Now that fall is here and I wake in the dark, I'm not so motivated to ride my bike to work. This means I'm back to a regular routine at the gym, which is the Y. I love the Y; the people are nice, it's not an ego factory, and I never feel unwelcome when I have to go to a predominantly male part of the gym (I'm more a strength-training gal; attempts at aerobics invariably degenerate into a Jerry Lewis tribute, and an attempt at mat Pilates looked like the wrong end of a Milgram experiment).
But I used to attend a spin class on Tuesday nights, when my work location allowed me to get to it on time. It kept me in biking form, and the instructor gave us a great workout to fantastic music. The room looked out via a glass wall to the indoor running track outside, so if you were facing the outside wall, you would see people do their turns around the track: runners, walkers, people in singles and in pairs.
The thing is, because the spin room was dark, the window had a TV effect: anytime someone went past, if you were facing the window, your eyes flickered to it. Thus, the 50-something guy who walked for a solid hour around the track would often look to see me looking at him (among others). He began to look in, and this mildly awkward chronic eye contact began. I was not interested in this person; he was just a guy walking, we had never had a conversation, and I had never seen him speak to another person or crack a smile. I created a backstory for him, imagined he was a retired Marine who had Seen Too Much. I don't think he was particularly looking at me; he seemed caught up in the same wandering cycle of eye-catches-movement-oops-you-again-really-not-staring-a-you.
I haven't been to spin all summer, but I've been going to the gym to work out. I keep seeing this same man in the workout area. It's a cavernous high-ceilinged room, cardio machines on one side, resistance stations in the middle, and a section for free weights at the other end. The man and I have met eyes a few times, and it's clear we recognize each other, but there is nothing -- not a smile, not an acknowledgement. I have to stress that I'm not attracted to him at all. (He never smiles. How can you be attracted to someone who never smiles?) We seem to be in this awkward dance where we keep inadvertently meeting eyes (the walls in the weight area are mostly mirrors) and it's irritating, because I don't want to do this, which seems to guarantee that I will.
There's also another thing. Back in my 20's I was a special instructor for Severely and Profoundly Mentally Retarded Adults. Think grownups with the mental capacity of a toddler, usually with other behavioral or physical issues.
There was one client, Steven, who had issues with self-injurious behavior and a clothes obsession. This man looks a lot like Steven. So even when I idly try to imagine what it would be like to go to dinner with this man, the scenario invariably involves him being served something that disappoints him, resulting in him slamming his head against the table, then soiling his clothing before peeling it off and throwing it. I give him a time out, and drive him home.
And still, not all that much worse than a few dates I've actually been on.