Who’d thought that a visit to the grocery store last week would result in a little life lesson for me. But it did.
There I was, scooping Spanish peanuts out of the bulk section at my local food mart when I fit gentleman in his sixties walked up and made a comment as he spied the raw almond bin. He was pleased with himself for the deal he got on a large bag of almonds versus the bulk price. This gent was sure his wife would be pleased with his shopping prowess. He then turned to me and started a conversation.
Now this is nothing new to me. In fact it happens all the time. Complete strangers will start conversations that quickly become congenial as if I personally know them. It doesn’t take long for me to learn personal information and I usually end up expressing my opinion or council in some way or other. If I am standing in a line, it is a guarantee that I will be the one singled out by someone to talk to. I guess I have an inviting look about me and a safe energy that attracts other souls.
This man wanted my opinion on what to do for his wife for their 40th anniversary. That is how the 15 minute conversation started but it quickly veered off to property investments, navigating city hall, renovations, friends who mentored us in our youth, among other things, before it came back around once again to his 40th anniversary. All the while we were standing in the bulk aisle, jostling our shopping carts to accommodate other shoppers as they attempted to pass by us.
Here is where the little lesson comes into play. After we said our good-byes I realized that I did not introduce myself. Firstly, I admonished myself for my lack of social grace. I was taught better than that. Then I realized that I had missed an opportunity to make a friend. I could have offered my business card. I could have told him where I worked and invited him to stop by should he ever find himself downtown. But at the very least, if I had taken the time to properly meet him, I could have been able to say hello should I ever see him again in public.
That was the missed opportunity, but it was not the lesson. The lesson is why I did not do any of those things. It was because, I realized, I had a shadow belief that held me back. It comes from a learned response from my younger days and I will bet that many other woman, and perhaps some men as well, will understand my reason.
When I was younger, as a means to protect myself from unwanted male advances, I would create a bubble of aloofness around me. I did not want to appear available. I did not want to give men the opportunity to hit on me and I did not want to give them any false hope. So I stayed polite but did not do anything that might be misconstrued as flirting or “in the market”. I have been married for 34 years, so I have not been “in the market” for a very long time.
When I realized what I had done and why I had done it, I got pissed at myself. I am a much more confident woman now than I was 20-30 years ago. I need to lose that old habit. Not every man I meet is out to hustle me, I am not that arrogant. In fact the second sentence out of this man’s mouth was that he wanted advice for a gift for his wife to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. He had stated his neutral intention right off the bat. He was by no means a threat to my honour.
Why is it that as a woman, I felt the need to protect myself? Why couldn’t I take this interaction at face value and perceive this conversation as two souls meeting instead of a woman and man meeting?
It use to be that women changed their appearance upon marriage. They would cover their head with a scarf or dress in a different way. This would be an outward cue to society that she was married. Thankfully we have progressed past those traditional stereotypes. Great strides in a woman’s right to choose have been achieved in recent decades whether she is married or not. But still, the need to protect her virtue remains a underlying concern. At least, I now realize, it is for me.
What if the man in the grocery store was someone I was meant to meet? What if he was meant to help me on my path in some way? What if I was meant to help him? My shadow belief, that when it comes to woman, all men are out for some nefarious intent, stopped me from ever finding out and by doing so, I unintentionally sabotaged my ability to be open to the possibilities of life.
This lesson, this self realization, invited even more insight to me. This was just a simple interaction in a grocery store yet I had let my preconceived opinions shade the outcome. Is this not what is happening in the world today but on a bigger scale? Are we not letting old perceptions and unfounded opinions dictate our lives, in our politics and on the world stage?
In my work I jokingly tell men, when they bock at me referring to them as a gentleman when addressing them, that I will assume the best in them until they prove it otherwise. But in truth, is that not how all our interactions should unfold? Should we not assume others have the best of intentions until they act to the contrary?
So I want to thank this earnest but anonymous man whom I met, but will never know, and say that I did enjoy our conversation. I hope you and your wife have a wonderful 40th anniversary. I am sorry I never got your name. I am sorry that, due to the conditioning of my past, I may never get the chance to talk to you again, just as two souls interacting. And I am also sorry to the both of us for the missed opportunity, but I will whole heartedly thank you for the little lesson that you honored me with.
Now that I think about it, perhaps that was the whole magical purpose of our meeting because he did in fact help me along my path by providing me with this little lesson. Perhaps the opportunity wasn’t missed after all. In that case, I’ll thank you for that too.