If you arrive late, you will be without a partner, unless you work twice as hard to make up the distance (I am there before the doors open, I help move the chairs and tables to make myself useful until the beginner lesson and so I can be seen, I joke with the organizers and reintroduce myself). Though some dancers can work wonders with everyone they touch, others sit on the sideline for the whole of the night, the final swing dance of the season. Most of the pretty women fidget on the sidelines rather than standing and asking a man to dance. Men tend to be the leaders, they should ask. Some women will look right through you to try to remove a man from his partner before the next dance. And, of course, one extroverted lesbian can make certain to keep five or six women at a time from dancing with men.
I come in my most attractive clothes, well-fitting jeans and an almost tight purple shirt. Unlike last weekend, when I came to prove that I could, that I was capable of being unbroken after being cast aside, I want to be hot tonight, I want to captivate. Were I a much better dancer, I would actually be hot in this venue, but I will endure being pretty instead.
I can tell with a touch, with a glance, that this person I am about to ask for a dance is not the one for me - I can tell at a distance, I can tell with my eyes closed - but I ask anyway to pass the time until she comes, because it feels better than not dancing. Because, frankly, I imagine her walking in to see me active and happy, but I feel as though I am having the vertical, sanitized equivalent of one-night stands to forestall coping with being alone. The current comely stranger and I talk and twirl, but - however lively our discussion, however I play my gallant part and grab her up when her heel twists - my heart isn't in it. This is a single serving interaction - even when I do it three times with one girl from Utah - and I can't let them expect more from it. The Vassar undergrads - at least those who would attend this final swing dancing session of the season despite the torrents of rain - seem occasionally adoring toward me, especially when my unattached status comes up in conversation. I ask the same questions - name, major, serial number - and smile at the answers.
"Yes, you look like you should be a French major. Oh, you are minoring in theater? It's nice to have a fallback."
"It's funny to think theater would be my fallback," says the girl who might be my type in another four or five years.
"Yes, dear, that's the joke."
I ask after a handmade Backstreet Boys shirt (future chef who only has three non-school shirts) or answer about unusual jewelry (the bigger pendant is from a former ex and I think it is Odin's ravens. The smaller one is a phurba dagger, a Tibetan mystical tool meant to pin down demons). I tell them of my book, because I enjoy their interest in the storyline and their doubt that I am actually published and not merely trying to get into their pants. I am charming and kind, but I am not looking to deeply connect with a stranger who has yet to get her Bachelor's or live a day in the real world. And I am aware that, with minimal application of flattery and flirting, two of the dozen with whom I bop might have come home with me or at least given me their numbers. But I do not want their numbers.
All night I look for her. I have mentally (and occasionally audibly) rehearsed my solicitation for a coffee date a few dozen times. I can gauge the health of my self-image, the strength of my hope, but what my imaginary version of her says. In the hours before coming, she went with yes. And why on earth wouldn't she? I am attractive, I am intriguing, I am only asking her to talk with me over a hot beverage or two.
I linger for a song after my established time limit, then another. Then, I feel foolish for having waited, saying goodbye only to the last person I touched, the one to whom I have poured out this story in a rush to have something like intimacy with someone tonight.
She hasn't come, like some sort of Great Pumpkin of the dance hall. There won't be another swing dancing session at Vassar until the fall.
...So I send her a message through the internet, asking her on the date. Less romantic, sure, but better than pinning all my hopes on her coming out in the rain. Certainly better than not asking at all, since no one dances with you unless you ask.
Soon in Xenology: Coping.