I told myself not to look over again, but then I did and he caught me, a smile spilling out of the sides of his mouth. I snapped my eyes away and then looked purposefully in the other direction for a bit so that he would think I was just scanning the room for a friend.
Later, I was at the bar and I noticed him a few paces behind me, waiting for something. He didn’t need a drink because there was one in his hand. It would be so easy to say to him, “Sorry, are you waiting?” and then move out of the way so he could order a drink. It would give him an “in” to talk to me if that’s what he wanted, without really having to put myself out there. There was plausible deniability. An escape clause. I told myself to do it, once, twice. But 10 or so minutes passed, and his friend came over from their table, patted him on the shoulder, and the two of them ducked out of the door. I was annoyed at myself then; I’d let the opportunity slip through my fingers, and I don’t tend to let that happen much anymore.
When I stopped using apps a few years ago, I started to notice men again. I saw men I liked on the bus, on the street, at festivals. It felt like when I got fired from this really awful job I did in my early 20s. They’d been overworking us, bribing us with delivery if we stayed past 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, and then I was let go, and I was unemployed. For a while, I woke up late, walked slower, and gradually the world flickered back into color. I saw the shadows of leaves mottling over the grass, stepped on an icy puddle and felt it groan and hiss under my heel. Everything looked like a dream sequence in a film.
When I still used apps, I’d never notice romantic opportunities. I’d go to parties, and in the morning I’d wake up and remember that there were hot men there—I just didn’t appreciate them because I was too busy running around with my friend, asking people what animal they’d be if they had to pick. Romantic time was parceled away from socializing time—it took place beneath my thumbs, against my phone screen. It was pushed into small pockets, when I was waiting for the kettle to boil or the bus to arrive. When I did notice men, I would find a way to dismiss them somehow, for being too small, for liking Spiderman, for having a posh voice, for offering to meet me on a Friday night (where are your friends?).