I sat at the bar and started to check Facebook when a fashionable middle-age man sitting by himself started a conversation. A few minutes later, an immediately stylish, petite, dark haired, 3oish woman returned from the restroom and joined the conversation. They were friends. She had dated the roommate of the man with whom I had been speaking. They were finally out to dinner after trying to meet up for months. It took me a minute to understand they were not out on a date. She became my best friend when she told me I looked like Marisa Tomei.
The three of us moved closer together as we started to talk. (I ordered salmon. They continued to eat their meal.) The question of can men and women just be friends was raised. The conversation immediately turned to their friendship. The conversation flowed along with the wine. I tried to figure out the friendly tension that existed between them. They would each tell the other’s secrets when the other one was gone. The fashionable middle-age man was unemployed. The tipsy socialite was high maintenance. The fashionable middle-age man had been living with her ex for over a year without paying rent. The tipsy socialite really liked her wine. They seemed to have known each other a long time.
At one point, the fashionable middle-age man floated over to talk with a group of people at the other end of the bar, leaving the tipsy socialite and myself to talk. (He would move back and forth throughout the rest of the evening.) We started talking about Cincinnati. I told her I had found it hard to meet people. I told her that Cincinnati has been the most difficult place, of all the places I have lived, to feel connected. I told her that, outside of a nucleus of a few good friends, it has been rough. She was from Cincinnati, and understood what I was talking about. She said, “that was going to change right now.” She said she had a huge network of friends, and that part of what she loves most is to connect people.
In a state of effusive generosity, she began to riff on ways to connect me to Cincinnati. She suggested people to meet, parties to attend, and places to go. She said she had tons of Halloween costumes, and offered to let me borrow one and go with her group to a Halloween party. She asked me about my favorite Thanksgiving dish, and said she would make it for me at the Thanksgiving event she hosts that I, “just had to attend.” We talked about where I work, and said she had numerous friends at the university who would, “just love me.” The evening ended when she announced she had to meet up with another friend. I gave her my number. We walked out of the restaurant at the same time.
Our conversation that evening made me think about several things. I felt like I was finally the one picked for the team. I felt like I might be headed in the direction of having more friends, a full social calendar, a deeper connection to Cincinnati. Despite feeling like I was almost in the “in” crowd, I doubted she would call. (I have since come to understand her call was not the main point of our meeting.) I remember thinking how good it felt to think for a minute someone might take me under their wing. I remember thinking back to a time when I had been that person for someone. (I had to search the archive of my brain to remember. That was a sad fact.) I also started thinking about the connection between my feelings of isolation and my willingness to reach out. I became convinced I need to be my own tipsy socialite, in theory. I need to be more of a connector of people. I need to remember how good it felt to be under a wing, and provide a wing to others.
Ultimately, she never called. I did not go to a Halloween Party. I celebrated Thanksgiving in my usual wonderful way with my family.
Dinner With Strangers: I have eaten dinner with strangers many times over the last twenty, or so, years. I believe we can learn from one another. I believe in the power of story. I believe in messages and angels. I have befriended. I have cried. I have flirted. I have ignored. I have argued. I have listened. I have collected stories.