“Why are you single? You’re really cool!”
The question was thrown out casually, but hung in the air between my friend Brad* and I. It wasn’t the first time this question was tossed my way. Variants include, “So, do you have your eye on anyone special?” and, “Why aren’t you dating anybody? There are definitely guys who are interested!” Leaving me to wonder what it might take for these mythical men to emerge from the woodwork.
This particular instance, a few of us were out for a drink after a typical grueling shift at the restaurant. Over beer and almost mediocre nachos, we slowly unwound the accumulated tension of unreasonable managers, demanding customers, and kitchen miscommunications. We were all aspiring somethings paying our dues in a job none of us wanted. But we were each drawn in by the promise of flexible hours and large tips.
Each shift, we arrived with our poison of choice. Mine was 24 ounces of cold brew coffee. Others preferred Monster energy drinks or cigarettes. We knew what we didn’t need simply to make it through, but also to ensure we would be as alert at 10pm as we were at 4:30. Afterall, the tables we each got at 10pm did not care that we had all been hyper-alert since our first table sat down five hours prior.
After an evening running around a restaurant, smiling and being oh-so-helpful to even the most unreasonable of guests, winding down was a bit of a process. That night, like many other nights, we ended up at one of our two favorite spots. There is an unspoken camaraderie between people in the industry. Whether it’s a regular spot or a place you’ve never been, there’s a base-level knowness that passes between you. It’s in the moments where we see our server or bartender as a person, in the way we help make room on the table when our food arrives, in the way we pass them a plate that’s difficult to reach. There’s an efficiency of movement that says, “I know the nonsense you know, and I want to help in this small way.”
As we entered the bar, Jimmy greeted us as warmly as the middle-aged bartender of an Irish pub is wont to. We took our seats, ordered our drinks, and that’s when the subject of dating came up. For all the intimacy that can develop through high-stress situations, it’s easy to miss the information of each other’s lives. I know what Brad is like when the host sits three tables in his section at once. I know that he chooses to make sure the case of red wine is stocked before each shift, not because it is his job, but because it will save time later. But the details that make up his life outside of the restaurant can fall through the cracks.
I considered the question Brad posed, not quite sure how to answer. I supposed I was a relatively functional and personable human female, though “cool” is not a word I would typically use to describe myself. Regardless, I didn’t follow the logic. Was there a particular reason I wasn’t dating anybody? To me, it seemed like a mere fact of my existence. Was there supposed to be some underlying conclusion to be drawn from my status as “single”? Did it indicate to other humans that there must be something wrong with me, some deep seated dysfunction or ailment that prevented nice boys from shooting their shot? I didn’t care for the the idea of people worrying about me simply because I was romantically untethered.
Perhaps the concern was warranted. At that juncture, the tenth anniversary of the discontinuation of my only romantic relationships to date was fast approaching. In the ensuing decade, I went on exactly one for real date. It all seemed very complicated and messy, and not a matter of straightforward cause and effect. Brad’s question, though well meaning, felt laiden with subtext that I didn’t feel equipped to wade through at that moment.
I looked at Brad and considered the myriad of sarcastic remarks I could fire back. Then I remembered that Brad was my friend and coworker, that he cared about me as a human person, and I him. My deep-seated fear of confrontation may have also been a factor. So I smiled a bit and said, “I don’t know. I don’t get asked out and I don’t meet many people I’m interested in dating. I’m not opposed to dating or marriage, it just isn’t a priority for me right now.” Brad nodded, and that was that.
*Name has been changed