A while back, I had a crazy idea. For the first time ever, I decided to go to a male strip show. I know -- for most people, that isn't really a crazy idea.
But hear me out. First of all, I live in the south, the part of the south everyone warns you about because it's the conservative capital of the US. It's where anything that hasn't been pre-approved by the Bible is not an activity option, the sweet tea flows like water and you hear "bless your heart" at least a dozen times a day.
Sex is just not something you talk about here, let alone simulated public sex with half-naked men and pop music. Still, I was intrigued, so I did my research. I knew a little bit about strip shows, but the closest I had ever gotten to one was seeing "Magic Mike XXL" on IMAX.
There happened to be a performance at one of those back-alley dive bars in town. They were a traveling group, bringing a taste of seduction to our neck of the woods.
After standing in line and handing over my ID for a few drinks, I found myself in the middle of hundreds of screaming fans, drunk off skin, sweat and muscles. I had just gotten out of a bad relationship, and I needed a distraction.
As I watched several chiseled and muscular men raise both women and men above their heads, pretend to perform oral sex, dance in tiny thongs and press their pelvises against people of all shapes and sizes, I realized these men exuded a confidence I hadn't seen before.
Yes, part of it may be because that's the job. That's how they make money. But something intrigued me. These men, who were mostly my age, were putting themselves out there for people they didn't even know, and were allowing themselves to be completely carefree, without fear of judgement by the audience.
If that's not the best lesson in self-confidence, I don't know what is.
These male dancers were baring all in front of an audience, something so many people couldn't imagine doing.
I watched as they picked up people of all genders, from 100 pounds to 300 pounds, and treated them as if they were gods and goddesses to be worshipped. They treated everyone with respect, regardless of who they were, what they looked like or where they came from.
A couple hours later, the show was still going, with just as many people clawing at the stage for the chance to get grinded on by some of the best strippers in the country. I had wandered out of the large crowd and sat on top of a small bar table with a drink in my hand. My friend had left me for a few minutes, and I was visibly alone.
As much fun as I was having, I couldn't stop thinking about how upset I was about relationships in my life, and how unhappy I was.
Suddenly, a tall, burly man came up to me. It took me a moment to realize I had seen him on stage earlier. He smiled at me and politely held his hand out like a gentleman. "Why are you sitting here alone when you're so beautiful?" he asked. I laughed and jumped down from the table, my eyes only coming up to his pecs.
The stripper placed his muscular arm around me, reaching his hand across my back and taking my hand in the other as he began to dance with me. He told me he noticed me from across the room and wanted to talk to me.
And as weird as it sounds, we did talk. We talked about all sorts of things. He described to me his life back home, all of the places he had lived and how he loved his family.
The dancing was only a side job, and wasn't a career he was interested in pursuing. We had great conversation and every time he had to leave to appear in a dance number, he pushed through the crowd to come straight back to me.
Real or not, he saw me. Whether it was a part of the job or a feeling he had, he still spent his evening with a girl sitting with a drink in her hand, wishing she didn't have to feel things anymore. Although I knew it was highly unlikely I'd go riding off into the sunset with a male stripper, something about him was different.
He was intrigued by me, and I was by him, too. He reminded me how beautiful I was, and how confidence didn't always come easy, even for him. He reminded me confidence wasn't about worrying if people liked him -- it was about being OK with it if they didn't.
We talked throughout the night, and yes, he even gave me a couple lap dances. It was a ton of fun, but what stuck with me was that lesson on confidence.
Sometimes, you have to be open to learning lessons in the most unexpected places.