passion. The effect was robotic and dull. 

In Washington, DC, people of this make and model are not uncommon. Type A overachievers, they are experts in precisely one specific area of their lives, and often surprisingly underdeveloped in many others. Still, I had to hand it to her. After listening to her happy chatter, I had to concede that she was obviously very good at what she did.  

But when I threw out a pop culture reference, something fun and seemingly popular, like 30 Rock, I was told that she’d never seen it. She probably would eventually see an episode, that is, once she was a little less busy. An hour’s worth of conversation had already let me know that this was an event unlikely to ever occur.

Not certain what to think, I made sure to take my traditional survey of at least three female friends. This is my normal means of achieving dating insight. Their consensus opinion was that perhaps she was afraid of anything that involved emotional intimacy, work being a relatively safe outlet. This I tried to understand.  I generally do seek to be sympathetic.

Having been granted advice that was so consistent and uniform, I decided to take a different tact during our next meeting. I prepared for our next encounter with much deliberation and preparation. I again aimed for something classy, a Thai restaurant that had received high marks with all to whom I’d mentioned this outing.   

I went into our second date the same way that I readied myself for exams in college. There must be some way to reach her, I mused. I must be overlooking something obvious. Unfortunately, for all of my preparation, this date was to be even worse than the one before it. She was in a strange, hyper-competitive mode all night, acting as though every action or thought of mine was somehow intended to attack her self-esteem.

In a way that was a touch condescending, she corrected my grammar and pronunciation when I made the slightest of missteps. By doing so, she seemed to be trying to prove that she knew more than I did or that she was more precise. 

Typical of this was how I innocently asked her what time she arose in the morning. I had casually mentioned that I often woke up around 7:30 am every morning to begin writing. Merely curious, I asked her what time she began her day. Her response was, “Well, 8 to 8:30.  But I’m not surprised that you would get going earlier than I do.” 

The words themselves can be interpreted as matter-of-fact and harmless, but it was how she said it that mattered. Her tone of voice was darkly sarcastic, needless caustic, I thought. To be honest, I never really believed that the time one rubbed sleep out of eyes and poured the first cup of coffee mattered all that much.  How was I intimidating or threatening? I didn’t even work in her career field. 

To be blunt, I found myself mostly bored, frankly, with her work stories. They were always different, but also always the same. I now no longer believed that she was simply not comfortable enough with herself to focus on anything other than work. Work was her sole interest and the only aspect of life she focused upon deeply and cared to entertain. She was really that one-track and monolithic.     

Excusing myself from the table, I headed home. I knew that I had tried, at least. Disappointed, I tried to picture where she would be soon. I could see a bright future ahead with pay raises and upward mobility.  Maybe she just didn’t know how to be in a relationship. Never once in several hours’ conversation did she ever ask me about what I did or even who I was. Relationships are give and take, and even the first night I talked her ear off, she never indicated then anything I said was more than amusing distraction. I know I deserve better than that. 

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