One day, a few years back, I came home and found my roommate engaged in a tickle fight with is girlfriend, right in the middle of the living room. "Oh, great!" I thought. "A tickle fight! Tickle fights are a lot of fun. I mean, they can certainly get out of hand, but in general they're very enjoyable."
The pair was rolling around on the couch. When they saw me come in the door, the girl started to yelp. "Oh, help me, help me!" She cried. "Oohhhhh! No no! I can't take it! Help me Melina! Eeeee!"
Seeing that I was needed, I jumped onto the couch and joined the fight, forcibly holding down my roommate with the great strength of a nationally recognized collegiate ultimate Frisbee player and tickling his stomach as hard as I could. The stomach is a very vulnerable place. Funny thing though, as soon as I jumped in, the tickle fight fizzled. They both sort of stopped and looked at me quizzically. And that's when I realized, 'Wait a second. She didn't really need my help. This was never about tickling. This is about sex. Isn't it.'
When you're young and attractive and you've got somebody, everything is about sex. Take, for example, the game nights my roommates and I had in college. When someone first brought up the idea, I was immediately on board. 'Wonderful.' I thought. 'I could use a little friendly competition. What are we playing, Settlers? Scrabble? Tiddliwinks? Whatever it is, I volunteer to be scorekeeper.' I used to be an exceedingly competitive person, and I didn't trust anyone else to keep score.
We prepared for Game Night, which was to be held on a Saturday evening after dinner. I baked a three level frosted lemon cake for the occasion. My roommates invited their significant others. I was single at the time. Was that something you hadn't caught on to? I spent an entire Saturday making a triple tiered lemon cake. Of course I was flying solo.
Well, darn it if my comrades didn't treat Game Night like some sort of drawn out communal foreplay. They didn't give a shit who won; they didn't even try to win, much less keep up with the score. When I announced that I was the Scrabble champion by 207 points, nobody even bothered to double check my arithmetic! They thought the real win went to Gregory, who, earlier in the game, had managed to spell out Scrotum on a double letter score.
Game night was not the occasion for personal challenge and mental growth that I had been looking forward to. It was an excuse for flirtation, for cuddling, mock outrage and innuendo. Settlers of Catan was the all time worst. "Oh, Jessica, did you say you needed to trade for my wood?" "Oh, Gregory, I always need more Wood!" And then Andy would bust everybody up by saying "That's not what it sounded like last night!"
Meanwhile I'm sitting there with my score card and pencil sharpener thinking, "That's not even good comedy. How can they find that funny?" Then I'd find a way to bring the attention back to myself. "Anyone want a slice of the cake that I spent all day baking?" I'd ask, and the room would erupt in enthusiasm.
"Oh, we do! We do! But you can just serve it to us on one plate, we'll share."
It was my big rebellion of the night to ignore that perverse request. I served out eight slices of cake with eight forks and eight napkins. Any other way was too ridiculous and I refused to participate.
Listen, I know what you're thinking. I know love exists, and that it's great and all that, I've been in love before! But I've never regressed to the point where I needed to share my dessert plate. Sharing dessert is complicated- what if you're busy telling a story, and your partner takes that opportunity to shovel the whole cake in his mouth? Forget it.
Game night always ended considerably earlier than it could have, usually with a few board games left untouched. One of the girls would yawn and stretch, and her boyfriend would nudge her and then they'd glance at the clock. "Oh, well, gosh it's....it's getting late. We really should be getting to bed." The others would murmur their agreement. It would be nine, nine thirty in the evening. "Wait!" I'd protest. "Doesn't anyone want to know the final tally?"
"No, I think you won, Lina!" They'd say, friendly and agreeable, as they filed downstairs to their rooms, fiddling with their Ipods for those abhorrent "Let's get it on" playlists. "You totally won! You killed us all!"
"Of course I won," I'd say aloud to myself. "You guys are all idiots."
***Well, I was the idiot this past Saturday night. I was working at the climbing gym, and there was this guy giving a lecture about mountaineering. His name was Brendan and I immediately found him quite attractive. When he came to the front desk to buy an Odwalla Super Juice I took the opportunity to introduce myself.
"Well, Melina, it's very nice to meet you," He said slowly, eyeing me. Eye away, my friend, because this morning I bothered to dry my hair so yeah, I'm looking pretty okay. "And let me say, Melina, that is a beautiful sweater. I love the subtle blue piping."
"Oh gosh thanks it's Patagonia!" I said, all in one breath. "Yeah I get a huge Patagonia discount for having once played on the world champion ultimate team." Then I proceeded to tell him all the details of my discount, what year it started, how often my password changes, how I'm never eligible for free shipping. I'm so smooth and full of mystery.
"My goodness!" Said Brendan, looking impressed. "That's a large discount! I don't even get that, and I'm a climbing guide!"
Well, that cinched it. He said my name twice, gave me a compliment and dropped in his rugged and enviable line of work. This dude is so obviously into me.
I realize that this interaction if far from scandalous. It's not titillating, it's not even interesting. But the fact of the matter is, for the past six months I have felt literally zero in the way of romantic interest. It just seems like, after ten years of overdrive, I've run out of enthusiasm.
I decided to do some investigation. "So, this Brendan," I said to my boss, "he a friend of yours?" The true nature of my question betrayed my faux-casual tone. My boss lit up with excitement. "I know what you're asking!" He said. "Wait a minute, I'm gonna go talk to him! See what I can find out!"
"No, No!" I pleaded, with the same level of sincerity that my roommate's girlfriend had used when she had begged for my help with the tickling. I didn't want to appear desperate, but at the same time I wanted that information.
My boss didn't get much news, but it was good news. "Well, he's not in a committed relationship and he's in the dating pool," he told me. Then we had a little discussion about Brendan possibly being gay. He had, after all, noticed the subtle blue piping on my sweater. We settled on probably not.
All systems go, I decided not to take my normal half hour climbing break, electing to stay behind the desk where I would be sure to see Brendan again before he left. Also, I was wearing my skinny jeans and the tall boots that zip up the back, which gave me a leg up in the gym. Sure, ladies look good in their skin tight Lululemon climbing pants, but still it was nice to stand out.
Around 8:30, I had another nice surprise when my friend Ginny showed up. She's not much of a climber so I was not expecting to see her. Also, she brought me a whole bar of Theo's Toffee chocolate, and when I offered to share she refused, saying she was on a cleanse. "Well, thank you!" I said, genuinely thrilled to see her and to have all the candy to myself. "I'll take a little break and we can go outside and talk. I want to tell you about someone I just met. Unless you want to climb?"
"Um, maybe? I don't know, I'm actually here to see my friend Brendan who is teaching a class today."
I thought Oh! She knows him! And then I thought, Oh, shit, she knows him.
"So..." I asked. "Are you friends with him or like, friends friends with him?"
"Well, I'm not really sure. I mean, we've sort of been on some dates?"
I sighed. "Well, full disclosure, I was going to tell you that I talked with an attractive guy but, never mind, because it was him."
Ginny waved her hands in reassurance. "No, no! Go for it! I mean, I think he's the kind of guy who dates a lot of girls at once. In fact," she leaned closer and lowered her voice, "this one time, he invited me over to his house to what I thought was going to be a small, intimate gathering. It turns out, there were three other girls he was dating, and he had invited all of us!"
I gasped at such blatantly bad behavior.
"Towards the end of the night, this one girl and I were obviously duking it out to be the last one there. And she won! I eventually just left and went home."
"That sounds awful!" I exclaimed. "That's a Sex in the City plot!" It really is a Sex and the City plot. It's the one where Samantha has to eat all that raw food so she can have sex with the waiter, who ends up being her boyfriend for the rest of the show.
Just then, Brendan came outside. "Why, look, you two know each other!" He said, beaming.
There was only room on the bench for two, so I got up. "I'd better get back to work. You two can catch up."
I went back inside and resumed my post behind the front desk. The front area was empty except for a very pretty girl who was standing idly near a rack of 5.10 climbing shoes. She kept casting distressed looks outside. When she saw the pair get up and head for the door, she ran across the lobby and hopped back into the bouldering room. Too late, she'd been seen. Brendan went to follow her, and Ginny grabbed my elbow and dragged me into the bathroom. "That girl?" She hissed, "That's the girl who ended up staying that night at the party! He did it again! He invited us both here to hang out with him!"
By this point I was thoroughly enjoying the drama, but my interested in the fellow was lagging. He had officially been denigrated from main suspect to person of interest, and I felt very little desire to jump into the ring. Ginny decided to climb for a while, so I had some alone at the desk to mull this over.
While I honor my resistance to the theatrics, I still need to encourage myself to have an interest in dating. In the past few months my personal life has reached a decidedly dangerous plateau. Do you know what I did last Friday night? I took Hometeam on a walk to the pet store, where we decided on a stuffed toy shaped like a an ice cream cone. On the way home, I ate a bag of popped Barbeque chips and listened to a Radiolab podcast on the History of the high five. The previous night, I watched Jimmy Fallon's last episode of SNL where he tries not to cry as he says goodbye during Update, and I wept so hard that there were tears dripping off my elbow. And that was an episode from eight years ago. For crying out loud the guy was leaving SNL to have his own show. What I'm trying to say is, I need to get out a little. I need to start dating. You know, I apologize for using this term, but I need to get my groove back. I really do.
But oh, my God, the game playing! The tolerance and patience and luck and straight up guts needed just to get a date in this town? I'm not sure I have it anymore.
The whole evening reached a perfect crescendo just as I was starting the closing duties. I was standing in the lobby, holding a bottle of Windex and talking with Ginny when all of a sudden, Brendan comes around the corner, leans in and give her a big, lasting kiss on the neck. Then he takes her into his arms and gives her this big hug that lasts way too long. After about twenty seconds, I'm not kidding, their body language shifts and suddenly things seem, from my perspective, highly inappropriate. And that's when I realize, 'Wait a second, this isn't a hug. This isn't about being friendly or saying goodbye, this is about sex, isn't it.'
But I kept expecting it to end! After all I had been in the middle of a conversation. So I didn't move, I just stood there, frozen, just watching. My coworker, Ryan, was laughing so hard he had to put his head down on the keyboard.
Finally, the two released each other. Ginny sort of staggered backwards for a few steps. Brendan turned to look at me. "Melina." He said. "Goodbye. I hope I see you again. Very soon." Eye contact. Eye contact. Smile. Turn away. Damn. Dude's a pro. But you know, that stuff hardly works on me anymore.
"Nice to meet you, Leo." I called after him. A calculated move. Nothing cuts a dude down like confidently addressing him by the wrong name.
Later that night, alone in my room, I opened my computer and downloaded a few more episodes of Radiolab. That show is incredible; do you know how much knowledge you can absorb in one single, hour long episode? I mean everything- history, science, factoids, conversation fodder, ice breakers. I'm learning so much, I'm thinking about competing in those weekly trivia nights they host at the bars downtown. I'm actually looking for a partner. Any interest? But only if you're going to take it seriously. I mean that. Only if you play to win.