We stood in the private upstairs room of the cozy Indian restaurant downtown, surrounded by a few friends, a handful of acquaintances, and a room full of strangers. Everyone was breathless and celebratory, especially the birthday girl. Her red hair shone under the dim lights and her tinkling laugh made everyone around her smile. The music was silly and loud, and I stood next to my friends and the tall boy with whom I'd come. He and I were friends, but friends with potential. We had had one date once, which seemed to go well, but then nothing ever came of it -- except for more platonic happy hours and lots of laughs. So be it, he was funny and I liked funny guys. Sometimes we would get tipsy and flirt, which was always fun.
I remember that the festive air combined with my all-black attire, my red lipstick, and my slight wine buzz made me feel a little bit brave, a little bit hopeful. Significant eye contact had occurred with FTG (funny tall guy) and I was feeling fine. Suddenly, the birthday girl appeared in front of me, giving me a big hug, and grabbed my hand, leading me toward the mostly empty dance floor. I shyly pulled her to the side and tried to sit down at the edge of the floor, but she would have none of it. She giggled and pulled me again, and I panicked. She was shiny and bright and thin, full of joy and charisma; suddenly I felt lackluster, heavy, and terribly self conscious. My mind was spinning and I was keenly aware of funny guy behind us, urging me to go silly dance with her. It was then that I was struck with a vivid mental image of myself as I imagined others would see me--pale, puffy, perhaps with a shiny nose, fading lipstick, flat hair, shaking my body next to my thin, pretty redhead friend. I couldn't. do. it.
I shook my head and pulled my arm back, perhaps a little too hard, which surprised her. I sat myself stubbornly at the edge of the floor, FTG beside me, and just like that, I knew. I could tell from the change in his energy that I had blown it. I felt something in him cool toward me. I understood in that moment that it was never going to happen with us, because I didn't believe I was pretty enough, funny enough, fearless enough; because I was in fact too insecure to dance uninhibited at a party where I knew mostly no one. My friend had shrugged and danced away, pulling more girlfriends into her circle, but I remained seated, stiffly, with a fake smile pasted on my face. FTG got up and walked over to the bar, walked away from me.
We still went out with friends a few more times over the next couple of years, but any remaining spark had been effectively doused that night at the birthday party, as I hugged myself next to the dance floor and wished more than anything that I was thin and bubbly, or at least that I felt thin and bubbly.
I decided recently that I'm done with that girl. Not with my red-haired friend, although we lost touch not long after that party, but with that version of myself. I'm working on seeing myself as I want others to see me, not as I fear they do. Maybe I can do it this time, in a state full of mostly strangers; I'll keep you posted...