It's like Sex and the Suburbs and 30 Rock all rolled into one…
A few weekends ago, one of my friends and co-workers got asked out on a date. We work in retail, and she was ringing up his order – some graphic tees and a hoodie – when he asked if she would like to grab a drink after work. She wasn’t sure what to say. He was a customer, and she felt she needed to be polite to him. However, she is currently dating a great man who has his stuff together, impressive for someone so young. So she lied, and said she would be working too late to go out for a drink hoping you would take the subtle hint. Which he did not. He jotted his name and phone number on his receipt and forced it upon her, trying to get her to promise to call him.This was, naturally, an invitation to have some fun.
We called him. Well, more specifically, I called him. When he answered the phone, I demanded to know which sports he enjoyed and what beer he liked to drink. He then wanted to know who I was and how I got his number. So I said that my name was Ellie and he wasn’t to ask any of my employees out on dates again. (To which he replied, “Ellie isn’t even a real name!” I’m not sure if the last laugh is on me or him.) Even though I’m fairly hesitant to give dating advice, let me break policy and and tell you not to ask people out when they’re working.
It’s really that awkward and fine line between flirting and hospitality. You probably never saw “Mr. McGibblets” from the hilariously raunchy The League on FX, but when one of the guys goes to a spa, he finds himself puzzled if the great customer service is flirting or just really good hospitality. In fact Pete, several years out of the dating scene, spends most of the episode denying his friends’ assertions that a hostess has interest in him. In predictable fashion, she does in fact want him to make the first move, which allows the hilarity of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, a homemade porn, and one of the other characters in a bathrobe to ensue.
It is a common mistake for men to assume that women – and vice versa – who try to be helpful to customers are flirting. Some element is involved, but it’s certainly not the sort that indicates romantic interest. Let’s be honest here: sales people are trying to sell things. If a little harmless flirting seals the deal, then they’ll use it. I’ve bought jeans that cost over $100 because the shop-boy says my tushie looks good.
The problem is when guys get the wrong idea. Another one of my retail working friends had a year long incident with a young man shipped to Saratoga to study nuclear reactors. He was lost far away from his family and friends and often went mall-ratting to kill time and try to meet people. He also wanted to update his style, so he walked into the store and immediately asked for help. She helped dress the boy, and a native, she suggested things that he could do and see with his somewhat irregular hours. He fell in love. Head over heels, complete and total near-stalker love. It wasn’t that he was a bad kid; he was a wonderfully great guy. One day he bought pizza for the staff as thanks for all the help they’d given him. When some particularly creepy guys wouldn’t leave the store, he asked them to leave. He helped fold shirts and on more than one occasion lifted some heavy objects.
The only problem is that he never understood that she wasn’t interested in anything more than the relationship of customer and sales associate despite her many attempts to tell him such plainly and one time rather bluntly. Unlike my cashier, this woman had no problem with telling a male customer he was not taking her out for so much as a milkshake in the food court. She was interested entirely in getting his cash into her register till.
But it really all comes down to being a real man. It doesn’t mean wearing levis and plaid shirts, but rather acting appropriately. It’s about taking ownership of your ego and letting the girl who you just asked out – you know the one with the eyes wide with fear – to back out gracefully without hurting your feelings or putting herself at the risk of going out with the next craigslist killer. So guys, don’t ask girls out when they’re stocking denim shelves. That wink could have been to get you to buy that second pair of jeans at half off.