“I think he might like me,” I told my husband, in reference to a man at a coffee shop.
“What do you mean?” my husband asked.
“Well, he was smiling and taking interest in me,” I answered.
“Honey, he doesn’t like you; he doesn’t even know you. He is attracted to your body or something about you physically. That is different from liking you.”
“Oh,” I answered.
The next day, as I was heading out the door to go to the grocery store, my husband said, “Remember if a man looks at you because he is attracted to you that doesn’t indicate that the man likes you. You are a very pretty woman who some men find attractive. But their attention doesn’t mean they like you.”
I found his words to be a mixture of both comfort and confusion.
I am slowly, very slowly, learning the social innuendos regarding communication with men. I never knew there were so many unspoken rules when speaking with men. It’s fair to say I’ve got the female social interactions down, but now there seems to be this whole other guidebook regarding men.
I think, for me, having not had the example of a healthy father and mother relationship, nor brothers, or even uncles that I knew well, as a child, meant that I never had the chance to really learn how to interact with a man, except single men I sought after to make my husband. (starting at age six)
And, I guess, too, the actions of predators in combo with the uncouth behavior of some other men, added to my confusion of my place in the world as a woman.
I only had one male friend as an adult for a very short time. He wasn’t actually a friend, really, more of a member of a support group that I belonged to, a man about fifteen years older than me, who I once in a while saw outside of the support group–maybe once or twice. I was involved with another man at the time—obsessively. So I never saw my friend as anything but a friend. And I was like a little sister, to him.
Interestingly, after lacking in male interactions for over four decades, I’m still looking at males the same way I did when I was six. They might have aged, and I might have aged, but the little girl inside of me is still wondering is that my prince?
It doesn’t matter that my husband adores me, and that I think he is a very dear man. I doesn’t matter that I logically understand that there is no prince out there. What matters is I still have this pattern. I still see men as someone who I want to make love me. That if they love me then I am of worth. But this love isn’t based on how they see me inside; it is based on how they see me outside.
Likely, (obviously) there are still some Daddy Issues; the holding, hugs, kisses and I love you’s from a father that never materialized.
The fact that I need validation of my physical worth from a male, more so than a female, and that indeed a female’s opinion of me, unless repeated over and over, does null for my self-esteem, is troublesome.
Logically, I recognize that the opinion of another is not a reflection of my worth, but somehow I still hold onto a man’s words and actions towards me more than my own belief and love of myself.
I’ve grown up some in the last few months, grown up to the point that I am hyper-aware of my thought processes, actions, and my emotions. There are very few moments in the day that I’m not an observer of self: outside of my own body watching me exist and walk through the steps of my day.
I understand what I am doing in regards to the power I grant men. I used to think it was shyness, now I think it is a not knowing, a not understanding, a confusion and displacement of ease. Standing near any man close to my age or older, causes my ears to turn red and face blush. Almost any grown male seems to put a magical spell of nervousness, meekness, neediness, and insecurity upon me. I naturally become a shy, flirtatious giggle machine, complete with batting eyes and the flushing cheeks.
I realize that I was basically unseen and unnoticed, very much invisible, in most areas of my life, until I blossomed at the age of fourteen and began to gain attention based on my appearance. I was homecoming princess, popular, and dated a very handsome boy. I learned then that my looks could serve as a form of power: a way of being seen.
I learned to equate being seen with having worth.
I am starting to reprogram my prior learnings.
I am interacting with males more and recognizing they are no less powerful or magical than females, that their opinions are not more important than others’.
The hardest part is I still don’t understand the nuances of male/female communication. I don’t understand how much I should look into a man’s eyes, how close I should stand, how I should smile, what my tone should sound like, what topics are socially appropriate. I don’t understand what most people seem to learn subconsciously through experience.
I understand now how often men have actually flirted with me throughout my life. I understand now why, in high school, I shouldn’t have been having an ex-boyfriend massage my back when I was involved with a new beau.
I am starting to understand how I surely give out mixed signals, matching and mirroring a male, thinking that reacting as a mirror-image is the safe and appropriate technique. After all, it works with females!
I feel so very alien and unprepared for earth, as I approach the male zone.
In dealing with male encounters, I don’t want to come across as a prude, or rude, or stuck up, or extremely shy, or as a flirt. I just want to come across as me. The problem is I don’t know what that looks like.
I’ve trained myself to make facial expressions based on my environment and whom I am with. I’ve trained myself to act in the best way possible, to not lose female friendships and to not embarrass myself.
I don’t have a natural facial expression. I don’t know what that even means. It used to be, if my face was relaxed that my mouth was downturned, and I then appeared mean and unapproachable. For a few years, I walked about with slightly puckered lips. Silly, but true. Now my face has been trained to be in a constant puffy-cheeked smile in public.
I looked at my husband the other night, as he was checking me out, and I said, “Okay. So I’ve added a new understanding, a new rule to this computer brain of mine. I have new input. I now know that a man looking at me doesn’t mean they like me. But now I am confused, because you look at me with desire all the time. So does that mean you don’t like me? Does that mean you only care about my body?”
My husband then spent the next several minutes explaining to me about the concept of getting to know someone, of how attraction can turn into like, and like to love, and then, after time, the person is liking the whole of you.
I stared back at him with a quizzical expression. My eyes grew wider. “I don’t understand,” I said. “In all my male relationships (boyfriends) I loved the person as soon as I met them. It didn’t change. It doesn’t grow. It just was.”
I went on to explain my perception of love. That yes, indeed, I can grow to respect a person, to enjoy their company, to take great pleasure in learning from them, and grow in companionship and familiarity, but that my love doesn’t grow. It remains the same.
I began to see, through my husband’s explaining, that clearly I don’t experience life as many people do, particularly love. I don’t experience relationships in the same way, either—or communication.
Last night while at the local store grocery store, I asked a handsome store employee for some help finding a dessert wine. I know little to nothing about wine. Just asking a man for help is a huge step for me. I have to stop myself from staring at my feet, stuttering, giggling, and staying stuff that is just plain stupid.
He asked if I was going to need the dessert wine for dinner, for dessert, or after dessert, and what dessert I was having. He said this while staring deeply into my eyes, as if searching, and connecting. I stared back for a while. Locked eyes. I was processing.
I didn’t know why I wanted the wine, or what I was going to have the wine with. I just wanted to have something sweet. I processed how the man was looking at me, and I did what I knew to do, I stared back, mirroring the man, as I processed his communication skills thinking: This man is really good with eye contact. I wonder if my mascara is smeared. My ears are on fire. I am nervous. Can he tell? I’m so glad I have this hat on.
So many thoughts, so very fast. With even more intense eyes, I offered, “I don’t know why I want the wine; I just want to drink it.”
I think I came across as giggly, clueless and cute, perhaps even flirtatious. Not my intention.
The man was standing very close, and very, very kind. (I think) He spent five minutes with me giving me a mini-lesson on wine, and showing me his favorite. I kept thinking: He doesn’t like me. He might find my eyes pretty. That’s why he can’t stop staring. And I think he swiped a peek at my butt, but he doesn’t like me.
The entire time I was listening to the brown-eyed man, I was simultaneously analyzing his body language, his choice of words, his proximity, his inflection, his everything. I noted there was some attraction going on, but I couldn’t tell if he was interested or flirting, or just nice to everyone.
In retelling the story to my husband, he took in the clues and observations of my encounter with the store worker, and reported that likely this man was somewhat interested in me. He reminded me I was an attractive woman. (He lingered at my beauty for awhile. Bless the dear man.) He explained that if a man instead of a woman had approached and asked this employee about wine, he likely would have been shorter in his explanation, not have locked eyes the entire time, and not smiled and offered out his favorite wine. He wouldn’t have been standing as close either.
I still don’t know. I told my husband, in all seriousness, (and while slightly tipsy from the port wine in hand), that I’d like him to come to the store with me the next time and stand back an aisle or two away, and watch how men approach me and interact with me, and tell me if they are flirting.
He said, “Honey, I really don’t take pleasure in watching other men pick up my wife.”
Hmmmmmmmm. Hadn’t thought of that.
For now, I guess I’ll keep watching men watch me, and calculate what it means. Take note in my little imaginary spy book. Note that a stare at my bottom doesn’t mean like, and definitely not love. Note that a prince isn’t likely out there roaming the wine aisle waiting to take me away to his castle to live happily ever after. Note that the attention towards my outward appearance doesn’t note my worth. Nor does the lack of attention. And note that though I may appear to others as an experienced butterfly, I am still very much a naive nervous caterpillar quivering inside.