I’m hard to get, but I am easy.
Sounds like a paradox, but it’s really not.
A few months ago I overheard a conversation between two women. One of them, a very attractive young lady, was complaining that she had gone on several dates with a man who she liked, and wanted, very much. She was frustrated because he just would not make a move. Frustrated, and confused.
I could relate very much to that story because I am the guy in the story. Not THAT guy of course, but I have likely put women in that situation many times in the past. Probably more times than I am conscious of.
The first time I was conscious of this was the summer after I graduated from high school. I went camping over the Fourth of July at the Wisconsin Dells with a group of kids from a circle that I was part of. An eclectic mix of super smart kids and kids from across the tracks. One of them was a cute young cheerleader (CYC) who I had a tremendous crush on. I knew, or at least I THOUGHT I knew (an all too common affliction of mine) that she had a boyfriend in college.
The scenario starts with cars parked in a field watching the fireworks. I was sitting on the hood of a car, leaning back against the windshield and dressed in the common attire of young gymnasts. Cutoff shorts, and nothing else. At some point CYC, who was wrapped in a blanket, offered to share her blanket with me. It was still pretty warm out, so I politely declined with a “No thanks, I’m okay.”
There were other intermediate activities that don’t clutter my mind, but what stands out is the part where it is late, much of the group is sitting around a fire, and CYC is apparently asleep with her head in my lap. She wakes and says “we should go in the tent.” I followed her to the tent, and she cozied up in her sleeping bag. I didn’t have a sleeping bag, just a blanket, and as I was laying it out she offered to share her sleeping bag with me. Once again, it was a warm night, and I said “no thank you, I am fine” and went to sleep.
The next day I was informed by one of my male friends that a certain CYC was very angry with me, and it was only at that point that I realized that I had quite likely missed out on an opportunity.
This speaks to certain cluelessness, and a deficit in deciphering social dynamics. Who is attached to who, who is unattached and looking, who is not looking, and who is looking, are all very much mysteries to me. I attribute that to the fact that I was legally blind through my middle school years, a period that I believe is very instrumental in learning to decipher the way social interactions in the world work.
In the second semester of my freshman year my vision was assessed, apparently for the first time, and found to be on the order of 20-400. No one had ever noticed before, and I had no frame of reference. I always had my face buried in a book and excelled through middle school.
The face of the optometrist’s assistant who slipped on that first pair of glasses was indelibly burned into my mind. Before that time people did not really have faces if they were more than a foot away from me. Any kind of subtlety of expression, or any expression period, over any distance was completely invisible to me.
I can now “see” those subtleties without really seeing them as I have no meaning attached to them. If they are sending a message, that message sails completely by me, or worse is misinterpreted. In my ballet class, for example, when the teacher is providing direction for me from the front of the room I have a very difficult time interpreting it, and it is only when she is right in front of me that I can really understand what she is conveying.
That problem is compounded greatly in social situations involving multiple people, and my tendency is to become overloaded and freeze up. For example, much of what is said in conversations when multiple people gather for dinner at a restaurant just flies right by me. I am at my best up close and personal.
What is an advance?
The other morning I started up a conversation with a young woman who was standing next to me at the condiments bar at my local coffeehouse while I drew myself a glass of water. I asked if she was inclined to spend a lot of time seasoning her coffee. As she added a single packet of sugar to her coffee she responded that she already knew what she liked, and punctuated that with a smile and a very definite and pronounced wink. My response was to wish her a great day and I then proceeded to my next order of business, which was my morning yoga flow in the parking lot. She was exiting when I re-entered the coffee shop a few minutes later and was noticeably cold toward me.
The question in my mind was whether or not I had once again missed an opportunity, or even scorned an advance on her part. I am very good at starting up conversations with people I meet. I like to know where they are from, what they do, what they would like to do. I do have a preference for young (a relative term to my 67 years) women. There is, however, a dividing line between actions, like most conversations, that are purely social, and those that are sexual in nature, like steering a conversation towards a sexual topic. Let’s define those actions that are sexual in nature as advances.
Given the smile, but not the wink, my normal course of action would have been to engage her in further conversation. That was probably the best choice in either event, but the wink seriously threw me off my game!
Was that wink a green light for some kind of an advance, or was she herself making an advance? If so what would be an appropriate response? That is where I freeze up. One of my guiding principles is “Do no harm”, and here I find myself at a choice point where I either do nothing, or try to make an advance into an area where I have no skill, have no confidence in my interpretation of the situation, and could potentially do harm through my clumsiness/cluelessness. In such a situation I will take no action every time. If I err, I want to err on the side of caution.
While some actions—i.e., asking for date (sometimes) through exposing oneself (always)—are clearly advances, the question of what constitutes an advance is really up to the target of that message, and that complicates matters greatly. I recently inadvertently put the brakes on a developing friendship just by using a heart emoji in a text message. The recipient of that message had a history that included sexual abuse by a coach when she was younger. While my intention was just to express happiness at our impending meeting, to her it was a glaring red flag and constituted an unwanted advance, one that probably caused her a great deal of pain, and that in turn caused me pain.
Noah Levine wrote “Against the Stream” about his Buddhist beliefs, and he devoted a chapter to sex. He said that sexual energy is one of the most potent forces that humans have to deal with. By itself there is nothing wrong with sexual energy when used skillfully—it is the unskilled and unconscious use of that energy that is damaging. While there is a technology (flirting) for safely moving through the intermediate steps that would ultimately result in positive sexual relations, that is a technology that I have no skill in. I have the initial connecting part down quite well, and to the observer I might appear to be a total flirt, but have no skill in moving past that point.
Columnist Charles Blow in a recent column entitled “This is a Man Problem (New York Times, 11-19-2017) wrote “We have to focus on recognizing an imbalance of power during sexual dynamics so that men better understand the implicit “no” even when women don’t feel empowered to articulate a “no.” We have to focus on that space after attraction is sparked but before we are sure that it is mutual and reciprocal: the unrequited advance, the unwanted touch, the stolen kiss.”
I think that I have developed some facility in recognizing those implicit “no”‘s. For example, if a woman is wearing a wedding or engagement ring, or if she talks about her husband/boyfriend/girlfriend I take those as an implicit “no”. If I attempt to initiate conversation with a woman and she does not engage with me, that is an implicit “no”.
If I attempt to initiate a conversation with a woman and she does not even acknowledge me, that goes way beyond implicit. It is a definite no, and I have overstepped her bounds. She is probably sick of fending off advances by guys who don’t even know the meaning of the word ‘No”, let alone any kind of implicit ‘No’. Please note that does not happen often, not because I am so irresistible, but because I go by the rule, “When in doubt, don’t”. For me, the default state is ‘No’, unless proven otherwise beyond a reasonable doubt.
I’ve got morals, but I can be had!
I have zero facility, however, at recognizing an implicit “yes”, and that has cost me at times. In one particularly poignant episode some years ago I met a very beautiful woman at the beach. She gave me her phone number and I called. We had a lunch date where I picked her up at work, and then a few days later a dinner date.
After dinner she invited me in to her apartment. We had some drinks, conversation, and then when it started to get late I told her that I had best be going as I had a very early morning. She saw me to the door, but before closing it she stepped out onto the porch and proceeded to give me probably the deepest and most intense kiss I have ever experienced. Then she said “goodbye” and closed the door. She also stopped returning my calls, and I interpreted that kiss as the revenge of a woman who felt herself scorned.
There may have been an implicit “yes” in the fact that she invited me in after dinner, but I would like to live in a world where a woman can be that friendly to a man without triggering some kind of unwanted advance. I was trying to be respectful and looking forward to future dates, but if she had delivered that kiss before I left, then I would have seized the moment. Or a simple “kiss me, you fool” would also have sufficed.
My own “prime directive”, so to speak, is to never put a women in the position where I am making her uncomfortable by making an unrequited advance. I have a very high standard for what constitutes a green light to move ahead, and that is what makes me hard to get. That used to bother me, but my perspective has changed since the #MeToo movement surfaced and made explicit just how prevalent the problem of unwanted advances is among men stalking women. Now I consider it a virtue.
There have been women who have penetrated my defenses. Those who have tried to work within the system, so to speak, have had to work very hard. The first was my ex-wife, K. When I was a senior in college she was a freshman, and one of her objectives was to find a husband. I was the captain of the gymnastics team. She came to a meet, saw me, and set her sights on me. She came to every meet, would hang out afterward and talk to me, yet I never asked her out.
In the spring my friend Ramon decided that we would offer a Communiversity gymnastics class (open to individuals both from the college and local community) with the express purpose of meeting girls. K signed up for the class, and most of my time was spent spotting her on the uneven bars or helping her with her back handsprings. It took a couple of months before I finally asked her out. Once I did things moved right along, and we were married in just over a year. She was the first and only girl that I had dated to that point.
My diffidence in the area of making advances does not stem from any lack of attraction. I love women! “Chat with a pretty girl” is one of the top items on my daily bucket list. The male beast in me would love to have them all.
I confess that when my attention is captured by a woman, the beast in me gives her a yes or a no. That initial evaluation, based solely on physical attractiveness, is a) not actionable–there is no hooting, comments or cat-calls–and b) continually modified if and when I establish contact and actually get to know the person inhabiting that body. An initial “yes”, which essentially says “I’d like me some of that” morphs into “This is someone I would like to get to know better”.
Then there’s the short list. I am not out trying to hookup, although such rare and wonderful experiences are certainly welcome. If I were I’d be hanging out in bars instead of coffee houses. What I really want is a life partner, someone who I can go all in on. Someone who will join me on the journey through life. Someone who I can forge a mutually supportive relationship with. The short list has women who I feel I know well enough that if they were interested I would be willing to go all in on.
I have gone down that path three times in the past, and have met with disappointment each time. The first was my wife, K. I thought that I was set for life, but when my Ph.D. studies in Mathematics stretched beyond her timeline for doing things like buying a house she found someone who already had one and bailed on me. My last sojourn was eleven years ago with E, but she was more interested in having a servant than in having a partner. That lasted four years and was a very costly experience financially, emotionally, and physically and has taken years to recover from.
That short list is very short. I know a lot of amazing women. Unfortunately for me most of the women I know who are potential candidates are already attached. The kind of woman that I am looking for tend to stay in relationships that are working, and I am very happy for them. That does, however, shrink the pool for me.
As for those on the list, all of them are women whose friendship I value, and I am averse to making any kind of advances that would compromise those friendships. I try to make sure they know that they are valued as I continue to build relationships with them. I have tossed some chum into the water, and I am waiting for a bite.
It’s Always Ladys’ Choice
In the meantime, my motto for when and if to cross that dividing line from the purely social to the potentially sexual is “It’s always ladys’ choice in my universe.” I need a DEFINITE yes to move ahead with anything that could be interpreted as a sexual advance (her interpretation, my intention be damned), and that means that the woman has to make the first move.
If you are a woman who is in the kind of situation as the young lady in the introduction please be aware that the hesitation that is driving you wild may actually be an indication of just how much respect he has for you and how much he values your friendship. He may be dying to kiss you, so why not help him out?
So how am I easy? Once I know what the boundaries are I am fine. Strategies that women have used in the past range from “Just grab ’em by the p****” (no, not pussy, and a ploy that was only attempted after she had already gotten me nude in her hot tub with her. On one other occasion a woman got me nude in a hot tub with her but nothing happened. Just being naked together does not reach my standard for a green light), through “Just start kissing him” (which has has had a one hundred percent success rate to date), to just asking.
My particular favorite came when I was living in a house with three women, A, V, and J, and the teen daughters of A and V. V had already been successful with me on a couple of occasions with the “Just start kissing him” strategy, so it was already household knowledge that I was easy. J and I were both on the rebound from aborted relationships and feeling low when J suggested that we go and see a movie. At the theater she taught me the Junior Mint Game, where she made a trail of Junior Mints on my leg from my knee leading up to the prize that she was interested in and proceeded to gobble them up. That worked!
I have also been set up, at least once that was successful, although I think that I may have botched an attempted set up just last year. If that is the case, then I apologize to all concerned. Again, there was no lack of attraction or desire, just my rather high threshold for a green light.
Of course none of those strategies would have been necessary if the women involved had just asked. So ladies, when faced with a situation where you have been getting close to a man and you are wondering, hoping, waiting for that first kiss, you might just say “Would you like to kiss me?” You can get a lot of mileage out of the question format “Would you like to…?”, and it allows someone like me to see clearly what the lady’s choice is. If I know you, I am very happy to please.