Sunday 3 May 2015

Being Picky 1

Very embarrassing story from my youth coming up. Oh, woe.

Back in the 1980s, before The Rules was published, all the teenage girls' and women's magazines recommended that girls ask boys out on dates. "These are the EIGHTIES!" was their argument which, come to think of it, wasn't a very good argument. It was even a very bad argument for large, multicultural cities like Toronto, where some cultures simply didn't care what year it was: girls weren't supposed to ask out boys. Some cultures had moved to Toronto in 1950, and for many of their adherents, time stopped in 1950.

My mother firmly believed that girls were not supposed to ask out boys, even though she took the Toronto Star, which was (and is) a left-wing paper, watched television, sent us to publicly-funded Catholic schools, etc. And naturally, I thought her attitude to dating was behind the times, which it indeed was, or she would not have allowed me to start dating at age 14. (She had been allowed to go to someone's prom when she was 14, so she thought it only fair that I be allowed to date at 14, too.) So I took the initiative, as one so often did back then, and asked a large, handsome Filipino boy at my brother's school out to a theatrical performance at another school.

Oh, snap. Just realized now that South Pacific was probably not the world's most sensitive choice of cross-cultural dating venue. Oh, well, I was only 15 or 16. What did I know?

Anyway, I took Scooter (we'll call him Scooter) to South Pacific and paid for his ticket and was a perfect lady and pretended not to notice when some racist jerk in Finch Subway Station made an anti-cross-cultural dating remark. I even humbly admitted I could be wrong when I repeated some left-wing idea about poverty breeding crime, and Scooter hit the subway roof because apparently he was being brought up poor. He saw me to my bus, and we probably shook hands goodnight.

Thus I thought the date was a success until my brother brought me a note home from Scooter thanking me for an "enchanted evening". The message was wrapped around a banknote: the price of his ticket.

I felt like I had been slapped.  It was as if I had done something SERIOUSLY WRONG, something seriously insulting to Scooter, by paying for his ticket, and the only way he could right this wrong was to give me the money back. Now I'm not sure why I was so ashamed; perhaps there was something in the note. I remember the note imperfectly, but I sure remember the shame.

And the shame was very helpful, for it meant I never asked out Scooter again, or plotted to be where Scooter was, or made any attempt to trail after Scooter. And Scooter, I might add, never made any reciprocal invitations to me.

The number one rule of pickiness is that you should pick from only those guys who actually like you.
And, no, I'm not joking. Many girls choose which guys they are going to have a crush on or they are going to ask out not because those guys were kind, friendly or complimentary to them, but merely because they are cute. Or because other girls think they are cute. Or because they symbolize something, like wealth, popularity, stylishness, or adventure.

My mother, in trying to explain the laws of human nature, said that girls weren't supposed to go out in the world and hunt down the perfect man. We were supposed to sit still and pick from the men who wanted us. I thought this horrifying. What if I wasn't the slightest bit interested in the men who wanted me? Not having an Auntie Seraphic to ask about this, I just ignored my mother. But since I am Auntie Seraphic, I would counsel: 1. wait for the next crop of suitors and 2. travel to where they may be.

The social rules really do change from place to place. At (obsession alert) swing-dancing, I noticed one of the coolest of the Cool Girls ask a guy to dance, and he positively leaped to his feet. But that, of course, is a swing-dancing event in Edinburgh; possibly the unspoken rules are different for a Latin American salsa dancing club in Toronto.  I bet they are.

However, whether you agree with me or not that women shouldn't ask guys out on dates, I hope you will agree at least that the only guys you should be "encouraging" are the ones who need the least encouragement, which is to say guys who genuinely like you, are friendly to you, say nice things to you and are thoughtful to you.

This may be a mind-boggling thought, but the fact is that not all men are going to like you--like, at all--and this is not, in fact, a major tragedy. It always blows my mind to discover that some people, people I have been polite to and can't remember offending in any way, just don't like me. ("ME?! Little ME?! But, but...! But I like them!") I survive by concluding--after much soul-searching and wondering if  I should start carrying breath mints in my handbag--that the problem is them, not me.

That is, I posit that there is some internal block in this otherwise admirable human being that causes them to dislike A) women B) women my age C)  women my age with opinions they deplore D) Canadians E) red-heads F) "the middle clawsses"/"posh fowk, ken"  G) people with dry, super-curly hair H) humanity in general.

And that is sad. However, it is worth knowing that someone greatly, if unfairly, dislikes you ASAP, so as not to waste time turning handstands to give encouragement to "the shy" or endless tolerance to "the rough diamonds." Naturally this is just as helpful for married women trying get about in society as it is for young women hoping to find a good and loving spouse.

If you recognize yourself in this, you must not think that you have "made an ass of yourself." If you keep on inviting people to events and they keep turning you down (or never, ever reciprocate), or you continue to make pleasant chat at cocktails parties despite the fact they almost bit your nose off at the last cocktail party, you are not an ass. You are just a nice person doing her best.

However, there may come a time when it hits you like a spitball between the eyes that the reason someone you like very much keeps putting you down (etc.) is because he or she simply doesn't like you. And when you realize this, you must draw back. You don't have to sign a pledge before witnesses to avoid them. Indeed, it is probably best that you not talk about it at all--unless to your cheering psychotherapist. You do this not only as a kindness to yourself, but as a kindness to the person who doesn't like you. He or she doesn't like you and so logically will be relieved when he or she sees less of you.

Of course, you can also be all American (very not-Canadian, very not- British) about it and ASK them WHY they don't like you; the idea fills me with horror. However, I suppose there is a chance--in the USA and other emotionally honest countries--that your non-fan will respect you for asking. He or she may even tell you.  A ten year old classmate told me why he didn't like me, and I have always kept his words in mind. Painful truths are often very helpful.


  1. I don't think I've ever just taken a non-liking to someone for no reason. Sure, I might dislike someone because she's a loudmouth or a jerk or a gossip, but those are REASONS.

    Meanwhile, my dad thinks that women should ask men out, and even once told me to ask out one of the Young Fogeys who he obviously liked, but thankfully I am too smart to do everything that my dad tells me to do, and I did not ask the Young Fogey out and therefore avoided a horribly embarrassing situation. Dad might think I'm great -- obviously that opinion of his would unassailably unbiased, of course -- but I'm pretty confident that Young Fogey, while nice enough, would not give a monkey's if I dropped dead tomorrow, which is fair enough.

  2. No, he would. For one thing it might make him think about his own death. It's always awful for young people when a young person dies because for it occurs to them that youth does not equal earthly immortality--waaaaaaahhhhh!

    Meanwhile, needing a real reason to dislike someone, is a sign that you are not a misanthrope. There are lots of misanthropes out there. Misanthropes are often very clever, witty people; in fact the source of their misanthropy may be the belief, true or false, that they are smarter than everyone else, and that most people are painfully stupid.

  3. But might there be a difference between disliking someone, and just not liking them? I can think of people that I don't actively dislike, but I don't really want to spend time with them. They're perfectly nice people, but just not people I'm interested in. Maybe we don't have any interests in common, or our personalities just don't mesh, or whatever.

  4. Oh, indeed. And with such people, frequent meetings may end up creating a rather pleasant social relationship. As time goes on, I get more and more interested in my friends' friends and am delighted when I see them at parties and events around town. Thank the heavens! Someone to TALK TO!

    But you're all (understandably!) seeing this from the wrong point of view. We're--quite against the I'm Okay, You're Okay philosophy--supposed to be identifying and pondering the people who are just not interested in US! :-D

    1. But, wah! It's so much less painful to think about the people I don't like. :P

      But, seriously, I've never seen anyone write about this topic before, and I'm so glad that you did! This is a fantastic post. Letting go of people who don't like you can be so hard (At least for me. I always want to trot after them trying to do something nice so that they'll like me, lol!) , but so freeing.

      And why??? Why?? Why would anyone ask someone they don't like them?? I cringe every time I see someone do that on a tv show. Unless they think they've offended the other person in some way and want to put it right, and I just can't imagine why anyone would do that.

    2. Oh I know. As for asking, I cannot even begin to imagine.

      Well, being me, yes I can. And I imagine it is because the mystery is just plain driving the person nuts. They would rather be humiliated than never know.

  5. Your mother's rules here are wonderful. A bit of insight into the mind of men: yes, we appreciate the idea of being the one to ask you out, but we're also not going to just go asking out every woman who we're attracted to. In the small-world that in the Catholic Subculture, we know that asking out a young woman who is entirely unattracted to us is bound to have ramifications for us in the parish and/pr community so we want to have some basic assurance that she'll "say yes to coffee" (as Auntie says). That's where signaling basic attraction is HUGE – we men don't have an Uncle Beatific (to use an old joke), so we're jumping without a social net every time we ask a woman out, knowing especially how much pressure is put on dates in the Catholic Subculture. To have the signal that the woman is interested in us is a big deal that we should try to ask her out – if we're making the first step, you're making the zeroth step (one could argue it's how feminism has changed Catholic dating, but really it's how the lack of tight communities have changed Catholic dating as young people are now doing the dating on our own)...


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