I’ve been promising this one since November, so it’s time for me to deliver. This is another of my adventures with the opposite sex – or at least my failed attempts at one – from my college years. Between working part time and life issues I was in college almost six years to complete a four year degree, and I went to two schools to do so. This took place at the first community college I went to, a smaller school with students who mostly worked as well and didn’t remain on campus to socialize as much as cliche would expect of college students. This one goes back roughly a decade, towards the end of my tenure at this particular school. I would have been around twenty, give or take. It was an awkward period, transitioning into becoming a legal adult (at least in terms of alcohol consumption) and no longer being a teenager (and putting some distance behind being one beyond months).
Naturally, still being a virgin at this age was probably the most troubling it had been up until that point. It is the tip of the double edged sword that is the “double standard” that exists in terms of dating. That is, a man is expected to pretty much sleep around as much as possible with as many woman as he can, and that only increases his “stud factor”. Yet if a woman does the exact same thing from her perspective – sleep with as many men as she desires to – she’s usually labeled a “slut” or some other insult. It is so engrained in society that even many women encourage it amongst themselves. The downside of that for a man, though, is that if you’re unable to “score” or “get to first base”, then you’re the exact opposite of a stud. You’re a loser, a feeb, something must be wrong with you. In times past when premarital sex was taboo in America, people tended to elope young to counteract that – teenagers marrying was standard up until my generation, really. And in the times since I graduated, there has been some attempt to whittle away at the “double standard” so everyone can enjoy healthy sex if they want it. But that didn’t help me then, nor does it help me now.
It was at this point in time that I was seeking the most advice online as I could as to my “condition”. I was too embarrassed to discuss this with many of my friends (especially male ones), whether online or off. When it did come up, it was acknowledged (I never lied to them about having sex, even if I did fib about having a previous relationship for many years), but I never liked elaborating. I sent many emails to the Playboy Advisor, and was a presence on About.com’s dating forums. I usually proved resistant to most advice attempts, but I was slowly trying to work through it. By this stage, I had actually begun following some advice I considered doable or worthy in terms of trying to get past anxiety with talking to strangers, women in particular. I would try to strike up as many conversations with nearby women as I could, so long as it was appropriate, I felt confident enough to try, and she wasn’t preoccupied. As this was the era before the advent of tablets and iPhones and whatnot, that usually just meant making sure she wasn’t reading a book, on a cell or had a walkman/discman on. The exercise was to continue a conversation until I felt too awkward or nervous to continue and then stop it, hoping to get better at doing it for longer periods every time. As I took public transportation, this gave me an easy environment to try to come up with an icebreaker – i.e. “Bus is never on time”/”Did we just miss it”/etc. Often times I got what I call, “The Look of Ick”, in that a look of disgust which a woman gives a man she has absolutely no interest in wanting to be near. By this point, I’d long gotten used to it, and could recognize it easily. I never pressed when I got it, and never got angry at the woman; any frustration was with myself, or life in general. But there were times where I didn’t get that and naturally some small talk chatter happened. It was rarely anything very profound or long. I remember in some time I had gotten good enough that I had chatted up two women for my entire bus ride home, and one woman at a nearby park who was resting between tennis matches. I never hit on them, never tried to make them uncomfortable; if I sensed that, I’d just cut it off. Just small talk, trying to get used to that. It doesn’t come off well with these posts, but I actually do have a sense of humor; in fact, it is probably my biggest crutch in terms with talking to people. Having it makes small talk easier; the problem is knowing when it is okay to try to flirt, or how to do so. But, now I am getting ahead of myself.
It was at this point in time that I met the titular lady of this adventure. I’ll dub her Melissa. It was my third go at taking Biology and passing with a high enough grade that it would transfer to another school. I was an apt student, but this class required a lab session once a week, which was often too early for me to make on time. As such, the first time I took the class, I had missed too many labs and regardless of acing the tests, I only got a D (as a certain level of attendance was mandatory). The second time around had a similar result (I’d missed too many labs) and I was able to drop the course before it effected my GPA; as it was, that lone D effected it for my entire tenure there (I usually averaged a B+ in classes at that time, if not better). By the third go around I’d finally smartened on to take a Biology class in which the labs were later in the day, and thus easier to make. Since it was the third try at the class, I was familiar with the material and usually knew everything about stuff in the lab once we got past the third week or so. I even recognized the teacher (and he soon recognized me). It was the first day of class and I, as usual, had run a few minutes late in attending. All of the seats were full at the tables and Melissa encouraged me to sit next to her. She immediately seemed familiar, as if we’d shared a class before and simply had never been introduced. One very close friend who I shared this story to had another opinion; that my assumption that we’d been in another class previously or that I recognized her from somewhere before was simply my subconscious mind justifying the fact that an attractive woman had reached out to appease my self image, which is someone of low self esteem and worth. While this estimation is certainly possible, I contend that I rarely forget faces, and I definitely sensed that we’d been in some sort of proximity before. I’d been at the college a while, been to many classes via both courses I passed and courses I dropped out of within the first two weeks for a variety of reasons. It is very probable that we’d been in some class before and simply never spoke to each other before and she recognized me.
At any rate, Melissa was naturally very physically attractive, which would have been one reason why a strapping young man like me wouldn’t have forgotten her face even if I’d only shared a class with her (and 30 other students) for a fortnight. She was a brunette with blue eyes and tanned skin, who was an Italian American from Brooklyn, and had that sort of “attitude” to her as some cliches dictate. She was all about having a good time, which was hardly unusual for young woman in their late teens/early twenties. Another of the “techniques” I was trying to work on for attracting others at this stage, which I mentioned previously, was the “can I walk you to your next class” ploy. Of course, I would genuinely do that, or would take “no” for an answer, but it was naturally a ploy to talk to the woman more and learn more about her, make smalltalk, gauge the chances of success if I ever got the gumption to ask her out. As it turned out, most times this Biology class was her last of the day, and she’d leave campus afterward; she usually accepted my offer to walk her to the front of the campus or to her next class and it became routine.
For about a month, we would chat within class (when we could), before class, and naturally after class for the walk. The more I learned about her, however, the more that I learned that in terms of personality and socioeconomic status, we had little in common. Melissa was very much “daddy’s little girl” insomuch that she lived in a large family home, seemed to have little worry over money despite not working much, and literally considered public transportation as “dirty” and wished to be driven everywhere. While the fact that she was attending a small community college instead of a larger university with a dorm suggested that her family was hardly rich, but Melissa clearly was a few rungs above me. Her car was being repaired and until than, her father or brother would pick her up after class outside of campus. Her major was “liberal arts”, which for a great percentage of college students, is the major which suggests that she didn’t yet know what to do with her life. Now, I don’t list these things as if these are bad, or were in any way a turn off for me. Very few people genuinely know what they want to be even in college, and many of those who do naturally can change their mind due to a variety of factors. I myself am in a very different place than I imagined I’d be a decade ago. And while I figured that Melissa and I were not compatible for a long term relationship, she was still a lot of fun to be around and she seemed ideal for a short term relationship. No, I am not talking about a “one night stand”; I’ve never striven for that, nor do I have anywhere near the appeal or charisma to succeed with such a strategy. I imagined at best we’d date once or twice or so forth and it would likely end quickly, but we could maybe have a good time or as best a time as possible in that meantime. There is a world of middle ground between dating strategies which consist of, “waiting for ‘the one’ to arrive” and “one night stands forever”. I was, and am, totally open for fun, spontaneous short term dating as well as long term dating.
Because of my intelligence and the fact that I’d taken the course in some way more than once, I naturally aced all of the tests and all of the lab assignments now that I was finally caught up. At one point Melissa was frustrated that she wasn’t doing better than she thought she could, so I suggested that we meet up in the college library and study. This was another strategy I’d learned through my online questions – suggesting a “study date” with someone as an excuse to hang out. Melissa accepted and even gave me her number, asking me to give it a call if she was running late. The arranged day and time came; I was to wait at a section of the college where she had another class and then we’d meet up and hit the library. The time came and went, and no Melissa. I did wait a while before giving her cell a call via the payphone, and only got the voicemail. Naturally, at this point when you arrange a meeting with someone you fancy, and they run late, how long you decide to wait when all attempts to call them fail is a factor of how understanding you’re willing to be to circumstances versus how low of an opinion you have of yourself in terms of what you’re willing to put up with. I suppose a reasonable person would have stuck around twenty minutes; perhaps a patient but dignified dude might have pushed it to a half hour or forty minutes, especially for a meeting which was, at least in terms of the pretenses, in no way romantic.
I waited over two hours before slinking off elsewhere. Clearly I was patient to the point of being a doormat, and had little sense of dignity for myself. In Melissa’s defense, the next day she insisted that she “forgot” and/or some other event came up, and she was apologetic. I wasn’t angry with her at all, partly because I fancied her and partly because….to be honest…I expect to be treated this way by women I like. I know any woman who hangs out with me is doing me a favor, so I am willing to put up with a damn lot in exchange. I wouldn’t go out of my way to make a date with me, either.
Still, that month went by and I hadn’t “made a move” as it were. I didn’t reveal directly that I liked her. I never do; that usually just leads to rejection faster. However, it was likely clear indirectly that I had some interest in her, because after this month long period two other figures came into the picture. One was a burly, athletic sort of chap of Slavic descent who seemed to always wear a cap, always wear t-shirts even if it was cold outside, and seemed to very much be a typical Jock type – into sports, working out at the gym, and little else. The other was a lean, gangly dude who also admired wool caps but seemed to have a short beard or stubble and bushy hair underneath, and was clearly a pot-head or Stoner (as in, an addict of marijuana). For a month, no one else in the class seemed to talk to Melissa (besides one or two of the other women); now, both of these new fellows were chatting her up as well. Melissa enjoyed their company, and they seemed to share more of her interests and appeared more aloof than I did, with all of my rigid planning and attempts at quips. Melissa, for one, considered herself a pot-head as well and like many young adults in college, was one to partake in weed now and then socially. I never did, but nor did I look down on any who did. Melissa, naturally, went to the gym sometimes (which was more than I did; I only sporadically worked out at the college weight room at that point) and seemed clearly impressed with the physique of the Jock. It quickly became obvious, especially in the lab sessions when students were more mobile, that Melissa now had what seemed to be three young men vying for her attention.
It came to a head after one class where I completed an exam early and had to wait outside the classroom until the teacher noted that the test time was over and we could continue with another lecture. I was naturally waiting outside the room and before long, by sheer luck, both the Jock and the Stoner had finished up as well. It was one of the first times we were interacting without Melissa present. The Jock was clearly the more assertive of the two and he quickly steered our conversation towards Melissa. And by “steered”, I mean that he began ribbing me about Melissa, trying to get me to admit that I liked her and becoming frustrated when I refused to. The Stoner joined in but it was mostly the Jock’s show. By this point, I was familiar with bullying tactics; I knew that the Jock wanted to see me squirm, and wanted me to admit my affections for Melissa so that he could further use it against me somehow. I refused to give him that answer, and at the time thought I’d successfully utilized my experience and intelligence to outwit him. In reality, I was likely clearly flummoxed and since the entire point was to see me squirm, the Jock got what he wanted. I believe I insisted we were “just friends” and the entire episode lasted about ten or fifteen minutes. There was no threat of violence and I didn’t feel genuinely scared physically, but it became quite clear that a gauntlet had been thrown. The Jock and the Stoner made it clear in no uncertain terms that we were now in a competition for Melissa’s affections.
I’ve never been good at competitions. It stems from not being much of an athlete or very good sports (any sport). I rarely measure up well when compared to other men and when I am, I always come up short. Some people would claim my success in college as proof of the contrary, but school is not a competition for me. Nobody is directly opposing me; my ability to do well on a test or get a good grade on a paper is entirely up to how much time and effort I put into preparing for such things. There are no rivals in my way. I can succeed or fail based on my own desires. But in other matters, such as landing a job, a promotion, or a lover, quite often you will have opposing forces in your way who will be as aggressive as any opposing football player.
It had been a long time since 7th grade, a long time since I was 12 years old and at the mercy of aggressive students who never cut me a break and ganged up on me. I had had years of time to recover from that, build up my defense mechanisms, convince myself that I was a smarter person, a grown up, an experienced sort, compared to then. But then suddenly I was in a hallway, being picked on by a Jock, and even though it was college, I felt like I was 12 years old again. That no matter how old I got or how many smarts I thought I had, nothing I was could ever measure up to guys like that. That sooner or later one of them would turn up and see blood in the water. Guys like that had their fingers on the pulses of what women wanted, at least at the time and age, and I didn’t. All of my awkward planning and ham fisted calculations were no match to pure charisma, looks, or confidence, which I didn’t have. I couldn’t compete with the Jock’s looks or muscles, or the Stoner’s access to drugs. What was the point of trying?
Not long after that, I began to fade into the background of this “love quadrangle” as it’s sometimes called. I still tried to talk to Melissa, but at every turn the Jock and/or the Stoner were there. By this time, Melissa’s car was also fixed and she was able to drive to and from school once more. I distinctly recall a moment where all four of us went to walk her to where she’d parked her car, which was several blocks from campus, and then she drove me back because I still had a class. Yes, the four of us in a car together. It is sounds awkward, that’s only because it was. The Jock and Stoner didn’t rib me much in Melissa’s presence, as they seemed to have little respect for me. Not long after that, I stopped interacting much with Melissa and the others in Biology class. I felt that her choice was clear, and there was no need to prolong the inevitable. Eventually the class ended and we all went our separate ways. I never knew if she actually dated either of them. One day several years later I was outside with one of my friends and Melissa happened to be passing by, and we exchanged a brief greeting before going about our separate ways. My friend was genuinely surprised that I could possibly know such an attractive woman who was unfamiliar to him and our social circle. That’s the sort of guy I am; my own friends express surprise if they see me friendly with any woman they don’t also know.
Looking back, I still can’t quite figure out if I had shared a class or something with Melissa before that fateful meeting in Bio, or if it really was my subconscious justifying it. In fairness to the Jock and the Stoner, it seemed obvious to them that I was interested in her for a month, and after I seemed to fail to “seal the deal” by that stage, they sensed weakness and moved in. While I imagined that had Melissa made that study date I would have attempted to make my interest clearer at that meeting, but there’s no guarantee I would have, either. I was always waiting some sort of magical “moment” or “line” which would work or seemed less awkward to me as I planned it in my head, but said moment or line never came. One could say that if she was really interested, she wouldn’t have broken that meeting; on the other hand, life does happen. Would I have been more willing to compete for her affections if by then I’d learned we were more compatible in terms of personalities and interests? Perhaps, but doubtful. It is entirely possible that Melissa did in fact like me, gave me every opening she imagined possible, and when I didn’t get the signals, she lost interest. As I have said previously, I am the opposite of most men in that I don’t assume that any friendly action on the part of a woman means that she desires me romantically. I simply interpret it as being friendly, at best. Romantic attraction is the last thing I would assume; I literally do not know what it feels like to have a woman my age attracted to me. The best I can do is try to guess from what I see of second hand experience or media.
After this episode, however, my attempts to get myself more used to chatting up woman outside stopped. I had no desire to pursue it, to work on improving upon it. It actually took me years to realize how much this experience rattled me, how much it reminded me of junior high, and how much it sapped the will from me to try to improve upon that aspect of myself. And naturally it made me feel bad to realize that despite all of the defensive walls I put up to toughen myself up, I was so soft inside that one bad experience like this can shatter my attempts at betterment. It showed me that no matter what I did to try to make myself seem more interesting – such as wearing more black leather jackets – I was just repackaging the same old thing. A nerd in a black leather jacket is still a nerd. No matter what campus or setting I found myself in, I was stuck as myself, with what skills I had. And while those skills may have served me well scholastically now that I was actually interested enough to learn again, they were useless with the opposite sex. It was like being asked to build a house with a rubber band, a corkscrew and a rubber chicken – with the best will in the world, the tools just are all wrong for such a task. And that pretty much any other man could show up and outdo me without even trying.
This was not my final adventure with the opposite sex, nor my final adventure regarding them during my college years, even. But it was the last at that first community college and in many ways, the last where any facade that I’d moved on from 7th grade was gone. The same sorts of people who walked all over me then could do so in college, and despite all of my gruff exterior nothing had changed. I could obsess and study and plot and plan, but I could never learn how to be charming or attractive. If anything, I had mastered the art of the exact opposite; repelling anyone I had desire towards. At the time it made me woefully depressed; now I am seeking to entire the acceptance portion of the five stages of the mourning of my love life. To lay bare my experiences, and walk away from them once and for all and be free of their weight.
It is a new year now, and I will soon grow even further past 30. At this point, any expectation of anything close to a normal or satisfying romantic life has long evaporated. Within the next year I hope to finish more adventures from my past, and probably more rants about my life and times. I imagine this episode was more along the lines of what some readers might find interesting – love rivals and all. Unfortunately, my adventures usually end on a somber tone; I am the Dateless-Man, after all.