Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Shades of High School

I haven't had a boy tell lies about me since high school.

I remember walking one night with my friend, Marc, when Eric and David, guys we knew from band, came by on their bikes. We could hear them talking, though we couldn't make out what they were saying. When they saw us, though, they immediately fell silent, except for the mandatory, "hey," when they passed.

"They were talking about you," Marc told me.

"What were they saying?" I asked.

Marc wouldn't tell me. All he would say was that Eric had been telling the other guys that he and I had gone out (we hadn't - I barely even knew Eric, and what's more, I thought he was kind of a jerk.).

I left it there. I never heard anything more about it from Marc or from anyone else, so I figured that whatever he'd said hadn't amounted to much. Also, I doubted that anyone who knew me would have believed him, anyway.

I guess I was lucky not to have stories told about me. I was no better and no worse than anyone else I knew in high school, and we all did things we probably shouldn't have, and certainly we did things that we didn't want the rest of the school finding out about. But it never seemed back then that anyone really cared. With the exception of a couple of really bizarre stories, I don't remember there being much gossiping about what anyone else was doing or with whom, beyond the casual passing along of information in the event that two people had started dating or broken up.

Perhaps because I've never had to endure harmful gossip, I've been more trusting of people than I should have been. I generally give people the benefit of the doubt, and I assume that they will mostly behave reasonably. But all this changed for me recently.

I was out of town for a conference, and we'd arrived a day early. We had time to kill that night, so we decided to explore the local nightlife. We found a bar that had a band and settled in to enjoy the music. After a while, a couple of guys came up and started talking to us. It was clear to me that one of them was interested in me, and I wasn't looking for that kind of company, but he seemed nice enough and wasn't behaving inappropriately, so we chatted for a while. I'll admit it - I was flattered by his sweet and solicitous attention.

The band started playing dance music, and we all started dancing. After a while, to cool off, I took off my overshirt (I had a tank top on underneath) and tied it around my waist while I danced. At the end of the night, we all left for our separate hotels.

The next afternoon, we ran into these guys again, said hi, and went off in the direction of our different presentations. One of my friends who had witnessed this, and who was staying at the same hotel as the guys were, pulled me aside. It turned out that she had overheard the guy with whom I had chatted talking about me at breakfast: he had told his friends that I had taken off my top the night before.

I suppose he wasn't exactly telling a lie - in a manner of speaking, I had indeed taken off my top. He just neglected to mention the top that was underneath it, which remained on. He also chose to word it so that it sounded as though I had taken off the shirt in the context of being with him.

At first, I was mortified, and I rushed to assure everyone who had heard this that I had done no such thing. Then, I was angry, and I wanted to tell him off. But finally, I was just disappointed: he had seemed like such a nice guy, and I felt both used by him and also annoyed that my judgment of him hadn't been more accurate.

I don't know why he did it. Maybe he thought it made him look good. Maybe he thought it was a better story that way. But what I'm left with is that he obviously didn't think about what it would feel like for me to hear that story or how it might affect me professionally to have that rumor circulating. Or maybe he did, but he didn't care.

I'm not angry anymore. But this experience does make me doubt myself, and it makes me sad that I will now be cautious and reserved instead of welcoming and friendly the next time I meet someone who seems nice and wants to chat.

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