When I was 3, I loved scrambling into the jumpseat of my grandpa's well-worn crew-cab pickup for a ride to the coffee shop or feed store. There was always a Red Man chewing tobacco pouch rolled closed and tucked into the front bench seat, next to an often-empty Crystal Gale cassette case. We'd ride through the sun-drenched, golden California hills with the windows down and our straw cowboy hats tilted forward at just the right angle. A tape was cued up in the deck if the local country station wasn’t playing.
My very favorite song was “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Even as a little girl, I was in favor of: songs, rodeo-style belt buckles, faded Levis, guitars, trucks, mountain mornings, puppies, children, and working cowboys. I was not a fan of: extravagant jewelry, doctors, or lawyers. I’m not sure I’d met any of the latter at that point, but I had an early understanding of poetic license. Once I clued in to the rest of the lyrics, I was fairly certain that being understood or liked—or staying in one place—were highly overrated, despite societal pressures to the contrary.
Fast forward an obscene number of years. Gut check says I still agree with my assessment of the world according to Waylon and Willie. I grin wryly whenever the song comes on my iPhone, although the lyrics about always being alone hit a little too close to home. That's why, this week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I'm countering the love story trend by writing about my nonexistent romantic life thus far.
It All Started in Grocery Stores
As a very small child, I walked up to other kids in stores with a cheerful, “Hi! My name JoAnnMichelleGometz! Wanna play?!” While they often found this charming, the laughter really should have been a tip-off that the technique would not work well with the male of the species as I got older. Alas, that’s a lesson I never learned.
I have always done the asking out. I’m not exaggerating. High school. College. Ever since. At the age of 17, I received my one and only date request, a prom invitation from the recent ex-boyfriend of one of my best friends, who attended a neighboring school. Clearly, the motives were muddy, and I declined.
My own directness has earned me a couple pleasant first dates, one or two long-distance flirtations, some brilliant friendships, and massive quantities of rejection. The rejections were often circumstantial, not personal, and the ones that were personal were always polite. Like, "It would make my mother way too happy if I went out with you." I took that as a compliment. I knew his mom. She was delightful.
I didn't even go to my own prom. My high school was small and, at the time, required students to attend the shindig in couples, with one or both members belonging to the junior class. No one asked me, and in conversation with a classmate, I learned that he, at least, assumed I would attend with one of my pipe band buddies from elsewhere. I set about looking for a date so I could (for once) get prettied up and go to the dance. Six invitations later, I wound up at the mall on prom night, as a friend from out of town did her best to convince me that the situation would improve as I aged and moved about the land. Alas ... you see where I'm going with this.
Most people who know me assume I have the same basic romantic past they do. A few casual boyfriends. A long-term relationship or two. Nothing particular stands out about me, beyond being intelligent and a little quirky. Pull out the old photos and it's clear I looked athletic and bright-eyed, before sliding out of shape as I approached 30. Sure, there were one or two emotional or flirtatious, yet not romantic, friendships with men. But I’ve always been on my own.
The Signs Are Never Clear
I fully admit to being oblivious on a regular basis. And I have been known to clue in right after I've said something beyond stupid and beyond recovery. Those episodes have, thankfully, been very few and far between.
Consider a friend of one of my college housemates. At the end of a long day of auditioning actors for a student film, I was shuffled into the passenger seat of this guy's sports car, where I was treated to his Wall Street bravado while witnessing his attempted murder of the transmission. I made polite "mmm-hmm" noises while mentally calculating the distance to the restaurant where we would rejoin the rest of the crew. The "you'd probably never go out with a guy like me" came at me out of left field. I remember thinking, all at the same time: I don't know you, no more NYC, please stop torturing this car, certainly not with that attitude, hadn't thought about it, didn't she say you were a big party guy, have I even properly met you, OH, uh... Needless to say, whatever I answered was not encouraging and might have been unintelligible.
Yet sometime during my cruise down the road of many friend-boys, I've decided that if a dude is actually interested in me, he will make it happen (to quote He's Just Not That Into You, which should tell you how many chick flicks I've viewed). Unless and until that point, I am done being the one who does the asking.
(On that note, a friend recently shared this post about how to seduce a writer. It’s funny because it's true; the sentiment, if not the details.)
Me and Maybe
This all started out with a country song about a cowboy anti-hero. I've always identified with that, being blue-collar raised in white-collar times. A demolition derby girl in a Kentucky Derby world. And, on the flip side, a reader, writer, dreamer, musician, traveler among people who worked hard and honestly to provide a roof and table for their families.
Several years ago, one of my friends explained to a mutual acquaintance that I seem to meet all the princes while other women seem to be kissing frogs, and the princes are happy to have me as a reliable, loyal friend. It’s a good assessment. I know exceptional men. But their high caliber, in the absence of any romantic connections, can make me hypercritical of myself, from appearance to actions to intentions. I wonder if it’s me. Sometimes I think it is. Then I look around and think it’s so very not. I’ve stopped worrying about this as much as I once did, though.
Who will ultimately try for, and win, my heart? I don’t know. It only takes one, if it's the right person at the right time. And whoever he is, he's probably a bit of a cowboy on the inside, at least. I'm convinced men of grit and perseverance still roam the earth. Displaying intelligence and perception. Balancing kindness with resolution, and practicality with a sense of adventure. Showing integrity and not taking themselves too seriously.
In the meantime, I'm going to keep on being me. After all, each night begins a new day here on the open range.