I suck at dating.

“I need to go,” I say, turning away and avoiding his eyes.
“Why?” He says, still clutching my hand. We’re sitting in the garden of a private membership club in San Francisco on a Friday night, a shared, half-smoked cigarette laying on a glass table beside us. It’s cold out. I’m wearing his jacket.
“It’s my friend’s birthday. I need to go.” I pull my hand away gently, smile at him, and begin to stand.
“Wait,” he says, taking my hand again and urging me back into my seat. “Do you really need to leave? I don’t think you do. I think you’re just running away because you like me.”
“That’s only partially true,” I retort, laughing a little. “I barely know you, and I’m not going to pick some strange Frenchman over my friends.”
“Ah, but you kissed this strange Frenchman,” he says, thinking he’s clever.
“Technically, you kissed me.
“I suppose that’s correct…” He frowns.
“Here. Thank you for the jacket.” I pull hand it to him before rising from my chair.
“Wait!” He stands with me. “How will we get together again?”
“I have your number,” I say, patting my leather clutch where a napkin inked with his digits has been stowed carefully away.
“You’ll text me as soon as you can? We’ll do dinner, soon? Drinks?”
“Maybe,” I say, smiling, wiggling my fingers goodbye as I disappear from the venue.

That night, I text him to be polite. But in his follow-up messages inviting me to drink and dine, I avoid committing to a date.

Here’s what happened.

* * *

Earlier in the evening, I was dying to get out and make the most of my weekend. When you’re stuck in front of a computer like I am all week churning out epic-novel-worthy lengths of content for client after client after client, the itch to shatter every screen in sight as soon as the work week ends is a strong one.

Unfortunately for me, my friends did not have the same itch that I did.

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One of my best friends texts me this just as I’m ready to call a car and meet her downtown.

Fuck.

“It’s cool!” I reply. “I’ll see you soon anyway.” What else could I say? I’m not a fan of guilting or peer-pressuring people. Besides! I have more than one friend to hang out with.

… Right?

Soon after, I get a text from another girlfriend reading:

damnit

Great.
Yet another girlfriend down for the count.
What’s the point of #FancyFriday if you can’t mob around with your ladies?!

Another girlfriend sends the following texts:

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Son of a bitch! Are all of my friends falling off the map this weekend?!

As the minutes tick by, I watch as more and more people reveal they’re either too tired, on their way out of the country, or working too late to meet me out at a reasonable hour.

Bah.

What’s a girl to do when she’s all dolled up with nowhere to go?

… Duh; Go out alone.

Besides, I tell myself. I have a few birthdays to attend later in the evening. Killing time alone never hurt anybody, right?

* * *

I’m sitting at the end of a long, posh bar, nursing something called a “Black and Stormy” with fancy pieces of candied ginger floating in it. I watch as groups of friends pile in, hug, chit-chat, and make nice. The venue is a private club in San Francisco where membership is extended very rarely. It’s ultra exclusive, and you definitely have to be “someone” to get in.

I’m a member.
I’m pretty sure that means I’m part special, part douchebag.
And here I am. All alone. At this club.
So that probably makes me part loser too.

I feel a little awkward sipping my drink by myself. I’m imagining what it must be like for people who go out alone all the time, wondering if they feel the same sort of insecurity I’m feeling at the moment, or if they do this so much that all feelings of anxiety have long-since faded.

I should go out alone more often, I tell myself. Then this won’t be nearly as strange.

My cell is tucked away into my clutch. At this club, you’re not allowed to have your phone out. In fact, there are dedicated phone booths installed for members to hide and text in when they’re desperately in need of screen-stimulation. But that’s kinda’ what I like about this place; you’re encouraged to make friends, meet the other members, and be social.

It works, I think, because a tall, blonde man approaches the bar beside me, glances at me, then turns to wave down the bartender. I watch him place his order, because what-the-hell else am I doing, and he turns to look at me a second time.

I give him a friendly smile.

“Are you here with friends?” I ask, making conversation.
His eyes go wide. He turns to look behind him. He turns to look back at me. “Me?” He asks.
I laugh. “Yes, you.”
“I … Well, yes,” he says. “They’re waiting on these drinks.” The drinks arrive quickly, and he takes them in hand. “I’m so sorry,” he says. “I need to take these to them.”
“Of course!” I say, waving him away gently. “No worries.”
He looks scared, carting away the group of drinks he’s ordered, leaving me alone at the bar again.

I’m laughing at myself inwardly, wondering if I did something wrong. But I shrug it off, sip at my drink, and take in the wall of alcohol lining the bar while trying to decide if I should have an expensive scotch just for the fuck of it.

“Excuse me,” I hear. Turning to my right, I see the blonde gentleman. He’s returned with his drink in his hand, and he has this nervous look on his face.
“Yes?” I ask.
“Is this seat taken?” He points at the empty stool beside me.
“It’s yours if you’d like it,” I say, gesturing in welcome.
He takes a seat. We’re staring at each other.
I’m smiling at how funny this is.
“I’m sorry for leaving like that. I’m here with friends, you see. I haven’t seen them in quite a while. It would have been rude of me to leave them alone,” he says.
“No, no. I wasn’t trying to keep you from your friends,” I say. “I was only saying hello.”
“That was very shocking for me,” he says, smiling. “In France, women don’t usually say hello, first. Not in this sort of situation. I didn’t know what to say. Usually, the man is the one who has to come up with something interesting to get a beautiful woman’s attention, and you are very beautiful.”
I laugh. “Well. Thank you.”
“It’s the truth. When I returned to my friends and told them what happened, they told me I’d be an idiot not to speak with you.”
“Do you have a name?” I’m smiling.
“Oh! My name! Yes. I’m *Peter. What’s yours?”
“Cheri,” I say. “Call me Cheri.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Cheri.”

We talk. We laugh. Peter buys me another drink. He tells me he’s from France. I tell him I’m from California. We share stories. And as we do, I think to myself how funny it is that on a night when each and every one of my friends happens to be busy elsewhere, I’m here. At this bar. Speaking with this stranger. Having this experience. I think to myself how none of this would have happened if not for all the little pieces of circumstance that made it come to be.

Throughout our conversation, he makes every excuse to touch me in little ways. He touches my hands. My knees. My hair. It’s all very flattering, and all so textbook flirtation that I can’t help but laugh each time he does it. He must know I’m aware. Maybe he doesn’t. I can’t tell.

At one point, we joke about the “no cellphones” rule, commenting on how we’ll never be able to get ahold of one another. With a smile, he waves down the bartender and asks for a pen. The bartender delivers it with a grin, and the handsome Frenchman inks his digits and name onto a bar napkin, handing it to me. I smile, tucking it into my clutch.

“Join me for a cigarette?” Peter asks.

“Sure,” I say.

We make our way to the member’s garden, a perfectly manicured outdoor retreat filled with green and decorated with enough furniture to host a respectable gathering of lazy loungers — but there’s no one here.

We’re alone.

Together, we sit at a table and share a cigarette. When I shiver, Peter offers his jacket, and I refuse. He insists, of course, then places his jacket on my shoulders. I thank him. We smile at each other.

“You’re perfect,” Peter says, moving his chair closer.
I give him a funny look, smiling. “That’s debatable.”
“No, you are,” he says, taking my hand. “You’re smart. You’re funny. You’re quick. You’re adventurous. You don’t mind that I smoke. You’re friendly. And you’re beautiful. So beautiful. I can’t believe I’m here with you.”
The way he says it, all jumbled together like that, all at once, like this big confession — it makes me laugh. Not a giggle, but one of those full-bellied laughs that throws my head back and squeezes my eyes shut.
Then he kisses me. Mid-laugh, he kisses me.
I freeze, caught off guard.
He pulls back a little, looking at me, quiet, measuring.
I look at him, still shocked, nervous.
Then he kisses me again.
And I kiss him back. Because fuck it! Fuck it, I said. … Fffffuuck.
And so we kiss for a moment. And it’s nice. And it feels good. And his stubble feels manly. And I like it. And for a few moments, I forget where we are.

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With his hands in my hair, he pulls away and whispers into my lips, “Come with me.”
“What?” I ask, mind numb, breathless. “Where?”
“To my place.”
“I …” My brain registers his question, and I tense. “No, I’m sorry.”
“What’s wrong?”
“I just…” I pull away from him. His hands leave my hair, but he takes my hand in response, rubbing my skin.
“You’ve done nothing wrong,” he says, reading my mind.
“I know, I just … I don’t really … Do that.” I say.
“Do what?”
“… Go home with complete strangers.”
“I’m not a stranger; we’ve been talking all night.”
“I know, but … I just …”

I’m thinking about dating. About a person I’ve been seeing who I think I like, and who I might have to explain this to. I’m thinking about whether or not I want to lie about what happened. About whether it would be right to do so. About whether he and I are even on a level where I need to tell him these things.

I’m thinking about my friends and what they’d say. I’m thinking about whether this is wrong. I’m wondering whether I did something immoral or shameful by not stopping this man from kissing me. I’m thinking about the phrase “slut-shaming”, and whether what I’ve just done is “slutty”. Is kissing “slutty”? Is this horrible? Am I overthinking this? Argh! FORGET IT!

My face gets hot.
My mind is racing.
And I freak myself out.
Y’know.
As usual.

“I need to go,” I say, turning away and avoiding his eyes.

* * *

I suck at this dating bullshit.

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~ Cheri

PS. It’s Friday again. See you out there, San Francisco. And y’know. Wish me luck.


From a friend after publishing this post:

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Little boys don’t know any better.

“Is this what you do all day?” I ask her.
“Yes! It’s like a mini vacation every weekend. You’re welcome to join me any time,” she replies.
“I’d love that! This is heaven. It’s so cold in the city compared to here.” I say. We’re wine-drunk, bikini-clad, and nearing the border of a pool currently occupied by young boys giggling and splashing each other with water noodles. “Children,” I murmur to my friend with an eye-rolling smile. “Welp. I guess a whole bunch of underaged eyes are going to see me half-naked toda–!” I pause mid-word as a wave of water splashes onto my legs. When I look down into the pool for the source, I see a 12-year-old kid grinning up at me mischeviously, stealing glances at his friends who are all giggling at him, waiting to see what I’ll do. I smile at him, lifting my brows above the border of my sunglasses. He blushes and turns away, and they burst out laughing. My friend and I continue walking. “Did that little boy just splash me?” I ask, laughing softly.
“He did,” she says, laughing too.
“I can’t tell if he’s flirting with me or–”
“He’s definitely flirting with you,” she replies, laughing as we reach our lounge chairs and throw our towels over them.
“That’s hilarious.” I lay down, pulling my sketchbook and pen into my lap.
“They’re little boys. They don’t know any better. They see a cute girl and they’re like, AGHH!!!!” She begins twitching spaztically. “CUTE!! GIRL!! CAN’T!! FUNCTION!! BRAIN!! NOT WORKING!! AHHH! SPLASH!” She pretends to hurl water in the air, and we errupt in giggles together.

I’m reminded of every movie I’ve ever seen where adolescent men hang out at pools and gaze in awe over the “hot babes” that walk by in filled-out bikinis, drooling and whispering to each other, overwhelmed by the visual appeal. I think of that scene in The Sandlot where the kid with glasses pretends to drown so the cute bodyguard will give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

The Sandlot CPR Scene
It makes me laugh. I didn’t think that kind of thing was real. But I guess it is. Clearly, it is.

The boys climb out of the pool and settle into the lounge chairs nearest to us, laying on their stomachs, whispering to each other, looking in our direction. I look over at my friend and laugh, shaking my head at the lack of subtlety, at how amusing I find that.

I have a nephew. He’s amazing. He’s a year old and brilliant. Light blue eyes, caramel skin, soft, curly, light-brown hair, half black and half filipino — he’s going to be a total heartbreaker, and my sister will definitely have an interesting time fighting little girls off of him. As these little boys at the pool giggle and talk about us, I think of my nephew and how curious he is about the world. Of how he’s just learning how to interact with people. How he’s not yet observant enough to notice the things I might notice through socializing. He has so much growing up to do. I do, too.

My friend hands me the sunblock, and I smooth it over my face, neck, and chest. We pour ourselves a splash of wine each into plastic cups.

“Salud!” We say, clinking our cups together, smiling.

When I think about small scenes like this, it makes me grin. It makes me think of writers and where their inspiration for stories come from. It makes me think of movie clichés, and how those clichés are clichés for a reason.

Life is funny, isn’t it?

~ Cheri

PS. Happy Monday. Hope this made you smile.

Q: Were you picked on a lot in school?

Dear Cheri,

Were you picked on a lot in school? You seem so popular and well liked, but I remember reading somewhere how people bullied you all the time. Were you popular in school, too?

– Reader has chosen to remain Anonymous

Growing up, I was bullied a lot.
I wouldn’t say I was “popular”. Well-liked, sure. But even liked people have bullies.

All of my bullies were other women.

I remember how girls in school would make up awful stories about me and spread them around to other students. I remember how they’d talk about me behind my back, pass notes about me in class, stab me with pencils, or whisper in each other’s ears when I walked by while laughing at me with these cruel looks on their faces.

One day, I burst out of class to hide and cry behind the art building after one horrible girl very loudly announced she had just caught me giving a blowjob to some stranger behind a gas station.

What.
The.
Fuck.

Who makes up that kind of crap about someone? That was and is literally the furthest thing from what I would want to do, ever.

I was too scared to confront her. Too hurt to react. But I guess if her goal was to make me cry and feel like shit, it worked, because there I was, 16-year-old Cheri, hunched over behind a bush in the cobwebs, sobbing my eyes out, and wanting to kill myself.

I remember hearing leaves crunching, then a familiar voice.
I looked up.

“Are you okay?” *Andy asked. He had followed me out of class and was bending down beside me, hover-handing my shoulder, afraid to touch me.
“I would never do that,” I said, dropping my eyes to my knees. My arms were around my legs in a fetal crouch, and I was wiping tears from my face. “I would never do that! Why would she say that? Why??”
“No one thinks you actually did that, Cheri. *Melissa is a bitch. Everyone knows she’s the slut — it was probably her sucking dick behind the gas station.” He moved to sit beside me on the dead leaves and brown-patched grass, making himself comfortable.
I was still crying.
Hesitantly, he reached to put his arm around my shoulder. I think he was shocked at how I dove in immediately because I remember him stiffening, like crying against a rock. But after a while, he gently placed his arms around me and rubbed my back while I let it all out. I hated everyone. Everything. I wanted to disappear.
“I’m sick of everyone picking on me,” I sobbed, wiping snot from my nose and onto my sleeve. “I’m not mean to her. I’m not mean to any of them. I didn’t do anything.”
“If you’re talking about *Karen, she looks like a donkey. They’re both jealous that you’re prettier and nicer, and that all the guys at school like you, and all the teachers like you. That’s all.” Was that what it was? Was I “pretty”? Was I “likable”? Sound the fucking alarms because that is the stupidest fucking reason for bullying a little girl on planet earth. That is 100% how I felt then, and 100% how I feel now. What vicious, awful, monstrous human beings.
“I hope she dies. I hope they both die,” I said through tears, angry, hurt, and meaning every word.
“Karma is a bitch,” he said, giving my arm a squeeze. “You’ll be okay. Everything’ll work itself out.”

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Fast forward 11 to 12 years later …

Every memory I have of being picked on as a child still hurts me, but it’s amazing how strong you become and what you’re able to let go after 27 years of putting up with life’s lemons.

I’ve already forgiven my bullies. In fact, I remember reaching out to several of them at one point and leaving them kind messages of both apology and pardon.

I did not receive replies.

Also, despite my feverish wishing for their joint deaths, Melissa and Karen never did actually perish. They did, however, both become pregnant before they turned 18, and as far as I know, they both still live in Stockton, and are both still with their parents. Is that the karmic retribution Andy was going on about? Who knows. I hope they’re both happy, and that their now 12-year-old children are both as healthy, adorable, and loved as my perfect, one-year-old nephew is.

So, to answer your question …
Was I bullied growing up?

Yes. I was absolutely bullied by other women. But I don’t hold it against all of woman-kind. It’s kind of like Pokémon, right? Like, there are no such things as bad Pokémon, only bad PokéMasters? In the same way, several awful bitches in a row does not an entire gender make. I just happened to come across a string of terrible people.

But okay.

That was then.
This is now.

And now, well …

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Today, I’m surrounded by smart, strong, and confident women who would push a bitch off a barstool for me if they ever saw someone come near me or look at me in the wrong way. We’re like this (fingers crossed).

I have girlfriends who’ve been naked with me while we shop for lingerie together, who vent with me over sauvignon blancs and Spanish reds, who laugh with me like crazy while we act like total idiots together in public, who have “romantic” dinners with me when it’s been too long and we need to catch up, who giggle with me during yoga class and need to be told to “shhh” because we’re disturbing the other students, who drop everything they’re doing to go on fabulous trips with me around the world, and who I can see after years of being apart and speak to as if not a day has passed — I mean, that’s love right there. And sure, we get annoyed with each other and have tense moments sometimes, but we also get over things quickly because we’re adults and have better things to do than stress out over basic bitch nonsense.

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My friends are the best.

Thank god for all the crap I went through. It’s hard not to be grateful for my shitty experiences. My thick skin didn’t magically appear from thin air; I earned this armor. It also makes me realize that all the effort I put into nurturing my current relationships is totally worth it, because my friends today are great.

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I know I have a lot of younger readers.
The girl who sent me the question that prompted this blog post is 16, actually.

With my younger readers in mind, I’d like to say …

It’s not that life gets better. It does, sure, in some ways, but it will always be hard. The only difference is that as you age, you learn how to successfully deal with stressful situations and shitty people. You learn to nurture the friendships that matter to you, and you learn to invest in relationships, experiences, and things that make your life better overall. You stop wasting effort on things that don’t matter, and you learn that the only way to “win” is by filling your life with so much awesomeness that not only does it balance out all the negativity the Universe will absolutely throw at you, it also reduces that negativity to the equivalent of a a fly buzzing near your ear.

Open up a window.
Let that negativity go.

Here are some quick and dirty tips for surviving teenaged bullshit:

  1. Respect yourself, always. Don’t let anyone stomp all over you and your feelings, and if someone does, be clear that you aren’t going to allow that sort of behavior anymore, and mean it. There will come many times in your life when you’ll need to walk away from toxic relationships or stand up to someone who is treating you poorly, and it will be hard. Get your practice in now. Build your thick skin. You’ll need it.
  2. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are; you define that. Just because someone calls you a slut, or a loner, or a weirdo, doesn’t mean you should jump off the deep-end and embrace the sluttitude (I know that’s not a word), lonerism (also not a word), or weirdness (that one’s real). And on that same note, if you want to be a “slut”, be a slut! Want to be a loner? Go for it! Feel like being weird? Fuck it! Who gives a shit what anyone thinks? It’s your life, your body, your brain, and you only have one of each. Do you. Forget everyone else. Seriously. Nothing matters but how you feel about you. See Tip #1.
  3. Never give up. Ever. Life is so long and full of so many incredible adventures. Trust me; you do not want to miss out!

You’ve got this.

~ Cheri

PS. Thanks for writing in, you-know-who. I hope this helped. To everyone else, if you have a Dear Cheri question, feel free to contact me. I’m listening.

Names changed to protect reputations and retain anonymity.