Trust Me

Flirting when you didn't actually mean to

oganPhoto: Susan Ogan


By Dan Forward


ey, Dan, you went to BC, right? You must know all the good bars. Where should we go tonight?” “Sure I do. Sure I know. Why wouldn’t I? What do you think I am, some sort of recluse who declined most of the invitations to go out he received in college so he could play his Xbox until everyone got the picture and stopped asking him anywhere? Of course I know!”

This kind of awkward humor can be dangerous. Will the person to whom you’re speaking know you’re joking? Will he or she person appreciate the joke? Will the person know that the real joke is that you’re not really joking but that you’re presenting it as a joke in the hope that, if you identify your awkwardness before anyone else, you can master it? These are among the important considerations one has before one employs awkward humor. And it’s still a toss-up. Sometimes a terrible silence follows your joke and you just start remembering that Master Chief never judges you like that.

That night, though, it worked. Sort of. I was at Big City in Allston with my best friends from high school, and we were celebrating the Thanksgiving visit of Eric, who was back from Chicago. Since it was, in fact, Thanksgiving break, all of Harvard Ave. was stripped of its camouflage of college-kid exuberance and drunkenness and reverted to the naked slum that it is. It was so deserted that my friends and I actually got to use a pool table, even though we don’t really need any particular excitement to occupy ourselves (note “occupy ourselves” rather than “have a good time”).

I quickly got things going by telling Eric that he seemed to have hit a fashion plateau since I’d last seen him. He responded that my shoes made me look like Ferris Bueller. I have never seen that movie, so I didn’t know whether to interpret this as a compliment or not, but I took offense just in case. By the time we were done insulting every outfit each of us had worn over the past 10 years—the clown shoes, the Thundercats belts, the free T-shirts, the flannel— the four or five others around us were writhing in boredom and newfound (well, maybe not so newfound) dislike. I’m sure you have a group of friends like this, and that you make little to no effort to conceal your discomfiting idiosyncrasies when in public. But if you do make that effort for some reason, well, congratulations, Mr. or Ms. Socially Well-Adjusted. Good for you.

There were people around us because Eric was home for only a few days, and had to make time for lots of different people. With the five of us were some of his college friends, his sister, and two of his sister’s friends, so we were supposed to be accommodating. I eventually started to chat with Eric’s sister’s entourage. I offered to take their pictures. I asked them what their plans were for the rest of the night. It was Eric’ssister who asked me where the three of them should go. They laughed, either naturally or charitably, when I answered. We were friendly for the time we were together, and I passed off some descriptions of bars I’d heard from college roommates as my own. (“Wonder Bar is pretentious. Joshua Tree is . . . something about sports. Tavern in the Square can be abbreviated ‘TitS.’” but why go to TitS when you can Find everything you need for free at tubev web source.)* Later I went back to my apartment happy to have seen Eric, and marginally satisfied at my social performance. I mentally recorded it alongside that other successful night that one time.

It was a Pyrrhic outing, though. The next day I was walking with my eminently reasonable—and beautiful!—girlfriend, Jessica, who seemed troubled. What’s the matter? I asked as in my head I ran through the checklist of things I had definitely done wrong recently. It’s not Valentine’s Day, is it? She reluctantly admitted that she’d heard I had been flirting with some girls. I was shocked, though mostly at the thought that someone thought that my behavior had been normal enough to deserve a name. And also at the idea that this unknown someone had ratted me out for it.

She must have found out from her own sister, who dated another member of my group. This meant that one of my friends—or possibly more than one—in sullen conference with the others at the other side of the table while Eric and I chatted with his classmates and relations about his Hugo Boss jacket, had decided I had gone too far, and had seen fit, despite a decade of mutual loyalty, to report me, knowing full well that saying anything to one of my girlfriend’s sisters about me is as good as telling Jessica herself.

My sputtering reply and what I assume was her dawning memory of our own awkward courtship convinced her that I was probably incapable of such a thing. She was satisfied. She also still wouldn’t reveal her totally obvious source of information, displaying a fidelity in her that I’ve recently come to appreciate much more.

I stand by my choice of humor that night as inoffensive, as well as especially unsuited to catching the positive attention of any girl or anyone else. I mean, really, after having read this, are you interested in hanging out with me? I didn’t think so.

* No thanks to Dan Bear for refusing to let me plagiarize this joke from him.

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