I might not die alone, clutching a dog-eared copy of Eat, Pray, Love, after all. I have a newfound source of hope. And I owe my appreciation to the most unlikely of impetuses for discovering it: Watching a Cincinnati Bengals game.
I’m not referring to the substance of the game itself. Besides, the final minute of the Bengals’ first game of the season against Denver was enough to make any single-girl sports fan lose faith in men altogether. That game revived a strain of PTSD that has lingered in my psyche since January 22, 1989, when my parents made a grossly irresponsible parenting decision in bringing their young daughter to Super Bowl XXIII.
What I’m referring to is the physical act of watching the game. An act that innocently began yesterday morning completely devoid of preconception, calculation or manipulation and has resulted in the Fox NFL Sunday theme song being re-christened as my mating call.
Marvin Lewis is my new Lizzie. Allow me to explain.
My sectional sofa and DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket—more specifically, the maddeningly beguiling Red Zone channel—are what generally comprise my Sundays during the regular season. In the event I’m working, I avoid score updates at all costs until I make it home to my usual box seat and cue up the Tivo.
However, inspired by a fit of passion after watching the riveting, tear-jerking pièce de résistance that was HBO’s Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals, I decided that my ritual would be best shared among other long-suffering-yet-inexplicably-hopeful individuals for Sunday’s game. So I did what any sensible, non-NFC North expat living in Chicago would do. I tracked down my team’s unofficial local sports bar and headed there at 11:15 AM CST, sharp.
Of course, since the demands of BigLaw on my free time have prevented me from cultivating friendships with the type of girlfriends willing to join me for a wasted Sunday in a dark bar that reeks of Cincinnati chili and is filled with orange-and-black-clad misanthropes shouting “Who Dey,” walking in alone was intimidating. But quickly accompanied by my old friend serendipity, the picturesque setting made for a lovely and much-needed visit.
Perhaps this should have been obvious to me (especially given my musings on Erin Andrews), but I came to the unexpected realization that the odds of meeting a potential boyfriend are off the freaking charts when you’re a not-unattractive girl in a (youth large) Rey Maualuga jersey, sitting alone on a fall Sunday in a Bengals bar. That’s not to say there weren’t any unpleasant side effects to my newfound role as the most eligible bachelorette on the 2200 block of North Lincoln Avenue. I had to withstand a few achingly unwanted conversations. But it was blissfully easy to deflect them without awkwardly causing undue hurt by simply re-focusing my attention on the game.
In fact, I had just finished chasing off a particularly unwelcome visitor (as I recall, he was wearing mandals and a Reebok Cincinnati Bengals Black Contact Coaches Performance Polo), when a solid prospect suddenly appeared at my side.
Suffice to say, the interaction was largely positive. He does something in finance that sounded smart and complicated, but he didn’t bore me with details. He was attractive enough to spark interest without having the sort of too-perfect handsomeness that can be threatening and off-putting. And he was so impressed at my Lewis Billups and Tim Krumrie references that he never even got around to asking me what I do for a living—hence my lighthearted je ne sais quoi wasn’t ruined by him imagining me bitch-marching into state court in a skirt suit.
He seemed to “get me.” For starters, he agreed with my long-held insistence that Phil Simms and Jim Nantz are secretly gay lovers. Better yet, he even laughed out loud at my reference to an old article from The Onion (“Fox NFL Robot Misses Week One Due To Contract Holdout”). Until that moment, I was 0-for-6 in converting descriptions of The Onion articles into responses of actual laughter. (I still feel vaguely nauseous when I remember trying to explain “Political Cartoon Even More Boring And Confusing Than Issue” to an already underwhelmed date a couple of years ago.) At the end of the third quarter, he asked for my number, apologized for leaving early and dashed off to ORD to catch a flight to Phoenix for business.
The best part of the whole day is the fact that he wasn’t even the best part. What I love most is how four hours spent as the Kendall’s Bar “it girl” did more for my self-confidence than all my self-help books and past therapy sessions combined. A massive dose of Paxil to my otherwise social-anxiety approach to dating. My legitimate, lifelong fandom transformed the nadir of my love life into a world of unexplored options. And I’ve discovered a venue where pretense and usual dating criteria do not exist.
Later, around 6:30, I received a voicemail from Mr. Third Quarter who was calling from the gate, disappointed his flight was delayed because it meant he could have spent a while longer with me. While obviously flattered, unlike with my initial spark with “Schultz,” I actually won’t be all that upset if nothing ever comes of him because for the first time ever, I’m feeling very “there’s plenty more where that came from.”
There are 15 more games in the regular season, and there are certainly 15 more bars in Chicago where I can watch (and be watched). So it seems the only sensible thing to do with all this empowerment is to load up on YL jerseys and prioritize a few hours every remaining Sunday in 2009 to spend in these target-rich environments.
Given the Bengals’ surprising, albeit semi-painful, win over the Packers yesterday, my barroom cheers just may be both my and the team’s new lucky charm.