I was in Connecticut visiting my mother this past weekend, and when I'm visiting my mother I always stay at the same hotel, and when I stay at that hotel I always go at least once for dinner at the nice Italian restaurant that's about thirty feet away from the hotel.
So on Sunday night, after hanging out 'til early evening with my mom, I went over there to eat. It was late for a Sunday evening dinner, probably around 8:15. This place has a bar area as well as a restaurant; it's a small bar and the whole place is set in a kind of down-market suburban town, on one of those roads where you can't walk there from anywhere else -- except the hotel. So -- it's not a very "bar-like" atmosphere. There are TV's, though, and a bartender, and sometimes people drinking.
I like to sit at the bar when I'm eating alone at a restaurant. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I often like to sit alone at a bar and eat and drink. I bring something to read or I watch TV or I just zone out while I drink my wine. I listen to the chit chat. I'm usually pretty good at just doing what I want and being impervious to people's judgments so I almost never feel embarrassed or ashamed or weird for being out alone and eating and drinking at the bar.
On this occasion, there were two guys also at the bar -- guys who seemed not to know one another from before but who were deep in conversation. There was a regular-seeming guy and a creepy guy. I say he was a creepy guy because at one point he said something about how awful it was having to do his line of work which required doing awful things to people and the regular guy said, very tentatively, well you could quit and do something else, couldn't you? and the creepy guy said no, he couldn't, because "the wife" needed her nice things.
He then told a story about how, because the wife didn't like car shopping, he'd brought home a Mercedes, an Audi, an Accord, and something else and let her pick one. He asked the regular guy to guess which one the wife had chosen and the regular guy guessed "Mercedes." It's what I would have guessed too, but no, the creepy guy said she'd chosen the Accord. The regular guy said, "Well .. the Accord is a nice car." And the creepy guy said, "I thought she'd pick the Mercedes too."
I was avoiding glancing over at them because while I'm not averse to a bit of chit chat at the bar I could tell that the creepy guy was not a guy who would have light chit chat with a woman alone but would obviously try to turn it into something creepy. I was concentrating on reading my book on my iPhone -- (don't knock this method of novel reading 'til you have tried it, BTW).
Then the creepy guy started in. He was saying something about women and he said ".. and then there's this type here. Beautiful but totally unapproachable." I didn't look up. The regular guy must have looked uncertain because the creepy guy said, "This one, over here. Looking at her iPhone." The creepy guy said something under his breath to the regular guy and they both started laughing loudly.
Then the creepy guy turned to me and said "So. You live around here?" I don't want to be rude, I just want to read my book and avoid too much creepy conversation. So I turned to them and said, "I'm here visiting my mother." The creepy guy started in with more questions, but I decided it would be best to just convey my point of view unambiguously. So I read my book and didn't answer.
Not surprisingly, this caused the creepy guy to become agitated. In a tone of indignation verging on anger, he began a long disquisition on how outrageous it is that while he's "just trying to strike up a conversation" someone could be so rude as to not answer him back.
I struggled to concentrate on my book as I finished my dinner, and I thought about this whole experience, which I've had a few times over the years, and why it is so troubling. For me, it's not a feeling that it's somehow wrong to try to talk to or flirt with strangers at a bar. I am in favor of talking to and flirting with strangers at bars, when it's the right context and circumstance and tone. In fact, just a few weeks before, when I'd been in the same exact bar, the woman bartender and a guy client were deep in conversation about horses and horse-back riding, and they included my briefly in the conversation, and the guy may even have asked, "So, you live around here?" and I would have said "No, I'm visiting my mother." We definitely chatted briefly and it was absolutely fine and not weird because it was a normal conversation.
A conversation at a bar with a guy like the creepy guy is never a normal conversation. You know, and he makes it known, that he is there to make a point, and to make you feel uncomfortable, and that no matter what you do he will use it against you somehow. If you're too nice you'll be a trashy slut; if you're not nice (like me) you're a bitch, and if you're nice but not nice enough you're a tease and a manipulative bitch to boot.
As someone who is, as I've said, pretty impervious to things, it's always interesting to me that there are ways that other people can structure my experience. I was reading my book, but I was no longer happily reading my book and enjoying my food. I could ignore the creepy guy, but I couldn't go back to the same carefree mood I'd had before. Even though I don't care about what that guy thinks, and even though I didn't feel in literal danger, he can still get under my skin, which is interesting in and of itself.
Eventually the regular guy proposed going out for a smoke. I learned from their conversation they were both staying at the hotel next door as well. They paid, and walked out, and I figured they were gone. I enjoyed the rest of my dinner and got ready to go myself.
As I walked out, I saw they were sitting on a bench outside the restaurant, smoking. I walked right past them, and they watched me go. As I walked, I felt a surge of gratitude for being in this particular place and time, where hotels have locks and it's considered reasonably normal for a women to staying in a hotel alone.