Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Pleasure of Your Company

As you know, I get a lot of Auntie Seraphic emails. And I think I must get some of the best-written emails out there because they are usually so crystal clear. They have an excellent narrative structure, dialogue, and lots of detail. I read along quite easily, and my mind says, "Uh huh, uh huh. Mm hmm. Good. Uh huh. Yes. Oh, wait. OH NO!!!!"

Sadly, there is all too often the great train wreck moment, which is all too easy to recognize because of the train wrecks of my own life of dating, which began when I was fourteen. Incidentally, I would never, ever, ever allow my daughter (if I had one) to begin dating at fourteen. My mother decided I could because she had been invited by an upperclassman to the prom when she was fourteen. In 1962 or whatever. Definitely before the world went to hell. Me, I would be like, "Darling, there is no point in you dating until you are of marriageable age. And if you have trouble finding anyone, your daddy will introduce you to historical house loving viscounts of clean life."

I would be the most awesome mother of the 2030s.

Anyway, I won't put the most recent email up yet. Instead I will harp on a theme inspired by its train wreck, which is "Never sound too grateful to have been taken out on a date."

Imagine a purely hypothetical reader--not the writer of this email I am thinking of--who is, say, 22, and hasn't dated all that much. Many of her friends--it feels like most or all--back at her super-religious college got married to their college sweethearts shortly after graduation, leaving her feeling like chopped liver. She is a pretty, intelligent, loyal, chatty, fun girl, so she doesn't know why she doesn't get asked out on dates. (Hands up all who identify with this hypothetical reader.)

However, then something great happens. She gets asked out on a date by an NCB. She isn't sure how she feels about this guy, but he's accomplished, good-looking, has a good character, goes to Mass. So she goes on the date, and it is a great date. They talk and talk and talk. And--huzzah!--they go out on a second date. And they talk and talk and talk and after dinner and the film, the guy still wants to talk, so instead of taking her home, he invites her out for drinks, and they talk and talk some more. And when he finally takes her home, your hypothetical fellow reader gushes, "You know, I never dreamed ever in my life that someone could be so nice to me."

No third date.

"What happened?" wails the hypothetical reader.

"What happened?" wailed my real reader, of her situation.

"What happened?" I wailed several times, of various of my own situations.

All over the world, resounding through the ages, are the voices of young women wailing "What happened?"

I'll tell you what happened. First, there was too much talking. Second, the dates went on too long. Third, the hypothetical reader sounded pathetically grateful, as if she had been lifted out of the gutter, hair matted, wounds festering, flies buzzing about, and bathed clean by Mother Teresa so that she could die in comfort.

That is no way to talk to men, m'kay? Men are horrible savages who are lucky that women pay them any attention at all.

No, I take that back. I love men. Men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. But a man who is completely deprived of female company is not the self-sufficient hero of individualism he might pretend to be. He is greatly to be pitied. If there is no-one around to pity a man who cannot get as much as a kind word or a hug from a woman, he pities himself. He is tempted to write bitter misogynist screeds on the manosphere and, worst case scenario, starts plotting to shoot women at his health club.

In short, if a man asks you out for dinner, or to a film, you are doing him a favour by going. He is paying you a compliment, and you are bestowing the pleasure of your company upon him. For up to two hours (maybe three), he has a woman's undivided attention, or at least her presence as you watch a film, play or lecture together. This is a big deal in Man Land, especially among men who can't ask women out, for a variety of reasons, or who have been refused time and time again.

However, this does not mean that men are itching to have big heart-to-heart, three-hour-long chats once a week with the same woman for the rest of their lives. That's what good female friends itch for. And, despite first and even second date evidence to the contrary, men get very bored by hours and hours of chat. It's like they have a limited number of words they can say and (especially) hear, and if you let them use them all up on the first two dates, there will be none left for a third date.

The solution to this problem is to keep early dates short. SHORT. Coffee date = one hour, and then you must dash. Dinner date = two hours max and then you must dash. Dinner and film date = no drink afterwards although you'd love to, but you really must dash.

Another wise thing to do is to keep a lid on your most private and personal feelings and memories. The idea, as in all entertainment, is to keep them wanting more. If Mr Date finds out enough about you on Date 1 to (wrongly, of course) thinks he has you figured out, he might not be curious enough to ask you out on Date 2.

And, for heaven's sake, you must not look or sound pathetically grateful to a man for asking you out because if you do, he will start to wonder if there is something wrong with you. Men look to each other for cues as to how to treat women, so if you give a man the impression that normal behaviour for men is to ignore you, then don't be surprised if he drops you like a hot potato.

This is not an invitation to go to the other extreme and act like a "princess." (Real princesses, by the way, are trained from birth to make other people feel special and happy in their presence.) This is just a reminder that as a woman you are more important to men then they generally want to admit, for fear of looking vulnerable or stupid or whatever, and it is perfectly natural for them to ask you out, if they do. It is a nice compliment to you as a woman, and you are paying them a compliment just by saying yes.

At the same time, you value yourself and your time as so valuable, that you have only so much to bestow upon any man not your kinsman or husband. Your most private thoughts, feelings and stories are for yourself alone, or to share with proven friends, because they are so valuable and you would like others to know you hold them valuable. Capisce?

Take it away, Stevie.


Em said...

Oh man. Soooo true. It comes back to the whole men are not women point, therefore, do not treat them as such.
It is hard to hold back though, especially if you don't get asked on dates often/ever or if you really like each other and get along well.
Seraphic, does this guideline hold for male/female friendships too? Should we refrain from several-hours-long conversations or time spent in each other's company?

Urszula said...

I agree one hundred percent. But I don't think you'll be able to convey the point to men that your time is valuable until you internalize and believe yourself that your time is valuable.

I remember when I was going through a terrible crush on a guy who wasn't paying any attention to me that one of my friends suggested I read the book "Why Men Love Witches" (you know the actual word). I read it from cover to cover, but I was terribly disappointed that it didn't make me any happier or my pursuit more successful. Here I was, projecting confidence, playing busy, carefully allotting him only so much time in a day, and pretending I was happy and fulfilled, and yet? Nothing!

The point I failed to take away as another friend kindly pointed out later is that I should have been building a life outside my crush object, a life that was happy and fulfilled, instead of just pretending in order to impress him. In other words, I had missed the whole point of the book.

Lesson learned. A few years later, I'm now a much more Seraphic Single. The book helped in more ways than one.

Perpetua Peccatora said...

First off, oh. My. WORD.

I have been in that position all too often, but I never knew what it was that turned guys off. Auntie, you have opened my eyes. I see what I've been doing wrong in dating, and while I've been reading your blog for some time now, this is the first piece you've written that truly spoke to me. (Don't get me wrong, I love reading the blog; this is just the first truly applicable piece of advice I stumbled upon for me, personally). Thank you!

Seraphic said...

Em, yes. Unless they are your brothers or your cousins or very elderly men or very, very young men. Like twelve years old young men.

Urszula, I always meant to read that book. I should read that book. Out-of-date bestselling dating advice books are my special love.

Perpetua, my feeling is that it doesn't matter so much that I spent my teen years and twenties completely uprooted from reality if I can help other girls with the lessons I learned. So I'm glad this post spoke to you.

Urszula said...

Is the book really out of date? I read it a few years ago. I have to caution I don't agree with everything that is in it, and some of the examples might offend younger and more sensitive readers. That said, I thought it was a helpful, secular kick in the pants to get me to see reason. And behind all the dating advice, its message - that women should focus on making themselves happy, and let men do the chasing - strikes me as very "Rules-y".

n.panchancha said...

^What Urszula said. :o) (Though I haven't read that book.)

Andrea said...

I totally agree with this advice. While I have never said the words thank you for taking me out, or anything along those lines, I'm sure I've conveyed "too much interest" just by being surprised that I'm actually interested in someone while on a date. That's because it's Rare, and I've been dating for Too Long. :-)

for example, I was recently Bored out of my Gourd on a date, and subsequently got a text from the guy asking me out for the next weekend on a Monday, about five minutes after the date ended.

This was inevitable, because I wasn't actually interested in him. But I feigned polite interest in order to be polite and respectful.

Do you have thoughts on how to feign the experience of being on a date with someone I am not interested in when I actually am interested?

What a convoluted question.
Hopefully you get the point.

Seraphic said...

Andrea, I will have to sleep on that one.

Urszula, it probably isn't really "out-of-date", just a few years old now. But I mean what I say--I love old relationship books and usually I pay attention to them only after they've been around for awhile and the official buzz has calmed down.

Amusingly, the advice from book to book and decade to decade often overlaps. It's just repackaged again and again, with a new voice or some new creative insights, or a word about new technology.

Mustard Seed said...

If a normal friend/relative invited me somewhere all expenses paid, and I didn't thank them, wouldn't that be rude? Is just saying "thank you" overly grateful?

If a man has a good time with me at dinner, but hates talking, why would he ask me to get drinks/dessert and talk some more afterwards (assuming he doesn't have any ulterior motives like getting me to drink too much)? This doesn't make sense to me.

I understand the idea of having my own life and doing things that make me happy, but I don't see what that has to do with acting aloof when you're actually interested - it seems like acting that way sends a false message.

Seraphic said...

"All expenses paid"--shudder. Presumably it's a cup of coffee and a bun or supper or at most supper and a movie, not a holiday in Cancun. And presumably the whole point is to share time and a nice experience together.

Obviously I am not saying "Don't say thank you" or "Pretend you are bored." I am saying, "Don't tell the guy this was the highlight of your life." (Girls actually do do that.) Be yourself, but don't act like there's no tomorrow and just stay out as late as you both like.

Men do all kinds of things that make sense to them at the time, and then they wonder the next day why they feel bored and disappointed now. A lot of them have the EQ of carrots, which is why we have to practise self-discipline not only for our sake, but for theirs.

There's a post in that.

Seraphic said...

One problem with the "all expenses paid" line of thinking is it suggests that men ask women out either out of a spirit of avuncular generosity, or to get something. "I buy you dinner, you [fill in the blank]."

But that is not what the good guys are thinking. The good guys are thinking, "X is really pretty and nice. I'd like to have dinner with X and talk. I wonder if X would actually come out to dinner with me and talk. Because that would be great. I would be so happy. That would be such a treat for me."

It is NOT about dollars and cents (or pounds and pence or zlotys and groszy)! The reason why men invite women to dinners in restaurants is not to spend the money but so they don't have to cook and so that you are in public. A man can't just invite you alone to his house for dinner and a film; it wouldn't be respectful. It might send the wrong message.

Mustard Seed said...

Oh goodness! I just used that "all expenses" phrase without thinking about it, but I am 100% on board with not jetting off to Cancun! Anyway I appreciate your response and agree with what you said :)

Urszula said...

Nobody advocates being impolite in any of the dating books I've mentioned. What they do advocate is having a sense of your own self-worth. Your time is valuable, your attention is valuable, and men should realize that. If they don't, they need every so-subtle hints.

Even if you don't feel your time is valuable, think of all the other ways you could be spending your time instead of listening to this stranger talk - out with friends, babysitting your niece, doing your favorite sport or even just curling up on a couch with a good book.

I think that if you gush a man about how wonderful he is and unexpectedly well he treated you, he might feel he has a chance for other forms of 're-payment' - I mean, you are sooo grateful to him, right?

In my experience, a simple 'thank you' or 'thank you, I had a lovely time' (if the latter is true) is completely sufficient. It's like the rule to simply say thank you for compliments ie about your clothing and not say "oh this old thing, it's a hand-me-down, I'm surprised you like it".

There is a difference between being cold and entitled, and being self-confident. Nobody advocates rudeness, just restraint.

Also - some men just like to listen to themselves talk. They don't necessarily have to be in love with you to ask you out so that you can listen to them talk.

Sorry if I'm a bit vehement. I learned these lessons the hard way, and would love to spare others.

Jo said...

On the flipside of this, I have had quite a few experiences with the young man acting tremendously ungrateful for an evening out that they were so enthusiastic about arranging (very bizzare, considering the actual 'dates' were not so bad). I think perhaps this may have something to do with the fact that they've had too many experiences with girls expecting men to be their personal attendant and checkbook more than good company. Some men are so sensitive about bill-paying that they get disgruntled when one does not appear absolutely foaming at the mouth to split it.

Also, I think at some point something needs to be said about young men who are in the habit of ambiguously asking young ladies out to "dinner" and really just meaning, well, dinner, or at least wanting to keep up the appearance as a safety blanket just in case they happen to embarrass themselves or have a miserable time, so they can avoid calling it a "date." Our complicated female brains go bonkers about this. Perhaps this beckons back to the whole discussion about the modern concept of "boyfriends and girlfriends".

Seraphic said...

Jo, I have had a think. And my think is not all guys are good and a lot are seriously immature. But also, there's only so much gratitude a guy is going to feel for the signal honour of being allowed to take a girl out, especially if he does this all the time.

If a man asks a woman out to dinner, and they have a good time, and she says "Thank-you, and he says "You're very welcome", then that is that, unless he wants to ask her out again.

He probably will if there was a real spark, and the date didn't go on too long, and there are no serious personality impediments on his part, e.g. "I don't want a relationship; I just want to have animalistic sex"--which is a quote, incidentally, from a guy who went out once with a friend of mine.

I don't think your average guy has been burned by women who treat him as a cash machine and a personal attendant, but that he has heard urban legends about men who are treated that way. Any man who acts or speaks as if he thought most women were money-grubbing whores is strictly to be avoided.

Don't, by the way, believe the Roissy narrative of who women are.

As for paying, whoever invites is expected to pay. End of story.

In Seraphicland, Single women don't ask men out, but not being naive, I know Single women are going to keep on asking men out anyway, so if they do, they had better not expect Mr Man to pick up the cheque. (And they must smile sweetly and make a show of dismay if the man insists on paying half.)

If women do expect men to pay on the dates that the women arranged themselves, they are merely enforcing the rumour that women-in-general, not just prostitutes, use their wiles to separate men from great god cash.

If Mr Man asks out a girl and gets mad because she doesn't say, "Oh no, please no, let me pay my half. Oh, come on," then he doesn't deserve a second date. End of.

As for men saying "It wasn't a date, it was just dinner!", well, that's their way out of a situation that makes them unhappy. There's no law that a man ever has to ask you out on a second date or consider himself your boyfriend after three dates or that he can't ask you out for this Friday and some other girl for this Saturday. Men have free will, and until they have made some kind of clear, verbal, unmistakable commitment to one girl, they are free to see other girls or not to see her.

"Hey, what gives? You took me out on a date and then nothing!" "No, I didn't. It was just dinner" is not a conversation I would ever want to have with a man.