I work in an industry that is dominated by women and I’m in sales and marketing. As a consequence, I interact with women on a professional basis all the time.
Last week was not atypical, when I was running an all day workshop and I was in front of 32 people, with only one man in the room. Some of these people I’ve knows already several years. Usually, I’ll run into or meet with these professional acquaintances a couple of times a year — sometimes more, sometimes less.
Check a personality profile of someone in my line of work and you’d assume a pretty high level of sociability, confidence and an instinct for opportunity. Then immerse that into a professional atmosphere dominated by women; what could be a more fruitful circumstance for someone tentatively, tiptoeing back into the treacherously tricky tedium of mid-life dating?
Well you might think that…
First of all, I was dealing with a chronic case of Gaze Droop. No, I don’t mean that my long drought of female companionship was making me stare at women’s chests. No, my gaze diverted at the shoulder and slid inexorably down to a hand, looking for rings. Didn’t matter if they were 20 years older/younger, not at all my type, (whatever that is…. oh boy…), I was looking for the ring. A single female friend told me that’s what single women do. “So don’t be surprised” she went on, “if someone says something to you.” Well they didn’t… but I kept looking. And googling during breaks the significance is if something diamondesque (I’m really quite ignorant about these things) wrapped around the middle finger, and the right hand vs. the left.
Then there was the problem of how to answer what I suddenly discovered to be the most loaded and overwhelming of questions – “How are you?”
I was stymied.
I mean, how am I supposed to answer that?
“Pretty good, but my marriage is over. (insert awkward pause) Are you available at all?”
“Well my wife left me this summer. I’m doing the single Dad thing, and I’m looking to date. Not you of course…. I mean. Not that I wouldn’t mind but….. Well, know anybody? Cute cousin?”
To me, even if I stopped at the first phrase — “my wife moved out,” “I became a single dad,” “I broke up…” whatever — the second part seems to me unavoidably implied. The circumstances are so perfect that I felt tarred by them. I am there to present and sell product after all and now I have just inserted myself in as one of many products. I am selling myself. I have begun an inexorable slide to salesman on the make. Get me the white shoes and the belt to match the tie. Hello, I am Herb Tarlek.
So I instead remembered what my friend had said and clung to the vain hope that just maybe someone may notice that I don’t have my wedding band on anymore and ask. So Herb Tarlek, I ain’t. More Les Nesman or perhaps Opus the Penguin.
Whatever the case is, I am not the man I was, the last time I saw any of these people. I am a new man; single, unencumbered, bewildered. And that’s really what I want to say to them, much more so than pounce on the possibility presented by Darlene so-and-so, who I always thought was attractive and gave off a bit of a vibe, but has got to be hitched to someone by now…. But ultimately, I keep my mouth shut about that stuff, because of all the context and repercussions of revelation. Herb Tarlek looms large, yes. But I’m also anticipating their awkwardness, their reassessment of my motivation and I think, why the hell do I want to put these people through that. And why the hell do I want to put myself through that? Do I want all of that stuff here, in my work place? Here, I can do my thing and I’m just the same guy you saw a year ago. Is this courteousness on my part or a form of denial?
“And how’s your family doing?”
“Great! Kids are doing really great. Dodged that flu that was going around.