Vol 4, Num 3 :: 2005.02.11 — 2005.02.24
People fall in love in coffeeshops. Or, at least, they?d like to. It seems like a reasonable thing to expect. If you?re relatively young and single (yes, there is such a thing as ?relatively single?), or even if you?re not, don?t act like you?ve never gone to a coffeeshop with the solitary hope of being saved from your singleness. We?ve all heard that it happens. Which is why I wasn?t surprised when, at a coffeeshop, a folk singer said to me, ?I want to fall in love with you.?
I wasn?t looking to be loved (this time). I?d been sitting in my coffeeshop downtown, doing research for an essay on foreskin, when he came in. I marked him as 58 years old, married to a blue heeler, owner of a milk crate-full of 8-tracks and a stained Mr. Coffee. He had attached denim onto the handle of his guitar case, if I remember correctly. It complemented his cap. It embarrassed me for him: Has no one told this man that denim-on-denim is so Cosby kids?
I feel responsible for people. Even when I know there?s nothing I can do or could have done for someone, I have to consciously repress shame. For example, I began to wonder that night at the coffeeshop why I hadn?t sandwich-boarded downtown for a few hours that afternoon, thus ensuring that more than three people would have been in the coffeeshop by the time he started playing. True, I had no idea he was coming in to play that evening, but surely I could have prepared just in case? ?Oh, how I suck as a Christian,? I scolded myself, ?thinking only of me me me.? Thus, when one person left after the first song, and the second left after the third, I, who wanted to leave after the fourth, felt obligated to see it through. No way I?m leaving this guy. I am
his audience: Who will listen to him sing? Who will repay him for his effort? Who will affirm him despite his abundance of denim? Save him from humiliation? Who, then, will love him if I don?t?
Folk singers like to tell stories between songs. I learned in a counseling class in seminary that, for the sake of Christlikely communicating concern and attention, the optimal seating position is at 45 degrees, slightly leaning in. But it was hard to do that while trying to hide pictures of foreskin on my laptop. If he sensed lack of concern on my part, he hid it well. He just kept singing, kept telling me stories between songs. He was there for me (not in the sense of ?being there? for me, but in the sense of being there for only me).
I also learned in that class that certain people mask shame/insecurity/inadequacy/sin with humor.
I?ve never been in a relationship longer than 5 months. I think I know why. Among other reasons, I have this thing called a ?messiah complex.? I?m attracted to needy, broken people. I like the feeling I get when I feel that I?ve saved someone from her desperate, pathetic neediness. This takes anywhere from 1 to 10 weeks, usually. Then they begin doting, expressing gratitude and admiration. There?s nothing left for me to redeem, and I get anxious, feel the need to find a new captive to ransom, to set free from misery. In essence, I like it when people feel obligated to me, and when they?re strong, healthy, independent people, the tables are turned, and I feel obligated to return the affection. I hate feeling obligated to people.
With the folk singer, though, I felt both things at once, both his need and his affection. I felt confused, wanting to be there for him, to make sure I communicated to him his value, and wanting to run when, for his 11th number, he covered Chris Isaak?his cobalt gaze into my soul, his beautifully intoned and oily ?…and I want to fall in love…with you.? I began to get that wanderlust, began thinking of ways to break up without damaging his psyche. I was sure that calling things off might lead him irrevocably into a life of misery, or worse, that he might end up on the streets fueling a steel drum with his guitar.
Ultimately, I decided to test him, to place the burden on him by telling him that maybe I needed a smoke break. He took it well, saying that he thought a break might be a good idea, and went to the bathroom. I sat outside, smoking, feeling awful, and I?ll be honest?I was prepared to run. But my laptop with the foreskin pictures was inside, and I didn?t want to have to call him later and ask him to return it.
I ended up going back inside and listening for a few more songs before suddenly coming down with diarrhea. I think he believed me. In a last-ditch attempt to assure him that it was me, not him, that he was valuable as a human being, and knowing that most coffeeshop folk singers like to leave CD?s behind for the shop to sell, I asked him, ?So will you be leaving some CD?s here? I don?t have any money on me now, but you?re really great.? ?As a matter of fact,? he said, ?I wasn?t planning on it, but I?d be glad to leave one for you, and I?ll pick up the money later this week. Thanks for the business.? WHAT!!: ?Thanks for the business?? Business? He?d been using me the whole time, completely objectifying me. I was nothing more to him than a number, a sale, a project. How dare he. And in a coffeeshop, no less.
I packed my bag and left, swearing off coffeeshop love, vowing never to get involved with a folk singer again, never to open myself to love again?I?m too busy saving people anyway.