I met a beautiful woman Friday night. She wore an off-the-shoulder crop top covered with a pattern of pink flowers, and faded blue jeans that fit snuggly around her legs. Her bright red toenails peaked out of her summery shoes. Her auburn hair fell in tight curls around her blushed cheeks. I didn’t speak to her when she arrived. I was struck frozen by her radiance – so much so that I pretended not to see her. Like when you think you see a ghostly apparition in the corner of the room and stare straight ahead while trying to convince yourself, “It’s not there, that’s totally not real, there’s nothing there,” instead of actually looking directly at the misty figure a few feet away. She couldn’t have been real. She was a ghost. She had to be. So I ignored her.
I’ve all but given up on finding a woman to share my life with. After years of imagining my future with a woman I love, I’ve been contemplating what it will look like living the rest of my days alone. I see my future as a half-empty bed, pillow undisturbed, and its corresponding nightstand collecting dust while the light bulb in its lamp never needs replacing.
Giving up hope that I’ll eventually meet someone is quite liberating though. I don’t really look at women any more. I see them, of course – their infinite beauty, their captivating grace – but I don’t look for the potential compatibility or the depth of their souls when they pass me during my daily routine, or even after a date, no matter how compelling the encounter. I don’t look to make that special kind of eye contact that movies are built on. What’s the point? Who actually meets someone while sitting in their car at a stoplight anyway? It’s impossible. Shit, it doesn’t even happen when you kiss goodnight after one of those 8-hour dates that leaves you speechless from the deep this-has-never-happened-before connection you both felt. The occasions are impermanent; nothing lasts. Instead I’ve learned to just be kind and gracious in those small moments: When I hold the door for her, or catch her eye, or pick up the bill, or clean up the mess of pleasure from her stomach after sex. But I understand that her kindness towards me due to any of those simple gestures is based solely on human appreciation. It isn’t a magical moment in which we share an otherworldly reciprocity. It’s just a dude holding a door open for a person who got there three seconds after he did. Plain and simple. So I say you’re welcome and go on my way without a second thought, knowing she’s doing exactly the same thing.
But of course giving up hope can’t be that easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. Somehow hope keeps poking me in the ribs like, “Hey! Hey you! Maybe this is actually someone who’ll love you! Ya never know! What if??” I shoo it off like a horsefly in summer, but it’s all for naught. Hope creeps into my heart and leaks into my brain and keeps me from my goal of being happily devoid of it forever.
She entered the party and said her hellos to the attendees – I knew only a few folks from this group of people; she wasn’t the only person I hadn’t seen before. I watched her give hugs and handshakes to those she knew and those she was meeting for the first time. I continued my conversation about sports or art or whatever with the boyfriend of my friend Betty – Betty being the reason I was at the party – and convinced myself that I wasn’t enamored with this ghost woman’s radiance and ethereal glow as she floated gently between the small bevies of people. When she stopped to greet Betty a few feet away, I swear to God, Etta James’s “At Last” came on the stereo. I shook my head, abruptly ended my sports/art/whatever conversation with Thomas, and headed for the kitchen to grab another drink.
After reappearing from the kitchen where I may or may not have taken a few sips from an open whiskey bottle, I ended up in between one group of couples talking about wedding plans and another group of couples talking about pregnancy. As a single man whose friends are all in long-term relationships or married with kids, this couple talk gets old fast. So I busted out my phone to see what the internet was up to. I got as far as hitting the first three digits of my iPhone’s passcode.
“Hi. I’m Elsie. I don’t know you.” There she was, all smiles and doe eyes, holding out her right hand. Despite my initial assessment, she wasn’t a misty, glowing figure from whom I could run away. She was a real life human being. I quickly turned off my internal dialogue, slipped my phone into my pocket, and shook the hand of the lovely woman standing in front of me.
It was easy to talk with Elsie even though hope was poking me in the ribs pretty hard at this point. Here’s how our conversation went: She’s friends with Betty; they met on a spiritual retreat. I don’t really know anyone at the party. She’s an actor. I play music and have a show coming up. Her face is radiant. And she went to Vietnam recently. And I went to Italy. And she loves the process of creating. And I get lost in my process – sometimes so much so that I forget to eat or shower. And she thinks that’s hilarious. And she wants to hear my music. And I had to stop myself from climbing into her penetrating eyes. And she thinks I’m funny. And she’s totally coming to my show with Betty. And she can’t wait. And her sense of humor is on par with mine. And I’m laughing..a lot. And she is, too. And Betty comes over to let us know she’s leaving. And Elsie’s leaving, too. And Betty’s my ride. And I walk Elsie to her car. And we hug goodnight. And she looks in my eyes and says it was really nice talking to me. And as I get into Betty’s car I say, “I know she has a boyfriend, I don’t even have to ask.” And Betty says, “She does.” And there it is. And she’ll never be the one for me. And nobody will. At least there will be no more pokes in the ribs. Hope is gone again. Like the misty glow in the corner of a room after you realize it’s just your mind playing tricks on you.