“I don’t think you’d make a very good ‘Bachelor,’” Jessie says to me, halfway through the second episode of the current season. (“The Bachelor” is appointment snuggle viewing in our marriage.) For some reason, it really bristles me.
“What, you don’t think I could show a couple dozen ladies a good time?” I remember asking. “I would be a great ‘Bachelor’! I’m a fun date! I’m a good time guy! You should know that about me by now.”
“Of course you are,” she reassures me. “I just meant I don’t think you would fall in love with the kind of girls who end up on ‘The Bachelor.’”
“Well … fine, I guess you’re right,” I admit. “Just don’t forget: good time guy. I could date the shit out of these women if I wanted to. They would know they were being romanced and they wouldn’t forget it.”
“They would like it, too.”
“Excuse me, can you point me to the subway?” It’s some girl crunching toward me over the snow.
“You’re heading into the city, right?” I say. “You can follow me, I’m going to the station now.” At first I’m kind of annoyed. I’m already late and I’ve been walking fast, cutting corners and leaping snowbanks. Leading the lost is going to slow me down. This fear is confirmed when I see the N train I might have caught pull into the station when we’re still crossing the park. But by then I’m not annoyed, because my lost girl is smart, forthcoming and friendly. Pretty cute, too. She’s a teacher and Shakespeare specialist, just moved to the neighborhood with her boyfriend and, by the time the next train arrives, we’re having a fun conversation.
She tells me about teaching drama to kids in juvie. I tease her about the bottle of green smoothie she’s carrying. I find out her favorite play and her favorite sonnet (121, a good one, I’m impressed). We bitch about kombucha. We talk about falling in love far from home. We exchange pictures of our significant others. I make a terrible Shakespeare joke.
“You’ve been saving that one, haven’t you?” She accuses.
“For you? Nah, I tweeted it months ago.”
Somewhere under Midtown, she says, “Wow, you’re really full of energy!” I parry with some crap about having drunk a lot of coffee, but I’m thinking back over the last 20 minutes and realizing that she’s right. Everything about the way I’ve been talking, listening and acting betrays a puppy dog eagerness: I really want this girl to like me. Even the terrible Shakespeare joke — though I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time— was a not-so-subtle way of making sure she knew I was up on my Bard. That’s classic Kale courtship (sad, but true).
But to what end? I’m not worried that she thinks I’m trying to pick her up. She already knows I’m married and our respective partners were among the first things we talked about. At 34th Street, I have to change trains. She’s sticking with the N, so I get up and we say goodbye, without any great fuss, but as I shoulder my way through the station, I’m wondering why I was so eager to impress some girl I don’t want to sleep with and will probably never see again.
A possible answer comes to me later that same evening, but it’s not one I like much. The volleyball game I was late to is over (we lost). I’m drinking beers with my teammates and some of the girls are swapping being-hit-on-by-creepy-old-men stories. There are a lot of stories.
“I don’t even understand why they do it,” says one girl. “I mean has that ever worked, in the history of civilization?”
“It always works,” I say, almost before I realize I’m going to. “They’re just not trying for what you think they are.”
So here’s the thing, girls. When some drunk walking-combover tosses a tired pickup line your way at the bar; when the roadwork crew tries a few wolf whistles and “Hey, girl” variations, they’re probably not so deluded as to think it’s going to lead to sex. Sure, that’s the fantasy, but it’s not the aim of the exercise. The truth is less ambitious and more sad.
Often, the true goal of the creep is just to be acknowledged as a sexual being. For this purpose, rejection is as effective as acceptance. He can walk away from the encounter and think You know what? She definitely thought about fucking me, even if that thought was Ugh, I would HATE to fuck that guy.
I’m starting to think that a lot of creep behavior stems from the worry that in the great game of love and sex, you’re forever stuck in the dugout. You’re so far out of condition that you can’t even conceive of getting on base, but you don’t want to go home either. A wild swing and a miss seems better than nothing. At least you’re in the box. You’re still a player.
I’m certainly not looking to excuse creepy behaviour. I do, however, think I’m starting to understand it better as I grow older and more settled. Being in an awesome long-term relationship isn’t the same as being in the dugout: the game is over for you and you’ve won. But sometimes, it’s hard to remember that. Somewhere in the back of your mind is the worry that maybe you’ve forgotten how to play — hence my horror at the perceived slight on my reality TV dating potential.
Thinking back on Shakespeare girl, I realize that some part of me was treating that encounter as a little charm diagnostic. A quick check-up to see if the motor would still turn over. That makes sense to me. After all, I didn’t win over my wife with my towering career achievements or my beach body. I did it, in part, by being good at talking to smart girls. Can I still make her happy if I lose that skill?
While I think that’s a perfectly understandable thing to worry about, it doesn’t make my method of dealing with it okay. Sure, I didn’t leer or shout anything gross about her body, but that isn’t the only kind of objectification. If Shakespeare girl is somehow reading this, I owe you an apology. And if I run into you again, I’ll talk to you more as a human being and potential friend and less as batting practice.
Kale Bogdanovs is a standup comic and also Jessica’s husband. Follow him on Twitter.
[Image of a baseball player via Shutterstock]