If I was Julie Andrews, singing “My Favorite Things,” several of those things would be coffee. And just like that statistic that you’re more likely to get in a car accident close to home (because duh, you’re going to be driving close to home the greatest percentage of the time): statistically, a great percentage of my romantic encounters have occurred in coffee shops, because I practically live in them.
So, these are a few things that have happened in coffee shops.
Case 1: At Caribou Coffee – Earrings, Dead Dogs, and How Not To Be Assertive
I love to journal and read at Caribou Coffee. It’s a great place to unwind, to be around people, but yet unknown. So, I sit down with my mocha, journal and books. A guy next to me smiles. I smile back, and then start reading.
Guy: You have really pretty earrings.
Me: Thank you. (smile) (read)
Guy: What are you reading?
Me: (So, it’s a book about a nun… I’m just not sure how to talk about this with a stranger). Oh, just something for reflection.
Guy: Yeah. I like reading too. You coming from church?
Me: Yep. (Trying to convey by not much eye contact that I’m not here to talk)
Guy: Oh. Where do you go?
Me: [name of Catholic church]
Guy: Oh, yeah. I’m Jewish. I guess you wouldn’t be interested in a guy like me, then.
Me: (nervous giggle – I mean, what do you say? I turn back to my book. A few seconds of silence. I relax a little bit. Maybe he’s done now).
Guy: So, I had to put my dog down today.
Me: (Okay, is he playing me, or is this for real?) Oh, I’m so sorry.
Guy: This is a picture of her (shows me on his phone). It’s just rough, you know. Had her for 12 years.
Me: Yeah, that’s terrible. I’m sorry. (smiling sympathetically, turn back to my book).
Guy: Would you go out with me?
Me: No! (and then, to my horror, I start laughing).
Guy: Why not?
Me: Because I met you at a coffee shop!
Guy: (waits for a few seconds). You could be making the mistake of your life.
Me: That’s a chance I’m going to have to take.
Guy: What are you researching? (I’m on my phone now)
Me: … Can I… just…do my work? (smiling sheepishly)
Guy: Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah. No problem. Sure.
After a while, he finally leaves. I think I overhear on his way out, he is peddling his dog story to another
victim sympathetic ear.
A girl leans over and whispers in sympathy, “I’m so sorry. I heard the whole thing.”
Case 2: Too-Long Conversations with the Lord of the Dance
I love coffee so much that I take on a summer job as a barista. The coffee shop where I work is in a “rough area of town,” let’s just say. It’s quiet, most of the time with one or two people besides me. My first week there, my purse is stolen by a guy who comes in to use the bathroom. So, you get the idea.
A guy starts coming in for the tap water that we furnish on the sidebar. This must be exquisite stuff, because he starts coming in at least twice a week just for that. On his way to get the water (which is free) he stops to say hello.
Lord of the Dance: Nice place. How long has it been here?
Me: About a year and a half.
Lord Of The Dance: Too bad, because I’m moving out of the neighborhood today. I’m just here to study while I do my laundry.
Me: Oh, cool. What are you studying?
Lord Of The Dance: Physics. It’s for this summer course.
Me: Oh, that’s neat!
Lord Of The Dance: You look like you’re doing some studying too. What is it?
Me: (So it happens that it’s a book about a nun – is it weird that this is a theme? So I say): Oh, it’s a religious book.
Lord Of The Dance: Oh, yeah, what religion?
Lord Of The Dance: You probably don’t want to hear this, but I’m an atheist.
(We have a long conversation about faith, atheism, and how he arrived at this, and his favorite thinkers, and Nietsche, and how he had “worn out his welcome” with other baristas, and other things. The conversation is interesting, but after a while, I am starting to feel like it’s probably been a few hours, and I would like to politely exit the conversation, but don’t know how, and this guy doesn’t seem to be aware of his laundry next door. There haven’t been any other customers except for this drunk guy who also comes in frequently for the free water and the not-technically-free-but-offered-for-free ice. This fellow makes a comment to LOTD that he seems to be monopolizing me, and then leaves. I remember, with relief, that some friends of mine are coming by for a book discussion, and one of the friends is a theology and philosophy double-major. I (is this stupid or not?) invite LOTD to stay. I’m thankful to turn this conversation into a group thing.
After the discussion ends, it’s closing time. I close up, and the group makes plans to meet up at a bar nearby. I don’t know what to do, so I invite LOTD to join us, and he agrees (in retrospect, this might not have been a good idea).
At the bar. We’re sitting at the table, talking.
Lord Of The Dance: (looking at me) Do you like to dance?
Me: Um… (I know he’s trying to figure out if I want to dance with him. The truth is, that I do like to dance. But I do not want to dance with him). No, it’s not really my thing.
Lord Of The Dance: I love dancing. I take lessons at this place near me. Would you ever like to take lessons?
Me: (The truth is, that maybe I would like to take a dance lesson sometime, but not with this guy). Ah, maybe, but right now, I don’t have any plans to do that.
My two other friends and I start looking over at the bar, trying to figure out what’s on tap. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Lord Of The Dance seems to be making some interesting sprinkler-like dance moves with his arms. These moves are slightly silly, and I don’t want to embarrass him by drawing attention to it, so I pretend I do not see. Somehow the night ends.
Lord Of The Dance is back the next time I’m at work. He starts a conversation. This time, I want to be clear that I’m just not in the mood to have a long conversation this time, so I make my responses short, and turn away. (This has been my question – how do you politely tell someone that you do not want to have a conversation with them?) He has brought me a moleskine journal for my upcoming Europe trip. Well, that was nice. But now I feel like I owe him something for the gesture. But I stand my ground. I’m just a barista, after all! The modern-day equivalent to a girl in a tower, trapped and unable to leave, whether visited by a prince or a dragon. Friendliness, it seems, can be one’s own worst enemy. I keep my responses smiling, but short. After a few monosyllabic replies, he goes and sits down in a chair that is eye-level to me. I start to read, work, do anything but look his way.
But peripheral vision tells me that he is reading, and fidgeting with his phone, and just in general, twitchy. After about 20 minutes, I see – oh, no… he’s breaking out the nerdy dance moves again. His fists are pumping around in circles that are reminiscent of the ’90s. There is no music on. It is only the two of us in this store. His rhythm is not turning me on, and I force myself not to look his way. I read the same sentence about 18 times, trying really hard not to laugh or engage this in any way.
After a few minutes, he packs it all up, shoots me a little wave, and is out the door in a flash. I never see him again.
What I learned from these experiences:
- I felt I had to ask Caribou Guy’s permission to exit the conversation. Eww! I did NOT need his permission.
- In both cases, I felt trapped into these conversations. At first, I blamed the men for “trapping” me. But later, I realized that I was feeling trapped because of my need to be nice. Part of the difficulty was the difference between the text, and the subtext. When a guy approaches me and says, “I like your earrings,” the text is plainly about earrings, but I know right away that the subtext is romantic interest. I often feel trapped by the need to respond to the text because the subtext isn’t acknowledged until way later, and I don’t want to assume. It always seems strange to shut down what seems like an innocent conversation. In the second case, it was a conversation about atheism and Nietzsche, both things that are interesting to me, and which I enjoy talking about. But I knew immediately that the guy wasn’t hanging around to talk about Nietzsche. He was hoping to get my romantic attention, and had he been upfront, I could have told him no in the first two minutes. The problem came in when he thought he could win me over to him romantically in a conversation, while I could only go on the fact that he apparently wanted to talk about Nietzsche. What I wanted was a sort of a script – something like – “Here’s what you say when a guy tries to talk to you about other things (like their dead dogs) but you know they really just want to hit on you.” And the only things out there to say seem rude and hurtful, and incongruous with the conversation: “My dog died.” “I’m sorry, I’m just not interested in you romantically.”
- So, moral of the story is, I had more questions than answers after these happenings, and secondly, I would like to experience living in a place that isn’t known for being “Minnesota nice.” Maybe they have more answers on how to deal with this sort of thing efficiently.