I thought an engagement ring was some form of deterrent. Usually when a random man at a random bar began to make small talk with me, he’d make a big face upon seeing my engagement ring. I was wasting his time and should have been holding my wine goblet with my left hand, so it was all the more obvious that he should talk to someone else. No single guy at a bar wants to talk to the married chic. And part of me, the insecure part, found it a bit unfair that I wore this symbol of promise and commitment but my fiancée did not. Because as much as an engagement ring is about love and a future, on some level it also says off limits almost as efficiently as museum glass. That’s what I thought.
Some married women take comfort, thinking their husband’s band of platinum is a sign to the single indicating, “keep off my grass,” but it’s not. If someone wants attention, they don’t always care about the source, or whom the source is married to. I know women who date married men, and I judge them. Harshly. I exhale bits about karma and some part of me, the once betrayed part, wishes them a life where the same thing will happen to them. That they’ll eventually marry, maybe this same married man, maybe another one, and it will come back to haunt them. He’ll now tell another woman how his marriage is on the rocks, how it’s only “technical at this point.” I want her to know the hurt she’s causing. I feel guilty for wanting these things. Judgmental, yet justified.
Being married or engaged, wearing that symbol, not wearing it, in a bar, it means nothing to the people who see it, and that sucks. Yes, it means the world to the wearer, who would never cheat, but they would flirt, just to see. Harmless, right? Without an exchange of numbers or fluids, no one has done anything wrong. I have another theory on this, but for now, we’ll keep things tidy, to the facts, to what happened.
“I don’t care if you’re married,” he says. “One better, you’re only engaged, which means you’re still fair game.” Now I’m game. I see, like deer or pheasant.
“Hunt this,” I want to say, but I don’t because I’m eating at the bar, and my food has just arrived.
“But you’re so hot and tight and young; how can you be settling down now?” Because. “Because I know when he rubs you through your bed routine later tonight, you’re going to think of this conversation, think of the span of your entire life, and you’re going to come to one conclusion: that it’s short, too short, and you’ll remember this conversation as he touches you. The way I touch your arm ‘innocently enough’ right here, in the inside of your elbow, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t pull away at my touch, and then you’ll wonder why he never bothers to touch you here.” And when he says, “here,” he presses his thumb into my pulse. I’ve had too much wine and can almost forget or forgive the fact that he actually said "young and tight." If he were sober and I told him he’d said it, he’d knit his brow and smile, denying it. "You must have me confused with an infomercial," he’d say, and it wouldn’t make sense, but it would. This is what a mistake feels like. This is what alive feels like. “And you’ll get off on this, and I can tell from your face you think I’m cheesy or cocky, or whatever you want to tell yourself to make you feel better, slime, even, but tonight, I’ll go to bed thinking of him touching you, knowing you’re thinking of this, these words, my hand on your pulse.” And he’ll be right. Because when someone slaps that down, when they ride that confidence, they’re in there, on the brain, and all you remember is the glance across the bar, the way he made you feel. The attention and the idea that he could really know you.
And then you remember He, your He. He’s getting the same talk from the other line, the opposition line, the female bartender who likes his dimples or his jokes or the way he’ll tip. Or the girl with the back tattoo who smokes clove cigarettes and drinks Irish whiskey and wears too much coal eyeliner. And if you were there, you’d think, but I’m much prettier. Looks have nothing to do with any of this. It’s attention mingled with confidence. He sees it in her cleavage, the way she presses herself off the bar, and walks toward the bathroom, aware that he’s watching. He’s sure he could if he wanted to, and it excites him, watching her eyebrow and hemline, the way other men watch her. Knowing if could turn to yes, without the words, if he wanted, if he allowed for it. He’s still got what it takes, and that makes him feel good.
Maybe you’re wrong, though. Maybe this shit only happens to you. He just talks about whatever sport it is and whichever players. But you get jealous when he says he’s going out because you know exactly what happens to you when you go out, and you’re the one with the ring, with the symbol, with the sign saying, “nah uh, no way.” If he knew, really knew, the things men said to us, the way they made us feel and want, he’d never let you leave the house alone. If he was a fly on the bar wall, he’d shake his head, tighten his lips and be pissed off in that way that’s not overt, in that “everything’s fine” way. But she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She was eating a meal. And she did pull her arm away; you weren’t watching closely enough.
"When you finish your meal… Stephanie? Was it? Come have a drink with us. Our table back there is now ready." And so many women say okay, then get stuck having to hear about his townhouse and how he’s friends with Kate Spade, as if that’s some grand selling point. "Do you know who I am?" gets spit out too often without those exact words, in the way he stands or pushes up a sleeve to not quite check the time, but hopes you’ll notice his brand of watch. And in my head I think, "Yeah, I know who you are; you’re human, just like I am. Except you’re sucking at it." You’re insecure and worried and trying to impress your friends at that table, and you’re older and have more to learn. I wonder when you’ll realize it’s not all about your client Tony or the blond with the fake fur and lips. It’s about integrity.
And it would be so much easier if this were the case, if he turned out to be a Mister. But instead, the man who touched your arm at the bar while you were eating, paid for your bill when you weren’t paying attention. And he was a good guy you could have spent your life with, speaking in coincidences and shared interests. He was only provoking you that night because he could tell you were like him, with your need to think and feel. And now you still think about him, the one you hardly knew, the idea of the other, who for a night, saw you in a perfect way.
*As an aside, today I found Married To It, written Sept. 12, 2005, and found it ironic and heartwarming. Especially Phil’s comment. I also suspect the idea of monogamy might be called "unnatural" in the comment section. And it really might be, in fact, it probably is. But we make our choices and we live with them, moving and looking forward, even if we sometimes stagger and breathe in a little too much nostalgia. There’s also something natural about life-long partnership, growing with–even though it sometimes will feel like away from–your beloved wife.