We were waiting for dinner with my parents and I was standing next to two young women while Wife M talked to my parents. The way the line worked, I was facing right the women, who were two feet away from me. Silence bothers me, so I asked one of the women what her drink was since it looked cool, and that started a conversation, which I quickly brought in Wife M (it turnd out the second woman happened to be standing with that woman but was with another group). A minute or two later, the woman’s male partner returned, and I said, “Hi there, I was just asking…” At that moment, I paused, not wanting to offend them. Was it his girlfriend? WIfe? Friend? Life partner? WHo knew? As I thought through this, I decided to say, “she” so then finished with, “what she was drinking.” That launched another conversation in which I again made sure I was including the guy plus Wife M. Soon, it was time to go into the restaurant and the conversation ended.
Later, Wife M said, “You have to be careful talking to people. They thought you were hitting on her?”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “She was half my age and I am with you.”
“First of all, you look young for your age, and second of all, that doesn’t stop a lot of men,” Wife M said. “THey realized eventually that you weren’t hitting on her, but it was awkward at first.” We realized at that point that my hesitation made it seem like I was thinking of an excuse to cover up that I was hitting on his partner/friend/wife/girflriend.
“Just be aware of that,” she said. “You don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable.”
Since then, I’ve been really careful, and appreicate that Wife M told me that. It is also a little discouraging – I’ve been appreciating that in middle age that women don’t approach me anymore (it has been 6 years since a woman approached me, something that used to happen semi-regularly when I was young, which was hard since I had to risk hurting someone’s feelings by telling them I was happily married), but also appreciating that I could talk to women withouth them thiking I aws hitting on them (I am friendly, and a lot of women used to mistake that for flirting, which always annoyed the sh*t out of me since I was happily married). Turns out, I was only half right, that women still might think I am hitting on them when starting innocent conversation, and Wife M is right – there are a lot of creeps out there willing to approach women who are young enough to be there daughter. I am not one of them, but women who don’t know me have no way of knowing that.
Sigh. The creeps out there make it harder for the rest of us.