Was it harder “in the old days” for a woman to achieve reciprocity from a man? In some ways, yes. For instance, it was the sole responsibility of the man to make his feelings, desires, intentions, etc. known. A woman was rarely ever left in the dark (especially since no one was allowed to bang in the 1800s or whatever) about what a man’s sentiments toward her were. In that way, times haven’t really changed, as no reaction to a dame is still a reaction (commonly referred to at present as ghosting). But in the current epoch, with “feminism,” or what have you, women have been given a so-called leg up, able to express feelings and pursue men just as easily as the latter gender. And with this freedom comes inevitable restriction–on the strength of one’s dignity. Women might be adept at reading the signs of whether or not a man might be “interested” (tending to mean he will sleep with her for a while and maybe be seen in public with her if she’s lucky and he’s desperate enough to get brunch). But that doesn’t mean she’s adept at using them to her advantage, otherwise known as: choosing not to throw caution to the wind, opting to “just go for it” anyway–in the face of no encouragement on the man’s part. And, as we all are aware, especially those of us females who have maybe taken our ardor a step too far, a woman possessed by emotions is never as socially acceptable as a man consumed. Werther in The Sorrows of Young Werther has long been the most classic, tried and true example of this. His intense quest to make Charlotte, a girl of no social standing in the village of Wahlheim, love him is viewed as romantic, “sweet.” John Cusack as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything… standing outside of Diane Court’s (Ione Skye) window with a boom box blasting is “charming.” Reverse the sexes, however, and all of the sudden it’s creepy as all get out to the man so effortlessly scandalized by any show of affection that isn’t his own.
Loren Graves was cognizant of all of this. Had all the facts and examples from history, literature and pop culture to prove that for her to chase after Marco Domenico was, to put it mildly, ill-advised. He was out of her league, for a start. All Italian debonairness, slicked back hair and affluence. She imagined he was somewhere in his late forties from her perch behind the counter, the barista wench daily making his espresso to his exact specifications: “one shot, use a lot of grounds.” He never looked at her when he said this, seeming to direct his eyes to some far off point behind her, as though going into a trance that would help conjure the espresso faster.
And no matter how much she ogled him as she slid the cup–slightly askew in its saucer–toward his general direction, he would never return her gaze. It was starting to drive her a bit mad. Maybe he’s married, she reasoned. No, men like that are only ever divorced. Wasn’t she still youthful enough to draw his attention? It’s not like she had hit thirty yet or anything, official expiration date of desirability and dreams. She decided something had to change, and soon. Or she might burst at the seams with the effusiveness of her love. She had determined it wasn’t lust. The depth of her feeling was too great for it to merely be that. Tracking the pattern of his schedule over the three months she had worked there, she concluded that the best course of action to force an encounter would be to take the morning off so that she could actually “bump into” him. This on a very literal level as she barreled around the corner that he was walking toward to get to his office, some building with no name on it, which, Loren intuited, probably made Marco’s job all the more important.
The kicker was that she was dressed in a red evening gown carrying a cup of coffee that she deliberately spilled onto him. “Oh shit!” she screamed in what she viewed from outside of herself as an Academy Award winning performance. “I’m so clumsy,” she added as she removed her ready-to-wield handkerchief near his groin area.
“Excuse me,” he snapped. “But I don’t need you to do that. You’ve done enough already.” He swatted her hand away.
She looked at him sympathetically. “I really am sorry. It was an accident. Could have happened to anyone.”
He looked her up and down and demanded, “What are you wearing?
Ah, this is precisely what she had counted on. A memorable ensemble meant that he, in turn, would remember her. And never again could he feign not knowing who she was at the coffee shop. “Well, I’m just coming from a photoshoot… I’m a model,” she declared with a straight face.
He nodded his assent. “Good for you. Now if you don’t mind, I’m late.”
She grabbed his arm, “Don’t you want to give me your information? You know, so I can send you a check for your dry cleaning.”
“Check? What is this? 1985? It’s fine. I have another pair in my office.” With that, he was gone. It wasn’t exactly as Loren had planned. Far from the wide-eyed wonder she had expected from him. She wanted him to be gobsmacked, utterly taken with her presence. Instead, he was simply irritated. She would have to see his reaction to her at the coffee shop tomorrow to know how to proceed with her next move.
Alas, when he came in as usual the following day, he made no sign of recognition. Maybe I should have worn the ball gown again, she thought. Then he couldn’t pretend not to know who I am. I know he must know who I am. He did not know who she was. She was, accordingly, crushed as he left calmly after downing his shot, as though espresso acted as heroin rather than cocaine. Things couldn’t stand as they were. She had to 1) make him notice her and 2) secure his love.
She went to work, appearing wherever he was so to, by osmosis, get her face ingrained in his brain. If he was waiting for the train, so was she. If he was buying overpriced organic milk at Agata & Valentina, so was she. There was nowhere he was that she wasn’t. Even when he wasn’t fully aware that she had also gained access to his apartment via a white lie told to the doorman about being the new dog walker.
When he arrived home that night to find her in his kitchen making dinner, his favorite dish no less–penne arrabbiata–he dropped his suitcase in addition to his jaw. “What are you doing here?”
She smiled. “So you do know me?”
“Yes, you’re the girl that’s been following me everywhere the past few weeks. What do you want?”
“Actually, I’m your barista, have been for quite some time now. And what I want is for you to listen to a pitch I have for you. About us.”
“Ma che cazzo dici? Get out of my apartment!”
“Just sit down. I have a meal and speech prepared.”
Marco must have been especially tired from his trying day at the office, because he actually listened to her and sat down at the island counter as she poured him a glass of red wine.
“I’m in love with you. It’s that simple. And I think, if you let me stick around, you’ll see that you love me too. That we’re made for one another. I’m very attentive, willing to go the extra mile in bed and I think I almost match you in looks.”
Marco waited for her to continue, but all she did was shove a wooden spoon of sauce into his mouth. “That’s it? That’s your pitch?”
“I’ve seen better pitches at a Padres game.”
“What do you mean? Why are you using baseball analogies when you’re Italian?”
“Please leave my home.”
“Why would I do that? We’re together now.”
He ripped the wooden spoon from her hand and threw it against the floor. “Do you want me to call the police?”
Loren’s face contorted into an expression of sadness–scrunched with hints of a quivering lip–before segueing into one of rage. She picked up the pot of simmering sauce and hurled it at his head.
She visited him every day at the hospital, he just didn’t know it. She was forbidden from coming within a mile of him, per the court order. Some men really can’t deal with a passionate woman, it has to be said. It’s like they all want the milquetoasts of the Jane Austen novels, just waiting for the man to come to them.
Lauryn Hill once demanded, “Tell me who I have to be to get some reciprocity.” The answer is: a woman aloof, just out of reach. Certainly not one that grabs you from behind and kisses you full on the mouth when you least expect it.