Hopeful 6 Hopeless 2
Sorry this took me longer than expected! I have had a busy week and this entry took me longer than expected to complete. As promised, here is the account of the "date" with Steven:
After my date with Patrick, I just had one more that week. I was due to see Steven on Tuesday. Much as I didn't really want to go, I went. I have wondered since why he wanted me to go have tea with him. I still don't know what his motives were or whether it was a date. Have a read and decide for yourselves if this was a date or not!
He had asked me to meet him at Berri in the metro, which is something I have never done before. I had tried to read a bit in the bus, but to no avail; I couldn't seem to concentrate, so I didn't try while I was waiting. I was early as I had miscalculated my transit time and Steven had not yet arrived. I looked in the direction I thought he was likely to come from as well as one or two others because I desperately wanted to see him before he did me so that I could rearrange my facial expressions. I was not so lucky: after about ten or fifteen minutes, he was suddenly standing right in front of me and talking to me without my having noticed whatsoever from where he issued.
By this time, I was feeling dizzy. The bright and funky coloured lights of the metro had gotten to my head. I was concentrating on walking as straight as possible and not falling over in my heels. I was trembling, though, and disoriented in space: Steven had to keep pointing me in the right direction.
We finally arrived at Camellia Sinesis. If you have never been, it is quite an experience on the whole. The word I think best describes the place is Zen. There are wood tones everywhere in the décor and your waiter starts you off with a sample in a small handleless cup and gives you a little bell to ring when you are ready to place your order. There are a few steeping methods and Steven encouraged me to try one I was not familiar with where you add boiling water into a small cup with your tea leaves, let it steep for only a few seconds, then pour the water through the leaves into the cup you drink out of. No cell phone calls or text messages are permitted at Camellia Sinesis, something I had not been told when I answered my sister (it was also such a fluke that I was able to borrow my Mom's cell!). I didn't get scolded, luckily, but my sister told me to hang up and call her later, so when I got off the phone, I was pretty sheepish. They also have a gong to ring when the volume becomes too elevated! It is an electronic-free environment where you can be peaceful and simply drink your tea.
The one time I had discussed tea with Steven, he had been a bit of a snob about it. He again asked me what kind of tea I liked as we were perusing the menu and went on about why aged leaves are better, etc. Seeing the vast selection and realizing that choosing could potentially be a complex process, I asked him what he would recommend. He was flattered, naturally, to be deferred to. I let him essentially make my selection for me. I do not like to be led by others in that way; I much prefer to make my own choices. I did it this once for simplicity's sake and also perhaps because I would thus not be judged based on my choice. Again, this is not usually a preoccupation for me: I make my own choices based on what I prefer or what is best for me. This may often set me apart or frankly make me unpopular, which is not always particularly pleasant, but my philosophy is that it is most important to be myself, let others think what they will. With Steven, however, I felt there were enough negative judgments applied to me because of the strike issue. I had told myself that one of my main missions on that outing was not to give him any more ammunition.
So I sat across from him sipping the tea he suggested (I can't even remember what it was called). The day was warm, so I was wearing a sun dress, but the plainest one in my closet: a blue plaid. I was trying to approximate a summer equivalent for the clothes I usually wear to school. I am mindful what impression I give off to classmates, particularly guy classmates I don't want to encourage! I made sure not to dress up and that I had something to throw over the small straps and cover my shoulders. I sincerely hope the front of the dress didn't move too much while I sipped tea; I kept as tight a control on it as I could. The only thing that was uncharacteristic was the heels. I wore those for myself, because they are a really fun pair and don't go with many of my outfits, so here was a nice opportunity to get them out of my closet. I knew I wasn't walking far, so I wouldn't get tired or sore. I wanted them to say that I am capable of being cool and fun and not always so predictable! I felt that every move had to be very calculated when it came to this afternoon tea.
I had thought that we would not have anything to talk about. I am still convinced we don't really have anything to talk about. I couldn't imagine that we could have a conversation in person when we hadn't been able to sustain one online in some time. I had vowed not to stimulate the conversation or help it along in any way. I had virtually no motivation whatsoever to talk to him. It turns out that it was not a problem after all because Steven was in one of his excessively talkative moods. He was rattling on endlessly and I heard a voice inside me screaming, "WHY AM I HERE?" It was an outcry from being excessively bored, but also from exasperation from trying unsuccessfully to ascertain the goal of the outing.
I reminded myself about my objectives and tried to regain some inner calm. I had set out to maintain my acquaintance with Steven. I wanted to be on satisfactory terms with him in case I ended up in another class with him. In any case, I would certainly see him around in the next year or so. His pivotal role in the student association was an especially important reason not to make an enemy of him. Furthermore, there was a strategic advantage in being on his good side. He is willing to share lots of course materials (he offered on that Tuesday, for example, to send me the readings in advance for the obligatory archaeology class). He also often blabs his intentions for the general assembly meetings, which is useful intelligence. I am often able to plan my next move based on what he says in passing conversation. I have often likened social interactions to a reconnissance mission to my friends and this would certainly be the example par excellence. I just told myself I had to get through that afternoon to maintain status quo.
That is when something completely unexpected happened. I got pretty much to my threshold as Steven wouldn't stop talking about the student strike and his radical political views. I had practiced a phrase in case this occurred and I felt I had reached my absolute limit. I finally said it: "You realize, Steven, that we will never agree on this subject." He seemed surprised to hear me say that. I explained to him that in English, we have a wonderful expression "agree to disagree". Well, apparently in French culture, "debate" is very important; this is something I have heard again and again during the strike. "No, we can't have an electronic vote because then there's no debate." I was not there to debate with him and try as he might, he could not coax me to. Why would I give up my tactical advantage? He can't anticipate how I'm going to react if he doesn't know my opinion. He can't fight me if he doesn't know what I think. What was unexpected was that the phrase I practiced didn't put an end to that subject. He told me that he was very open to opinions that were not his own and he got the shock of his life when I told him that it didn't come off that way at all.
We both were surprised, I think, at each other, him more so than me. One of my first objectives had been to keep an open mind. It came in handy. He explained that it was not at all his intention to come off as close-minded or aggressive in any way. He was rendered speechless when I told him that he had, in fact, presented that way more than once. I didn't want to go into specifics and he didn't press for them. He apologized a couple of times, which I think was very big of him. It seemed like I gave him a bit of an eye-opener. He was eager to hear my opinion, but I was not willing to give it. I did not see the point in presenting my view, which he will never agree with (and which is why I found the debates in the general assembly meetings pointless after several months, because no one was going to be swayed at that point; their opinion was already formed). I told him this and also that I had deliberately held back my opinion at times because I could not trust myself to be civil. Everyone had times during the strike when they were frustrated and were not going to be respectful. Rather than shoot my mouth off, I decided to remain silent. I explained that I did not feel the need to get in people's faces and preach to them as though I were a religious zealot and tell them exactly what I thought. In fact, I said, he didn't really want to know exactly what I thought. I went further and explained that I had been insulted, harassed and intimidated when people did not know my opinion, so I couldn't imagine what they would do if they did know how I felt. In short, I told him that this was an uncomfortable subject, that it was still uncomfortable and that it would probably be for some time and that I was not likely to want to discuss how I felt about it in the near future.
I had not planned to make such revelations and had tried to guard against it. I think, though, that I didn't do anything serious or irreparable. I had talked about the elephant in the room. Well, perhaps Steven didn't think there was one, or perhaps anyways, he thought it was smaller than I did. Saying it was there helped diffuse quite a bit of tension. He said that next time we saw each other it should certainly be easier. "Next time", I thought...
The next time we did see each other was a week later exactly at the general assembly meeting. We were once again on opposite sides of the room and opposite sides of the strike issue. As usual, I was proposing to stop the strike and he was encouraging the assembly to vote down my proposal. I didn't get a chance to talk to him afterwards and that's often how I prefer it, because he can get pretty fired up in those meetings, which doesn't make for a good recipe for talking to me! I particularly was unsure what his mood would be like given that we had just voted to come off strike to finish our winter term.
I am uncertain as to what exactly transpired when I went for tea with Steven. I walked away from it feeling perplexed. I don't know how much Steven understood from what I explained to him, but he seemed to have come to some realization or other. It helped me to know that, though this may not always be the result, his intentions are not generally bad. As to whether it was a date, that would certainly have been a rough date by any standard. His mentioning a "next time" could have meant something; then again, it could also have been a very casual sort of phrase. For now, I think it is simply not possible to tell.