Approval of Partners
Anyone who has driven for a ride-sharing service has likely had a clown car experience — an experience where way, way too many people try to fit into a car that is clearly too small for the number of riders. Some people are okay with it, some people are not very happy about doing so. One evening, I was picking up a group of women coming from a wedding reception and heading to an after party, and not even 1 second after I had agreed to take them, I found 9 people crammed into a car that was only meant to seat 5 at most — I was in the driver side, 2 women were in the front passenger seat, and 6 women were stuffed like sardines in the back. You’d think as a single, straight man that this would be a dream come true, but with so many people in the car, you can quite literally feel the difference in how the car handles on turns and the effect of that many people on the car’s acceleration.
Not at all stuck in fantasy, the prevailing thoughts running through my mind were something along the lines of, “Oh God, please let us get there safely,” or “I hope I don’t get pulled over,” or “Please, please let nothing go wrong, I don’t want this on my conscience.” Thankfully, we arrived at the after party safely and the 10 minute clown car that I was driving quickly and safely unloaded except for one passenger. One guest had decided that she had had enough of the celebration and would like to go home. After wishing her friends well and expressing happiness for having been able to see them, we were off to take her back to her home.
On the ride home, we chatted and talked briefly about the reception and the wedding and how she knew the bride and groom and the other guests at the wedding. She shared with me how she used to play soccer at Longwood University and how she was a huge fan of Notre Dame sports. She shared with me how this wedding was like a team reunion and how much she enjoyed seeing her old teammates. But more deeply she shared with me her story, how her partner was a woman whom she loved and cared for deeply and how hurtful the disapproval of her relationship by some of her friends was.
She shared with me the reality of the experience she felt as a woman in a same-sex relationship. She told me that in this contemporary and modern era — in the era of social media, and in a time where as a society we consider ourselves more “woke” to the struggles, challenges, and obstacles of groups, outcasts, and those who have been marginalized throughout history — she told me that it is extremely frowned upon to voice dissenting opinion or voice disapproval on LGBTQ issues. But that doesn’t mean that disapproval doesn’t exist or isn’t present.
She described to me how some of her friends and couples gently shunned her, shot disapproving looks in her direction, treated her as a pariah, or unfairly cast judgment upon her. She described to me how frustrating and painful and hurtful this experience was, particularly at a wedding and at the reception. She thought that this event was going to be a time where everyone was celebrating two people finding happiness, meaning, and genuine fulfillment in each other. And believing in this sentiment, she was authentically happy for her friends that were getting married. However, she couldn’t hide the hurt she felt when others could not simply be happy that she also found happiness and meaning and value in a relationship with someone else, simply because that someone else happened to be a woman. She couldn’t hide the pain she felt knowing that people she had known so long and family of friends that she was so close to were able to express their disdain towards her so visibly and candidly. She couldn’t hold in her disappointment for her former teammates and closest friends for not doing more to stand by her and defend her. And she couldn’t help but feel frustrated that other people couldn’t simply be happy that she was able to find someone — that she was able to find anyone — that made her feel some semblance of connectedness with another, especially at a ceremony that was supposed to celebrate the small miracle of another couple finding that same achievement.
Now, I don’t really care how you feel about same-sex relationships, and I personally don’t care — it largely doesn’t affect me and I doubt it will change my way of thinking. And really, I don’t care about other people’s relationships at all — I’m struggling hard enough to find a woman that I feel like I am compatible with and want to spend time with in an age that prioritizes superficiality over depth.
But I share this story for 2 reasons. First, it reminds me that if someone finds meaning and happiness in what they do, you have to be supremely and hugely arrogant to attempt to take that away from them. Here was a young woman who finally found someone she could spend her life with and be happy with. Anyone with any perspective and life experience knows what a monumental achievement that is. My God, how bad would it be to just let those 2 people have that? How miserable does your own life have to be to want to deny other people that small dignity? People find meaning and value in there lives through a variety of methods — through their faith, their beliefs, their work, their family, their relationships, their friends, in others, their hobbies, and/or in living their lives. For you to express disapproval, disdain, and disgust for someone else who is living their most authentic and best life — a life that is freely chosen, expresses their will to truth, seeks to reduce harm/pain/suffering in the world, and creates some small measure of value and good for themselves and those around them — you have to be a truly despicable person and a person of such a petty and unremarkable quality to believe that you have the right, authority, and obligation to diminish someone else or to try to take that away from someone else.
Second, it reminds me that you can have a profound impact on someone else’s life even if you are simply a passing stranger. And I know that I had a profound impact on this young woman (albeit a small impact), because few people had ever expressed this sentiment to her — few of her friends or family. Yet, as her ride-share driver — as a complete stranger — I was able to articulate her experience and empathize with her pain and her life. As a complete stranger, I was able to let her know that there are people in the world that care about the meaning and value she’s found in life. As a complete stranger, I was able to make her believe that there are people that would come to her defense. As a complete stranger, I was able to make her feel that there are people that are genuinely happy that she was able to find someone to feel connected with. As a complete stranger, I was able to make her know that there are people who want to understand her experience without passing judgment.
As a complete stranger, I was able to let her know that she wasn’t alone and that all of our hearts are connected to each other.
An Unexpected and Exotic Perspective
Being a ride-share driver in the Virginia, DC, and Maryland area, I have met a lot of different and interesting people from all walks of life, of all stripes, who all bring an absolutely fascinating perspective and intriguing life story. I’ve had the chance to chat with 5 Congressional staffers and Congressional interns about their work, their frustrations, and their aspirations. I’ve met people who worked on political campaigns on both the Democratic and Republican side. I’ve driven an individual who worked for the IMF as he shared his thoughts on international economic policy as well as domestic economic policy and where he sees the future of trade and free markets heading. I’ve talked with individuals who worked in so many different non-profit organizations with different aims and goals — from removing land mines worldwide, to economic development, to advancing democracy, to promoting issues of gender equality domestically. I’ve even met 3 reporters, one working for a national news network, one working for public radio, and one working for the local news station.
Once, I met a pilot! That was a really interesting experience meeting a pilot who worked and traveled across the country — he shared with me some really fun facts about aviation (if you’re interested in fuel efficiency of jetliners, look up “bypass ratio” and “wingtips”). Literally, 1 day after meeting that pilot, I met 3 people who were from the UK who worked on jet engines for Rolls Royce (the English gentleman had a great one-liner of “cars are the cheap stuff at Rolls Royce; jet engines are where the money’s at!”). I have given a ride to a family of history buffs consisting of a mother, a daughter, and a grandfather visiting from Germany for the mother who was working in New Jersey (the grandfather’s English consisted of “my English is shit.”). And I had a chance encounter with two Canadians who were adamant that they did not speak French (in Canada, they speak Québécois).
And on one ride from the airport to the hotel, I transported a gentleman that made custom bespoke suits for international and high-end clientele. He traveled internationally from Hong Kong to the United States regularly (if I recall correctly, he made the trip 24 times a year). In the US, he would measure his clients and get their specific design requests and would have those suits custom made in Hong Kong. He couldn’t share with me the names of his clientele for obvious reasons, but he did share with me some interesting thoughts regarding men’s fashion. People from Italy tend to have better fashion tastes with regards to men’s suits; double-vent jacket and tapered pants are a must; only 2 buttons on the suit jacket. But his best advice? For men, you need to practice and put intention into looking good, fashionable, and presentable. If you don’t place any value or importance in it, don’t be surprised that you don’t develop your own sense of style and taste, and don’t be surprised that other people see you as lacking style and taste. Style and taste are learned skills, and just like any other skills it requires practice, curiosity, and a desire to learn and improve.
But I’ve also met chefs, cookers, housekeeping staff, nurses, doctors, policy officers, teachers, and librarians. I’ve met parents, students, and both new and old couples. I’ve met concert goers, movie enthusiasts, theater goers, sports fanatics, musicians, and dancers — both amateur and professional. I’ve met people who had been living in the area for decades, the tourists who were having their first visit, the long distance love-birds, the reunion of old friends, the ones who must travel great distances to and from work. I’ve met the old to the young, the typical to the untraditional, the subdued to the extravagant and everyone in between.
One of the most unexpected experiences of perspective I’ve had that illustrate this point was the time that I met a general manager of an exotic dance club and hearing her history and her perspective.
This woman was going out to meet some of her employees for drinks and she shared with me her frustrations with double standards. Though she also had more traditional employment, she told me that when she started as a dancer herself, she made $500 to $1500 per night. And though her employees may dance for any reason, she knew many that danced to support themselves, to support their family, or to pay for school (and with recent college graduates leaving with immense amounts of student, I can personally level with the desire to leave school with as little debt as possible). She told me how she understands how people have the tendency impugn the moral character of exotic dancers, but she shared with me how when she started in the industry, she was raising her daughter by herself and how it was difficult to turn down that type of opportunity in her situation. And that was something I could understand; how many of us would easily and quickly turn down the same opportunity if put in that kind of challenging situation?
And because she worked in Washington DC, she was enormously frustrated by this same double standard and how it played out both on the local level as well as in the national media and discourse. She pointed out that Monica Lewinsky is still publicly shamed and humiliated 20 years after the fact but Bill Clinton is still wealthy, famous, and beloved by many, although at the time, she was a 22 year-old intern and Bill Clinton was the most powerful man in the world with a wife and daughter. She pointed out that women who are exotic dancers are stigmatized much more severely than men who are exotic dancers as exemplified by the portrayal of men in Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL. She pointed out that not much moral indignation is directed at men who frequent such establishments even though they are the ones who are creating the demand that these women who dance supply (and are paid an amount of money that is difficult to turn down). She asked me if Amy Klobuchar were a man, would the news that she was sometimes difficult and demeaning to her staff be as prevalent and highlighted as it was? All of this struck her as immensely unfair and hearing her speak about it and the passion and frustration with which she voiced the perceived absurdity of it all made me feel that same frustration directed at the hypocrisy of it all. Because the truth of the matter is that it isn’t fair; it isn’t fair at all. And you can’t be a person that claims to stand for justice and fairness for everyone if you don’t feel some sense of indignation for the valid points she is making.
Half of the fun of being a ride-share driver is you never know who you’re going to get and what type of person he or she is. And even if that person is not something you’re familiar with or expect, there is still enormous potential for that person to surprise you. Reading this, would you have expected to gain such perspective and insight from someone in such an atypical line of work? These facts help to really drive home the point of never judge a book by its cover. -GP