Gwyneth sat across the table from a total stranger. “Jeremy” was written on his name tag in bold letters. She tried hard to look interested in what he was saying, working to keep that glazed look out of her eyes; it was a struggle. His words washed over her. She tried to focus on his features: dull grey blue eyes, white beginning to streak his dark hair, slightly pock marked cheeks, sharp nose, angular jaw line, high, sharp, cheek bones. It was a trick she used to make it appear as though she was interested in what someone was saying when she wasn’t. He was almost attractive but somehow not. “Attractive adjacent” she decided and smiled to herself as he droned on about the minutiae of flooring tiles.
She was thinking what an excruciatingly long four minutes it had been when the buzzer finally sounded. “On to the next,” she said in a chipper voice, cutting Jeremy off mid sentence and quickly shifting to the next and final station on her assigned card.
She sat down across from a woman in her mid forties. Her name tag read “Annabelle.” She had shoulder length, dirty blond hair tied back in a half pony. Maybe too sporty for me, Gwyneth thought looking down at her own gently rounded belly; no matter how she tried, she just couldn’t get rid of those last few unwanted pounds. Although, if she were being brutally honest with herself, she wasn’t really trying very hard. She was very fond of dessert.
They exchanged introductions, and Annabelle began to tell Gwyneth about herself and her work. Her green eyes sparkled as she spoke about a gallery she’d recently opened for local artists. She had a most delightful sing song Irish lilt to her voice.
Gwyneth’s friend Hank had convinced her to join him for this Valentine’s Day Non-Binary Speed Dating event for 42-58 year olds. She’d been extremely sceptical, but he’d refused to accept that she would rather just stay home with her cat and die alone one day and had insisted she would have fun. She had complained to him that she really did not enjoy going out after dark, especially in winter. But when he’d explained that the event was to be held on a Sunday afternoon, she’d found herself bereft of excuses and had reluctantly agreed to attend.
She and Hank had been friends since grade school. She never quite understood why he stuck with her. Maybe because she’d always just embraced him for who he was. It certainly wasn’t easy being an openly bisexual boy on Long Island in the early 80’s but Hank had never tried to hide that part of himself. Hank’s bravery had always impressed Gwyneth. She hadn’t really acknowledged her own attraction to women until she moved into the City to attend university. It had been easier to just date boys. She’d put off telling her parents for long enough that if she wanted to come clean now, she’d have to break the news in the after life.
Hank lived for this sort of event. He was gregarious and easy with others. He had been a little funny looking in high school but time had been kind to him. He had pleasant, relatively symmetrical features, maintained a closely cropped, full head of blond hair, and kept himself in good shape. He could strike up a conversation with just about anyone. His laugh was warm and loud but never forced, and he was a fantastic story teller. He told stories not how they had happened, but as they should have happened. He didn’t need these events to meet people; they were just genuinely a good time for him.
It was not so for Gwyneth. It wasn’t that she didn’t like other people, strangers. She just didn’t really want to talk to them or interact with them. It took so much of her limited energy resources to hold up her end of the conversation. She found others exhausting. In the last hour, she’d had to participate in twelve extremely forced conversations and was most certainly not enjoying herself. Until about 30 seconds ago, every time she caught Hanks eye she would subtly let him know, with her expression, what a total failure and waste of time she felt the whole event was for her.
Now however, she was hoping that maybe the buzzer might be delayed and trying to think of something clever to say. She felt herself drawn to Annabelle in a way she hadn’t felt in decades–maybe even ever. She had two and a half minutes left to dazzle this stranger with her charm, and she hadn’t a clue how.
I am less photogenic than my dog.