It’s funny how often life imitates art. Or maybe it’s the timeless, universal nature of good art that brings to mind past instances in your own life that resonate with what you see or hear or read. Whatever the case, I had this experience recently and it brings to mind a story with a lesson from my own past.
As I’ve written before, I recently started reading Jane Austen for the first time. These moves are full of insights about human nature, but this one from Pride and Prejudice stuck with me.
You don’t need plot details other than that two characters are taking about mistaken affection, and how men often are not aware they are acting in a flirtatious manner:
“We must not be so ready to fancy ourselves intentionally injured. We must not expect a lively young man to be always so guarded and circumspect. It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceived us. Women fancy admiration means more than it does.”
“And men take care that they should.”
Now I’m not a dating guru or a pick-up guy or whatever. I’ve been married for six years to a woman I began dating in 2007, and only had two serious long-term relationships before her (one for five years, the other for ten months). Hell, I didn’t even have a girlfriend until I was 19, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
But young men need to be careful of how they act around the opposite sex, as it is very easy to send messages you don’t even realize you are transmitting. Let me explain.
I used to play in bands. One of these bands even almost went somewhere, and we would gig all around the Northeast, including at a venerable club the Rolling Stones did a secret show at back in the early 80s. Reflected glory for the win!
As aside, the owner of this club had his own band who would be closing out the night, an 80s tribute act called A Flock of Assholes. Is that not the greatest name for a band, pretty much ever?
Back to the story: I got a ride to the club with our drummer, showing up earlier then the singer and guitarist–those two were married, and the singer had to work later than the rest of us. While I was helping our drummer lug his stuff inside, we walked past two dudes chatting with a rather attractive girl. She was spitting, of all things, for some reason that I don’t remember. Yeah, she was attractive, and attractive girls think they can get away with stuff like that I guess, because dumb guys let them.
Anyway, she was not watching where she was spitting. In fact, one of her saliva missiles almost hit me.
“Whoa!” I said, narrowly avoiding the projectile. “I usually have to pay women to spit on me!”
Alright, it was a crass comment, but come on. It was pretty funny. The girl and two guys seemed to think so. Everybody was laughing, and I thought nothing of it. I had no interest in flirting with this girl whatsoever. In fact, I had been dating the woman who would become my wife for almost a year at that point.
Anyway, our drummer and I went to the bar since we had time to kill. We we’re the third band on the bill, and the drummer liked to drink. So before the first band went on, we had a beer. One beer turned into two, and before we knew it, spitting girl sauntered up for a drink of her own.
“Oh God,” she said, “I am so sorry I almost spat on you! I was so embarrassed.”
It was all saliva under the bridge, I assured her in a purely cordial way, probably with some debonair wave of my hand. Not flirty at all. But then I kept talking to her.
I have a bad habit, you see, of trying to learn everybody’s story. I genuinely like people and find them interesting! This is not always a bad thing, but it can sometimes lead to unintended consequences.
So we start talking. It turns out that she designed T-shirts or whatever. It also turned out that she was dating the drummer in one of the bands that was playing before us. Aweosme! So she had no interest in me whatsoever. Whew! She left after a while, presumably to hang out with her boyfriend.
So after another round or two of beers the drummer bought over my objections–some people just can’t stand drinking alone, right?–he had to go outside for some fresh air or something. Regardless, when he came back, he said that the spitting girl had been outside fighting with some dude that must have been her boyfriend.
I really didn’t care, as I was enjoying my buzz, against my better judgment, and really just wanted to get on with the show.
I think we drank some more beer, again the drummer buying over my objections. Between bottles, we lamented how late our other two band members were.
Anyway, this girl came back and started talking to us for about a half-hour. I don’t remember if she said anything about her boyfriend or whatever, but she seemed pretty heated about something.
I really didn’t think too much of it. I was pretty goddamn buzzed at the time and just wanted to kill time until we went on stage. So of course, I keep on taking to her.
Band number one goes on. It is not the band that this girl’s boyfriend is in. I remember that they had a woman singing who was about the size of a Wagnerian Valkyrie, and that the guitarist wore a bandana and played really, really loud.
Then band number two goes on, and I finally get a look at this girl’s boyfriend, the one that she apparently had a pretty big row with. He was a big dude. Now, I am also a big dude, but I’m not mean. This dude looked like he was.
It gets better: The entire time this guy was poinding his drums, he was glaring at me, likely pretending that my face was the kick drum.
“Whoa, check that out!” my drummer said. “He must be pissed at you for hitting on his girl!”
Hitting on his girl? What the hell? I did no such thing! The absolute last thing I want to do is get involved in a love triangle, especially when I had my own girlfriend I was perfectly happy with.
When they were finished, I steered clear of the boyfriend. Not because I’m a pussy, but because I was kind of drunk. If the dude came by to talk to me, I would’ve told him I had no interest in his girl and they were imagining things. But our paths never crossed. In fact, the two of them went outside, presumably to argue again.
So then it’s our turn to play. It was a bit stressful because our singer and guitarist still weren’t there.
Finally, after the drummer and I set up our stuff, they arrived. Our singer’s hair was kind of a mess and she didn’t have time to change into her stage clothes, but her jeans and t-shirt would do.
So she gets a quick drink and we all get up onstage to play. I’m really feeling happy at this point, which was weird because I usually waited until after playing to have a drink or two.
Our drummer clicks his sticks together and counts off our first number–1-2-3-4! Our guitarist starts banging out the opening chords, and soon it’s my turn to come in…
Oh shit! I forgot how to play the song! Damn you, beer!
It wasn’t the best start. It took me several bars of fumbling before I remembered what my fingers were supposed to do and the muscle memor returned. I played the rest of our set perfectly, but let me tell you, that was the last time I ever drink before going onstage.
The show went well, although I remember hat the way the stage was configured I had a metal pole near me that impeded my movement. The place was a dive; what do you expect?
So whatever. After we were done and the Flock of Assholes finished playing, the girl came up to me as we were all milling about. “Hey, let me give you my number,” she says.
“I have a girlfriend,” I tell her.
“Well, call me if it doesn’t work.”
“But it is working out,” I said.
She tried again, but I refused to take her number. She left kind of in a huff. Honestly, I think she had a fight with her boyfriend, was pissed, I was just trying to get back at him. That’s a kind of crazy I just don’t want to ever get stuck in.
Of course, who witnessed this entire scene? My drummer, ladies and gentlemen! The asshole that got me drunk in the first place!
I told him as we were driving back to our home that I felt really guilty about the whole thing. “Oh you’re so sensitive, he said. “It meant nothing.”
It still bugged me. Would you like to know what bugged me more? That he didn’t tel me in the bar that he overheard the fight between the girl and her boyfriend, and they were arguing because she was talking to me, and that I was obviously an excuse for her to break it off with him.
So what are the lessons here?
Lesson One: Alcohol is not your friend. I have nothing against drinking. I still drink, in fact. But there are times when you should definitely limit your alcohol intake, such as: Before going onstage, or dealing with the opposite sex. Yes, you hear about how alcohol can loosen you up, but be sensible about people! Keep your wits about you.
Lesson Two: More on point, you send signals without even meaning to, as Jane Austen said. A warning to my dudes: Whether or not you are single, be mindful of everything, especially when interacting with women. You want to make sure you send only the signals you want in a given situation. This includes things like voice tone and body language. If you really have no interest in attracting somebody, just don’t talk to them. You never know the other person’s situation, and you might find yourself in a big, awkward mess. So don’t be a loudmouth like me.
The flip side, of course, is that these same techniques can help if you do want to flirt with some cute spitting chick–hey, we all have our fetishes; who am I to judge?
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