I have, almost since the time I began attracting the attention of adult men, an uncanny ability for getting all manner of freaks. The last time I dated someone normal was my junior year in high school, and so maybe there might be normal guys who find me attractive, but they never make their intentions known.
My ability to attract strangeoids became painfully obvious to me during my semester abroad. I, like many of my female classmates, was accosted by men all day long. On trains, buses, while walking through parks, buying groceries or waiting in line at the post office. Everywhere. And it is the kind of flirting that American men only get away with when they are extremely drunk. My response to awkward situations is often to giggle or smile nervously, which to many men is also a sign of flirting (but my kind of flirting usually involves verbal abuse, intense sarcasm, avoidance of eye contact, etc. You know...the opposite of actual flirting) so this almost always ended badly for me. I was once followed through a subway station by a man who insisted I go home with him. But along with potential stalkers, I attracted a lot of bored married men who called me "exotic," "exciting," and complained that their wives no longer found them attractive.
I returned to college with a newfound appreciation for the descendants of Puritans that I call my countrymen, and was happy to be able to safely walk down the street without fear of having someone grab my hand and tell me how beautiful I am. But only half my problem was solved; I still found myself attracting men in committed relationships and actual married men who were drawn to me for the same reasons that British, French, Italian and Irish men had explained to me on the other side of the pond.
After realizing that men are the same all around the world, I decided to just ignore the flirting that happens daily, and only when it gets really, really awkward have I taken notice and complained. And that brings us to last night. Last night was every awkward encounter I'd ever had with the added bonus of my being unable to escape. Because I was in a moving car. Every evening I take a shuttle from my building to a park-n-ride. Most of the shuttle drivers are semi-retired older men who flirt with me in a cute, harmless sort of way. Some of the shuttle drivers don't talk to me at all, but there's one shuttle driver in particular who I appear to have struck a chord with. On previous shuttle trips, I'd learned that he'd moved to America 8 months ago and worked as a shuttle driver in the evenings and as a help desk tech during the day. He also took it upon himself to chide me for being single, and cooking, eating and living alone, and insisted to me that this was a sad, meaningless existence. Which is of course what every single woman likes to hear.
Last night, when the shuttle pulled up, I immediately recognized him and gave my best cheerleader grin to help me get through what was sure to be a slightly awkward ride. I got into the car, and he began telling me how excited he was that he got to see me. "So excited! I have wanted to see you since last Friday!" he exclaimed. There were two other passengers and so whatever else he needed to say couldn't be uttered until they weren't in the car. When the couple had gotten out at their stop, he locked the doors and turned to me saying "You are single, yes?" I replied that I was, laughing softly to myself and recalling with a certain fondness the time that I sat in a park, hunched over an insanely overpriced blueberry muffin, racked with homesickness, when a man approached me and asked me out on a date.
The shuttle driver, undeterred by my giggling and the look on my face, shook his head thoughtfully and said "You are so beautiful. So appealing. Why are you single? It makes no sense." I cringed a little inside, mostly because I could tell where this conversation was going. I surveyed my surroundings and tried to see where I could get him to drop me off so I could walk the rest of the way. Several unreasonably long stop lights later, the driver turned to me and said "I have philosophical question for you." Knowing that this was going to be a doozy, I said "Go for it."
"In America, what is difference between 'lover' and 'boyfriend,'" he implored. I struggled to hold back laughter, and explained as delicately as I could what I understood the difference to be. He nodded. "I am looking to be one of those for you."
And I began laughing.
"Why do you laugh?" he said to me, looking deeply shocked.
"Oh...I don't know," and then, having caught a glimpse of his left hand, offered up "Don't you have someone waiting for you at home in Romania?"
Without a second of hesitation, he replied, "Yes, yes I do."
"Excellent!" I said. I mean really, my luck is amazing...there I was trapped in a moving car with a married man (who later told me he had a 9 year old child) who wanted to be my lover AFTER I'd defined what the word "lover" meant to me.
"You don't like?"
"No," I responded, "I don't. Married men are off-limits."
"You are sure?" He looked at me with wide eyes.
The car pulled up to it's appointed destination. He switched on his hazard lights, put the parking brake on and looked at me. I reached for the door and realized that it was still locked. I turned to look at him, and in one incredibly deft motion, he grabbed my hand and looked at me and said "What's your e-mail address?"
The sheer ridiculousness of the past half an hour had now been increased ten fold with this inclusion of technology in his pursuit of...a lover.