I found an email this morning asking for practical tips on how to guard your hearts. Guarding one's heart, this reader suggests, is really hard when guys seem to show some cautious interest and then do not follow up.
That sounded very familiar to me because I come from one of those towns where Cautious seems to be every man's middle name. I know a Latina who got very depressed after moving to my hometown in Canada because men didn't seem to notice her anymore, and of course I am always charmed in Italy when seventeen year old boys roll their eyes at me and say "Bellissima!" Complete nonsense, but flattering nonsense, especially when you're 39+.
Anyway, my heart-guarding advice can be divided into having a good defense and a good offense.
The good defense is 1. being rooted in reality. This means constantly telling yourself the truth about some guy you like, even (especially) if that truth is just that you don't even know him. It is just so easy to fixate on a handsome face and make up a story to go along with it. Not that I was fixated on him, but my shock when I first heard David Beckham's voice---!
Sad to say, the only proof that a guy is that into you is that he figures out a way to spend a lot of time with you in person, and not for free therapy, either. If all he wants to do on what you thought was a coffee date is talk about your beautiful best friend, then he's not into you. And why bother thinking all day long about a man who would prefer your friend to you, anyway?
If you really cannot stop yourself from thinking obsessively about some guy, then I recommend that you give him a fake name and write outrageously adventurous or romantic stories about him. This is better than mooning about for it is productive and will underscore the difference between fact and fiction.
Meanwhile 2. don't tell people your secrets, m'kay? Don't try to speed up intimacy (by which I mean a deep, soulful, meeting of hearts) by telling new friends or crush objects or your date The Whole Truth About You, Warts and All. Your secrets and deepest feelings are precious, and there will be emotional payback if you share them with the wrong people or even with the right people too soon. You should approach all first and second dates as if your happiness depended on projecting that you are happy and confident and your life is practically perfect and no man has ever done you wrong, and (if you are asked about him) your ex-boyfriend was a great guy; you just had different goals.
The good offense is 1. light flirtation. Light flirtation means acting and speaking as if you are a fun, confident person who isn't afraid of men, thinks they are awesome and loves a good joke.
I belong firmly in the Don't Chase Men School of Thought, but this doesn't mean I don't belong to the Reel Him In School. Actually, when you think about it, there is the Hunting Him Down School--for "modern women"--and the Fishing School--for "trads."
I recommend the Fishing School. You go where the fish are, wearing fishing lure colours, sit quietly and stealthily, and when a fish comes slouching along and says "Hey," you reel him in with your smile, your sense of humour, and your other-centeredness. Other-centeredness means that when you talk to somebody, you are 100% conscious of your audience and the effect your conversation is having on him. It means noticing, for example, that he is wearing a sharp tie, and saying, "Hey, sharp tie!" You cannot sit like a lump; now is the time to shine. Fake it till you make it.
The late Queen Mother was apparently an absolute genius at being able to talk to everyone in a crowded room while giving each and every one the impression that he was the one she had come to see. This quality is called charm, and I think it a very useful quality to have.
Now, it was pointed out to me in my last year of Singleness that I only ever flirted with people that I was obviously never going to go out with, e.g. my female friends and elderly Irish priests. Flirtation when you are Single is like a high-wire act without a net, but I suppose one needs to be bold--and to pretend we don't care what happens if we tell the guy we've had a crush on for six months that he has beautiful eyes. (For the record, I think that is okay as long as you don't contact him afterwards. By the way, if his friend should afterwards sneakily ask you what you think of him, say you think he is a great guy--"Why do you ask?")
Meanwhile, once you have chatted lightly and brightly with your fish, you must let him go and go on your way, forgetting all about him until he swims into view again. Easier said than done, I know. If it's any comfort, this gets easier with practice and age. Practice on the guy behind the counter at Starbucks.
Guarding your heart does not mean looking and acting like an icicle. It means staying rooted in reality and dealing with men as they are and not as who you would like them, or fear them, to be. It means not filling your head with stuff you make up but with facts. It means not forcing deep, soulful conversations or telling your secrets to the wrong people or too soon. Paradoxically, it also means unleashing your inner Scarlett O'Hara--talking to men as if they are delightful, amusing people whom you are lucky to know but don't take too seriously. In short, project happiness and confidence, even if you have to fake it, which we all do at least some of the time. People like happy, confident people.
And don't call them. Let them call you. If they don't call you, forget them. Men generally show what they want to do by doing it. Simples.