Sunday, April 13, 2008

Caught in public

I got caught using one of my superpowers in public. Not an especially uncommon one, so I suspect the significance of my fumble will fade quickly. I didn't have much to lose, but somehow that made the little episode even more embarrassing. I was trying not be noticed at all, but hesitated before launching my invisibility shield, and that's what screwed me.

Done well in the right context, invisibility has incredible benefits. You have secret access to more information, and can trick people into thinking you have even cooler special abilities, like omniscience or ESP. Of course, there are some situations you'd rather be left out of completely; those in which, according to the laws of the universe, you can make no positive contribution. We all appreciate that there are some things we just don't need to involve ourselves in. That was the sort I was trying to avoid when I got caught.

A few months ago, after a first, semi-blind date, I tried to tell this guy (the one I nearly ran into downtown this weekend) that I wasn't interested in him, and I did it in the most adult way I could manage. Quickly and with clear intent, I planned to rip his hope away, like I would a band-aid; it would be relatively painless. In practice, the tactic worked less like band-aid removal, and more like tripwire. When I said it wasn't going to work out, I set him off, his pride burst into shrapnel, his aura into a mushroom cloud. It didn't go well.

Just as he was the type to write song lyrics for me after meeting me once, he was likewise the type to audibly, visibly, intolerably hiss and sulk, immediately upon notice of rejection. First, he asked how I could be sure we had no future together after only one date, and demanded a satisfactory explanation. I tried my best to provide one, but he'd dismissed "instinct" already, and that was all I really had. Whatever the exact reason was, I couldn't put my finger on it. Something just wasn't right, or easy or pursuit-worthy.

His reaction was typical of the men I date. He authored a series of emails, each one a response to his last, dissertations, their amendments, and further retractions. He was certain I'd be sorry, if only he could get through to me. If only I knew who he really was, he suggested, I'd reverse my decision and he'd consider reinstating the mating privileges he'd slated for me. Until then, there'd be no mingling of his gene pool with mine, no wedding plans, no meeting of the parents; not until I realized I'd made the biggest mistake of my life. Usually messages with this theme were accompanied by a contradictory caveat about how he'd be happier without me, and that he could do better anyway.

I let him exhaust himself, hoping that the "really nice guy" he said he was would step forward and override the childish and persistent reactionary he was in practice. It took a week. Right on schedule, he left a phone message saying that he'd let his pride get the best of him, and he'd, regrettably, lashed out because he liked me and didn't handle the disappointment well. Ah-ha. I saw then what fundamental factor it was that permeated his every attribute, the one which tainted him for me, that which nullified any attraction I may have otherwise had for him and undermined any concession I'd have made for his shortcomings: emotional maturity. I don't want to date someone who'll pull my ponytail or stomp his feet when he should rather be turning a cheek. I acknowledged his apology and thanked him, stashed his skeleton in my closet, and resolved to keep things friendly.

The reality of the situation is that he still thinks I'm a bitch, and I still think he's emotionally stunted. We have nothing to say, because we don't know each other beyond that fatal date or the emails and messages that followed. Neither of us would benefit from running into each other downtown, especially not with his new young girlfriend on his arm. The encounter would be awkward. We'd search for neutral words, or, at the very least, struggle to find a neutral tone for our "hello". Afterward, he'd have to provide context to appease his date's curiousity, and either say something negative to belittle my existence, or say something nice that would require her to think about me, needlessly. Regardless, he'd be forced to reflect on a time when things didn't go his way.

When I saw them walking toward me on this already unfortunate drizzly day, I opted for invisibility. The same weather I'd earlier cursed had me armed with an umbrella, essential for this particular act of evasion, my superpower, my privilege. I hesitated briefly, assessed the situation, then engaged my impermeable shield and tilted it forward to conceal me. Watching for two sets of feet to enter my now-limited field of vision, I worried that he'd seen me. Then, there they were, the sneakers, just as I reached my destination. I stopped, and watched from under my shield to be sure they were gone before I relinquished my invisibility. His were bulky and age-inappropriate, and hers, hers were polka-dotted high-top sneaker-boots, with buckles and bells and whistles. If shoes make the man, if they make the woman, too, I'm happy to see he's found a match.

The great thing about invisibility is that, even when not done well, even when you get caught in the act, once you're invisible, the people you wanted to hide from in the first place will pretend they didn't see you anyway.

Photo: Some rights reserved. Please see the photo in its original context here.

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