I spent Wednesday night at the Depot.
It was singles night, a weekly event in June. The event included $1 Castle Danger beers and entertainment from DJ Trivia. The event included free tickets to local events from KQDS and some locally owned restaurants and some tickets to Tribute Fest (I won three — anyone want to go? I feel no desire to pay tribute to any of the bands being covered.). The highlight of the event: a package to Las Vegas.
The organizer, a man named Aaron, wanted to make sure that everyone had a good time. Aaron was open about needing input, including wondering whether calling it a “singles night” or a “mingle” would be more appealing in the future.
There were icebreakers, cute activities that forced us to meet each other, necessary in a group of people who want to meet each other but who lack the confidence or energy to do so. And there were improv comedy activities, like one person being assigned a secret “personality” (like “loves horses” and “running for mayor”) that the other needed to guess. These were awkward to watch because these games only work if the participants are of generous spirit. Each participant looked to other, “please give me something to work with, here,” each wanting the other to ask the right question, offer the right answer, that would make it clear for the other.
It was a kind of symbol for the awkward early moments of the night. Everyone was hoping for the generous spirit of the other, to reach out, to talk, to send the signal that would make it clear for the other: “I want to talk to you.”
In those early moments, I applauded everything, I “wooted” for every volunteer. I spent some time chatting with a pair of ladies, one of whom won the Las Vegas getaway; I chatted with a pair who left together, headed to Superior to Jack’s Place to hear a lounge act. I talked to everyone.
If I wasn’t as afraid as most people, it’s because twenty years as a teacher (going back to my tender days at age 23 as a teaching assistant) have taught me how to listen, how to ask questions that invite answers.
I met a man eager to show us photos of the motorcycle and the street rod he’s been working on, about which he beamed the way my female friends beamed about their children. I met a man with tattoos reminding him of the child he lost. People at a singles night are people who want to feel understood.
And I met a man who immediately complained that the guys outnumbered the girls, as if an even ratio guaranteed companionship, or as if a “better” ratio would create a “buyer’s market.” Not everyone at a single’s night wants to be understood, I guess.
At one point, I found myself at a table with a woman at 28, a woman at 48, a woman and a man in their sixties. As you might guess, we talked about age in dating: the ways that the distance between 21 and 31 are more significant, for dating, than the years between 41 and 51. One of us admitted that they had dated a 28 year old after a divorce, when they were more than a decade older. The initial response from one of the others at the table was that she was attracted to the younger man because it fed her ego to be desired by someone younger. That may be true, I thought inside, but I think I know another reason: when your life is destabilized by a divorce, you want a partner who makes you feel stable, and being attracted to someone still going through the life changes you endured ten years ago makes you feel stable, it seems to me.
There just comes a moment, I think, when you realize that it is less important (a) to feel stable than (b) to feel like you have a partner who challenges you to become more and better.
I talked to a woman, so very eager to contribute ideas and energy to the event, to make the event successful. Perhaps this was an extension of her identity as a mom — she wanted to help the event be successful the way she works to ensure her children are successful. At the makeshift Depot bar, she talked at length about her teenage children, about their nearly-award-winning times in high school sports. Then she stopped herself, noting that she didn’t want to bore us with talk about her sons. The man behind the bar, a radio personality, I think, laughed and said he loved sports, while I replied that I was listening. She demurred, no, no, she would stop, and then she proceeded to talk more about her children’s achievements. I smiled inside, listening some more, and then said: “Your children sound charming. I’d like to know something charming about you.” She paused. “My children are growing up. I’m rediscovering what is charming about me.” I believe her, and I believe she will find it. She is looking forward to jumping out of a plane; she has already purchased the ticket.
When I was in Banff last week, I got weak-kneed riding a gondola to the top of a mountain. I can’t imagine jumping out of a plane.
In a small sense, showing up for a “singles night” was a small jump out of a plane for nearly everyone there.
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