I had a strange encounter last week, and I was surprised at how irritated I became.
I frequent local cigar lounges, and I’m most often a visitor at one within my own neighborhood. Can’t beat the proximity. As a woman who enjoys an occasional cigar and a glass of good scotch or bourbon, I have no problem visiting these establishments on my own – I don’t need an entourage to feel comfortable in my own skin. Especially when visiting the bar in my neighborhood, I enjoy being alone, because I’ve created a sense of respite there.
Though I enjoy my alone time, I am a social being, and I can enjoy conversation with almost anyone. Almost. I do find, at times, that being a woman in a cigar lounge is viewed by some as crossing into the inner-sanctum of Man Time. The women present acknowledge each other without issue, most likely because we see strength in numbers. The men turn their heads and observe every instance of femininity in the room. We’re watched, often judged, and then incessantly questioned about our choices. Surely we’ve come to the wrong place, or so they think.
During my encounter, I sat alone at the end of the bar watching Copa America. I was smoking a good cigar and was nursing a glass of scotch. I was texting a couple friends (and possibly posting a picture on Snapchat). The bartenders know me by name, and I’ve settled into a comfortable routine at this establishment.
A man arrived and sat a few seats away, at the corner where he could face my left side, addressing me as “Sweetie” and “Sweetheart.” Clearly, it never occurred to him to actually introduce himself or ascertain what I might like to be called. He asked me if he could borrow my lighter, as he’d forgotten his own. After I slid my torch lighter (freshly full of butane) down the bar to him, he asked me if my lighter even worked. His question caught me off guard, and I simply turned to look at him as I puffed my well-lit cigar.
He scrutinized the lighter and watched me for reactions. He lit his cigar and slid the lighter back to me. “Thank you, Sweetie.” By this time, I was having a visceral reaction to this man. I winced at “Sweetie” and “Sweetheart.” The more he watched me — judged me — the more I felt my eye wanting to twitch. I turned my attention back to my phone.
“So I notice you’re smoking a cigar. And what is that, bourbon or Scotch?”
“Yep. Scotch.” I said. I find that when I don’t like something, I either shut down or get extremely vocal. My preference is to shut down; I don’t want to make a scene. What I wanted to say was, “Why is any of this your concern?”
“How long have you smoked cigars?” He asked suspiciously.
“A few years now.” I didn’t want to engage in conversation, so I responded to a few text messages from friends.
“I see. So a cigar smoker and scotch drinker. What is it you like about cigars anyway?” His eyes narrowed at me, and my irritation grew.
“I just like them, hard to explain. Why do you smoke cigars?” I looked at him, I’m sure exasperation was all over my face, but he ignored my question because he wanted to continue evaluating me. I didn’t bother trying to give him a real answer; I wasn’t actually interested in continuing the conversation.
“Are you texting all of your friends? You sure do seem to like to be on your phone.” He puffed his cigar and watched me.
“I’m texting a few friends, not all. I call it being responsive.” I didn’t bother trying to hide my annoyance.
“So you would rather talk to your friends than talk to me?” What I couldn’t quite recognize is that this man actually thought he was flirting with me, that I should be impressed and grateful for his attention.
I maintained eye contact with my phone, responding to messages as they came in. I sent a text to one of my friends asking them to continue texting me, because I was being harassed by an older man.
I think “harassed” is the right word. I’ve been reduced to pet names, had my equipment insulted, and had my very presence questioned. Surely, I couldn’t be a regular, a real cigar smoker, or have a real appreciation for brown liquor. Surely, I didn’t belong in a cigar lounge.
Before he could ask another question, a couple walked up to greet him. They sat to my left, leaving one seat between us, and provided a slight barrier between myself and this man. The couple greeted me, and I exchanged pleasantries and a smile before returning my attention to my cigar and my phone. They seemed fine.
The man wasn’t finished though. He ranted to his friends about millennials, how they couldn’t hold a decent conversation and all they cared about was their technology. His friends looked at me, understanding the complaints were made about me, and then I had three people watching for my reaction. I gave none, which apparently confused them more, only fueling the man. His male friend asked me if I was okay, and I said yes. His female friend asked me if they were bothering me, and I said no. I’d just had a long day.
Friendly servers and managers walked by, and I greeted them, laughed, and talked freely with them. I could see the man redden, because it was clear I just didn’t have interest in talking to him. Two more of his friends joined him, sitting around the corner of the bar, though these two had some relationship issues going on. The man continued to watch me; I could feel his eyes on me as I enjoyed my cigar and ordered a second drink.
Another friend joined their group, a man I’d seen before. Before my scrutinizer could say anything, the man introduced himself to me, asked my name, said he remembered my face from a few different times in the lounge. We shook hands and smiled, I remembered his name, and he asked me if I minded whether he sat next to me. I told him I didn’t mind, and the man at the corner of the bar fumed while my new friend and I made easy small talk. There was even a bit of light flirting.
The new addition to the bar tried to include me in conversations that his friends were having, so I spoke up when asked (they were talking about O.J.), and he and I continued our own conversation. I didn’t want to invite his friend to begin asking me another barrage of questions.
Perhaps I was being petty, but I made sure to hug my neighbor as I called it a night. I left earlier than I’d planned, but I didn’t like the change in energy when the man came in, and I’d had enough. I spoke to everyone at my end of the bar but the man, and I really didn’t care how rude that made me look.
On my way out, I told a host and a manager (two of my friends) what transpired. Though I certainly could have said something or moved further down the bar, and they both knew the guy to be a jerk, I decided to laugh off an awkward encounter and make a mental note to keep my eye out for him in the future. Thankfully, I haven’t seen him since.
There is a way that you can talk to a woman without demeaning her, questioning her, or making her feel like she shouldn’t have knowledge or experience simply because she is female. Just because you are a man and you ask a question, you are not entitled to a response, regardless of your age or stature. We aren’t here to be your entertainment, to be studied, or to be presumed ignorant because we choose to do something that isn’t innately feminine. You aren’t owed an explanation and we don’t need your approval.
It’s none of your business, I’m not your sweetie, and if we cross paths again, I’ll tell you so. Please don’t kill my vibe.