I met someone in a bar a few weeks ago.
I convinced my friend to come out with me, to put on red lipstick and change out of leggings (or at least into boots instead of slippers) on a Friday night and join me at my favorite place.
It’s a great little Portland bar. It used to be a family-run diner until a crew of hipster entrepreneurs stripped the checkered linoleum down to wood and added a shelf that runs along the perimeter. They lined up faded hardback books on the ledge and we lined up on stools around the big horseshoe-shaped bar in the center.
I’m not above meeting people at bars.
I don’t usually go to bars to meet new people, but I’m comfortable with both my boundaries and my small talk skills, so I don’t mind the occasional interaction with strangers. That’s sort of what I do most days on Twitter anyway, and that’s led me to a pretty amazing community.
But I wasn’t really expecting to meet someone that night.
I’ll admit that I scanned the room. Part of it is just because I’m that nosy neighbor, that wide-eyed girl who is curious about everything and everyone.
But part of it is because I’m single.
Come on, fellow singles, you know you do it too. You can’t help but notice that new, solo, ringless person in your usual pew at church or casually ask your friends, “So, what’s up with So and So?” You can’t help but check out the crowd at a social function with more intention than just finding your friend.
That’s nothing to be ashamed of doing; it is an aspect of the genuine openness required to attract good things into your life. I am all for women and men taking a healthy responsibility for their lives and loves and putting effort into things they want. I believe that dating is something you can be actively, intentionally pursuing without sidestepping the importance of trusting God in your romantic future.
And I think God showed up that Friday night, in that bar.
But it looked different than I expected.
As the crowd started stacking up behind my friend and I, a girl edged her way in between our stools. She was trying to catch the attention of the busy bartender, and there’s nothing like being crammed two inches from another person that invites awkward conversation. (Unless you’re on public transportation. Then, social rules dictate that you never ever make eye contact or speak, right?)
The three of us started making standard barstool small talk while she waited. We chatted about the brews on tap, the pouring rain outside, and how hard it is to meet dates in bars.
And then she said something that changed my perspective: “Oh, I’ve met boys to date, but I’ve been in Portland for eight months and I don’t have any good girl friends.”
And suddenly I caught my breath, like my dream man had actually walked in the door that night.
Even now, I can’t stop thinking about that very simple idea.
How many people are in our neighborhoods, our churches, our favorite bars, who just need a friend?
And how easy is it to help? To ask someone out for tacos, to build up a conversation that goes beyond the “How was your week?” and “Busy, how was yours?” interchange on Sunday morning, to invite someone to your game night without crushing on them?
Sometimes I think I can get so caught up in this search for romance, for the thing I feel like I need most, that I forget to be open to other types of relationships, too.
Romance is a really good part of life and it’s worth the effort to navigate it well.
But if we’re only focused on one good thing and how badly we want it and what we imagine it will look like, we can miss the other good things right in front of us. We can forget the ways that being our genuine selves, whether that’s serving or giving or listening or building or entertaining, offers something beautiful to others.
This is exactly what I find compelling about Christianity: it is the story of God inviting us outsiders in, of knowing us and choosing to be with us. Over and over in Scripture, we see Love as an active presence that changes us and changes our relationships with each other. My faith is built on communion and community.
And while I can’t live out those principles in a marriage right now, I can build them into my life, every relationship, and every interaction with people.
I can practice love and friendship like nobody’s business.
I don’t want to be so focused on meeting a date, on chatting or flirting, or admiring someone from across the room that I miss the person who simply needs a friend. I don’t want to be so focused on whether or not I’m attractive to the opposite sex that I can’t being present with my whole self in a social situation.
I think romance is really important, but I also think we need to spend our energy inviting those on the outskirts into our communities.
So, I met someone in a bar a few weeks ago.
My friend and I chatted with the new girl a little more that night, and as she got her drink, I asked for her number. I’ve lived in this city for a long time and I have a great group of friends. There are a lot of things I can’t offer at this point in my life, but I can offer love and friendship.
My new friend and I had brunch a few weeks ago. It wasn’t anything magical or dramatic, but I started to hear her story and tell her mine, which is just the way friendships begin. We’re hanging out again soon.
I don’t know whether she’ll be my best friend ever, or whether she’ll find a good fit in my community, or whether we’ll laugh in twenty years about how we met in a bar, but I do know that she reminded me that my life is a lot bigger than a search for romance.
Speak Up! Have you ever met a friend in a strange place? Where’s your favorite local hangout?
[photo: eyeliam, Creative Commons]