“Interesting….the Socratic Method,” I thought smugly as I listened to his questions.
“How old are you?”…”38.” “And you haven’t been married?”…”No.” “Have you been engaged?”…”No.” “Have you ever lived with anyone?”…”No.” “What was your longest relationship?”…”About 2 years.” And what do you attribute that to?”……………..[long pause.]
I had been meeting with Dr. Who for a while. Born and raised in China, his name is not spelled the same as in my previous sentence. (Any story involving Dr. Hu—and there are many—is more fun when read with the correct pronunciation.) Dr. Hu was a different type of therapist than I had encountered. With a diminutive frame and disheveled hair, he was always surrounded by piles of books and papers in both English and Mandarin. Over time, my sessions became quite comfortable and beneficial.
The pause ended and Dr. Hu’s premise was clear. I smiled, referenced my anxiety, and proffered that he likely believed that I had a fear of intimacy. He nodded in the affirmative. However, his diagnosis was not entirely accurate…“I am actually not afraid of intimacy. I’m afraid of divorce.” My response was met with momentary silence. Dr. Hu was unorthodox. He gave direct opinions and suggestions and he wasn’t shy about them. It was refreshing. Frankly, we all need to be told what to do every now and then.
Almost on cue, he reverted to the Dr. Hu I knew and loved. He chuckled and said, “So what? What’s the worst that happen? If you get divorce, at least you were married!” His succinctness was usually accurate, but this response confused me. Laughing nervously, I sought clarification with an eloquently worded response—“What??” He laughed again and had one final query for me. “So…You go out with girl and things are going well. What is one question she always ask?”
There it was—Dr. Hu had nailed it again. My answer was exactly what he knew it would be. “Why haven’t you ever been married?,” I responded sheepishly while avoiding his gaze. It occurred to me that the questions from my recent dates were almost exactly the same as Dr. Hu’s questions a few minutes earlier (“engaged?”, “ever lived with someone?”, “longest relationship?”, etc.) Fair or not, Dr. Hu pointed out that single people approaching forty aroused suspicion in the dating world, and even in professional life.
Meeting My Wife: The Strategy
We then spoke a bit about the nature of Eastern and Western cultural norms, as well as some generalities regarding social anxiety. Just as the appointment was about to end, Dr. Hu leaned forward, “This is what you do. 100 numbers in next six months. Whenever you go out, talk to people, ask their phone number. It doesn’t matter if they’re married, single, female, male, gay, straight, a couple or by themselves. Get phone numbers. You never know.” I left the appointment a bit stunned and pondered his advice on the drive home. Dr. Hu’s suggestions had never let me down, so I decided to give it a try. To dispense with sappiness and spare suspense…it worked! My wife and I will happily celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary next month. Dr. Hu knew his stuff!
For me, it was difficult to ask for phone numbers. Having spent plenty of time meeting people and having conversations, there was not usually much follow-up. Most of my close friends were from my classical musical world and many resided in other locations.
Astoria, Queens, NYC
There was one thing working in my favor. I lived in Astoria, an area in Queens, NYC with a mixture of young and old, as well as quite a bit of socio-economic diversity. Ditmars Boulevard was my ‘Main Street.’ Ditmars had a lot of restaurants. Greek, Italian, French, Chinese, Mexican (sort of), American, and even Australian. There were an inordinate number of sushi places, which were almost always empty. How did they survive?—probably the deliveries.
Having lived in the Ditmars area for a few years, there were two or three places where I knew the employees and the frequent patrons. We would talk about our days, sports, weather, and whatever was going on in New York City. Occasional neighborhood gossip was exchanged, but nothing too scandalous (…that I am at liberty to disclose.)
So—-meeting new people was now my doctor-prescribed mission! After week one, maybe two numbers had been exchanged. Then another three or four over the following month. Things were not working out. Always one to think analytically, it occurred to me that anytime I met a person of significance while out and about, it was during the middle of the week.
Honing The Strategy
Delving into this more, it became clear that the Monday through Thursday crowd was an entirely different breed than those out on the weekends. Monday-to-Thursday folks were typically in groups of three or less. They talked to one another and smiled. They were not looking for anything but a refreshing beverage, a nice meal, and good conversation. Some were out with spouses, others were catching up with friends, and still more were by themselves after a hard day’s work.
Weekend people were dressed up and made up. Many were attempting too hard to prove something. These weekend creatures simultaneously sought attention and rebuffed it once it was attained. It was a cat and mouse game, much like the creepy reality television shows that now dominate a segment of our popular culture.
The Middle Of The Week
High quality restaurants in the middle of the week became my “100 numbers” hotspots. Doing exactly as Dr. Hu had ordered, I met many people and asked for their phone numbers. The Internet led me to an amusing but relevant study. Researchers had determined that the most successful “pick-up lines” at a large midwestern college were, “Hi!” and “My name is…” Heck, anyone can do that! My success rate grew and my anxiety decreased. New relationships were forged with people who had nothing to do with music. They ranged from couples in their 70’s to women in their 20’s.
My growing group of friends shared thoughts about their lives, asked questions about the music world, and genuine conversations ensued. Shared interests were now outside of my comfort zone of classical music. Many stories were told and there were even a few fun dates. People cared about each other.
Since we all had each other’s phone numbers, we would meet at different, unique locations. I became more acquainted with the Greek culture that dominated much of Astoria—octopus, saganaki, feta, olives, ouzo (ack!), the bouzouki, late-night Greek culture, dollar bills in the air, wedding traditions, Greek Orthodox Church practices, and more.
New Friends and New Experiences
Much like my first time overseas in Spain, my world had expanded again! Experiences were rich and dynamic. Fear of the unknown had almost completely dissipated. Work concerns stayed at work as my new life at home became more rewarding. My confidence grew, as did my daily joy. Looking back, it is clear that people could sense my comfort, which promoted deeper connections. This has proven true over and over again in my life. People will accept quirks and imperfection in others, as long as they feel comfortable around them. It is my strong contention that quirks and imperfections are actually endearing and humanize us.
My collection of numbers had grown to approximately sixty. Walking home from the N train after a weeknight post-graduate class in Manhattan, I popped into my favorite place on Ditmars. Apropos to this story, the restaurant beared the name of the local telephone area code—“718.”
Making myself comfortable in the first seat at the curved, well-appointed bar, my usual greetings with the staff were exchanged, almost ritualistically. There were two women next to me catching up with one another, one blonde and one brunette. While briefly looking over my notes from class (or pretending to), my beautiful future wife sneezed. I said, “Bless you” but she didn’t hear me. Her blonde friend jumped to my rescue, “He said ‘bless you.” “Thank you,” the stunning brunette responded.
“Hi!”…”My name is Kevin”…
In My Unexpected Life: Travel, Food, and More, I will share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and maybe even inspire others to engage with new food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.
Even if my writings do not produce the desired result—please enjoy the blog!