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The Column

Engaged in Conversation
2/23/03

I write a lot about maturing. My definition of maturing is the transition from kid to adult that takes place from the time you're 17 until you die, because most of us never become fully mature. I know that I won't.

"Uh, nurse? I have a bit of pain in my finger. Perhaps if you pulled it..."

This column's previously discussed signs of my life changing are apartment hunting, paying my own electric bill, and people I know having babies. But nothing prepared me for the biggest rite of passage I've now gone through.

I was at a writers networking event last week, which also doubled as a singles night because of the proximity to Valentine's Day. I thought this was a fine idea; if tradition held true and things went wrong when I hit on someone, I could end up with some freelance work. Of course, neither happened.

The event was red lit, which made reading people's nametags extremely difficult. Some people refusing to wear nametags made reading them even more difficult. But the combination of people having tags and people refusing to wear them set up the easiest opening lines of all time. If a girl were wearing a nametag, I'd say, "I can't read your nametag. What does it say?" If she were sans nametag, I'd say, "How come you're not wearing a nametag?"

And that is how I met the nametagless Jessica. The logical follow-up to "how come you're not wearing a nametag?" is "so what is your name?" Thus, I found out her name was Jessica about ten seconds into the conversation. Because the logical follow up to that is not "do you have a husband?," I didn't find out that she did until we were talking for about an hour.

I have been trained over the past several years to determine whether or not my conversation partner has a boyfriend. If you've read my column before, you know that I don't trust body language, so I rely on other means of discovery. My most common investigative procedure involves asking how the two met, and if that doesn't work, I make a comment to the guy about what it's like being single. If I still can't tell, I'll ask the guy if he thinks the waitress is hot or the bartender is hot or the anyone-but-the-girl-with-whom-I'm-flirting is hot. Even if he and my flirtee are dating, if he says yes to any of those questions, they won't be for much longer.

Once I determine that there is no boyfriend present, there still might be one at home. To determine if this is true, I try steering the conversation towards a recent relationship or breakup I've had, which may or may not be fictional. If the girl doesn't mention her current boyfriend, either she doesn't have one or she won't have one for much longer.

But these techniques do not work for husbands. Husbands have been around long enough that wives don't even think of mentioning them, since they're just a part of the day. When you get a new car or a new apartment or a new prosthetic limb, it's all you talk about for the first few weeks you have it. But after a while, you have grown tired of the details, and you go to singles events on the day your wedding ring happens to be getting reset.

I don't fault Jessica for not mentioning her husband, since it must be difficult for a married woman to make new male friends. The only way a woman makes male friends is by convincing them that the two of them are not going to sleep together, so he may as well stop wasting his energy. If he agrees that they're not going to sleep together for the time being, but thinks there is a shot of them doing it in the future, he'll stay friends with her, too.

If a married woman tells a guy she's married early on in the conversation, he'll usually excuse himself to hit on someone single. And by "usually," I mean "quickly and always." If a married guy tells a woman that he's married early on in the conversation, he's lying since guys never admit that without prodding.

I am glad I spent my night talking to Jessica, since I gained two things from it. One, I have a new friend I know I won't hit on. Two, I am empowered with the knowledge that I have to start asking about more than just boyfriends.

It'd be so much easier if everyone just wore nametags.

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