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Lesson No. 1: Go Somewhat Easy on Those Who Seem Questionable
The girl -- I'll call her "Maya" -- complained that she keeps finding herself pining for guys who she later learns are gay.
It keeps happening to her, she said. Then, as the only guy near her talking with her friend, she turned to me for advice.
People -- close friends and total strangers -- frequently ask me for advice on things ranging from relationship issues to medical advice. I'm not sure why. I also get lots of queries for directions, whether it's on the streets of New York City or a water taxi in Venice. When I was on vacation in Italy a few years ago, Italians stopped me in every city I visited, asking me for directions. For the record, I do not look or speak Italian.
I tell stories. I do not profess to be a relationship expert, motivational speaker or life coach. But my pragmatic approach to other people's relationship woes seems to help on occasion, even when sarcasm does not get in the way.
My encounter with Maya is as much about how people interact at social events, spilling out their quirky life stories to strangers, as it is about the question presented.
"There's this guy and he's soooo cute," she said to Aviva, my friend who had organized the fundraising party at a hip New York City club for an Israeli social-justice cause.
In her mid-to-late-20s, Maya was certainly cute, despite her outspokenness, which had been amply fueled by the open bar.
"I think this really cute guy I am attracted to is gay," she said.
Aviva asked how she knew the guy was gay.
"I'm always attracted to gay guys. Why? Can you tell me why I'm always attracted to them?" Maya asked me.
Now, I had known the woman for all of four minutes, and I was being called into service to analyze her predicament with little or no background information about her, and even less insight into the question posed.
Lots of us are attracted to people we can never have. There are people who are unavailable for a variety of reasons, whether said object of desire is already in a relationship, geographically out-of-reach, not interested and, yes, even gay.
Sometimes, the more unreachable that person is, the more attractive that person becomes. Maybe that was Maya's problem. She wanted guys who she could never have. Then, she wanted them more.
While people filtered out of the party, Maya, like many who stay until the end, seemed to be losing her inhibitions. She was not the first young woman I met at a party or mixer who spilled her emotional issues to me or anyone else who would listen.
Wracking my brain, the best answer I could muster up was: "Because you want a guy to go shopping with and talk about shoes? I don't know. I don't even know you."
"How can I tell if the guy is gay?" she asked me.
With Aviva standing right next to me, I began to say, "Was he looking down your dress?"
At about 5 feet -- and pretty cute -- she stood before me in a tiny, low-cut cocktail dress. With more than a foot height advantage, it took rigid control of every ocular muscle and significant brain power to maintain eye contact.
In a rare moment of self-censorship, which was based on decorum, politeness and good taste, I refrained from my initial proposed response, though Aviva was reading my mind, she said later.
"Well, did he talk at all about sports?" I said, probably propagating another stereotype.
Maya stared back at me, blankly. Maybe she didn't understand me, or maybe she was ignoring me. It was not the first time my schtick did not play, especially with a stranger at the end of a party.
"Honestly, I really don't know how you can tell if a guy is gay," I said. "I am not an expert on gay men."
Maya then turned back to Aviva and said, "I flock to gay guys like bees to honey."
"Actually, bees make honey," I said.
"What?" Maya replied.
"Bees make honey. Plus, it's a mixed metaphor; bees swarm, not flock."
"Uh, what-ev-er," she said, somehow stretching the word into three syllables.
"It's more like bees to pollen," Aviva added.
"Exactly, bees go from flower-to-flower and tree-to-tree for pollen," I said.
Maya was either too self-absorbed or had absorbed too much from the bar to fully appreciate our tag-team foray into Nature Channel narration. Maybe she decided to leave the sarcasm well enough alone before turning back to Aviva to inquire if she knew any girls for her younger brother.
After Maya sauntered -- make that stumbled -- away, Aviva mockingly criticized me for giving "such a cute girl such a hard time."
"Just because she's cute, does that mean she should get a free pass in life? I say, 'No.' Somebody's got to draw the line somewhere.
"And she was mixing her metaphors -- somebody had to call her on that."
Maybe I was having too much fun at one woman's expense. Maybe the lesson was really for me: You can catch more flies with honey than sarcasm. u
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.