People reading this blog may know of Rebecca Solnit’s book, Men Explain Things To Me. There’s also the concept of “man-splaining,” or just “‘splainin’,” as practiced generally by some members of dominant social groups.
Any of those would actually be a step up from what I’ve experienced a few times on this trip: just being talked at, as if I am a mere receptacle for whatever garbage some dude wants to spew into the universe, or as if I am just something in the general direction of the noise some guy wants to make and have acknowledged by another human.
I write this not because all men do this. They don’t. And there are women who do this as well (I’m positive I’ve been guilty of it). But I’ve only ever engaged in relationships with men who like a good conversation, who care what I have to say, who love me for my humor and brains and who share their own in turn.
So I write this more just as an observation, and one I haven’t felt comfortable to call out in person because, yeah, I’m a solo woman on a bike that someone could easily follow to my next campsite. And I write this because I had a particularly egregious experience of it yesterday afternoon.
Lesser examples of it on this trip have been:
- older dudes who will just “blah-blah-blah” about their own bike trips and bike models and that-one-time-when and not ask a single question or let me have a word in edgewise;
- younger dudes who talk between themselves about gear and routes, presuming you have nothing to offer or talking over you when you try;
- over-eager hosts who just want someone different to talk at than their pet.
To be clear, I love a good story. As a young person, I love listening to my elders and knowing I have plenty to learn from them. I love asking questions and hearing about the moments in others’ lives that mean so much to them. And I recognize that some of the people who talk at me are just plain lonely and probably don’t have someone to talk with a lot of the time.
What I don’t love is something like the following.
So, because it’s not easy to make salads for myself in the campground, if I’m craving one (and it does happen here and there among my mostly heavy meals), I grab one in town. I was doing so yesterday at some crowded, crunchy place in Florence, Oregon (Homegrown Pub—recommended!), sitting at the end of the bar, when the two older guys who’d been chatting with each other next to me departed, thus making way for a pert, half-smiling guy who kind of floated in my direction. What follows is a mercifully abridged and somewhat approximated (I don’t have a perfect memory) version of our conversation. Ughhhhhh.
“Mind if I sit here?” he asked, taking the seat directly next to me.
“Sure,” I replied, there not being many other seats to have.
“Mikhail,” he introduces himself, extending his hand.
I repeat it. He repeats it, as if I hadn’t said it correctly (I had).
“Serena,” I say. (Crowdsourcing aside: what should be my fake name for future such interactions?)
“Know what you’re ordering?” he asked.
“Yeah, probably the [something-something I don’t remember] salad—”
“Oh, yes!” he encouraged. “Me, too! You know, I was about to go into [other nearby restaurant], when I realized, ‘No, that’s the old me. This is the new me. This food here feeds my spirit, you know??”
“Yeah…” I say. I order a beer and the salad. He orders the same salad and water “with LOTS of lemon.” My beer arrives shortly.
“Yeah, so,” he continues, “you know, the old me. I loved that greasy food, and my body just still wants it sometimes.”
“Yeah,” I say, “you know, sometimes it’s okay to have some of that. There are worse things, and it can just be a little nostalgic here and there. You don’t have to judge it too harshly.”
“No, I’m not judging,” he replies. “But just no. It’s not really food. Ugh,” he says, sipping the water. “This water is awful. It’s bad around here.”
I hadn’t noticed anything bad about it. And I thought of saying something about it being potable out of the tap—more than most people in the world can count on. But he continued.
“So what are you doing here?” he asked.
“I’m biking down the coast.”
“Um… I had a rough breakup a few months ago, but I also was kind of just itching for something… I don’t know. I wanted to do some work on myself, and I was really fortunate to have this opportunity to do it…. So, I’m doing it.”
“Yes, no one can do the work for you. You have to do it yourself. You just have to.”
“Sure,” I said.
“And I’m a recovering alcoholic, and I haven’t touched bud in… let’s see, I’m 35, so… 20 years! You know,” he said, looking at my beer, “that stuff is poison. I mean, I’m not judging! It’s not good or bad. It’s just… poison.”
“So why are you here?” I return. “Is this home?”
“Home is… yes, it’s wherever my heart is. So yes, it’s here right now.”
“And I was invited to a gathering for the eclipse, the [whatever its new-agey name was]. Have you heard of it?”
I shook my head, trying to stuff as much of my just-arrived salad into my maw as quickly as possible.
“Ooohhhhhmmmm,” he drones out before starting in on his salad. He continues: “Well, it’s part of ‘The New Paradigm’—we are ushering it in. Or rather, it’s here already. It’s everywhere, in so many places around the world, and we just have to honor it and lift it up, bring in the new world together. Anyway, I was given a ticket by someone, but… you know, I just don’t know if it’s where I want to put my energy right now. Hmmm….”
I say nothing.
“My wife and baby are back in Canada, but, you know, my energy isn’t there either. And when the spirit calls them to me, we will be reunited, but now just is not the time.”
[Sounds like you ditched your family to indulge in some aimless bullshit, man. Your wife may have drug problems she needs to “do her own work on,” as he would insist (I know this because he told me so), but your baby has no options, and you just fucking peaced.]
He prattles on about his life’s journey, the lessons he’s learned, how the universe has moved him, how much he approves of my own journey (what little he knows of it) and is astonished by it, et cetera. I turn my body away. I make less and less eye contact. I focus on eating.
The server eyes me from across the bar and mouths, “Are you okay?” I nod, but roll my eyes in Mikhail’s direction, and she nods, then makes extra checks on me, as does another person working the bar.
“Can I offer something?” he says.
I just raise my eyebrows, so of course he proceeds.
“Don’t hold anger toward this man who left you. Find compassion for him.”
I look him in the eyes: “Yeah, I don’t, and I have. What little anger I’ve had over it I’ve processed elsewhere. That’s my business.”
“Oh, good! Good. Of course. I just—he needs so much love right now.”
“I know,” I cut him off. “And I have wished him it, and I continue to. He’s a really good and awesome person.”
“Yes, you know, some relationships, they just aren’t meant to be.”
“But we learn something from each one of them. If you can just learn something from it. All relationships are right, and they are what the universe intends for us. If you can just think or feel differently about them, even the hard stuff.”
I look at him again. I really shouldn’t have engaged at all. “I wouldn’t say that applies in all relationships.”
“What do you mean?” he cocks his head.
“Um… abusive relationships.” (Note: I have NOT been in one myself, fortunately. I was just making a general point to this presumptuous ass.) “Like, someone can’t just think or feel his or her or her kids’ way out of physical or emotional abuse. That is very real.”
“Well, but where does that abuse come from originally?”
“Have you been abused?”
My jaw drops, and I just shake my head. “We’re done here. I don’t want to talk with you anymore.”
He makes some slight bow of his head, his palms lightly joined and probably mutters a “namaste,” but I can’t hear him anymore. I do, however, have to sit far too close to him for another five minutes as I wolf down the rest of my salad (I will leave no calorie behind on a plate, shitheads be damned). I grab my bag and head to the register to settle my bill. The server there apologizes and commiserates, then asks me if I remember that phrase that all women are supposed to know to kind of undercover-ask if someone’s alright. (Crowdsourcing again: Anyone else remember that phrase? I didn’t.)
I paid and left, not a word more to that guy. Sure, maybe I should have cut him off earlier or said something (probably plural somethings) snarky, but I didn’t want to upset him, since he already knew my southbound route. Sure, I could have asked another bar patron to switch seats with me, but I didn’t think of it. Sure, other people could have stepped in, but they didn’t. So I just endured this presumptuous, pompous, selfish, new-age-baptized idiot over the course of my thoroughly ruined lunch.
He is the end of the spectrum of being talked at that I have experienced. I was asked and offered very little over the course of that lunch. He just dumped his whole stupid bag of moron all over the bar and made me look at it. And he probably walked away thinking I was something to be pitied, to be blessed by him and his compassion, that I was scared of some truth he was telling. Gross.
There are men (it’s mostly been men, yes) who have done this to a much lesser degree over the course of this trip, but Mikhail stands out for obvious—and I hope at least a little bit comical—reasons.
So, humans everywhere, do you talk at people? Or with them? Do you perform? Or do you engage? I am lucky to know and/or love more of the latter folks, and I strive to be one of them myself, guided by their example. Food for thought, I suppose… but hopefully no repeats of that preachy, spoiled lunch.