I went on a date last night and we did a late, eats-at-the-bar kind of dinner. Sitting at a long, biergarten-esque table, we picked at a bunch of little plates (my favorite meal always) while I tried to cover up the fact that I somehow got sort of drunk?
Then, the man across from us at the table noticed our myriad, continental meal and proceeded to ask what was what? Was the grilled cheese good? How about the cauliflower? This? That? I engaged enthusiastically with him – as I tend to do -and my plus one was clearly a bit miffed. “I hate that,” he sneered. “You think it’s invasive?” I asked, then proceeded to answer my own question. I also have recently learned that I laugh at my own jokes, but that’s another piece.
In that moment, it dawned on me that I never thought about whether or not I actually enjoy this type of interaction. When people engage me, I engage them back. When I’m asked a question, I answer it with gusto. As if on instinct, I hopped right in and responded to this person with charm and without thought of doing anything otherwise.
Just a few minutes before, I trotted to the bar to get some cups of water; and a seemingly nice enough guy came over to hold the spigot for me while he asked me how the comedy show was upstairs? Who performed? Was it funny? How often does this event happen? Would I go back? I, as routine, gave him the full download with moxie and a smile.
I now see that I feel this deep-seated desire to oblige people in even the smallest of ways. To perform. To be on and charming and lovely and likable and engaging, even if inconvenient or invasive or unwanted. This isn’t to say that there is something inherently wrong with responding to questions and interacting with people in the world; but I think I’ve just missed a step in the sequence of events of this moment. The step wherein I ask myself: Is now a good time? Is this a conversation I want to have? And no is an okay answer. A quick reply is okay. I have a choice here. And my time is mine.
I struggle to maintain eye contact with people sometimes because I feel they expect me to be interesting. And what if I’m not? What if I let them down?
I see now that I am more than the object of someone else’s gaze. I am in a dialogue, an equal player in the scene of that particular present.
So next time I hope I let myself take that extra step. I hope I’ll respond briefly in kind – if that’s what I choose – and return to my mini grilled cheese, buffalo-style cauliflower bites, and the boy in the birds-of-paradise button-down.