Yesterday my brother came to my house; perhaps for some Christmas cheer but mainly, I soon gathered, to borrow my phone (he lost his). “Can I go on Facebook?” he asked. There was a girl he wanted to talk to. When he went on Facebook he laughed – “She wants me to join them in Hermanus!” Hermanus is about two hours’ drive from us, far for someone who doesn’t have a car, but my brother was undeterred. He is an expert hitchhiker, carrying his guitar and guileless smile as hiking props, and he always gets lifts. To him the whole thing is an adventure.
“It’s Christmas day,” I said. “The roads will be quiet. Besides, it’s looking like rain.” “Yes but she’ll come pick me up in Kleinmond,” he retorted. Kleinmond is still an hour and a half away, but the matter was decided. He put on his tweed jacket, French beret, and got his guitar – he looked like a travelling songster, which I guess he is. And he went.
The story started about a week ago. When I went to the restaurant where my brother works he told me he met a girl. Nothing unusual about that; as his one friend told me: my brother has more game than anyone else he knows. The fact that he mentioned it, however, was noteworthy. “We met and had a great time talking and then there was this dodgy drunk guy who had to sleep over at her place, so she asked me to come over too just for in case. So we got to know each other some more,” he told me. “I’m going to ask her on a date.” The next time I saw him he had news. “It’s so funny,” he said. “When I went on Facebook to friend her and ask her out for a drink, she had already invited me and asked if I wanted to go out sometime.”
Things escalated quickly: two days later he told me she’d bought him R400’s ticket to a trance party she was also attending, when he told her he couldn’t buy one himself because he had to make rent. And then, next thing I know, he’s joining her and friends for Christmas. “I don’t know if she likes likes me, though,” he told me before leaving. “She’s really friendly, maybe that’s just the way she is with everybody.” Yes, but does she buy trance party tickets for everyone? I thought. And replied: “Well, not being sure makes it more fun. You don’t want it all at once.”
And you don’t. A certain level of uncertainty keeps things interesting, especially at first. There is something to be said for the hunt, or the dance two people enter into when they start being interested in each other but are as yet uncertain whether the other person feels the same. The text messages. The conversations. The tension.
But I admit I felt jealous of the simplicity of my brother’s approach: sees girl, likes girl, parties with girl. Is invited to party with her again. The only possible obstacle would be if she had a boyfriend, which she patently doesn’t. Barely a doubt as to his own ability to win her enters my brother’s mind, or it doesn’t seem to. There is no agonising, no tactical back and forth.
I wonder if the girl feels the same too, though. I know I wouldn’t have. After having bought him such an expensive ticket I would have spent about two days feeling awkward about it, wondering whether my gift was too much, too soon. Whether I was making my interest too obvious. Whether I should be letting the man do more of the chasing.
That is what annoys me about dating: all the bloody rules. I have no idea whether it’s the same for men, but it feels to me as if the whole dating scene, as a woman, is fraught with shoulds and shouldn’ts. Ever heard of the book “Act like a lady, think like a man”? In a moment of utter stupidity, about two years ago, I read it. The only thing it did was to completely and utterly confuse me (also, I took exception to the title, but that’s a story for another post). Basically, the book’s premise is that a man is won by not being overtly desired (initially, in any case), by not being chased at all, by being refused sex for at least two months, and by not being intimidated by anything unfeminine in the woman (which includes: argumentativeness, swearing, too much focus on her career, smoking, any hint of promiscuity, and any conversation where the woman intimates that she might not (gasp) need the man). However, she must manage to make him feel manly and needed without being needy – take note, that’s very important. (There were a few good principles in the book too, but I don’t have time to discuss that. I’m all into righteous anger right now.)
You might as well ask me to stop breathing. I can do all these things, I can turn into a simpering sweet being, I have done it before, but that has always left me as nervous as a cat walking through a minefield. As with not breathing, I can only maintain it for a few minutes before I turn blue. There is no point in not being liked for yourself, after all. I get not being too aggressive. I get using some intuition to draw back when needed. But all that simpering yet hard-to-get stuff?
Here are some snippets of advice I have heard and read (and, admittedly, sometimes given): Just be yourself. Let him do the chasing. Don’t expect too much from him. Raise the bar and let him know exactly what you expect. Don’t talk too much. Don’t be too opinionated. Be flirty and talkative – you don’t want him to think you’re a wallflower. Ask good questions that get him talking. Disagree with him sometimes – that’s a good challenge. Admire him, agree with him. Be vulnerable so he wants to protect you. Be independent. Don’t cook for him. Wow him with your cooking (we all know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach). Don’t immediately have sex. Have sex – show him you’re a passionate woman. Don’t call/text him for three days after going out. Don’t be shy to let him know you’re interested – let him know in a flirty text message. Always look pretty when he sees you. Don’t wear too much makeup – be natural. Show off your good bits, be it legs, breasts, or eyes – just not all at once. Don’t show too much cleavage. Don’t flirt with other men. Flirt with other men so he knows you’re a catch. Don’t be too friendly with his friends. Become good buddies with his friends so he knows you’re fun. Don’t demand too much of his time. Put your foot down when you are feeling neglected.
So, correct me if I am wrong – to “catch” a man, one should: do a whole lot of things that are not only counter-intuitive, but also do not correspond at all. Be vulnerable. Be independent. Be beautiful. Be real. Be admiring. Be challenging. Be undemanding. Be uncompromising. In between, sneak in bits of being yourself so the whole thing is not an entire lie.
The problem with the above (one of many) is that it demands a whole lot of strategizing. And it gives us the idea that, should we be able to pull off doing all of these things, no man is invulnerable to our charms. In other words, if a man has managed to resist, it’s because we did something wrong. This makes cartoon characters of men: all falling for the same thing, all liking the same girl. It shallows them, and women’s perception of them, of what they want; and in the process it also shallows women. I read the other day in “The Women’s Room” something which really made me sit up and think (I paraphrase): If a woman shows interest in a man and then changes her mind, she is deemed a ‘cock-tease’ (one would hope this has changed since the 70’s, but, being friends with a whole lot of men, I must admit I still hear that word. A lot). However, if a man shows interest in a woman and changes his mind, the woman wonders what she did wrong.
On a slightly different note: I got a pair of glasses about a month ago, the first I’ve worn in ten years. Unlike when I was a teenager, I didn’t give a flying fuck whether I would look nerdy, and started wearing them everywhere to rest my eyes from contact lenses. To my surprise, and again very much unlike ten years ago, they were a big hit. As in, a huge hit. The first time I walked into a club, within ten minutes I had gracefully declined to give my number to two people, been gifted a shot of strawberry vodka by someone across the bar, and been asked to dance by a variety of people. And I came with guy friends, usually a big deterrent.
Unsure whether this was just a fluke, I wore them again. Now, let me tell you, there is nothing sexy about interrupting your dancing every 30 seconds because of having to push your glasses up your sweaty nose. Or about the way the strong lenses make my eyes – my pride and joy, normally – look half their actual size. Yet somehow every time I would push my glasses up my nose and regain vision, I would catch men looking at me. One told me he really has a thing for a girl with glasses. One asked me whether I’d ever “had a British man”. Many just sidled up to me and tried to sneak an arm around my waist. I suddenly went from the okay-looking girl dancing wildly and completely unaware in her corner to the object of everyone’s attention.
It was disconcerting. Flattering, too, until I started feeling annoyed. Here I am, the exact same person I’ve always been, but because I am playing into some naughty librarian fantasy I am suddenly desirable. It’s not about my scintillating conversational skills or my great dance moves, it’s about my glasses. A prop. How’s that for being myself? And, contrasting what I said earlier, how are women supposed to think men are not all into the same thing if they seem to so definitely be?
Here’s another thing I noticed: people were offended when I said no. They would retreat back to their friends and sit holding a beer, glaring balefully at me for the rest of the evening. Some went all passive aggressive and told other guys: “don’t even try hitting on her.” I had dared to enter the domain of ‘hot girl’ without complying to its apparent rule: being grateful for the attention I was getting. In exchange for a stamp of approval, I must walk the tightrope of approachability without falling into the abyss of cheapness or being easy.
A lot can still be said about this. I have a myriad stories and opinions myself, having, in my as yet shortish life, had quite a wide range of odd experiences in dating. I don’t have a beautifully lyrical ending for this post, though, no conclusion I can definitely draw to nullify all the problems with dating. I don’t quite know what the solution is, I see only the problems. I would like to say “let’s all be ourselves and it’ll all work out!”, but trying to function outside of the formula can get rather lonely when everyone else is still buying into it. Nonetheless, I will continue being myself, resolutely, see-sawing back and forth as I figure out exactly what that means within this context. Screw strategizing. Screw agonising.
I’d love to hear your experiences of what I have mentioned, men’s as well, very much so – stories, odd advice you have been given, something to laugh or gasp about: lay it on!