Women in Cafes Alone

I asked friends to meet me at the coffee shop because I didn’t want to deal with the guy on my own. I wanted friends to hide behind. And I went an hour later than usual in hopes that he’d be gone by then. My stomach knotted as I parked, a tangle of anxiety (I hope the guy isn’t here) and anger (this guy isn’t going to ruin my favorite hangout, dammit).

My friends were waiting for me outside. If it hadn’t been 103 degrees, we might’ve sat outside. Inside, immediately, I saw him. The place was almost empty this time, and for some reason the music was off. I could see no way I could get by him without him seeing me.

My friends and I picked a table. He saw me. “Oh, hello,” I said as if distracted, and kept walking. I took a chair facing the window, but I had to pass him again to get to the counter. I chatted with the barista, a film student. I asked him why the music was off. The silence made the eyes boring into my back all the worse. The student was trying to fix it, and my voice is too loud and fake when I talk.

On my way to my seat, I nodded another hello to the guy. I didn’t want to be friendly, but neither did I want to anger him. Who knew what he was like when slighted?

My friends and I talked about our kids and school. The guy turned in his seat so he could watch us. I didn’t look, but felt him watching. He waited and waited. An hour went by. Another hour. I didn’t stop looking at one friend as if I were the best listener in the world. I wondered how long he was willing to wait.

About two hours apparently. One friend goes to make sure he is really gone. “If you had looked at him once,” she said, “he’d been over here.”

I talked to the barista, and found out another woman has complained about this guy. The barista said he’d seen this guy approach several women. I let my friends leave. I said I was going to write. But I couldn’t concentrate. I thought about the dark parking lot. I thought about my usual Tuesday nights at my favorite cafe, and the friends I’d met there.

I left early and the barista walked me to my car–even though he’s young enough to be my son. He said he’d tell the coffee shop owners about the guy. He told me not to stop coming there for my coffee.

I told him I’d come back, but maybe I’d wait a week or two. Give the guy time to move on.

Many of my students come from countries where women can’t go where they want when they want. They can’t do many things beyond what a man–father or husband–allow. The men won’t let them go out alone or even drive. I have Muslim students, and depending on what country they’re from, depends on how much freedom they have. A student from Egypt is here on her own. The students from Saudi Arabia are here with men to keep an eye on them. I don’t know how they stand it to be covered and veiled in this Texas heat.

Sometimes I think I’ve said something accidently wild. I told my class about a trip I took alone to Budapest where I got lost late at night for hours. Nothing like that could ever happen to them. So I assume. I could be wrong. I told them about complaining about a sexist professor. I wonder what I sound like to them.

It would be a mistake to think of them as naive or ignorant or incapable. They make some of the most astute observations in the class. They get the jokes. They are happy here though they miss the sounds of prayer.

But I have a hard time imagining them in coffee shops writing stories. They could of course. Why not? But I don’t know if the men allow it. There is no telling what might happen if a woman is out her own. The world is a dangerous place.

There is so much freedom in being allowed to go out and put pen to paper. We take it for granted and complain about block and time and publishing.

Some men seem to think that a woman on her own is a woman in need of his attention. Someone’s attention, for crying out loud! They can’t be happy or safe left with their own thoughts. A long time ago there was a young man who kept calling me and asking me out. I kept saying no. (His offer to show me–I kid you not–his “real bear skin rug” was not compelling.) He insisted I had to be seeing someone if I was saying no to him.

“No. I’m not seeing anyone.”

“Then you can go out with me.”

“No. You’re not my type. Really.”

“See. You are seeing someone.”

“No. I’m not.”

“You are, or you’d go out with me. Who is he?”

“Why is it so hard for you to believe that I’d rather be alone than be with you?” I said.

Finally, he stopped calling.

I’m wandering, but it is late. I’m tired. I’m angry. Why can’t a woman just go write?

11 thoughts on “Women in Cafes Alone

  1. Because some men are jerks.

    And boy, what an ego on that other guy you mentioned, Mr BearSkinRug! Guys like these are looking for the kind of woman who says, “Better to be with a bad man than no man.” I knew a woman who said that. I told her it was maybe the stupidest thing I’d ever heard anyone say in my entire life.

    Of course, we’re all thinking, “Uhuh, see, see, I told you!” upon hearing that other women have complained about him. And that’s just at this coffee shop. Two hours boring holes into your skull just made his creep factor go up, in my book anyway. Dude! Here’s $10, go see a movie!

    But you were uber cool in how you played it! *applause* I do think waiting a week or 2 before going back is a wise thing.

    What did your husband say when you told him?

    1. You can say that again. Some men are jerks.

      Yeah, I complain about not having many dates/boyfriends when I was young, but that was probably because I just didn’t mind being alone. I preferred being on my own than with an idiot. And I’ve known several women of the bad-man-is-better-than-no-man school of thought. Stupid, stupid, stupid. And sad.

      My husband is a calm and collected kind of guy. He called me at the cafe to make sure I was okay, asked where I parked, and waited up for me. He wants me to be safe, and he doesn’t want to tell me what to do. I’m sure he’s keeping some of his thoughts to himself for the time being. We’ll see what happens next time I go.

      Today, I did, by the way, speak to the owner of the coffee shop. I have the owners cell phone number and he asked me call him directly if the incident happened again. He is going to ask his employees and find out more about this guy.

      This is way more drama than I want in my life. I like the drama on the page instead.

  2. They are happy here though they miss the sounds of prayer.

    That’s a haunting sentence. Wonder how it would be recast if it’d been written by someone in Egypt, say, about a group of American ex-pats in Cairo — what they’d notice we missed?

    The Joe’s guy sounds rather… socially tone-deaf, y’know? I really, really want him to just get the message. (Did you ever say how old he is, or seemed? I can’t remember.)

    One of my favorite things to write about (fictionally or on the blog) is how excruciating it is to be a neurotic male, who’d almost rather be stranded in a jungle than spend a social hour in a room with strangers; or who freaks out to imagine that something he said might’ve been taken the wrong way; or… etc. etc. But I can say with 100% confidence that I’d rather be that guy than be a woman. (Even if, as you point out, it’s better to be a woman here than in some other countries/cultures.)

    1. What would an American ex-pat miss? McDonald’s and traffic laws? There isn’t much I can think of right now that is as romantic as the call to prayer. I heard that while I was in Turkey. It really is an amazing sound, and I can’t imagine growing up with that as the background sound of daily life–five times a day, every day.

      The guy is 41. Same as me–though I didn’t tell him my age. I still want to think this guy is socially inept as opposed to dangerous. With any luck, he’ll get the message.

      You know, I like being a woman. I wouldn’t trade it. But there are moments where I feel as if I’m threatening the world simply by being female. We must be very dangerous creatures to see all the cultures that try to keep us under control.

  3. I’m pretty non-confrontational, but even I have my limit. It may not be the smart thing to do, but I’d have probably asked him to kindly stop staring at my f***ing back. As I get older it’s easier to be sharp with people when need be. But then I’d have regretted it, probably, especially when walking out to my car or lying in bed that night, wondering if he’d followed me home… Your method is probably better. Stupid crazy men.

    1. I don’t know if my method is better. It might be encouraging him. But I like to give a guy a chance to back down quietly. I mean, maybe he’s nice enough, just a bit socially inept. if there is a next time, I may have to channel my inner bitchiness.

  4. Women can’t just go write because a few men are stupid and make it seem so incredibly unsafe to do so; and then some are crazy and make it ACTUALLY unsafe to do so. I hope the owner speaks to this person and bars him from the establishment. Which means, of course, he’ll do it somewhere else, but at least he won’t be your problem anymore. And there ARE stalker laws, in case he’s not aware.

    Hope it worked out for the best. The small break seems like a good idea to me.

    1. I spoke directly to the owner today. I have the owner’s phone number so that next time, I can call the owner and he’ll come deal with the problem himself. Though he’s going to remind his staff that they have the authority to make people leave if they’re bothering others.

      I imagine that this weird guy is a total control freak kind of boyfriend. He told me his daughter moved out at 18 to live with boyfriend. I couldn’t help but think she probably wanted to get out of the house!

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