Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Attracting men is hard!

Hello Space Cadet!

The Fray has always been my favorite part of Dear Prudence, and I'm thrilled to see you all setting up shop for yourselves. It's nice to see a little corner of common sense on the internet.

I've been following the talk about the last week's "Plain Jane" and it's been getting me thinking. And the thinking has made me decide I could use some advice myself:

I've been single for longer than I care to admit. Since I'm writing in for advice, of course, I'll admit it: I last had a date around 2005 (it was a first date, and there wasn't a second), and the last time I had something resembling a boyfriend was in the 20th century. I've had lots of male friends, but they've never seemed interested in dating. I grew up with a brother, and I admit that most of the time when I'm hanging out with guys, I relate to them in a way that's more "one of the guys" than girl-flirty. I like to joke around, talk about music and movies and generally "hang out" rather than flirt. And I don't think I'm unattractive — I don't fit the "typical" standard (I'm a little overweight thanks to an oh-so-fun endocrine disorder, but I dress well and I'm good with grooming and stuff), but I'm not Phyllis Diller, either, and I'm a warm person who is genuinely interested in talking to people, and I have a good sense of humor (I know, self-reporting isn't terribly reliable, but let's run with it, ok?).

I'm a grad student now in a state far from home (MFA in creative writing, if that matters to anyone), and have been here for about a year. I've met wonderful people, mostly in the same program, because finding time to socialize in grad school is...well, let's go with a range somewhere between difficult and impossible. I have a good number of friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, a good number of whom are guys. I've hung out with them on various occasions, usually involving bars because there's not a whole lot else going on around here. I didn't come to grad school to find a man, but I didn't come here to take my nun's orders either.

So my question, I guess, is twofold: 1. Why don't guys find me attractive (wah wah wah, I know)? Is it that they don't see me as available or flirtatious or what have you? How on earth does one telegraph that kind of interest? 3.  How does an insanely busy grad student who is also teaching two classes get a romantic life? 

Thanks in advance!

There appears to be a crisis brewing for available women. The original Plain Jane is one of a throng of millions of competent, well-adjusted women who for some reason feel the need to find out what is wrong with their body or personality that is preventing men from swooning over them.

I am going to stipulate that you are doing everything just right. Your dress, your looks, your behavior, your non-girlyness, I'm going to say, this is you and who you are is just fine. It's not like adopting a mode of flirting that is uncomfortable for you is going to 1) look natural or 2) attract a man who will necessarily appreciate the rest of you. Right? You are who you are, at your core, and while there are parts of your personality that are probably still plastic enough to adjust to living with a partner or what have you, you are, for lack of a better term, pretty much who you're going to be at this point.

It's just about finding someone who likes and accepts you for that core "you" at this point.

And let's not forget: YOU need to find someone whose core "him" is acceptable to you.

And also: figuring out who someone really is can be easy (most people are pretty much who they are all the time at either low or high volume. People seriously will tell you who they are, it's whether you care to listen to it that matters) or hard (everyone knows someone they thought was cool who later turned out to be psycho but possibly only after painful events had transpired. Alternatively, everyone has had the experience of discovering someone they thought was kind of meh was maybe more than they thought).

So Phase one for getting a date: Put out that you are out there, looking, to the people you talk to. You say you have male friends? They aren't necessarily your main target to receive the message that they should put the moves on you, but hey, if that is what they walk away with and it's agreeable to you, gravy! Ways to do this without eyelash batting include: 1) bitching about your love life, or lack thereof. Let the person you are talking to know that you are SO on the market. 2) bitching that you don't know how to flirt (this can, in its own way, be flirty). 3) Asking to be set up, in the context that this person you are talking to knows you, your habits, your likes and dislikes, and might know someone with a meshing personality. (I think, "I didn't come here to take nuns' orders" could count as excellent flirting, BTW.)

Phase two: The Internet. I know, I know. BUT! I know a couple of Internet dating royalty. This guy, the king, I'd say, very wisely said that with the Internet, you have a lot of options to explore, can narrow those options down, and can date a bajillion people in short order. The queen said she'd look for what she found interesting — regardless of what the guy *said* he wanted (self-reporting is unreliable, right? Someone's interest is aphrodesiacal) and send men a message. While there's something to be said for an easy, committed, friend-to-lover relationship, there's also something to be said for having people want to date you, for the excitement of the new. That's why "spicing up your marriage" is in every single Redbook ever.

I suppose that prior to Phase One there has to be a kind of recognition of the desire to date. Like, with Plain Jane, she was all, "I dunno that this scene is for me." And she didn't mean flirting, she meant getting with someone. I know a lot of people like to explore thier own motives and psychological nooks and crannies — and there are cases where this is warranted. But I've spent enough time single to know that there is an unhealthy thing that can happen in your head when you are pounding away at the same questions. There is healthy self-awareness and there is unhealthy beating one's self up with questions, speculations and everything else.

In short, instead of thinking about who you are and what it is about you that is a shortcoming, focus on who and where you want to be and start acting like it. You want to be a writer? You gots to produce words. You want to be a dater? You gots to get out and do that. Both writing and dating are hard, and the real work is not the initial outlay, it's the editing and the exploration of another person, if that makes any sense.

Phase three: Project Me. You know how I said visualize who you want to be? This is part of that. You want to learn to knit or do more knitting? Join/start a stich and bitch. Go to campus events. Lots of them. Lectures, brown bags, plays, etc. Most of them are more interesting than you'd have guessed. If you want a literate guy's arm to hold, you put yourself around literate people. Capische? You find out who you are at your best, what talents you are strongest in, and you put yourself out there and do it and impress yourself.

Phase four: Actual date. Just be you. Don't oversell or undermine yourself. If you're not interested, then whatever. If he's not interested, don't worry about it reflecting on you, it's just a fact of life that some people won't click or share different dreams and it's better to recognize it early on and move along than try to make it work perfectly. If a guy won't have a second date with you, recognize it as a favor, not a black mark on you. If you're interested, make sure you communicate that: "You're pretty interesting," seems to work. Honestly, if you're getting along like hot cakes, this is the best that flirting has to offer.

Anyway, I have been yammering on a lot now. I just think the world would work a lot better if people, women mostly, would accept that they are who they are and there is only so much reinvention you can do. A pair of red heels will not fundamentally secure the kind of relationship that the discriminating dater is after (although they may be really cute!). Attention? Maybe.

I realize I have skewed my advice here, but it also applies to menfolk. No matter what your gender, it takes a little self-awareness, initiative and luck (and social skills). It takes effort. But so does getting a job, buying a car or home, travelling, saving for retirement, planning a party and having pets, so if you can do any to all of those you are way ahead of the game.

Now, mature, self-realized people of the world: Go Forth AND DATE!!! We need your genes and superior parenting skills out there!

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