I parked my car in a neat row in the mall parking lot, conforming with all the other cars, feeling chuffed with myself. I was going to meet a friend to write up my thesis in a coffee shop. He parked alongside me, struggling a little. While I was halfway into my car boot, taking out my laptop and handbag (#shortpeopleproblems), he said, “Hello”.
Immediately, my defences went up. Because I’ve been taught time and time again, don’t trust people especially men, even if it’s an innocuous greeting. Especially in a mall parking lot, even though it’s full and it’s the middle of the day.
And then I saw his genuine smile and thought, oh he means me no harm. Don’t be rude Yuri, just greet back.
And then it started…
“Might I just say, you are gorgeous!”
And that took me aback again, but I graciously accepted his compliment and again thought, oh what a nice man, that just made my day!
But he took it as encouragement. Spurred on by my thank you, he went ahead, “Let me be your friend”. I politely declined, adjusting the weight of my bags, saying, “I’m sure you already have someone.” He eyed his wedding ring, a well-worn silver band, twisting it around his finger, coming closer to me, looking me in the eyes almost as if he could sense my vulnerability. The one thing that would get me to lower my defences in this situation; reveal your pain to me and my codependent instincts take over, I will want to help you and nurture you like a bird with a broken wing, except I don’t like birds… so insert other analogy here.
He said, “You see, my wife passed away, 7 years ago”. My eyes softened and he knew he was getting closer. “She passed away giving birth to my child”, he continued.
And as I was about to apologise, tell this man how sorry I was that he had to go through this; a voice of a well-known philanderer (read: man whore who’s been trying to get into my pants/ colleague of mine) rang in my head. “Do you think that just because you are a good person, people have to be good back to you? This isn’t how the real world is, maybe it’s your turn to meet bad people. I don’t know what you’d do if I called you and messaged you for 3 months straight, and at the end told you, it meant nothing. You don’t see how vulnerable you are right now, guard your heart, we can all see it.”
And at that moment parking lot man revealed his true intentions, the pain in his voice gone, “I’m hoping you’ll be the one to make me take this ring off.”
Coming closer still…
Me overthinking, how can I be the person to make this man stop mourning his dead wife, after just a few minutes? Is his wife really even dead, did his child survive?
Coming to my senses.
“No, thank you”.
More firmly, with greater resolve, walking away with my head high, my eyes steeled to the mall entrance, not looking back… Walking faster still when more men start heckling at me from the doors of their shop, adding insult to injury. My defences back up, not stopping until I reached my destination.
To the man who asked me to be his friend in a mall parking lot, you might not have given much thought about that interaction as you went about your day, but I struggled to get on with my work, beating myself up for wearing vulnerability on my sleeve. For expecting goodness back. And instead of writing up my PhD thesis, I sat writing this account in a coffee shop, tears brimming my eyes, thinking, why does everyone want to mess with me?!
This post was unlike any I’ve written before. But I felt compelled to share and be vulnerable. Because these are the things I go through that in some way, slow down my progress on my PhD.
Accept. Process. Move on. It’s a new dawn.