Part I: On Opinions
The thing about being single and not-as-young-as-you-once-were is you start to worry everyone thinks something is wrong with you. And then you start to worry they are right. And of course there is a sneaking, creeping suspicion that perhaps you have a third-eye and no one has told you.
Everyone has an opinion. We live in the AGE-OF-OPINION (caps lock feels appropriate here) when people offer them up freely and without prompt. Occasionally they offer them up even after you’ve expressly requested they please.do.not, thankyouverymuch. Opinions are funny things--quite often flimsy and ill-informed. There is an episode of Frasier where Niles says, I like to know what I think before Maris [his wife] tells me. I think of that line most days. The sentiment resonates.
When you are single and not-so-young-as-you-once-were people are especially keen to offer up ideas. Most of the time they sound something like this: Oh, you should really date someone like so-and-so. Oh you really should keep an open mind. Oh, you should definitely go on a second date with that person you’ve already said you do not like because you never know! I will concede that I can’t imagine or dream up the man I’ll end up with (usually that’s the comment that follows). I do not know who I’ll sit next to on the subway tomorrow or who will walk through the door of a restaurant in two years time; I haven’t a clue. But I do know what I like. And what's difficult about the language above is that it is laced with this: Your gut is not to be trusted. You are not your own best advocate.You do not know yourself. Because of such comments and because of my own fears I have often ignored the better part of myself that says: No. Walk away. Do not do this. I have lost months to bad relationships with crummy men because I didn’t trust what I already knew (and fear, too). Getting over those guys has little to do with the men and everything to do with forgiving myself--which is occasionally a more arduous experience than I care to admit.
For those who worry that something is wrong with me and I would do well to heed outside opinions/advice, fear not! I pay Tom quite a bit of money each month to use his very prestigious degree and first-rate mind to to offer well-informed feedback rooted in the larger context of my life and informed by the knowledge of what I ultimately want. So I like to limit opinion-based-feedback to his office. In case I haven’t said it before (I have, but let me reiterate), I think everyone should have a therapist. Not because anything is wrong with a person, but because we should all have sounding-boards. Because mental health is important and it should be more accessible in this country than guns...I’m getting off topic. I believe in therapy like most people believe in exercise: it’s good for you, it’s preventative, it'll see you into old-age. I began seeing Tom when I was not well and I am very well now; I still see him! In fact, on the odd week when I can escape work to get to him, or fit him in before, I practically skip there. Because talking it out is helpful, and because his opinion is worth quite a lot.
Part II: Flirting
It is generally acknowledged by my girlfriends that I am a tremendously unskilled flirt. But no one could quite tell me what that meant. The notion of flirting-well did not come easily to me. What do you mean? How do you do it? I would ask my girlfriends. Well, they’d begin, you make eye-contact and lightly touch his arm. And I’d sort of growl because yes, I’m not a total dolt, I do know that. Recently a very good friend (who happens to be a guy) was helping me with crafting a message to a different guy and I let him know what I wanted to say, and he looked at me with total confusion and said, No, don’t make that joke. Being self-deprecating at this stage is no good, as though that was the most obvious thing in the world. So I sent an email to Laura and Laura said, No, Meg, you do not talk badly about yourself to this guy. And then I chatted with a girlfriend over dinner the next night and at a certain point I casually said, Did you know that when you flirt with a guy you’re not meant to be self-deprecating? And she looked at me, cocked her head, and shook it up and down with a certain amount of force: Yeah--oh yeah--don’t do that. That’s not flirting. It doesn’t read well when you don’t know the person. Oh. Huh. Hmmm. So I went back to the original source and began piecing out this idea. And in the process I made a comment on the other end of the spectrum (you know, about hey, like, ummm, yeah, I’m a catch) and he looked at me and smiled, and said, You can’t be both. You can’t be super insecure AND super confident. You’re going to have to choose one. And I swear to god if there had been a lightbulb over my head in that moment it would have lit up. And right then and there I made the decision to invest my stock in the latter.
Years ago Tom encouraged me to give up fat talk. At the time I didn’t really understand his reasoning and I was skeptical that it would make any difference at all. But as Tom is almost always right, I thought Yeah, okay, I’ll give it a go. It proved revolutionary. When you eliminate specific language it’s like putting a roadblock in front of well-tread paths in your brain (paths covered in potholes) and saying, not that way, you can’t go down that path. Which means you have to try new paths. And these new paths...they are so good. I mean, holy smokes, they. are. so. good.
Well, this is what I want to say, to “invest in confidence” I gave up self-deprecating language. I just cut it out (fat-talk of another variety). And I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it has made. I honest to goodness feel like superwoman! Because here’s the thing about confidence, it shrinks fear. I have spent so much of my life (SOMUCHOFMYLIFE) making decisions--both conscious and not--driven by fear. Not doing things, doing lesser things, settling for this or that or thisamajig because the fear was crippling and physical. But that attitude is like coming at life from a position of weakness. So in trying confidence on for size, in walking around the city as though I already am, this is what I have found: I am kinder. I am friendlier. I smile more easily. I’m not afraid to start a conversation or call the bartender out on his bullshit or let the cute guy on the street know that his dog has just bitten down hard on something that he probably doesn’t want in his mouth. I am more generous. I am softer. I feel prettier. My actions more accurately align with who I think I am and, quite frankly, who I want to be. I am fighting less internal dissonance. I am humming in new ways. Everything feels less personal. So yah, I sort of feel like I’m on steroids (I once had a really bad cold, which is how I feel comfortable using this metaphor). I’ve been working on a larger writing project that I hope to share in the next few weeks and one of the essays is about how when I was twenty-two and very, very sad there was this sense that I’d forgotten what joy felt like. And as I was working on it, I thought, I know what joy feels like, but I think maybe I’ve forgotten what hope feels like. Which is to say, the thing about confidence...well there are all these unexpected fringe benefits: kindness, yes, but hope, too. It’s like I suddenly I understand what it means to be an enthusiast about life. And yes, flirting is just a little bit easier.
Okay, a lot.