Wednesday, February 01, 2006

ambivalence at first sight

A friend was telling me how she got an instant message from a random acquaintance from college that she doesn't really like that much, and, naturally, a little bit of e-awkwardness ensued. This reminded me of one of my favorite random acquaintance stories from a few years ago.

You know how it goes sometimes: You meet some person, and they're fine, and they're suddenly in your life in some way and you kind of want to like them because they're nice enough and you can't think of A Major Reason not to, forgetting, of course, that you don't really need A Major Reason. You find yourself saying, "Well, there's nothing wrong with them." You forget that while you'll lose a date's number if you don't feel anything, you'll somehow make yourself feel bad for not feeling anything with a potential friend. Suddenly I forget that all of my friends, different though they may be, are people that I instantly liked, if not adored. You need friend chemistry, there's just no way around it. And I felt zip with Random.

She was a classmate of mine in grad school. She always wanted to hang out, and to make matters worse she was new to the city and didn't know many people and so I felt extra guilty about being vague and put-offish about making plans. I tried to keep it to school-related stuff but she kept asking me to go to dinner. And then I told myself, "Well, for God's sake, I can have a meal with the girl." So I called for back-up in the form of Elusive Jen. I did a bad sell job. I think it went something like: "So I have to go out with this girl from school that I don't really like and her roommate is coming too and it might be terrible so would you come with me?" She came. You would too. If it ends up being fun, then great, and if not then it's comedy after the fact and fodder during the drinks that you go out for after you ditch the losers.

I'm sounding like a terrible person right now, I know. Stay with me for a minute.

Unsurprisingly, we ended up with comedy after the fact. The dinner was a bit of a blur: Her roommate was like a 80-year-old humorless man in a 24-year-old woman's body, who told stupid stories about brief encounters with obscure celebrities. It was funny that it came off so badly because both Elusive and I enjoy a good obscure celebrity story, but it just didn't work; instead of seeing the funny, roommate was boastful about the encounters, as though accidentally brushing against Chris O'Donnell's elbow is something to dangle over the heads of those who have had no such elbow-on-elbow contact. The other thing is that she was the kind of person who, after some harmless, not-even-especially-funny comment was thrown out, she'd stare right at you and say, "What do you mean?" as though her command of the language was so literal that she would need you to translate idioms for her. And then there was Random, who acted so nervous around me that it made me uncomfortable. When her roommate went to sit next to me, Random glared at her and then roommate jumped up and said, "Oh, I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to sit between you." Elusive's eyebrows went up. The weird vibe continued. Later on in the ladies Elusive said, delicately, "Any chance she thinks you two are on a date?" I wasn't entirely sure. And I'm not a fan of dating without knowing it.

Anyway, I attributed that experience to her nightmare roommate, for the most part, and continued to see Random for occasional post-class lunches and study sessions, and continued not really liking her, but still feeling somewhat guilty about it. Then one night I was driving her home from class and she was telling me some story about her parents. She referred to them as Mommy and Daddy. Not even, "my Mommy and Daddy," not that that would've been acceptable. No, she just said, "Mommy and Daddy." Like, "Well, Mommy said..." Dear God.

Then she told me about the guy that her sister was dating, and how it was going to be a big problem because he's not Jewish. "AND he's black." I asked her if that was a problem. She replied, "Well, YEAH," as though I was right there with her on the twisted little Southern plantation in her head. I was actually kind of relieved. Now I had a reason not to like her. Mommy, Daddy, AND racist? Score!

Elusive brings it up now and then, especially when I'm talking her into coming with me somewhere and she says, "Oh yeah, like that night with those two people. Who the hell were they?" My thoughts exactly. What the world needs is more people trusting their initial instinct toward a person when it pushes them in the direction of blind hatred.

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