…Or at least incredibly ineffective.
I was Facebook chatting with my friend Chelsea again yesterday, and in course of our discussion (because Facebook chat seems to be where we get all philosophical and shit) on the exact meaning of “taking things slow,” she made this comment:
I guess that’s part of my love language. “Hey, I really like you. Let me latch onto your face…But keep your hands in check.”
I took about thirty-five seconds to consider it, and then responded:
Mine’s more like, “Hey, I really like you. So I’m going to be ridiculously shy until we’ve known each other a while. And then once you get me to open up, it’s a race.”
I said this with my usual self-deprecating sense of humor, but it is a 100% accurate description of the way I tend to approach relationships. And as you can imagine, this is probably the precise reason I have reached the age of 28 with only two substantial romantic relationships under my belt.
See, my natural form of interaction as described above tends to result in one of two scenarios: I either 1) am rendered completely incapable by the shy of communicating my interest, thus leaving the object of my interest entirely oblivious, or 2) take so long to get comfortable around the guy that by the time I can successfully communicate my interest, we have entered the “friend-zone”—which I think is really just a more socially acceptable way of saying, “I might have gone out with you when I first met you, but now I’ve known you long enough to know that you’re insane/clingy/a jerk/etc., so if we did go out to begin with, I’d have run away screaming by now.”
There have been the rare occasions where I’ve either been comfortable enough with the person (or there was sufficient alcohol involved) for me to open up more quickly. There have also been the occasions where I knew someone long enough but peripherally enough that I got comfortable around them without breaching the “friend-zone”. In my personal experience, the latter has been a little more effective; it gives me time to ascertain whether or not the guy is an asshole without totally screwing my chances…A.K.A., without giving him time to realize I’m off my fucking rocker.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been in a dating hiatus for some time now. (Let’s just say that were my doctor to ask me if I thought I might be pregnant, I’d reply, “Well, if I am, it would have to be a really late-term elephant,” or, “Only by Immaculate Conception, so it’d be either the Messiah or the anti-Christ, depending on your religious persuasion.”) I’ve devoted most of this time to learning to be okay on my own, to figuring out what I want out of life, to accepting myself just as I am. This has boosted my confidence a lot, so I guess I didn’t give a hell of a lot of thought to updating my methods of romantic interaction. And when I basically told all the interwebs that I was open to the big L word again, I figured conversing with the opposite sex would be a lot easier since I’ve done all that self-esteem stuff.
And then I went and got myself a crush on a boy. And the shy came back with a vengeance.
See, it’s been a long time since I’ve liked anyone. It’s been a long time since I let myself like anyone. But then like a big dummy I told the universe I was ready to feel things again. So the universe trapped a flock of butterflies in the pit of my stomach and gave the flutter-bies strict instructions only to freak the hell out when I see this particular guy.
He’s someone I’ve known peripherally for a while now; I’ve seen him maybe five or six times over the last nine or ten months. That butterflies-trapped-in-my-intestines feeling happened the very first time I met him, but it was quickly shunned. He’s pretty friendly and comes across as a bit of a flirt, and to be honest I thought a bit shallow. I’d seen him chat closely and confidently with a lot of very skinny, conventionally beautiful women, so I always assumed he wouldn’t be interested in me. I am neither skinny nor conventional. As such, my pragmatic side quickly scolded the hopeless romantic side out of the whole idea. I wasn’t his type, and that was that. There was no point in even entertaining the possibility; it would just lead to disappointment.
But those butterflies kept trying to come back up, every time I saw him. And my inner pragmatist kept pushing them back down, over and over again.
And then the last time I saw him, about a month ago, I actually got a chance to sit down and talk to him for a while…Okay, I got to sit by and listen while he talked to one of my married friends, occasionally offering quips and sparse sentences that at least felt witty and thoughtful. Turns out he has a bit of the shy, too. He’s not into the skinny, conventional types (which if his shy is anything like mine, might be why he seems to converse with them so easily). He suffers from “nice guy syndrome”, and never really picks up on it when a woman tries to hit on him until he’s facepalming himself upon later reflection. He’s not at all the suave player my pragmatic side had painted him. That’s what I get for going off first impressions; I’d have thought Jane Austen taught me better than that.
I guess it reignited the hope for my inner hopeless romantic. And now I can’t get her to shut the fuck up. But at the same time, it’s not like it used to be. I’ve grown up a lot in the last few years, emotionally speaking, and my inner romantic must have done the same. There are no daydreams of him swooping in like a knight in shining armor and rescuing me from whatever situation I’m in. No fantasies of him showing up on my doorstep in the middle of the night, in the rain like some badly written rom-com, professing his secret love for me. If he did, some sensible crazy-person-alert would probably go off in my head and the whole butterfly feeling would be replaced with the overwhelming desire for a restraining order. I still don’t know him well enough for the big L-word, even to fantasize about it.
To be honest, the word “like” is still a bit too terrifying. As I said, it’s been a long time since I’ve used even that word in its middle-school “like-like” connotation. The end of my last relationship, mutual though it was, brought back the walls around my heart in all their former glory. It’s been a rare occurrence for anyone to get past the fortress. It’s been several years since anyone even tried. Least of all me.
Anyway, it seems those rom-com fantasies have been replaced by the simple wish to get to know someone better, to find out how their mind works, to share thoughts and experiences, coupled with the less than innocent desire to discover the feel of their lips and the touch of their skin—complicated by my absolute inability to communicate any of it. Stupid goddamn shy.
As you can probably tell by the peppering of profanities, I find this situation really frustrating. My friends (you know, the TWO I’ve told about this) recommend a direct approach. But considering it’s taken me the better part of a year to speak intelligible sentences around this individual, the very idea petrifies me. It’s not a self-esteem thing; I know that while not everyone’s picture of beauty, I’m not hideous. I’ve got curves in most of the right places, and my legs would be pretty killer if they weren’t so white that they glow in the dark. I’ve been informed that I’m simply incapable of taking a bad photograph, even when I’m making goofy faces. The idea that someone might find me attractive is no longer met with shock.
But rejection always stings, no matter how nicely they try to put it; no matter how many times you tell yourself that it’s better to keep looking for someone who does want to be with you than to waste time on someone who doesn’t. And sometimes it feels as though my heart is still being held together with scotch tape; that if I let someone so much as breathe on it the wrong way, it’ll fall apart. It doesn’t help to see friends or other bloggers or old acquaintances on Facebook going through break-ups; maybe it’s the time of year, but it seems like relationships are ending left and right. It makes the shy and the fear take over as I retreat into my little heart-fortress, throwing up another wall and wondering why anyone would ever take the risk.
My inner hopeless romantic reminds me that everything worthwhile is risky; that most of the heartbreaks I’ve experienced were worth it. I look at my friends who’ve found that one person that perfectly complements them and remind myself that it is possible to risk one’s heart and come out on top.
I’ve been thinking about it for over a month now, and while I’m still conflicted between my shy inner pragmatist and the romantic, I told Chelsea I’d give this whole “direct” thing a try. There’s just one problem:
He’s on another continent right now. And I have no idea when he’s supposed to be back…or if he’s even coming back.
I don’t know how I get myself into these things…