Being vague about my intentions and interest in a woman may have saved my male ego but it also created a breakdown in communication.
I went to an alumni event for my alma mater and I confess I went because I expected good food, free wine and the chance to meet some interesting people. My expectations were fulfilled. I met an attractive woman who graduated seven years after me. We chatted about a number of topics we had in common, and I later called and asked her if she’d like to meet for dinner.
We had a very pleasant meal with a lot of laughter and some in-depth conversation, but when I walked her to her car for a hug and peck on the cheek, I could already feel her tension, something I attributed to a normal fear that the end of the evening would turn into a gropefest.
She e-mailed me the next day to thank me, but when I responded that we might meet again, she told me that she had a boyfriend.
It took me aback on several levels. First, I thought we’d connected and there was mutual interest. It was unpleasant to realize that my perceptions were obviously flawed. I have to admit, it made me a bit angry and I allowed myself to wallow in a bit of disgruntlement, particularly when I told the story to several friends, all of them male, who agreed that it sucked.
Then I asked a woman friend about it. Her response: “Maybe she didn’t know it was a date.”
I admit the thought had occurred to me, but I operate under an assumption that when two single people agree to have dinner together, there is an implied understanding that the purpose is to explore whether or not there is any mutual romantic interest. Note the words “assumption” and “implied.”
I realized that to protect my ego, I frequently construct situations that create ambiguity over clarity. And now my ego was eager to seize on the concept of victimhood rather than digging deeper.
I think it also explains why some of us go to singles events or date online — because everyone is there ostensibly for finding a romantic relationship. But that’s also why those venues are so horrid and artificial, like interviews and auditions, and are fraught with the insecurity brought on by judgment.
When I asked the woman to go to dinner, I didn’t think she would accept the date if she weren’t open to exploring what I thought was our mutual interest. In my mind, when she agreed, it meant there was interest. It didn’t occur to me there could be another perspective. If I had had been more direct and asked her if she’d like to go on a date, we could have avoided the whole misunderstanding. Yet to be that direct, would have made me vulnerable to rejection.
We’ve all learned that if you tell the truth — what you’re really thinking and wanting — you can get into trouble. You face potential embarrassment, rejection and humiliation. Directness and clarity take courage. Still, it would be nice if women would cut us a break and realize the extent to which our self-worth is linked to our ability to attract them.
Women can assume that 90 percent of what a man says or does, consciously or unconsciously, is about getting her attention on a sexual or romantic level. That’s why friendship between men and women can be so problematic. Men tread a fine line between being honest and not being obnoxious; we have to be able to show a woman we’re interested, yet maintain some subtlety and class. And there’s the precarious balance between being sensitive and being seen as a wimp.
It’s interesting because SingularCity (the social networking component of Singular magazine) takes the drama out of getting together with activities and events where hooking up isn’t the primary purpose. The point is to be in a comfortable setting where people just enjoy each other’s company — and that makes sense. However, the reality of how we’re conditioned can make this “I’m just here to have fun and make new friends” ambiguity a difficult terrain to navigate.
Obviously, the event where I met this woman — an alumni or business-networking event — is not overtly a happy hunting ground and yet, between my ears, I was setting objectives and I suspect it’s similar for most men. It’s only when we can step back and see the dynamic from another perspective, outside of our heads and with empathy for the other person that real clarity and honesty can occur.
I think that’s really the best way to begin any friendship or relationship.
Copyright © Tom Bunzel/2012 Singular Communications, LLC.