Yesterday I stopped at Sheetz on my way home to get dinner. This is a semi-regular ritual of mine - if my husband will be home late and I have to do dinner alone, I will often stop at Sheetz and buy something greasy and delicious and guilt-inducing (I'm looking at you, fried cheese curds) and sit at home and watch a movie and revel in my short-lived singledom. It makes me happy.
I place my order for so much food that the kind ladies working behind the counter give me multiple forks (sidenote: I can judge just how sad a night will be based on how many forks they give me for my one dinner, for me). I get a milkshake, and I stand and wait for my food to be ready while drinking said milkshake.
That's when I notice him. We'll call him Mr. Black. He's a young man about my age, and he's dressed in all black - black jeans, black t-shirt, black baseball cap. His feet and the bottoms of his legs are covered in some sort of grass/hay - probably a farm hand, which is a common enough sight in my rural-ish area.
Mr. Black obviously notices me, too. He starts meandering in circles around me, then back and forth. I'm bemused. What is going on here? And then he zooms in to deliver his lines, and I realize: Mr. Black is trying to chat me up. He is going to try to hit on me.
Now, I am an unattractive woman. People think I'm trying to fish for compliments when I say this, but I view it as an objective truth. I'm not thin, and I'm not pretty. I don't believe any stranger has ever tried to hit on me in my life. I don't think I've ever been checked out by someone who wasn't a lesbian or a lecherous old man. I'm not hideously deformed, and my husband thinks I'm beautiful, but in general, I am not the stuff that dreams are made of.
But sure enough, Mr. Black gives it the old college try. He starts asking me how I feel about the weather ("It's hot") and then rolls up his sleeve to show me his sunburn (and his muscles). I'm trying not to be rude, but I'm also trying to shut this conversation down, because even if he were the nicest man on the planet and my eternal soulmate, it's hot and I'm sweating in line at a Sheetz where I'm waiting for a small mountain of food to come out so I can go home and stop wearing pants and eat everything in sight until I pass out on my couch in sweet sweet solitude. Even on my best of days, I don't enjoy small talk with strangers.
After a minute, I realize something - I'm holding my milkshake with my right hand and my left hand is in my pocket, meaning my wedding ring is not visible. So I nonchalantly take my left hand from my pocket and gesticulate a little, switching shake-holding hands and continuing to smile as pleasantly as I can muster. Mr. Black, to his credit, spots the wedding ring and quickly leaves.
There are many, many things to unpack here, and I'll spare you a close examination of all of them. But I will leave you with the questions I've been asking myself all night and still this morning:
Who is it that teaches young men that it's okay to approach any lady in any public place and try to chat her up and expect her to be nice and docile and responsive and flattered? There are many, many reasons I don't want to talk to you when I'm out running errands. Yes, I'm sure you're charming. No, I still don't care.
Why is it okay to try your pickup lines on any lady, except when you finally notice her wedding ring? (You won't respect my own decision to not talk to you, but if I'm "another man's property" then you'll finally back off?)
Why did I feel the need to be nice to this stranger? What is it about my experience living as a woman in modern society made me refrain from walking away like I wanted to? Was I afraid of angering him? Being seen as rude? Some sort of violent retaliation? Was I supposed to smile and feel flattered?
This experience was most troubling because it happens to me so rarely. I can't imagine how unbearable and constant this unwanted attention would be if I were thin/pretty, and that alone speaks volumes about the problems our society has with its treatment of women. I'm also a bit socially awkward on my best of days, so talking to strangers is a dreaded task no matter how pleasant the interaction. And, I'm genderqueer - so while I'm fine being identified as a woman and living my life as a woman and having all the experiences that go with being born a biological woman, in my head I don't really see myself as a hallmark of feminity, and I find it super odd and super disconcerting when strangers treat me as feminine based on their assumptions about my physical appearance.
So, so strange. This life is so strange and ugly and beautiful and strange.