On my way home from work recently, I was crammed into a subway car with a hundred other sweaty, tired people, when all of a sudden I glanced up to find a man looking at me. He smiled, and I quickly turned away to hide the blush creeping up my face. After a few minutes, curiosity got the best of me and I looked back.
"Isn't the subway awful at this hour?" he asked.
"Yeah." (My brilliantly witty response.)
"I try not to take the train more than I have to,” he said. “What's your name?"
"Sarah," I lied. Dammit. Why did I give him my fake name?
"Nice to meet you Sarah," he said. "I'm Steve."
Steve worked for a financial firm downtown and was on his way to meet some friends for dinner. Despite the fact that I met him on the subway, he seemed like a decent guy: well-dressed, nice smile, friendly, a little older than I usually go for but not out of my range. He flirted while I made polite conversation and avoided eye contact. After using my fake name, I thought it was best not to give him false hope.
After he got off at his stop, I wondered why I didn't just flirt back. Then I realized—I was scared. Like a fourth-grader on the playground who's just run behind a tree after spotting her crush looking at her from the jungle gym, I hid when Steve struck up a friendly, harmless conversation.
This kind of thing has happened a few times since my breakup. After being in a relationship for two years, it seems whatever game I had before Alex came along has jumped ship. I used to be good at flirting—what's more, I enjoyed it. I could catch a man's eye from across the room and smile coyly. When he came over, I could do the witty banter thing for as long as necessary. And I accomplished all of this with minimal blushing. But when I got into a relationship with Alex, my flirting talents were replaced with other, more couple-compatible skills, such as compromising over where to eat for dinner and (in our case) arguing without tearing each other's eyes out.
Over the last few months of fresh singledom, my flirting skills have improved a bit. I've gone out with men—some good, some not so much—and I can generally hold my own when it comes to eyelash-batting. But sometimes, like on the subway, my inner schoolgirl shines and I have no idea how to handle myself in a respectable, adult manner.
This is made especially worse by the fact that the last time I was single, I was in college. Real-world dating and college dating are worlds apart and require different skill sets. In college, I met decent men in class and through friends, and I met "throwaway" guys at frat parties and bars. Most of the time, finding a date was as simple as leaving the house while wearing some mascara and a skirt.
But real-world dating is different. Long gone are the days of frat parties and red cups (although that's probably a good thing). Where the heck am I supposed to meet men in the real world? Bars are pretty much out—I may be new to this, but I know enough to realize that the "bars = throwaway dudes" rule still applies (then again, I've always believed in exceptions to the rules). I hear the workplace is the hot new singles scene, but none of the men in my office are eligible—or under 40, for that matter. As for friend referrals, most of my friends know all the same people I know. And beyond those options, I'd rather not spend my evenings in Starbucks hoping some cute, book-toting, music-loving bachelor will sweep me off my feet.
As for the subway, I think I'll hold off on trolling the underground for eligible men. Steve was nice enough, but if I had flirted back I would've had to keep pretending my name was Sarah. Suddenly that Starbucks option isn't sounding so bad.