“You’re a really cool girl.”
I have received variations of this supposed compliment from more than a few men in my not so distant past. My single girlfriends are likely laughing their asses off right now as they read this, not only because they know for certain I am not that cool, but because they know even better they are not any cooler. Yet my track record for securing repeated dates—my ability to survive the first few months dating a man I like without being flagged as needy or difficult—remains intact. An immediate “win” for the guy looking for hassle-free coupledom, time and time again it becomes much less so for me, the girl forever looking for substance over form when it comes to finding a meaningful and mutually satisfying relationship. My conclusion? Playing it cool may not be such a cool idea after all.
Over time I have become so adept at keeping my emotions in check, of not pulling out the crazy, of not becoming a psycho bitch with men I date that when I do eventually voice a concern about maintaining the status quo (and, admittedly, not always as eloquently as I would theoretically like), I am often met with shock and surprise, even dismay, when I do.
Whoa, hold up. What’s with the bait and switch? Where’s that easy breezy girl who never made waves and who was always available on my terms? But like a virgin on her wedding night, nervous and uneasy as she reveals her nakedness for the very first time, once this defining moment arrives, there is no turning back. The dynamic that follows is inevitably different. And whether disappointment sets in or a couple grows closer from the experience ultimately becomes the deciding factor that sets the potential for a deep relationship apart from what can only be described as a more superficial and, as such, fleeting interaction.
As a woman who had only one date (a typical high school double date with another friend and her boyfriend to Pizza Hut and to the movies to see Wall Street back in 1987) before meeting my future husband at 15 years old, I have since gained valuable insight about men and dating over the past two and a half years after becoming separated and, as of last year, divorced. But lately, I have begun to question whether some of the lessons I learned and the messages I received from the plethora of dating advice to which I have availed myself are actually helpful or, rather, are detrimental to building a healthy relationship with someone new in my life. More specifically, I question whether we as women should initially portray ourselves as good time girls or we should remind dates from the beginning our lives are just as, if not more, complicated than men’s.
Conventional dating wisdom typically guides us to leave our “baggage” at the door during the early stages of a relationship. And that makes sense—to some degree. After all, no guy I have ever met indicated his desire to spend an evening with a woman unrelentingly lamenting about her ex, the job she hates, her misbehaved children, her monetary woes, the dismal dating scene, and whatever other stresses keep her awake at night. I know I would not. Such behavior is a dating faux pas and a surefire indicator of a short-lived romance. Women thus become unavoidably conditioned and made fearful if they deviate from the scripted program they will not receive the reward they seek, whether a long-term relationship or a guilty night of pleasure. As much as we hate to admit, the “difficult” girl does not usually get, or keep, the guy.
But does being authentic necessarily mean being difficult?
All too often women, confusing the two, deflect. We punt. We invite our romantic interest to share with us and open up. We listen. We understand. We empathize. We support. We cheer. We know intimately of what he speaks because, in many ways, we live and breathe it each and every day, though we never let on that we do or, at least, the degree to which we do. Details may vary from his life to ours, but the emotions he feels are intimately familiar to us nonetheless. And all the while we continue to smile, laugh, crack jokes, flip our hair, and look our best, offering respite and a momentary distraction from the realities that burden and plague the man on which we dote. We humanize him, all the while dehumanizing ourselves.
And so we coast, continuing to play it cool. Analyzing. Watching. Waiting. Waiting for any sign the cards we hold close to our chest, the depth and capacity for love we suppress just below the surface, could one day be reciprocated. Dates become more regular; texts, emails, and phone conversations more frequent. What we experience looks like a relationship, but does not yet feel quite right. There is still a disconnection, an intimacy that is missing. Until the moment finally arrives, the turning point when we expose ourselves and reveal we have vulnerabilities and emotional needs, too. We hold our breath until that burning question is answered: Will our relationship grow?
The answer may not always be obvious, immediate, or straightforward to either person involved. And it may take time, distance, and reflection to realize what that answer truly is.
The Holy Bible (New International Version) instructs us to guard our heart because everything we do flows from it (Proverbs 4:23). In other words, play it cool. And so I do. Or, at least, I try to, though in no way have I made it to the head of the class in this subject. Indeed, I possess enough knowledge to claim my learning of this lesson the hard way. One failed marriage and the repeated sting of rejection from another to whom I kept coming back for more would alone be enough to make me a model student. The problem is I do not agree with the teaching. I cannot help but wonder if by holding back and suppressing our emotions, if by not giving a relationship our all and then wondering what could have been, we ultimately cheat ourselves by losing out on something wonderful.
Because, as we know, winners never cheat and cheaters never win.