He arrived, tall, well built, beautiful. He didn’t smile. He didn’t like the table I was already at and instructed the waiter to change our seats. He finally sat down, sighed and looked around the place. Then he checked his phone.
By now I was no longer smiling. I didn’t know whether to check my phone too. I wondered how much longer I should stay until I suggest we leave. So I tried to make conversation. I asked him how his weekend was coming along, how work was. He was fine. Busy. Not much. Just as I was about to give up, he suddenly decided to open up. Perhaps he realized that he might as well talk since we were both already there. He moved the strands of my hair from my face. He asked me how I was, and if I was in a relationship. He finally made a joke.
Then he told me he was in the middle of a breakup. They had been dating for over four months and lately they were constantly fighting. They had discussions about topics which she wouldn’t let go. She called him a racist and a sexist. He felt like that was below the belt, because she couldn’t reason it out any longer and therefore acted out of emotions. He resented when the conversation went from a logical one to an emotional one, because once emotions were involved, there was no longer room for debate. No one can argue with emotions – what you feel is right, and no one can disagree with that.
I asked him more about the arguments. He didn’t think that promoting women that didn’t perform as well as men did any good to anyone. I agreed in theory. He felt like there was radicals and unrest within the Muslim community which needed to be addressed, as it was affecting the world. I didn’t have facts to agree or disagree. He believed that men and women should be treated equally. I disagreed. I spoke about the difference between equality (treating people equally to achieve the same standards) and equity (enabling people based on their needs so that they all achieved the same standards). He asked me what benefit it was for companies to put in effort to cater to everyone’s needs. I wanted to tell him that he wouldn’t be asking this question if he was a man trying to succeed in a woman’s world. Instead I told him it would be a shame to lose talent just because we failed to accommodate talented people’s needs especially in a market with scarce skills.
He spoke about how people were not born equal and how unfortunate that was – nature was sometimes the cruelest thing one could find. I didn’t tell him that the opening paragraph of my book would speak about how a mother’s body prioritizes her needs over her child’s. In spite of the supposedly most unconditional types of love – one of a mother to her child – at a primal level, our bodies put ourselves first. So why should we expect anything different from anyone…
He continued to tell me that the world was unfair and the quicker we made peace with it, the quicker we would get the most out of it. I told him I couldn’t agree more, and that I was experiencing it first-hand. He probed. I found the lump in my throat and told him I didn’t want to go there. He pushed. I then told him that I always had big dreams but my dreams were too big. That I had to learn to do what I could with what I had, as opposed to waiting for an impossible thing to happen. As I spoke, tears rolled down my face. I worried that my mascara was smudged. He assured me that it was not. He then said he couldn’t understand why doing the most of what I had made me sad. I wanted to explain that I knew somewhere I was capable of more, but somewhere my failures and obstacles (particularly at that time) had felt bigger than me. Instead, all I said was it felt like settling.
He quoted Vince Lombardi – a quote along the lines of a man should just do what he’s best at. He thought it was pointless to wallow in what we didn’t have, in the poor hand we had been dealt with but that we simply had to move on. I agreed partly. I didn’t think we should wallow in what we didn’t have, but thought that we should be cognisant to those who didn’t have the same opportunities that others had. I spoke of privilege – of how we attribute our successes to our qualities and not our privilege and how the privileged were blind to their own privilege. He said those who didn’t have privilege just had to work harder and that’s what made them better. I asked him when the last time he failed was. He took a moment to think. I told him that if he had to think about it, then it wasn’t failure. He smiled. I understood that he had never been on the losing end of privilege – although I could have guessed that. I didn’t think he would ever understand the extent of his privilege either – this beautiful tall white educated intelligent rich man, with beautiful educated rich alive parents and siblings. So I dropped the topic.
He spoke about how unfair life was also for men, which was often overlooked. He spoke of harsher incarceration of men for the same crimes, domestic abuse nearing 50% for men in Europe, homelessness affecting more men and social mobility being harder for men than women. I nodded, I often thought that life was harder for my brother than for my sister and I. He told me that most teachers are women and so girls and boys are nurtured mainly by women, who are more likely to feel that good behaviour was manifested by docile, gentle and quiet children. He felt sorry for boys these days, who didn’t have role models like he did. He said that he did believe that having two parents, to play good cop and bad cop was important. He hinted at authority being embodied by the father and that children responded to rules and even craved them. I told him that in my family, since my dad passed away, I have often been the one to lay down the rules in my family. He quickly conceded that it didn’t matter who played bad cop or good cop. I went to tell him that my brother seemed to even look up to me for laying down the rules. He joked that it would only be a matter a time until my brother changed his mind about me. But I actually promptly agreed with him, it really would only be a matter of time until my brother saw me for who I really was.
In the process, we had changed tables once again because he wanted some sun. We had ordered another round of drinks. And now it was time to leave. He commented on the great weather and the sun, and the benefits of vitamin D. I asked him if he knew that darker skinned vegetarians didn’t manufacture vitamin D as easily. He asked me how I knew. I told him that it was the case with me. How did I know I had a deficiency? I went to a doctor who tested me. Why did I go to the doctor? I had mood swings – that was a gentler way about talking about depression. And now? Haven’t been tested for years because I’m feeling ok. And what else am I on – SSRI? I raised an eyebrow. How did he know about the topic so well? His mom – and why do people think that they can fix a chemical imbalance with herbal tea and yoga? Why was it fashionable to have ADHD and burnout but not depression? Society was so messed up.
As we walked to our cars, he showed me his car – blue, his favourite colour. I looked at his picture perfect face, even more perfect in the afternoon sun and politely smiled. And then we hugged and drove off.