Although I enjoy doing it, sometimes I feel that in writing this blog I am atoning for the sins of my youth. One of the sins of my youth was not understanding that men are the moral equals of women, and if you prick them, they bleed, etc. I know exactly why I thought they weren't, but I'm sorry I did. Thinking boys my age were either gods (my crush objects) or monsters (the majority) or pets (a minority) or my brother Nulli (alone of all his sex) stunted my social growth and made me a careless, and ultimately heartless, girlfriend. Oh, and incidentally I thought that "being somebody's girlfriend" was an indicator of social success quite apart from the business of marriage. After all, "having a boyfriend" was a central value in elementary school. Note the emphasis on possession.
Frankly I don't remember when it was that I acknowledged men (especially sexually active men) were 100% human, with hearts as bruiseable and breakable as women's hearts, and not at all disposable. Surely it was before I was thirty-seven. But I was thirty-seven when I was suddenly bowled over by the horror of bad female behaviour. I was sitting in my brother's new house, into which he and his wife had moved within days of the birth of their son, talking to an old friend on the phone when she informed me that she had left her husband and (temporarily, as it turned out) children. Her husband, a quiet, intelligent, successful, very kindly, somewhat sickly Catholic man, was someone I had always respected. I knew him well enough to know how absolutely devastated he must be. And in the traditional female manner of jumping from A to Q to Z to B, I thought at once of my brother and his wonderful new life depending completely on the love and loyalty of his wife, the mother of their newborn son. My blood ran cold. Surely she would never....?
My ethics prof at theology school called points in time like that "moral moments", and this moral moment showed me that whatever wicked men do, and however unpleasant my co-ed elementary school, and however ghastly the status of women in the Third World relative to men, women have no right to treat men like disposable objects: "He's not a bad man, Seraphic, but he's not the right man for me right now."
So. Down to those shy guys who pester you with their attentions as your reward for having spoken to them in the first place. How this situation is handled divides the women from the girls, or perhaps the ladies from the wimmin.
The pursuit of happiness. If women have the "right" to it (debatable but leave that aside for now), so do men. And one of the enduring goals of good men is to find a wife and have a family.
Some men find this difficult because their minds go blank when girls are around. It is not their fault. It is just something that happens.
Some men find this difficult because their quirky personalities, so normal in their quirky families, seem so odd to others.
Some men find this difficult because their interests are shared only by people much, much younger than themselves. Single people end up with single people, and the vast majority of single people are under thirty. At thirty my dear brother was a pillar of his local university's comic opera society, and the more immature undergrads thought he was as old as the hills. If he had shown them any courtship behaviour, they would have screamed, "Creepy! Creepy!"--never mind what absolutely splendid marriage material my brother was and is.
Readers often moan to me that men never show them any interest. Extra questioning sometimes reveals that this is not actually true. Lots of men show them interest. The problem is that readers don't have any interest in those men. That's quite a different issue entirely, and we must be rooted in reality.
In my experience, good, quiet men want to be with women who are pretty, whatever pretty means to them, and kind to them. They are not interested in chasing social butterflies here and there. They want one woman to stick to and build a life with--someone pretty and kind. And a girl who comes up to them and starts chatting to them after Mass or at a party where he is sitting alone, bored and frustrated, may seem very kind indeed.
Every good Catholic guy deserves a shot. This has been my position for seven years, and I see no reason to change that now. If you discover a quiet man constantly lingering at your elbow, or sending you texts, but never asking you out, then I suggest you invite him out for a coffee. Use this coffee to ask straight up, "Are you interested in me as a friend or as a potential girlfriend?" He may blush and gape like a goldfish, but it's a simple question. A or B. 0 or 1. Wait for the answer. When he tells you the answer, say "I'm glad to know for sure. This is what I think." And tell him what you have so far decided.
This may be that you are interested in him only as an acquaintance because you have very little in common. This may be that you are interested in him as a friend because you have a lot in common, and you think he is well worth knowing, but you don't feel a spark. Or you do feel a spark, but that is not enough because dating and marrying only someone who is an X [Armenian, Jewish, Catholic, vegetarian, etc.] is indispensable to your happiness. Or you think you'd like to see him again, perhaps over dinner, to discuss this potential girlfriend thing.
This is the kindest, most charitable, most humane and most adult manner in which I can conceive of as a solution to the problem of the shy guy who, having been so thrilled by your friendly willingness to talk to him, begins to hang around or even behaves in unusually silly ways, like gaping at you, and rushing from rooms in floods of tears.
If you are a Searching Single, it is not okay to imagine that you are a victim simply because a man you are not sexually attracted to has a crush on you. If a stranger you know only through the internet shows up at your door or gets your phone number through unknown means, okay, that is indeed creepy and alarming. But if we are talking about a young man you know through your social circles, there is nothing at all creepy about a young man doing what you wish the right young man would do, i.e. become romantically interested in you.
It is very cruel--and believe me I have my eyes fixed on my own sins here--to tell everyone in your set how very creeped out you are by the quiet man's clinging behaviour. If it gets back to him, and it very likely will, he will be devastated. The relationship between you and the quiet man, however tenuous, is your business, and you must take care of business, not put it off as long as possible while complaining about it to endless third parties. Imagine how you would feel if you really liked a guy, and he was really nice to you to your face, but behind your back he was telling everyone how creeped out he was by your quiet-but-obvious attempts to attract him.
Yes, men--and women, too--can behave in socially inept ways that make others uncomfortable. They are not being inept on purpose. They may not even know they are inept. I'm not sure it is kind to tell them unless they ask. Quite a lot of people think what they read in novels or see on TV or watch in romantic comedies is real, and that they show exactly how life is now, today, universally. And if you have reasons--very good reasons, like his persistently appearing at your elbow or door or "liking" every statement you make on Facebook--to believe a quiet man is "that into you" when you are not "that into him", then it is your duty as a woman, an adult woman, a lady, to settle the matter as soon as possible. Offer a friendly, confidential "Let's have coffee," not the dreadful "We need to talk." Talking is not the quiet man's strong point; why terrify him?
One last point, though. If he refuses to take no for an answer, if he whines or tries to make you feel guilty, if he insults you or calls you a bigot because dating and marrying only someone in your own religious or ethnic community is so important to you, NUKE HIM. Tell him that is utterly unacceptable and defriend him on Facebook. And let me tell you, this behaviour is not limited to quiet guys. In fact, I think quiet guys are less likely to behave this way than cocky, confident guys, the witty kind who are great with put-downs and openly despise men less popular and talented than they.
The socially inept guy is much more likely, in my experience, to flee the scene weeping. If this should happen to you--it has happened to me--take a deep yoga breath, summon the waiter and order a comforting piece of cake.