What It’s Like
by Rob Cottignies
I’m writing this because I didn’t talk to her. There have been many versions of her before, but she stood out because it would have been so easy. Ideal and easy. I was running in the park when I saw her walking down the path, her back to me. As I approached, I liked her more and more. I passed her and the brief glimpse out of the side of my eye was stunning. Pretty face, dark hair with streaks of red, slim yet curvy. I had to see her again. I finished one lap then turned around. I felt a bit creepy but I had to know everything I visually could. I saw her again. Again, stunning. A full view from the front and I was struck, my mind paralyzed. She looked European. She looked unhappy. I like both of those looks, the latter because I’m good at creating smiles, especially on girls who should do nothing but. I think she looked at me. Was it because she enjoyed my person or did she feel two brown eyes all over her like a cold blanket near a fireplace? She continued along the circle and I did the same, desperately wondering why ‘Hello’ wasn’t forming in my mouth. It was the perfect situation- we were both alone, neither of us listening to music, the park was fairly uncrowded due to the rain. I like to run in rain and she didn’t seem to mind walking in it. The gift of an opening line and an instant bond. I passed her several times and decided I had to act. What was the worst that reasonably could have happened? She’s married or otherwise involved. She just wanted to walk alone with her thoughts. Even if she told me to piss off, I’d be content knowing that I tried.
Passing her four more times, I said nothing. The rain was coming down harder so I decided to test her. I’d keep going and if she did as well, I wouldn’t let myself not talk to her. She was holding a phone. I assumed she wouldn’t want it getting wet so she’d go right to her car, not again to be seen by me when I turned down the other side of the path. I was playing a game for no reason and betting on myself to lose. And I was right. All of this instead of, ‘Hello. May I walk with you?’ Maybe she really was unhappy and wanted someone to cheer her up. Maybe she was European and we could have spoken German together. Maybe I’d be treating her to dinner right now instead of writing this. All of these maybes but only one reality- I didn’t act. Why? Is making up excuses more thrilling than communicating? Am I afraid of rejection? Am I more afraid of acceptance? Does a part of me enjoy regret?
This is nothing new. I can count the number of times I’ve spoken to a previously-unknown girl I thought was attractive on one finger. I’m 31 and I’ve done this once, nine months ago. I went to a bar before going to a concert alone. I sat at the end of the bar and the guy sitting next to me left shortly after. A cute, awkward girl with glasses took the seat after asking if it was taken. And that was just it- she had broken the proverbial ice. We didn’t say anything more, but the pressure of initiation was gone. When her vodka and cranberry juice arrived, I asked if she knew the proper name for the drink. She did, and the conversation commenced. We exchanged phone numbers before she left and went out once. That night of the concert, I felt great. I talked to a random girl and got her number for the first time ever. But the catch was that she had opened the door, if inadvertently.
Imagine this scenario, which has happened countless times: I’m at a bar. I notice a girl and think she’s lovely. I want to talk to her but know that I will not. Why? I always have an excuse. Oh, she’s here with another girl and they just want to talk. That’s why they came out to the bar. They don’t want some guy interrupting that and I don’t want to be that guy. Or I’ll think she’s only going to have one drink and then leave. I base that, of course, on nothing. But it makes it easier to not talk to her. What happens often enough is the girl’s boyfriend will show up and all of my doubts somehow get justified.
I don’t understand any of this, but this is what it’s like to be me. Once some kind of introduction or initiation takes place, I can talk on-and-on about anything. But the trick for me is getting to that point without common ground. I’ve done internet dating, which eliminates that pressure. At this point, I’m convinced that I physically cannot approach a girl and talk to her without an obvious reason or commonality.
Back to the park, but eleven days ago and with a different girl. This one, too, was stunning. Red hair with just enough brown to convince me it was natural, pale skin, slender. She was walking with a man who had to be at least eighty. Her grandfather, I assumed. I wanted to talk to her but didn’t want to be the interrupting guy, regardless of their relationship. I thought about approaching the old man and pretending I was writing a story on war veterans. How this would have gotten me a date with the beautiful young lady, I don’t quite know. Instead of trying anything, I went home and wrote a story based on the situation as if I had played the war reporter role. Then I decided to hand-write a letter to her and return to the park at the same time the following Saturday to give it to her. Again, I felt a bit creepy, but what else could I have done? If she was at the park the next week, I didn’t see her. Frustrated, I burned the letter when I got home. Does anyone else do things like this? Do you play head-games with yourself instead of inviting potential happiness? How can break away from this awkward nonsense? You might be thinking I’m too old to be acting like this. You’d be right, but I don't think I’m not too old for anything.
Unfortunately, this brief journey seeking self-enlightenment has only led to more questions…