Offering a hand as flirting with social order

I look down at my drink; I do not want to look too eager. Would she have initiated this conversation if she did not want me to come back to her place? Would it be too ‘forward’ of me if I make a direct offer? Is there an invitation to be taken up or am I intruding?

In this moment, I am aware that I would like to further develop my relationship with this woman. Is this why I am so acutely sensitive to rejection? I am encouraged to push it a little as the vibe I am catching from the other two people at the table is that it would be a mutual beneficial match.

I am not sure if it would be easier or harder to negotiate if this was not my first visit to this group. Yet the timing is perfect, as I have not booked in anything else that afternoon. Well, it would mean missing out on grabbing some lunch and I would not mind a stronger dose of caffeine than the very weak tea I am drinking at the moment. However, the freedom to overlap types of encounters with people who live in this suburb is exactly what I want for my fieldwork.

This was some of the hand-wringing I found myself engaging in when we were chatting about Jan’s dilemma for the afternoon. Jan had a steam-cleaning contractor coming to clean some of her carpets, but she had things on the floor that needed to be moved. With my heart in my throat, I did end up offering assistance and, with the mediation of one of the other volunteers, it was agreed that I could visit in the afternoon to help move things before the carpet cleaners came.

I perceived Jan to need help because she did not have certain physical capacities. To me, positioning somebody as needing help implies an ordering of capacity. I wanted to be careful about not treating Jan as ‘an object of care’, which suggests that I had the power in the situation to assign object status in the first place. It was not just that moving things for the steam cleaner was going to take up time that she could spend doing something else.

The others present at the table exclaimed out loud that it would be a way for Jan to assist me with my research. In doing this, they represented it as a mutually beneficial situation. I could provide some menial assistance literally in the form of my two hands but Jan would help me with my project.

That Jan would be extending help to me was only named after it was already agreed I could go over to help. In other words, if she declined my offer of help it was not that she would not have been refusing to help me because that had not been named yet. Once I was going over anyway, the situation was represented [re-presented] as one where I was being helped rather than being the helper.

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