You Let Yourself Be Seen
by Maria Ilona Moore
On a night out, or a friend’s birthday, or drinks in a pub garden, you catch someone’s eye across the dance floor, the busy bar, the picnic bench and like what you see. You quickly look away, like those glossy magazines you used to read as a teen taught you to – be coy, they said, catch their eye, look away, look back and they’re yours. Sometimes it works and you feel like you’ve tricked them somehow.
When they look at you, a glimmer of possibility mingles with longing in your belly and you stand a bit taller. The confidence of someone wanting you fills the gap where your own confidence doesn’t reach and you revel in it. You feel yourself being seen, and for once you don’t shrink away – you soak it up, your body says ‘look at me’, and you let yourself like it for a while.
Later, you laugh at their jokes, even when you don’t find them that funny. You stay alert, make sure your hair is still right, pop to the loos and touch up your make up in the mirror. When you’re back there’s a space free next to them and you squeeze yourself into it. Their leg leans against yours under the table, and this subtle moment of unspoken attraction feels charged with electricity. Sometimes you misread it, because it holds so much power for you, and you’re left alone and wanting. But sometimes, the weight of their knee against yours confirms the anticipation humming in your chest. You move closer, taking a risk. A hand lingers on a thigh and fingers dance together, trace patterns across the fabric of your jeans, tuck hair behind an ear, clasp a waist, pull you closer. Their body presses into yours and a tingle down your spine says this is really happening.
Or maybe it’s even quicker than that. Your eyes meet theirs in the haze of a dancefloor and you know that in a moment their lips will be on yours. The great thing about kissing a stranger in the dark is that you can be anyone you want to be and they can be anyone you want them to be. Who knows what will happen when the song ends, but right now all you care about is being wanted by them and that makes you feel invincible.
Their desire tops you up, gives you confidence you didn’t know you had. You absorb it with every drunken compliment and every stolen kiss in the smoking area. But without it, you feel the night was a waste, you feel that you were somehow not good enough. You catch a glimpse of your reflection in the window of the night bus – mascara smudged, lipstick worn – and you don’t like what you see. You feel that space inside doesn’t reach get bigger, as your confidence fades again.
“The confidence of someone wanting you fills the gap where your own confidence doesn’t reach and you revel in it.”
You’re getting ready for a night out, or a friend’s birthday, or drinks in a pub garden, and you catch your eye in the bathroom mirror and like what you see. It’s the slick of lipstick that does it – and maybe the earrings too, those tiny slivers of golden armour – it gives you a thrill more tangible than any drunken anonymous compliment. You revel in this feeling, you know it’s rare, know it’s special, know you’re rare, know you’re special. You soak it up and fill the space inside you where the confidence has faded with love. You compliment yourself like you would a friend and head out, light as air.
Eyes meet across a busy bar and knees brush under a table but you don’t mind if it means anything this time. Maybe your lips will find theirs in the haze of a dancefloor, but maybe not. It will be fun if it happens – you love how it feels to kiss a stranger in the dark – but tonight you don’t care because your confidence is all your own. You let yourself be seen because you like how you look, but it doesn’t consume you. A stranger’s glance doesn’t define the quality of your night, and a stolen kiss in the smoking area doesn’t make you feel more valid. You laugh at their jokes only if you find them funny. You forget to care about what your hair looks like.
And maybe fingers trace their way along a collarbone, or cup a face, or tuck hair behind an ear. Maybe things go further and you press your body against theirs as your lips meet, and a hand slips into yours as you find the exit and say goodbye to your friends. Or maybe none of these things happens. Maybe you forget about catching anyone’s eye because you’re too busy laughing and dancing with your friends, and feeling light as air.
On the night bus home, you catch a glimpse of your reflection in the window – mascara smudged, lipstick worn – and smile. ‘Sign of a good night’, you think.