“Hell is other people.”
This is the way the post-WWII French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described the nature of human suffering. For a long time, I disagreed with Sartre. Plenty of people made me happy: friends, family, girlfriends, co-workers…that is, until I met “Mary.”
A few years ago, after the termination of a long-term relationship, I was faced with a dilemma: do I stop dating, or do I continue to look? I decided on the latter. I could sit around and feel sorry for myself, or I could move forward. Then, right on cue, a friend approached me.
“I think I might have someone for you,” he said. “She is looking for a guy, and I think this one might have potential.”
I agreed to call her, and, within a few days, we had plans to meet for dinner.
At first everything seemed normal. There was some flirtatious banter – which is always a plus – on the way to the restaurant in Dickson City. We talked music and movies. We laughed. Everything was going in my favor.
But something changed.
After parking the car, I got out and opened her door.
“It’s not 1950,” she barked. “Don’t do that.”
“WTF?!” I thought.
It was in that moment when I realized something was wrong. I kept my cool and pretended everything was normal, although it wasn’t.
We ate a quick meal, but the flirting had vanished. No more witty banter. No more jokes – just blank stares and awkward silence.
I drove her back to her apartment, and, as I prepared to say good night, Mary said something unexpected: she asked me if I wanted to come inside. Seeing it as one last opportunity to salvage the evening, I agreed.
I sat on her couch sipping a glass of water while she disappeared upstairs. Within a few minutes, Mary reappeared, sexily clad in tight PJs, and sat on the couch next to me.
“I can have you in a minute if I wanted,” she said. “You’re too easy. Women don’t like that. They want an aggressive, take-charge guy.”
She lectured me for almost an hour, and the conversation went nowhere. There was no catharsis, no revealing moment, no “Aha,” second chance: this date was dead.
After that night, I never saw Mary again. But just before I left, she had asked me if I learned anything from being with her.
But when I asked her the same question, she said, “Maybe I should treat guys a little better in the future.”
Now, every time I go on a bad date, or ask for someone’s number, or think about Mary, Sartre’s words resonate. I often wonder why opening a car door was such an affront to her femininity. That said, maybe I was wrong. Maybe I did learn something from her: if hell really exists, I was there. If not, then it was at least some bizarre version of dating purgatory. Either way, redemption isn’t possible. Perhaps I should forget this whole thing and become a celibate Buddhist monk. It might not be a bad idea.