He tried his best but he was weak. I was younger then—much younger, in fact I’d approached less than half a dozen girls myself at that point. Still though, I wanted to push and prod him, implore him to soldier on, and—most of all—I wanted him to forget the bad reaction.
But he just couldn’t.
He positioned himself by the bar like a cornered animal, barring his teeth. He was resentful and angry, and that anger was going to eat through him like acid. When I tried to comfort him, offering a manful slap on the back, he screeched and told me to fuck off.
On the verge of tears there was only one word to describe his behavior: meltdown.
We were at a nightclub—Limelight Lounge—that’s long been forgotten by New York nightlife. A place that now only exists in the minds of the people who once populated the crowded dance floor, the fancy bathrooms.
I thought of this episode the other day, when someone offhandedly mentioned the old Limelight Lounge. And that’s all I remembered: crowded dance floor, fancy bathrooms, and that meltdown by the bar.
His name was Joey. He was so eager, so studious, so emphatic about meeting women. We’d decided to meet up after messaging each other on an online forum. In person, I was certain this guy was going to be great. I was hoping I could keep up or, at the very least, learn a thing or two from him.
He talked the talk, and even walked the walk to some extent. But he balked at the balk, and so he’d never be great—ever. I knew that then, even with my handful of crappy approaches. If this guy couldn’t endure one bad reaction, how did he expect anything of himself?
It was disappointing to think how one girl’s reaction changed everything for him. All that eagerness, studiousness, and emphasis was gone. Left was an angry little man, hobbling around a bar like something wanting to be put out of its misery.
Not surprising Joey left Limelight Lounge soon after. I have no doubt that he licked his wounds all the way home and I wasn’t surprised when he ignored my calls and messages the days after. He was one of my first “wingmen”—silly as the word sounds now—and I wanted to see him succeed. That is the purpose of a wingman, right?
But Joey was destined to fail, despite my wingmanship. Despite all his good qualities. If one bad reaction could topple him, then success just wasn’t in the cards. By definition he was a failure, as sad and condescending as that sounds.
I wanted to write about Joey—my memorial to him. I do wonder what ever happened to him, if he’s still brooding over that bad reaction. Hardly anyone even remembers Limelight Lounge anymore, and certainly no one remembers poor Joey getting shot down by one uninterested girl. Except for Joey.
Indeed, for Joey, it was a game-changer—or, more appropriately, a game-ender. To him, one meaningless reaction altered the entire course of his life. It siphoned out all his motivation, aspiration, and drive, filling him with anger and self-loathing—over one stupid, meaningless response.
Sad as Joey was, it’s even sadder that there are millions of Joeys. Armies of men march into the world thin-skinned, ready to roll over and play dead. Maybe they’re not as extreme as Joey, melting down in public places, but the meltdowns happen nonetheless.
Joey is a tragic character—a man who lost his way. As much as I’d like to put a happy spin on this story, pretending that Joey found the inner confidence to persevere, we know that’s not the case. I saw the meltdown. I saw his spirit shatter. I knew he wasn’t getting back up.
But if I learned anything from Joey it was cautionary. I saw firsthand something get so blown out of a proportion that it destroyed the trajectory of someone’s life. I was nobody when I met Joey—some punk with dreams, weak game, and a sense of humor. Years later, I’m the one typing in remembrance of Joey while he’s probably having another meltdown somewhere.
But remember Joey. The next time you hit an obstacle, think you’ve reached a dead end, or just get a response that isn’t what you like, think of him. And then soldier on.