Love Advice from a Love Yokel
When I was in high school I couldn’t afford to see a lot of the cool shows that came through my hometown. I’d try to sneak in, but I’d always end up getting chased out of the lobby by some mean-looking dude on a walkie-talkie. Whether I was prying open an alleyway door, passing off a fake ticket, or just ducking and running through the line, nothing seemed to work, and every time I’d find myself waiting outside for my ride home, listening to the faint pulse of the music through the venue walls.
Fed up with failure, I knew I had to alter my approach. I bought a crusty old windbreaker at a thrift store that had the words ‘EVENT STAFF’ printed on the breast and on the back in big block letters. Then I Xeroxed a bar code from the back of a magazine, folded the paper, stuffed it into a plastic sleeve, and dangled it around my neck with an old shoelace. My heart was racing the first time I tried out my new technique, but I was determined not to let my anxiety show. I walked briskly up to the entryway holding my manufactured pass in front of me, and gave the bouncers a slight upward nod. He looked me over for one brief moment, and then nodded back wordlessly as I walked coolly through the doors. Once I was in, I tied the jacket around my waist, stuffed the pass in my pocket, and disappeared into the crowd.
This ploy was so simple, but soon I was going to see rock concerts, sports events, stand-up comics, and anything else that came through town for free. It worked so well that I sometimes even showed up with a handful of friends in tow, each of them also sporting staff jackets and doctored press passes. I almost forgot the old misery of skulking and tiptoeing my way into venues and being tossed out.
One day my favorite band, Living Color, was playing at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. I’d been looking forward to the show for months, but when I arrived I realized that I’d stupidly left my jacket and pass at home. There was no time to go back and get my costume, and all my friends were already inside. I couldn’t even buy a ticket – the show was sold out. I paced the sidewalk and weighed my options: I could try to recreate my props with the Magic Marker and notebook I had in my car, I could regress to my old, ineffective techniques and try to find a bathroom window to crawl through, or I could just go home deflated and miss my favorite band. Then the solution hit me.
I marched back to the venue armed with nothing but my raggedy outfit and all the confidence I could muster. Determined not to give myself away, I sauntered up to the door, gave an even slighter nod than usual, and added a quick wave of my hand in lieu of flashing my fake badge. As I’d hoped, the security guards just looked me over as usual and let me past, satisfied that I knew what I was doing. The costume, I realized, had always been extraneous; the success I’d had wasn’t because I looked like I belonged, but because I looked like I believed that I belonged – confidence would always overpower all outward appearances. I spent the night body-surfing.
In many ways, confidence in love operates on these same principles. Many of us carry these irrational fears that we’re not good enough for the people we fancy, that someone is out of our league, or, to push the analogy, that we’ll never be able to get tickets to see them. I’ve broken open doors, falsified documents, and worn all kinds of costumes in the pursuit of love, when all I ever really had to do was believe that I belonged in love. Once you manage to do that, good things come to you in abundance.
OK, let’s go to the mailbag!
First of all, congratulations on gathering the courage to talk to the red-head at your computer center.
I’m a 22-year-old single man and I have never been in a relationship. I have trouble talking to women at school, especially those who I like. On occasion I have summoned the nerve to approach a woman as you did with the red-head – I strike up a conversation, and when it’s done I tell her that we should hang out again, and ask her how she can be reached. These conversations typically end in one of two ways: One, the woman jumps to conclusions and says that she has a boyfriend; or two, the conversation goes nowhere and she starts giving me one-word answers. This really aggravates me, and I just walk away thinking that she isn’t worth my time.
There have been a few rare occasions when a woman has made advances toward me and for some unfathomable reason I have turned her down. I always feel like an idiot afterward; I guess I never ask for their phone numbers because I don’t want to impose. I’d like to have women friends and start dating, but my approach doesn’t seem to be working. What should I do?
James in London, Ontario
First of all, I applaud your courage in making an effort to approach women you don’t know – it’s never easy. Talking to the opposite sex can be intimidating, but I think we all make a bigger deal out of it than we need to, myself included. It seems to me that you’ll enjoy talking to women more (and have greater success) if you can just relax a bit. People can sense anxiety; some will think it’s cute, but others might be suspicious of your motives and put off if it seems like you have too much at stake in the exchange.
So how do you make talking to women not such a big deal? You need to focus more on enjoying the conversation and less on the outcome. As Lao Tzu says in the Tao Te Ching, the contented man is rarely disappointed. Have fun talking to women, and don’t worry about whether or not you’re ever going to date them. It seems counter-intuitive, but being less invested in results actually improves them.
If you find a girl interesting after chatting with her, there’s nothing wrong with asking for her digits (asking for an e-mail address is another good, less imposing option). If she says yes, then call her! If she says no, that’s her prerogative, but don’t let it get you down. I have a friend who used to make a point of talking every day to a girl he didn’t know. Many of the girls dismissed him immediately, but rejection became so common it no longer bothered him. Still, by virtue of sheer numbers, he inevitably met a number of amazing women; some of them became friends, and even girlfriends. Rejection doesn’t have to be painful, and the rewards can outweigh the risks.
When a woman makes advances towards you, it can be just as daunting as asking someone out yourself, especially if you haven’t been in a relationship. Your discombobulation may simply be a symptom of your inexperience, or it may reveal a greater anxiety about dating in general. I’ll pay homage to Ghostbusters here for a simple solution: when a girl asks if you want to hang out, you say “YES!” Just remember not to cross the streams…
I know from reading your advice that you generally disapprove of affairs, but I’ve been having one online for the past year and a half. My online partner and I have found that such an affair is convenient for a number of reasons: it suits our schedules; it’s private (no compromising pictures or webcams); and we use only our imaginations to bring a bit of pleasure into each other’s lives. Both of us have been married for a long time (over twenty years), but despite our efforts have been unable to affect certain changes in our marriages. Nonetheless, we live far apart and have no illusions of pursuing our affair in person, as that would jeopardize our existing relationships.
Do you think that we are fooling ourselves, or is this a reasonably safe outlet for our frustrations and needs for like-minded company?
Lonesome in T.O.
I appreciate the differences between affairs you might have online and in person, and it’s a positive that you’re at least conscious of the impact this could have on your marriage, but I have to call you out on this one and say that you and your online amour are absolutely fooling yourselves.
The problem isn’t so much what you’re doing as it is the secrecy with which you do it, and what that lack of communication signifies in the greater context of your marriage. It’s normal and healthy to have other intimate relationships (with family and friends), but when that intimacy is hidden from your spouse, it creates pockets of uncertainty and distrust that spread like a cancer. The affair doesn’t have to be in person to jeopardize your existing relationship.
If you really need that outlet, then your spouse needs to know that there’s something lacking in your relationship. Perhaps by telling him or her directly, you’ll find a remedy. I know you might be nervous about spilling the beans, but I’ve searched my own heart and I don’t think I would completely freak out if my partner confessed to having an online affair. Hopefully your spouse will be attuned to the larger picture and not just focus on the infidelity. If he or she is unsympathetic to your needs and unwilling to help find a mutually acceptable way for you to satisfy them, then you have a more serious and fundamental problem on your hands.
An honest and transparent relationship is a win-win situation. When you express your needs plainly and directly, they will be met or they won’t. Either outcome is a landmark for the future course of your relationship. Be straight with your spouse and encourage your online partner to do the same. Hopefully you’ll both find that you no longer need one another.
All right, keep sending me all of your pressing questions about love, sex, and relationships. I personally respond to every question I receive, and I’ll be back in two weeks with more advice straight from my idiot heart. If tickets for that show you’re dying to see are hard to come by, you know what to do. Holler!
Send Davy your questions at MyHeartIsAnIdiot@aol.com