For the second time this winter, I’ve woken with a woman tangled in my sheets and a blanket of snow covering the world outside. Both events are rare enough in my experience, and unexpected in each individual case, that I can’t help but start to believe that they’re intimately linked. Then again, I am a narcissist. Still, the coincidence is enough that I’m starting to become concerned that every future drop on the barometer will lead directly to a much more local rise.
We walk down the hill through the thaw, she’s still in her evening heels. Children are sledding down the steep driveway of a side street, their parents trying to help them savor the last fleeting moments of winter fun before the snow melts and the reality of another long, damp winter settles back in.
We walk together arm in arm, playing out our own game of make believe: just your average, happy couple out for a snowy winter walk. On our way to another Sunday breakfast at our favorite spot. Pretending that this is something more, affecting a level of attachment that doesn’t exist for either of us. This warmth towards one another will cool before the temperature hits 40 degrees.
They call it the Seattle Freeze: the idea that the people here are a bit standoffish and withdrawn, making it difficult to meet new people, make friends outside of pre-established groups, and above all else near impossible to date. Some refer to it as the Seattle Chill instead, a name I prefer as it feels a bit less sinister and intentional, and more an unavoidable attribute. It also brings to mind the laid-back, easygoing attitude of the city as a whole.
At any rate, I’ve been reluctant in the past to chalk up my romantic troubles to a convenient citywide cultural phenomena. As much as I would like to eschew any and all culpability for my current state and lay all of blame at the foot of something as nebulous as “the Chill”, I’ve never been able to convince myself for any span of time longer than a conversation that the fault didn’t lie predominantly with, you know, me.
You can call it a dry spell or cold streak or any number of other non-weather themed monikers, but by any name I don’t date a whole lot these days. During a recent trip to the mall, a woman checked me out on my way into Bed Bath & Beyond. Ten years ago, I would have dismissed that interaction outright. Today, it legitimately lifted my spirits a deal. Reading that last sentence would have rendered the me from ten years ago inconsolable.
Valentine’s night I head to a pub with a friend, because staying at home on this evening watching televised accounts of fictional relationships seems a devastatingly apropos brand of defeatism.
The bar is surprisingly busy, and strangely populated with couples despite it being known for more for bar games and loud music more than anything resembling atmosphere. After a few minutes of sipping our beers and chatting, we start in on a few games of shuffleboard. The shuffleboard is a smart choice, breaking up the monotony of the night while inviting interaction with others. Before long we are teaching a Kiwi couple in their fifties the nuances of the game just well enough for them to beat us. They’re followed by a younger couple, late twenties maybe, the guy sporting a top knot. I can’t decide if it’s ironic or merely unfortunate. At last our decision to come out for the night is seemingly rewarded when two exceedingly cute girls ask to challenge the winner of our current game.
We do quick introductions. The bubbly (or tipsy, as it turns out) brunette with twin heart stickers on her cheekbones is Sarah. The strawberry blonde wearing a silky emerald green blouse is Leanna. We naturally split to either end of the table.
She has an easy smile and engages immediately. I try to strike a balance between playful and unassuming. I take care to drink my beer slowly, enjoy the moments for what it is. I ask enough inquisitive questions about her and Sarah to show I’m interested, without probing to a level that is off-putting.
I pick a break in the action to sneak away to the bathroom. My stride back into the room is confident, though I take actual care not to appear outwardly cocky. That’s when my friend takes me quietly aside to let me know she has a boyfriend. I nod as though he’s just confirmed the time of day for me.
I try not to show any change in demeanor, but inwardly I’m fighting that familiar wave of casual disappointment. Promise dissipates to mere practice. As much as I enjoy the opportunity to flirt with a beautiful, likable woman, these interactions with such hemmed-in boundaries (distance, another partner, the established understanding that we mean little to one another) are beginning to wear me down.
But Leanna is still there, and I resolve not to let my discouragement show through. I remain conversational, but I think she must be able to pick up on some level of disengagement. After our game she and Sarah drift back to a nearby table. Later when the two of them leave the bar I don’t even attempt a goodbye, much less ask for her phone number. I don’t have the heart to practice rejection.
My friend and I leave soon after, but when he drops me off outside my building I can’t bring myself to go inside. It’s pushing midnight on Valentine’s Day and I head to the only late night bar in my neighborhood, a place I’d never visited. I tell myself that a quiet bourbon seems a fitting a way to end the night. I shake off the suspicion that this is a story I tell myself to cover the hard truth that what I want most is to avoid returning to that empty apartment for just a little longer.
Echoes of warm laughter ring off the ruby-red walls as I push through the glass door and snag one of a handful of stools at the tiny bar. A table by the window behind me is filled with a boisterous cross-section of Seattle. Assorted couples and small patches of friends fill the remaining two-tops and barstools. I settle in and order a bourbon neat. The bartender avoids giving me a knowing, sad-eyed smile. For this I am grateful.
Before long a jovial man sits down next to me and strikes up a general conversation about the neighborhood, the virtues of the bartender, the energy that is Seattle. He steps out for a smoke and is replaced by a very personable couple whose names I immediately forget. They order tequilas with beer backs. She is half-Israeli, he is Puerto Rican. I make the mistake of letting a Spanish phrase slip before noting that I barely speak the language. The night’s drinks are adding up and he keeps forgetting, launching into barrage after barrage. I pick at the edges, replying haltingly. She apologies for him with a loving smile. They are adorable, and I would very much like to be sitting there with them on any other night but this.
I pay my tab and step back out into the night. The wind has picked up, but the air outside is warmer than it has been in weeks. I walk home ambivalent as I can muster, looking forward to the next unexpected snowfall.