“I don’t want him,
‘Cause of what
he doin’ to you.
And you don’t need him,
‘Cause he ain’t ready.
See, I don’t want him
If he ain’t made no
Arrangement with you;
I hope you would’ve done
The same thing for me too”
“Do you believe in ‘Girl Code’?”
Aside from the blinding bank of lights directed at me, the room was entirely dark. I’d estimated about 7-8 people in the room before the cameras had started rolling; all strangers, and all men, save the interviewer.
“That’s a good question,” I answered. “I mean, I think most of us think we believe in Girl Code, and most of us want to believe we follow it—and in theory, maybe we do…”
“But how that plays out in real life is entirely different, isn’t it? I mean, boundaries often get crossed, and feelings get hurt, despite our best intentions. I know I’ve definitely been on both sides of that equation—more than once—and it’s never comfortable for anyone involved. But the heart wants what it wants, I guess.”
Had I answered the question?
“So…do I believe in Girl Code? I’d like to think I do. But life is complicated.”
All that said, for the record: I saw him first.
Not that it really matters; I mean, a man isn’t a bag, or a pair of shoes, or even the last special something on the rack in your—and coincidentally, your girlfriend’s—size. No, a man is a living, breathing thing, with free will and full entitlement to do whatever—and whomever—he pleases. That is, at least until he’s taken.
But again: I saw him first.
It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, in a new, but nearly empty restaurant in Chelsea. I’d just missed the brunch rush, and was waiting at the bar for my (very late) friend…when I saw him.
Or rather, he saw me, since technically his eyes were already on me when I looked up and met his gaze. He was sitting at a nearby table with an older couple (his parents?), which gave him a slightly boyish quality, without diminishing his handsomeness in the least.
A few subsequent glances in his direction confirmed that it wasn’t a fluke; he was definitely looking at me, and I was definitely looking back.
Enter my tardy friend—and fellow Tinderoni—Tree; casually breezing in, as if she wasn’t nearly an hour late. Good thing it was her birthday. Thrilled to see her, we immediately launched into our usual banter.
When I looked in his direction again, I was dismayed to find him gone. Figures.
New York is full of fleeting moments like that; in a city full of beautiful people, it sometimes feels like you’ve got a new crush on every street corner…and as if opportunity is always passing you by. Pretty sure that’s how the app Happn happened, but…more on that in a sec.
Oh, well. Such is life, right?
Besides, I was there to celebrate with my girl on her birthday. Hopefully, the meal would be at least as good as the two cocktails I’d downed while waiting…
Focus, Mai. Focus.
Another round of cocktails—and wisely, brunch—ordered, we settled into some girl talk, some light gossip, and of course, a dating debrief, since we’re both trying our luck online these days. While we waited for our meal to arrive, we became quite chummy with the (female) bartender, who readily commiserated with us on the difficulties and dysfunctions of dating in New York.
Romantic frustration can work up quite an appetite. Trust.
We’ve all heard the idiom that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Admittedly, we women have a few other routes, but I promise you, a man who can cook well is halfway there already. Once our meal arrived, our incessant chatter all but ceased as we tucked into dish after dish, only pausing to rave about how incredible the food was.
Our voices must’ve carried into the kitchen, because the chef/owner soon came out to greet us, with a complimentary dish in hand…and that same unsettling, yet undeniably sexy gaze.
Hello—again!—Lover, I thought. Suffice to say, the tastiest dish was no longer on a plate. As he disappeared again into the kitchen, I whispered to Tree:
“Omigod. He is…EVERYTHING. So hot…”
She wrinkled her nose.
“You think so? He’s okay, I guess.”
Great. More for me, I thought.
Now, here’s the part where I shamefully admit that in spite of my natural vivaciousness, I am embarrassingly reserved in the presence of a man I find desirable, let alone a desirable man serving me food I also find desirable. In lieu of actual nerve, I like to convince myself that I’m being mysterious.
Yeah, let’s go with that.
But how was I going to coax the Chef (might as well go literal with his pseudonym) back out of his kitchen—and into mine—if I could barely string two words together in his presence?
As if on cue, Red—the third Tinderoni in our little triangle, swooped in. A people-person by trade, Red has the type of personality that instantly puts everyone at ease. Aside from a little more liquid courage, I knew she’d be just the support I needed to make a move…
But before I even had a chance, it was clear that she was instantly smitten, too. Damn it.
Ever the gracious host, the Chef treated us all beautifully (and equally), ensuring that we were both well fed and well lubricated enough that even Tree did an about-face…or so it seemed, when I found her hovering by the Chef’s prep station at the end of what had become a 7-hour brunch, batting her eyelashes and profusely complimenting him in her charming Texas twang…
Apparently, we were all in agreement: the Chef was delicious.
Needless to say, we’d found our favorite new hangout. Between the hospitality of our new buddy behind the bar, the phenomenal cuisine and the eye candy behind the stove, it was a win-win-win. Over the next few weeks, we found every excuse possible to revisit: staging seemingly spontaneous drop-ins and even convincing a friend to host her birthday dinner at the restaurant, proving that we weren’t just fans; we were good for business.
The only trouble was, every (straight and single) woman we invited to join us found the Chef as enticing as I had at first sight (notably, before I knew he was the chef and owner of the establishment)…
Which brings us to last Saturday; also known as Halloween.
I wasn’t really planning to leave home this year. In fact, I had visions of unanswered doorbells and movies on Netflix dancing through my head, but…duty calls. Or rather, a famously elusive friend called to say that he’d be hosting a party less than a block away from the famed NYC Halloween Parade.
Fatigued, but faced with the prospect of not seeing him for another year, I scraped together a last-minute—but brilliant—costume (hint: black leather, a copy of Soul on Ice and “Power to the People!” were involved), grabbed some libations, and trekked to the West Village.
Thankfully, the party started early, because three hours later, with Red and our friends Cali and Lys in tow, I emerged from his haute Hobbit-hole slightly tipsy and totally starving.
What to do? Where could we possibly go to find satisfaction?
(Don’t be glib. We all know where this is heading.)
Back at the bar of our favorite new haunt, we quickly refueled and got our flirt on with the Chef, who was more than happy to entertain four beautiful—and available—women. Who wouldn’t be? I mean…given the opportunity of an all-you-can-eat buffet, what man would choose just one dish?
Admittedly, I was dismayed to find that my crush was now community property, but once again, such is life…and he—like me—is single and searching.
So, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised the next morning when I happened upon him on Happn—the newest dating app in my arsenal. Amused, but still allowing my shyness to get the best of me, I reached out to Cali, who’d recently convinced me to join. No doubt he’d popped up on her feed, too.
“So…the Chef is on Happn?” I texted.
“YES. You beat me to it…Did he give you a heart, too?” she responded.
“Umm…I didn’t check. Probably not.”
Because he wouldn’t possibly put two friends in competition over him, would he? I checked, giving him a heart of my own. Lo and behold, the screen announced that we shared *drumroll, please* “A CRUSH!”
(She’s a braver woman than I…which is an advantage in the dating world and beyond.)
Crushed, indeed. Yay…just the three of us. How cozy. If Red and Lys were on Happn, it might’ve been all five of us.
Having been in my fair share of love triangles over the past 25 years or so (don’t judge me—I’m not proud), I can only say that I quickly felt my attraction to the Chef go as cold as the leftovers I’d stored in my fridge. Frankly, at 40, I’m simply too old for that sh*t (better late than never, I guess). Besides, I had no legitimate claim to the man. I may have seen him first, but if I were being asked to compete, I’d also be the first to step aside, because…NO.
But as a woman who stands for and with other women—and is close friends with many other single women—a few questions were inevitably raised by our encounters with the Chef: What do we actually consider “Girl Code”, and at what point do we invoke it? Is a man up-for-grabs until his choice is made, or do we gracefully back off the moment our girls express interest? Most importantly: is Girl Code even realistic, when we’re no longer girls, but single women in a romantically-challenged city?
Let’s face it: in a city where the ratio of women to men is 5:1, mutual attraction, competition and even romantic overlap are pretty much inevitable. However, aside from not wanting anyone who doesn’t actively demonstrate that he wants me, what I’m not going to do at this point in my life is deliberately place myself in opposition to other women. And I’m certainly not going to be as cavalier with the feelings of other women as men can sometimes be.
Because it’s hurtful to presume that a man is naturally going to be more attracted to me over another woman. Because it’s hurtful to have your feelings dismissed by women you otherwise trust. Because, while a man is generally going to have as much fun as we’ll allow him to, we’d basically end up virtually mudwrestling over someone who will obviously get in wherever he can fit in—and will likely get out, just as quickly. And that’s a game I’m just not willing to play anymore.
So, yeah…I saw him first. But someone else can have him.