You’ve never been great at meeting women. You’re no better at it now.
You shouldn’t have come.
You’re tired of being pushed into doing things you hate doing. Still, you try. Mostly, for them—your friends who care about you. Mostly, you just don’t want to end up like one of those guys who games all day and wears plaid and stops combing his beard.
Get out more. Be friendly. Be yourself. You’ve gotten so much advice at this point you don’t know which one to hold onto, what to do first and when.
You sip your beer. It’s confusing.
You never needed to try with Jenny. It was natural, easy. No script lines. No excruciating small talk. She was the first girl who instantly got you and your bitter sense of humor without telling you to ‘woah, lighten up’.
Here, there are too many different conversations happening but you can’t seem to grab the tail end of a single one. They are already in too deep, they’ve already created rapport and flirtations with each other, they exchange new inside jokes which receives appropriate laughs. You are too far away to laugh, it will just seem creepy. It will seem as though you are intruding, as though you are eavesdropping and that’s impolite, another morsel of advice your friends gave you at some point.
You grip your beer bottle like it’s a teleporting machine, a lifesaver that can transport you out of this gigantic cold stuffy room and somewhere else, somewhere empty, somewhere more you.
Why do you people even come here? Where’s the appeal? But then you remember that you are here, against your will sure, but still you are here. Even if you are sure you will not participate. The music is terrible. You don’t even know what the genre is. Alt pop maybe? You can never keep track of the genre names that seem to magically keep cropping up nowadays. It’s like suddenly everyone gets to decide. Your neighbor’s kid bangs pot lids and suddenly he’s a musician. You blame Gen Z.
Jenny would laugh at that. But Jenny’s not around to laugh at your jokes anymore.
You wait for the prickle of pain to pass. It always does, sooner or later.
Your friend Kyle arrives to rescue you, bright red twin spots on his cheeks like he always gets after his second beer. He’s the reason you’re here. You feel a flash of annoyance. He’s having a great time and you’re counting the minutes. The beer isn’t hitting you. You tell yourself to be nice. Act like you’re enjoying yourself for his sake. This is important to him, after all.
Kyle grins and slaps your back even though he isn’t looking at you, his eyes are energetically scouting the warehouse hall which is now packed with a hundred or more people and idly placed folding chairs and keg stands.
So how many beans have you collected now? you tease, gesturing to his empty hands.
Kyle is not phased. Hey, don’t worry about me and my beans. I’m doing my thing.
He leans in as though he is about to share a groundbreaking secret. The longer we wait, the more desperate they become. And who do you think is going to be there when that happens?
You catch on so fast. I’m really proud of you.
You shake your head and sip your beer, following his line of vision to the cluster of women by the doors. They’re checking their phones. They look bored. But they’re not leaving, not yet anyway. Kyle might have a point. He might have a chance as the night fizzles.
But then you see Ranjit loitering around with a beer of his own. It seems you are not the only wallflowers with such a genius scheme.
Kyle doesn’t seem to notice, he’s too busy scouting the market. Watching the cool kids luck out and leave with their beans. Some leave with more than one. A profitable night for some. There are a surprising number of ripped guys. This could almost be confused for a Cross-fit convention. You don’t work out enough. Not nearly enough. Somehow you still have relationship gut even though you haven’t been in a relationship in a long time.
You hate this place. It reeks of cheap sex and desperation. Also, what’s with the beans? But there is something honest about it, too, you have to give them that. They are all here for one basic necessity and they aren’t ashamed about it.
You can almost hear Jenny disagreeing with you. But then again, girls like Jenny will never have to sign up for a convention to get laid.
What about you? Kyle asks. Meet anyone special?
You open your mouth to begin the old spiel but you get tired just thinking about it. You’re not ready, you need more time, you don’t know if you’ll ever be ready again.
Not after her. Not ever for this.
Kyle gets you. He’s heard it a million times. He’s tired, too. He nods without you having to say anything. I know, dude. But you know I wouldn’t have dragged you out here if I didn’t think it was time.
You feel another surge of annoyance. You try to hide it by taking a slightly aggressive chug of beer. You tell yourself to be cool. He’s just trying to help. But that’s always the problem.
It’s been a year, he enunciates meaningfully, as if that’s the universal expiration date on break-up grief.
You’re right, you force a smile. And I’m here. Okay?
I know you are. Kyle pats your back again. You resist the urge to shrug it off. You are a cool guy. You are a good friend. This is life and you are living it.
Kyle’s not done, though. But I want you to be here-here, bro. Like, present.
You try not to roll your eyes. Your friends want to help you. They have helped you. They were there for you in the beginning of hell, back in the dark ages you never talk about anymore. Especially Kyle. You slept on his couch and cried into his pillow and ate his cereal. You owe him this.
You appreciate Kyle showing you this secret, if somewhat sordid, side of him. It was only a few days ago he shared with you where he went every weekend. Let’s call it a recreational need, he said. You don’t get it, not really, but you won’t ask him to explain himself. How could you.
Kyle is still talking. So are you going to come with me to talk to those girls over there or are you gonna leave them all for Ranjit? Because I sure ‘aint going home without a bean.
You tell him you will be his wingman. You tell him what he wants to hear. He is happy. Relieved. You’re not a total lost case. There’s hope for you yet. He is helping you move on.
Every second is torture. You grind your teeth. You trip over the few words you manage to get out. You don’t attempt a joke until you feel it’s safe. The women are friendly enough. One of them—the brunette with the big laugh—almost reminds you of Jenny. But when you look closer, not at all. Jenny doesn’t have the tired eyes that come from light night shifts and single parenthood, the tattooed wrists and two-packs-a-day shakes that come from a longer, harder life.
No. The love of your life would never be here, in a place like this, trading loneliness for a moment of empty affection and giving out beans in exchange for a one-night stand.