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I got two more numbers that week, both under the same circumstances: late night, out with friends, dancing up to a girl, hitting it off, and at the end of the night, deftly initiating a Grade A number grab. The first was Amber, notable for the green wig she wore on the dance floor. The second, Eileen, was the best-looking girl in the room.
My friends were stunned. They’d never seen anything like it, and certainly not from me. As far as they were concerned, I was a changed man, an animal, the hero of the hour.
“Dude! That was definitely the hottest girl in here!” Leon gushed after my encounter with Eileen.
“Man, she totally wanted your number.”
“Ah, whatever,” I shrugged.
“No dude. Seriously. You need to go get her number.”
“Fine,” I sighed. “I will.”
In that instant, I was reminded of the night I first met DJ StrangeLove: Century, the woman in the low-cut dress. Since then, so much had changed. Six months ago, I’d barely been able to approach a stranger without the urge to explosively defecate. Now, getting a girl’s phone number barely seemed scary anymore. I was meeting new people. I was having new experiences. And hell, as much as I hated to admit it, I was starting to enjoy being single.
I approached Eileen and her friends, coat slung over one shoulder.
“What?! You’re leaving?” she exclaimed.
“Yeah,” I replied, playfully punching her shoulder, “I’ve gotta go.”
She leaned towards me and, bringing her lips surprisingly close to my ear, whispered:
“I had a really great time with you tonight, Ian.”
“Me too,” I grinned. “We should totally hang out.”
“Yeah! For sure!”
I smiled and pulled out my cell-phone, wordlessly initiating a number grab.
“Let’s hang out this week,” I suggested. “There’s all kinds of fun stuff happening, so maybe I’ll give you a shout.”
Then, glancing over my shoulder, said with a wry smile:
“You know, if you’re lucky.”
She had texted me twice before I even got home.
Like I said: I was the hero of the hour. It was as though I was playing Fallout and had just hit Level 30.
I was charming.
I was funny.
I was unstoppable.
Suddenly, everything was firing on all cylinders.
That week, I grew my perenially-scraggly facial hair into a magnificent, manicured beard. I cut my hair into a shorter, but nonetheless disitnctly rock-and-roll shag, which I occasionally even combed and managed with products.
I went shopping entirely on my own, buying several superbly well-fitted shirts and a brand-new pair of jeans to replace my worn-out $300s (which was just as well, considering that, with one knee now torn from seam to seam, they had come to look more like a frumpy, denim muppet than actual legwear).
And, when I called DJ StrangeLove one night, it was to inform him that I didn’t require his assistance anymore.
“It’s time, man.” I explained. “I’ve got the skills I need.”
“Uh huh,” he said, unimpressed.
“I can’t have you up my ass all the time. Now that I’ve got the basics figured, and I’m comfortable with it, I just need to explore. Meet people. Have experiences.”
“I hear that, man,” he replied. “Everybody’s gotta have a goal. Like, how when I first started out, I wanted to hook up with a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead.”
“Um… sort of. I was thinking more of just exploring the dating scene. Whatever the city has to offer. Singles Events. Clubbing. No offense, but I’m just ready to just strike out by myself. We can still hang out, but I think we’re done with the whole master/apprentice thing.”
“Uh huh,” he repeated, his voice wry. He was using his Holier-Than-Thou tone, the one that said, with a touch of weary acceptance, that his opinion was right and mine was wrong, but that it really wasn’t worth it to argue. It was a tone he’d honed to perfection, no doubt through years of being a raging asshole.
“There’s more to picking up girls than getting their number, and having them think you’re cute on a Friday night,” he continued. “It’s a process with multiple steps. Having her attracted to you is the first step, but to truly build a solid and lasting interaction, you also need her to be invested, comfortable, and physically close with you. Then, and only then, can a solid interaction take place. And that takes practice. Empathy. Observation. Shit that needs to be developed and refined.”
“See, there you go again,” I replied. “You’re always telling me that I suck at social interaction. Well, believe it or not, I actually do know what I’m doing. It’s got a bit of The System to it, I guess, but I’m developing my own thing, here. Running in my own direction. I’m not even really thinking about it. I’m just out there, having a good time, and it’s working. Believe me, I’ve got this. I appreciate it, but I don’t need any more advice.”
“Uh huh,” he said again, his voice thick with sarcasm, “well, when you come crawling back, I reserve the right to gloat. In the meantime, good luck with those goals.”
“Well, they’re not much, but they’re better than a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead,” I spat.
“You kidding, man? That’s a great goal. I still have that goal.”
“Really? I’d have thought you had achieved that already.”
“Yeah. But never at the same time.”
Eileen and I exchanged flirty text messages throughout all of the next day. By evening, she’d found and requested me on Facebook. By the following afternoon, we’d made plans to meet up that Sunday. Naturally, I let her stew for several days before adding her as a Facebook friend.
“So, I guess you’re free to creep my profile, now,” I wrote, when I finally approved her, cackling with glee as I hit “Send” and giving myself several psychological high fives.
My confidence was near to overflowing. Her attention was intoxicating, overwhelming, terrifying. It was the rollercoaster ride of my life and I wouldn’t have given it up for anything.
What can I say?
It ain’t easy being Level 30.
The following evening, I sent Eileen another flirty text. Even after a few hours, though, there was no response. So, I sent another.
Two days went by.
I sent her a casual email, and it garnered little more than a two-line response.
And then, Friday night, two days before our scheduled hangout, the death blow:
“IAN. I CAN’T MAKE IT ON SUNDAY,” my phone read, “I’M NOT REALLY INTERESTED IN A RELATIONSHIP RIGHT NOW. GOOD LUCK. -EILEEN”
I was devastated.
I was hurt, angry, despairing. Every ugly emotion a person could name surged through my body as I scanned the words and letters.
“FUNNY, BECAUSE I’M NOT LOOKING FOR A RELATIONSHIP, EITHER,” I typed back, furious, “SEE YOU ON THE DANCE FLOOR.”
For hours, I sat and scanned my messages, trying to figure out exactly what had happened.
And then it hit me: Facebook.
I’d never paid much attention to Facebook profiles, preferring instead to rely on the admittedly old-fashioned charms of face-to-face interaction. When I punched up my own profile, the revelation nearly made me gag. It was a virtual potpourri of turn-offs: my information was years old, my friend count was nearly 600 below hers, and my photos were, for the most part, horrible. There were shots of me with one eye closed, laying in a drunken heap on the floor, or vomiting into a garbage can. One picture showing me shirtless at a keg-party and pointing to one nipple with a look of triumph was particularly incriminating. No wonder she hadn’t wanted to see me: judging from the content I had online, it looked like I’d just walked off of the set of Trailer Park Boys. Having already been through the process of online refinement once with PlentyOfFish, I could see the mistakes instantly and I chided myself for not taking action sooner. Other than a few albums of my time spent in California, it was violating virtually every one of DJ StrangeLove’s Ten Commandments (not to mention several related to good sense, taste, and possibly legality).
I went to bed in total disgrace.
So there it was.
My first major rejection.
For the first time, I had put my best foot forward and squarely failed.
There was no doubt about it: I sucked.
I moped my way through work the following day. Dragged my ass out to evening drinks with Leon, where I did little but gripe and complain, and generally fantasize about ways I could one day set Mark Zuckerberg on fire.
And, that night, I received an email from DJ StrangeLove.
“I told you there was more to it,” it read. “Keep your pecker up.”
I hated him for two days.
But, the more I thought about it, the quicker I realized that my failure with Eileen wasn’t actually as devastating as it first appeared. Sure, it stung, but it didn’t really sting for very long — a day or two, at most. And I discovered with a kind of euphoria that, while being rejected certainly hurt, it was nothing I couldn’t handle. All my life, I’d held myself back socially because, at the core of it, I was terrified of rejection. Now, separated from that fear, I began to see the process for what it was: social aptitude, like any other skill, was a journey, and that journey would necessarily include both successes and failures. While the failures certainly hurt for a moment, the truth, in the end, was that they actually provided more of an opportunity for growth and learning than the successes did. The more I failed, the quicker I would learn. Not only was failure desirable, it was actually essential for success. Ultimately, in order to truly succeed, I’d have to go out there and fail my ass off.
I was filled with purpose and renewed self-worth. In this mindset, I picked up the phone, fished the number from my pocket, and called Amber.
“It’s Ian,” I said. “What are you doing this Sunday?”