When he got to the party, we went into the kitchen and I sat on a cabinet. I was excited to flirt with him, tell him stupid stories I’d saved up about how The Killers had sent me a personal message because I was in their top fans on Spotify. I thought he might say something about the blue eyeliner I was wearing, or maybe the smiley-face stickers on my nails.
Instead, he told me about something difficult that was happening with his family. As he went on, I mmmed so he knew I was still listening, and a few times tried to relate to what he was saying, but mostly I just waited for it to end. I didn’t know why he was telling me all this when we’ve only hung out a few times. I wanted to run down to the bottom of the unusually big garden, jump around on the trampoline for a bit, flop down exhausted, and make out on there. I wanted to dance around under the colored streamers. I wanted us to end up in a conversation with someone annoying that we could laugh about on the way home.
He saw someone he knew, and I went off to the bathroom and bumped into my friend. “Nothing even happened,” I said when she asked me how my chat with the guy went. “He was just talking about his family loads.”
I’d heard about men using women for free therapy, but it had never happened to me. On the internet, women speak about the “emotional labor” they end up doing in relationships with men, helping them process feelings they can’t talk about with anyone else. One girlfriend of mine will come away from dates knowing about some trauma that happened to the guy as a teenager and how it’s impacted his life since then, while he won’t even know whether she has any siblings. When I told her later about the conversation in the kitchen, she couldn’t stop laughing. “How?” she asked. “How has this never happened to you?”
In the past, I’ve wondered if I come across as shallow or stupid or something, and that’s why men don’t tend to divulge this stuff to me. In retrospect, I think it has more to do with the sorts of questions I ask, or don’t ask. I steer away from anything to do with past relationships, when or how they ended, If I mention their dad and they look uncomfortable, I change the subject. I don’t dig, I keep things light and easy, talk about films or books, times when I embarrassed myself—announce my theory that, inside of our bodies, everyone is basically soup.