“So that’s what she meant!”


I’m not very quick on the up-take. It’s only long after something has happened that I finally figure out what someone was trying to tell me.


Back when I was a college student, I invited a young woman up to my dorm room late at night after a dance for coffee – and served her coffee! Being a polite young man, I asked her about her interests, her background, and so on. Eventually, we both got bored and fell asleep.


In the morning, after an innocent night, I decided to try for a kiss, but was vigorously rebuffed, and she never spoke with me again, clearly and mysteriously having taken offense. My friends patiently explained that some young women who come to your dorm room after midnight for coffee expect you to make a pass. But I still have the question: how are you supposed to know? I replayed that evening in my mind for many years.


Another time, I was teaching a college course and, after it was over, an attractive young lady who had been in the class came by my office to tell me she’d like to see some more of me.


Naturally, I assumed she wanted to take more of my courses, so I patiently explained what I would be teaching in the fall semester. She never showed up in those classes. It only began to dawn on me years later that her interest in me maybe wasn’t entirely academic.


My inability to interpret social signals is not limited to relations between the sexes. When I was a consultant, a major company told me that, as a special honor, they were going to cooperate with me on my work. I thought this meant that they were going to hire me and I quoted my fees to them. It was only after months of unreturned phone calls that it got through my head that what the really meant was that they would let me collect some facts about their company and report them in my research (which would, in fact, have been very helpful in my career.)


Of course, the simplest thing in the world would have been to ask “When you say cooperate, do you mean hire me or let me interview you?” But that’s a bit and cold, isn’t it? It’s equivalent to asking “Just to clarify things, did you come by for coffee or for sex?” You just can’t ask someone that, can you? Or can you?


So, I still lie awake reflecting on my life – the overwhelming portion of which has been unalloyed joy. But every so often, I think of an incident (usually from my younger days, many decades ago,) and finally figure it out. Leaping from my bed, scaring my ever-loving wife, I call out – to no-one in particular: “So, that’s what she meant!” Of course, I can’t tell my wife what I’m talking about.