After blitzing through season 5 recently, I was recently catching up on the latest episodes of Mad Men. Though the show always has lots to talk about, what struck me was a tiny moment (spoiler!) in which Don needed the simplest of looks from Sylvia Rosen to know he should head back upstairs for another ‘romantic dalliance’. The reason it stood out? If I had been given that look, I would have nodded politely, headed off to work, and spent the rest of the day wondering what it meant.
In fact, my life has been a litany of missed and misunderstood romantic looks. There was the New Year’s Eve party in which repeated, prolonged glances from a woman only made me exasperatedly respond “What?!” There was the time I dropped off a coworker at 5AM and, when she cocked her head and asked me if I wanted to come in, I obliviously said “No, it’s late, I’m gonna’ go home and sleep.” I’ve even had a woman analyze my hopelessness at the end of an evening: “yeah, there were a couple of times that were perfect for you to kiss me… but you didn’t.”
It’s as if I were absent the day everyone else got their Romantic Moments 101 Handbook. Once during grad school, we had our last class at the professor’s house. There, over beer and talk of the sublime, I kept glancing at another student, who kept meeting my gaze in return and smiling. When class was done, we said farewell on the street and—while she stood next to her boyfriend, mind you—she looked intensely at me, with an expression you might describe as…. pleading? Apparently I was supposed to do or say something so that we could… what? Meet later so she could cheat on her boyfriend? I have precisely no idea.
But then, that’s just the way my life is. When I walk into a bar or a party, I feel as if everyone is speaking a completely silent language made up of looks and gestures that only they understand. I think perhaps that’s why I find Mad Men so compelling: it’s full of people who all know how to interpret this mute world of meaning. And I guess that’s why Don Draper is the perfect anti-hero. You can tell he’s an awful person, but you’re still jealous of his prowess. He would have known what those looks meant, would have known the next move to make—and he would have done it, too.