Saturday morning downtown by the river, at a coffeeshop that bills itself as a "European-style patisserie", I was watching the river traffic and reading. One of those regional mornings where everything seems slow and dreamlike. A young couple came in--- early twenties, wearing some kind of conference ID tags from one of the new hotels along the riverfront ---and sat at the next table over. I could read their name tags--- he was Logan, she was Shelby. She was lovely--- tallish, slender, in black leggings and an oversized grey t-shirt with 3/4-sleeves. Light brown hair to just past her shoulders, dark nail polish. The boy was, well...perfectly attired and coiffed to be in a ska band c. 1982. If that sounds dismissive, I suppose it is. I have very little time for other, younger males. I do regard them as little more than moving objects to walk around on sidewalks. I directed my attention to Shelby, and I was busy speculating on her legs (long, slender, taut) and eyes (dark, lively) when a group of four other people with conference name-tags came in and began enthusing over Logan and Shelby: We hoped we'd find you here! How romantic! So you two hooked up last night! We all thought you would! You guys are such a cute couple! You're meant to be together!
Logan mostly looked stunned and sheepish, but Shelby was happy and gracious (I'll assume she had an old-school regional upbringing) to the new arrivals. I watched the scene over my reading glasses and smiled to myself. Well, I thought, in a better world, a perfect world, this would have played out a bit differently. In a better world, Shelby would've been alone and ended up flirting with me and taking me back to her hotel room. As things stand in this world, though, all I could do was sit and try to infer the backstory here. The two young lovers had one set of stories; their well-wishers had another. I spent a few minutes trying to infer what kind of conference it was, and whether the new arrivals had been trying to get Logan and Shelby together even before coming into the city. I wondered, too, how the process of hooking up had begun and what kind of affair each of them was expecting or experiencing. I had no idea what the conference was for or what the dynamic there was all about. For that matter, I had no idea what styles of seduction and lovemaking Shelby favored, but those things were worth a few moments of consideration.
(Oh, I'll admit, too, that I was also mocking Logan's ridiculous ska-boy hat to myself, but that really should go without saying.)
It's hard to say precisely whether I was looking at my flat white and feeling jealousy or envy. Did I find Shelby attractive and desirable? Did I wish she could've been in bed with me the night before? Yes, certainly. But in some ways what was just as important as the seduction itself was the social reaction. Shelby's friends were excited for the new couple. They acted thrilled that two people whom they saw as meant to be together had actually hooked up. Whatever Logan and Shelby had been feeling when they slipped out of the hotel to the coffeeshop, they were being cheered by their friends. There was a social thing happening here--- approbation and approval.
It's springtime here, and there's a few thousand years of symbolism out there about springtime and new beginnings and new romances. I think I envied Shelby and Logan being part of the whole idea of springtime and new beginnings, and I envied them even more the social approval granted by their friends.
It means something to be told by your social network that your choice was the right one, to be congratulated in public. Social approval means something. You can believe anything you want about your loves and your love affairs, but it means something to be granted social approval, to be told that it's easy for others to see that you're the Right Person for someone, that the two of you make a good couple. It means something to be in the kind of affair that involves Saturday-morning coffeeshops and Sunday brunches and reading the New York Times or the New York Review of Books together over flat whites on a city morning. It means something to be told you're a character--- finally a character ----in the story you always longed to inhabit.
I suspect that while Shelby herself seemed quite lovely, what left me sighing at my table was the thought that I don't in fact have a social network that could support my choices or cheer me on. And it's not hard to work out that having a lovely young companion's social circle congratulate her for being with me is something that's not going to happen.
This morning I walked downtown in search of eggs Benedict and found myself wandering the streets by the Arts Centre. There were two or three couples watching the fountains or drifting off to cafes. I did watch at least one well-dressed couple in their twenties embrace on the edge of the fountains. I could frame it--- the pose, the water in the background, the romantic conversation they were obviously having. It would've made a good shot, either as a still photo or in a film. Again, I realised how left out I felt. Being part of that pose, being part of that story--- those are things worth doing. Spring is a ritually-sanctioned season for being part of stories like that: new loves, new romances. Here in the first weeks of springtime, I am coming to realise that I'm unlikely to have again what either Shelby and Logan or the fountain couple had. I'm unlikely to be urged by social networks towards a particular partner or cheered on when the two of us do hook up. You two are so good together! is not something I'm likely to hear again. I'm even less likely to be part of moments by fountains, to be part of moments that define the core of an affair.