“Y’all are in the worst place to meet someone,” the random man informed me and a friend. Before he’d gifted us with his knowledge, we were people watching from the corner of the bar, content to enjoy our night with some drinks, listening to music, and chatting away with our wedding bands snug on our ring fingers. We were ironically in the bar where my friend had met her husband, but I knew he wasn’t referring to the establishment. Our position at the bar did not lay out the welcome mat for potential suitors and two lone women out drinking on a Saturday night would have no other purpose in a bar than to meet someone. Enjoying each other’s company was unimportant.
I waved my left hand through the air politely. Or I flipped him off with my ring finger and an aggressive smile, never one for idle chit-chat with assuming strangers. Surprised flashed in his eyes, as if he couldn’t believe that two married women would be found drinking outside the comfort of their own home now that they’d achieved their true goal of going out in public: marriage.
Never mind that he was married too, as it turns out. He waved his ring finger back at me and smiled. Solidarity. We were confidants now. Somehow. So he lingered close by although our backs were still to him and explained how he was out with his single friend who was trying to meet girls.
Cue the single friend.
Thinking his married comrade had hooked some ladies for him, he swaggered up to me, slipping his arm low and snug around my waist. My back was still to him and my body was tense. The married man was wrong after all. Our position at the bar was just fine, our existence within it was enough. We did not need a welcome mat for someone to invite themselves into our personal bubble. What’s mine is yours, buddy.
As I write this, there is a part of me whispering, “Lighten up, Sydney. You’re coming off as caustic and unfriendly and a buzz kill. The man didn’t mean any harm. Even though he turned on a dime and fled when we repeated we were married, realizing the object in front of him wasn’t his to take. It was Saturday night and boys will be boys. Be cool.”
That whispering is the guilt. Shame for liking my personal space, for expecting more respect from strangers – or what some people call courtesy. Shame for being a bitch.
Cool girls aren’t bitches.
I hated this game when I was single. The risk was too great, the slope slippery from “harmless” flirting to alarm bells. I often refused to play at all and, at some point, resigned myself to a happy, fulfilled spinster life. Building a moat around myself was a better option than having strangers stake claim to something that will never be theirs.
It didn’t come to that. Not every man is a conqueror.
By the time I met my husband, I regarded most men with skepticism. It saddens me just a little when I remember questioning his friendliness, wondering what his motive was. I remember the weight that lifted from my chest when I realized there was no motive. He was unassuming, as one should be when it comes to another person. Whatever his parents did, they did it right. And I’m not sucking up because I know they will probably read this. I also won’t protest if they love me more because of it.
More parents should take a page out of their book, whatever it says, so that boys grow up to be men who understand that a woman’s existence is not an open invitation. Who understand they have claim only to themselves, as do we. Who turn the shame inwards when a line is crossed.
And know to keep their damn hands to themselves.