Monday, 13 August 2012

No Boyz Allowed

Serious Singles can have a good laugh at this next post and ignore it. If you are a Serious Single you are free from one of the most annoying obsessions of female, nay, of human life in general. I have a lot of admiration for Serious Singles, the Zen masters of social life.

When I delve into the problems of Serious Singles, people who are quite content to live a celibate (and chaste) existence, the worst one seems to be employers and colleagues trying to make them do more than their fair (or paid) share of work because "you're Single and don't have a family."

Of course such employers and colleagues are to be resisted because Serious Singles have lives and families like everyone else. It is up to the Serious Single to volunteer to help lighten the load for people with kids or to take on the night shift on Valentine's Day if they wish. They shouldn't be bludgeoned into it by the ignorant.

By the way, all unmarried adults should have a friend or relative or doctor look at their backs every once in awhile. I know a priest who had skin cancer on his back and he didn't know for ages because, of course, nobody, not even him, could see it.

But onto the subject of this post, which will be of interest to Searching Singles and to the eavesdroppers, because as a matter of fact nothing is more likely to get the attention of the eavesdroppers than a post called "No Boyz Allowed." Or so I gather from certain of my male friends who follow up remarks that they no longer read blogs with remarks about my latest post.

Oscar Wilde, who was so interested in and sympathetic to women that his wife changed her married name and that of their children, famously wrote that women are "sphinxes without secrets." This is, of course, complete nonsense. Women have a lot of secrets and retain an air of mystery as long as we don't reveal all our secrets. Some of our secrets we should never reveal, as a matter of fact, but ponder them in solemnity and take them to our graves.

This is not just because it is imprudent to tell certain secrets but because it is necessary, if one is the kind of woman who likes being admired by men, to retain some air of mystery. Otherwise men get bored. They are so easily bored, bless their little hearts, although not by "Mythbusters." If you don't know many men and want to find out what they are all about, watch "Mythbusters." In the UK, just consult the "Quest" channel on telly. I can barely unglue B.A. from it, and he taught philosophy for ten years or more.

This is not to say that the only popular women are the mostly silent ones who say little but mean much. Au contraire. Lots of chatty women win male hearts, from soulful philosophers to merry little bagpipes like me.

It depends on the individual, concrete male heart, of course. You would think from English literature that no man alive would fall for women who carry out breathless monologues featuring "And then she said [...] and then I said [....] and she said [....] and then when I next saw Paul he said [....} so I said [....]" but some men must fall for them because a lot of married women carry on like that and their husbands nod along approvingly and shake their heads at the perfidy of Paul or add such affirmations as "Can you believe that?"

So there is hope for chatty girls, although I personally would counsel not to chat so much, at least not about people your audience doesn't even know. I would also counsel against using unladylike, ungentlemanly language, as many men find it depressingly masculine and the sort of thing they hope to avoid by speaking with women.

Information about yourself you should offer only in small amounts, like sugar cubes to horses, and you should never, ever feel obliged to tell very personal information. Of course, you should certainly have an answer for general things, like your likes and dislikes at the ready, or else you will seem dull.

Dinner Host: And what do you do when you are not writing?

Seraphic: Well, I am learning Polish.

Dinner Host: Polish! How unusual.

Seraphic: It is certainly difficult.

Dinner Host: Dear me, dear me. And what else do you do?

Seraphic (thinking hard): Hmmm... Hmmm....

Weeks later, I realize the answer to that is "I go for long walks" and "I go to the Scottish Poetry Library and read Zbiegniew Herbert and writing magazines" and even "I do the laundry and tidy up a bit."

It turns out that relatively few people in Scotland are at all interested in the Polish language, so that can be a bit of a wash-out as conversation material. One of the most important things to remember, if you are a chatty type, is that listening is not as much fun as talking and therefore you must be very careful not to bore whomever you are speaking to, either with your subjects or with your apologies for your subjects. If you see your listener yawn or his eyes shift longingly around the room or body (especially feet) gradually turn in another direction, it would be a good idea to change the topic.

One way out of a conversational jungle is to ask your interlocutor a question about himself, one that he cannot answer with a simple "Yes" or "No." This works like a charm on men from chatty cultures, although it can fall flat with suspicious Central or Eastern Europeans.

Seraphic: And what will you do while you are on holidays?

Suspicious Central European: Why do you want to know?

Seraphic (feeling very tired): Please excuse me. (Flees.)

And that reminds me of the very great importance of women simply vanishing from time to time without much of an explanation. This is, I think, one of the great charms of the sadly disappearing (almost entirely disappeared) British custom of women suddenly rising from the dinner table and leaving the men behind.

This is commonly misunderstood as a misogynist custom. In fact it is a way for women to escape loud masculine conversation, which gets louder as the port gets passed around, and cigar smoke and, indeed, the table. It is not comfortable to sit at the table for hours on end. It is nicer to lounge about in the drawing room scarfing chocolates. And it is not like the men are gone forever. You get them back eventually, if you want them, and you can sober them up with coffee. And you have all the fun of looking at them, when they enter the drawing-room, as if they have just missed the revelation of the Greatest Secrets in Life.

Meanwhile, I got along with men much better when I stopped hanging out with men so much and started hanging out with girly girls. As much as I enjoyed being The Only Woman at dinner with male religious, I discovered that after all I more enjoyed being a girl among other girls and being chatted up by laymen at parties. I have no scientific evidence for this, but I think girly girls have some kind of magic man-attracting fairy dust that can rub off on their more outwardly serious-appearing sisters.

Update: Fruit of May's women's retreat in Krakow here. Go visit and increase AJ's hits exponentially!


Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Hobby questions are so tough I think if you have unusual hobbies. They're now telling folks to put "interests" on resumes (because I'm sure my interests and hobbies will help me be a better summer associate or intern, sure, definitely). I also have unusual hobbies/interests, so I always have to explain what I mean by them, or else mention travel and reading.

In Russia I once taught an English class focused on small talk - and one student was adamant that any kind of personal information was a terrible idea. This prohibition even included "Where are you from?" because a few regions are quite prestigious and in those regions everything else is backwater (which is silly). On the bright side, once you are friends with them, they are very very warm. That student said books and movies were good topics, so maybe start with those, find a common book you like, and you can ease into slightly more personal getting to know you questions. :-)

Charming Disarray said...

What if you can't leave, though? What if there's no drawing room? There also used to be rules about not discussing religion and politics at the dinner table, and they existed for a reason.

Anonymous said...

They're now telling folks to put "interests" on resumes (because I'm sure my interests and hobbies will help me be a better summer associate or intern, sure, definitely).

It depends on what those hobbies/interests are and what level you perform them at.

Excellence in almost anything will make you a more attractive candidate for many positions; there's a reason why a lot of i-bankers are former college athletes.

Likewise, if your hobbies are relevant to the job you are applying for, then list them. If you want to be an immigration lawyer and your hobbies are learning foreign languages and volunteering at a local ESL school, it shows that you're serious and not just applying on a whim.

This all makes sense when you realise that the people giving this advice are talking about "hobbies" in the same way that the Vanderbilts and their ilk spoke about their summer "cottages."