A friend suggested I check out a chapter from Norah Vincent's Self-Made Man,
which is the story of the year that Vincent attempted to pass as a heterosexual man. I haven't read the entire book yet, but the chapter my friend suggested is entitled "Love." The author says that her most difficult, her most challenging experiences as a man ("Ned") were with dating women. Ned was stunned by the blatant hostility he received as a man, hostility that wasn't due to anything Ned had said or done but that seemed to be targeted at him purely because of his sex. Vincent writes:
For [these women], as for so many of us, romantic hurt equaled romantic blame, and because they were exclusive heterosexuals, romantic blame was assigned more often to the sex, not the morals, of the person inflicting the pain (100).
In essence, when a woman is hurt by a man, she assumes that ALL MEN will behave this same way. Her guard is up before the man has even spoken, before they've even met, and their courtship is about him trying to prove otherwise. Instead of thinking, "You're innocent until you prove otherwise," these women are thinking, "You're guilty until you prove yourself innocent."
I know I've been guilty of this in my past, and letting go of the baggage from relationships past (and not letting it sabotage my relationships present) is one of life's biggest challenges. It's one of my ongoing challenges. A friend of mine, a single (but dating) New Yorker in her early 40s, has advised me to keep my guard up around Mr. Nice. She tells me that I need to not put myself out there too quickly, to keep my options open, to be prepared for the worst. And while I understand where she is coming from -- and even agree, to an extent, that of course you need to be careful about making yourself too vulnerable around someone you've just met a few days or weeks ago...real trust and intimacy takes time to build, after all -- I can't let myself live in such a negative way. I need optimism if I'm going to make my life -- and my quest for love -- work.
Quite literally minutes before my first date with Mr. Nice, my attitude shifted. So often with dating, especially with on-line dating, I approach the date thinking, "What's the point of getting excited about this when I know it won't work in the end?" With him, I let myself get excited. I thought to myself, "Wait a second...what if this DOES work? What if this DOES turn into something real? Isn't that kind of exciting to think about?" And I carried that positive attitude into our date and he noticed it, liked it, was attracted to it.
That isn't to say that I walked into our date with a marriage proposal. No, not at all. I knew it was only one date. But I walked into it open to the possibility of meeting someone special; I walked into it thinking, "This is a person I want to meet" as opposed to "This is just another man who's out to hurt me."
A couple of years ago, doing research for a writing project, I went to an all-woman dating seminar. The teacher was talking about this very subject. She told us that she talks to men, good and kind and sincere men, who often ask her, "Why do women always have their arms crossed? Are they holding their breasts up?"
It's a subtle movement, but it's a sign of the defensiveness that so many women carry inside of them. And it's a self-fulfilling prophecy as our defensiveness pushes men away time and time again.
Ladies, I think it's time to uncross our arms.