"Say what you wanna say.
And let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave."
~ Sara Bareilles
I met Mike -- a nice, smart, FDNY fireman -- at my local bar one Saturday night. I had stopped in for a beer and veggie burger at the bar, and to do some writing. I honestly had no desire to meet anyone, but I wasn't disappointed when he struck up a conversation with me. The bar had hit a sudden lull in the early evening, leaving the two of us alone.
"So, is that writing personal or for business?" was his opener.
We talked for a good 45 minutes and he asked if he could take my number to let me know what he thought of my blog. Very cute.
I was happy to hear from him when he texted the next evening. And even happier to hear that he loved my writing. He said he totally agreed that the dynamics of dating were all upside down. It seemed like a good start.
Then -- nothing. For days.
I was perplexed. Sort of. If you've dated for more than a minute in New York City, this kind of experience is sadly all too common. The guy was clearly interested enough to make all the first moves: strike up a conversation, ask for my number, text me (a call would have been better, but I'll take it), compliment me... but then, radio silence. What happened? And why does this happen SO often?
I had my theories -- there was clearly something wrong with this dude. Either he's lying about being divorced, dating someone else or broken in some way... But I wanted a second opinion, so I went to my guy friends.
"Oh, you see there, where you said 'You should know I have no desire for men to want to slow things down -- we like you all just the way you are...' he probably took that as an insult, like you thought he was too stupid to understand what you were saying," said Henry.
"Maybe he thought you were disagreeing with him and was afraid," suggested Frank.
I know from personal experience and expert input that what men fear most is rejection. But come on. And I'm sorry, but I subscribe to the "He's just not that into you" school of thought. If this guy was really serious about getting to know me, no grammatical misinterpretations would stop him from trying. Quite the opposite in my experience. Subtle versions of "no" rarely work with a man on a mission.
But I was on a search for the truth -- for all womankind (OK, I'll admit, also for research). So ,after a couple drinks one night, I sent him a text:
His response the next morning taught me to always trust my gut:
He went on to explain that he just needed me to give him the green light, and repeated several times how happy he was that I texted him back and asked.
Are you kidding me? He needed ME to give him the OK to ask me out? So basically, he wanted me to man-up and risk the rejection that he couldn't bear? And this is a guy who runs into burning buildings for a living!
What a turn off.
And how unsurprising. As I wrote (and Mike eagerly read) in my earlier article, "Are We Giving Our Power Away?" it's my sad belief that men are doing less. Partly due to the aggressive 'dating' behavior of many women. They're sitting back and waiting for women to approach them and make the first move. Often because so many of us are.
But come on, you're men. You're supposed to embrace a challenge. Not run and hide, waiting for the all-clear. Or need an invitation to ask a girl out.
I did go out on a date with said fireman (when he ultimately asked), hoping to be proven wrong about my theory. But I wasn't. He was just way too timid. The saddest thing about this story is that I was actually interested. Which doesn't happen all that often. But there is nothing more unattractive than a guy looking for me to take the lead. That's not a man, that's a mouse.
"Men aren't men anymore," agrees my very happily newlywed friend, Eric. Eric is a tough and talented commercial producer who is madly in love with his bride, Erica. It's absolutely adorable and inspiring. And I am certain that their courtship has a lot to do with why.
"Men are supposed to fall first," he says. "And then we convince the girl. That's the way it's meant to be."
My last boyfriend, Thom, basically said the same thing. After working his ass off for three months to win me over, I'll never forget how he bragged about it to a guy we met at a bar. This new "friend" was lamenting about how bored he was by the girls he was meeting.
"That's because there's no challenge," Thom explained. "You don't want some girl who makes it easy, right? It's so much better when you have to work for it."
I just stood there silently in awe. He gets it, I thought. And that's why he got me.
The best part is, that when guys like Thom and Eric win the girl of their dreams, they feel like the luckiest men on Earth. And we feel adored and desired, so it's a win-win. Sadly, the men I'm meeting lately are acting a bit more like the girl. Which is a total turn-off.
"Guys don't even DRESS like men anymore!" added Eric. "I see these guys walking around Brooklyn with their pants all rolled up and I'm thinking, dude -- seriously?"
"Maybe they're gay?" I suggested.
"Maybe. You cant tell anymore."
Perhaps this softening of men is reflective of something bigger going on in our society. The July/August 2013 issue of Psychology Today has a collection of articles on the subject. One titled "How to be Happy," caught my eye. Because at the end of the day, isn't that what we're all seeking? Happiness.
"Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things you like. It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone," say writers Todd B. Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener.
Which reminded me of a spiritual principle I live by: to create miracles in your life, go out of your comfort zone whenever possible.
Honestly, nothing turns me on more than a guy who takes one look at me and decides, "You're gonna be mine." NOT in a creepy stalker way -- please! I've been there, done that. But in a slow, confident, determined way. I have been won over by every man I've ever ended up with. There's just something super sexy about a man who goes after what he wants, and isn't afraid of a little rejection. As my witty writer friend, Amaya, succinctly put it: "It's a bad sign when I have bigger balls than my date."
Maybe these "men" should take a few lessons from my brave Russian manicurist, Nelly, who recently quit her job on a Thursday and started her own home-salon business, "Nails by Nelly," on Friday. As she polished my nails recently in my studio apartment, she explained why she left the swanky salon I'd been going to.
"I hated sitting around, waiting for customers, feeling lazy. Hated having to be there on time, to work late...."
I was amazed. How ballsy of her to think she could dislike a basic aspect of her job -- like being there at a certain time -- and go out and find something better!
"I love risk!" Nelly declared. "You have to NOT be afraid to to risk, and believe that you can do it."
This summer's sci-fi adventure After Earth starring Will and Jaden Smith had its shortcomings, for sure, but the core message was powerful.
"Fear is not real," Will Smith's all-man, stoic character, Cypher Raige, explains to his son, Kitai. "It is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice."
And what is the real danger in a girl saying no anyway? A bruised ego? Temporary disappointment? And isn't the possibility of a "yes" from someone who turns you on worth that?
I learned long ago to "feel the fear and do it anyway." In fact, I too have braved the rejection waters and asked out a guy or two. And yes, it stings a bit when they don't respond or say "I'll let you know," and never do. I even was crazy enough to ask actor Patrick Wilson out once while he was starring on Broadway in "The Full Monty." I met him (very) briefly after the show one night and was convinced there was a connection. I couldn't get him out of my head, so I sent him a card with an invitation to watch a Yankees game in stellar seats just behind the dugout. To this day, I still laugh at my foolishness. But hey, he COULD have said yes -- and at least I tried.
Being brave isn't just necessary to win the girl of your dreams, but in order to keep her. Being honest takes courage. The courage to speak your truth and risk the possibility of your partner laughing or yelling at you. Or leaving. But as I learned the hard way in my last relationship, without the truth you have nothing. As much as he loved me, Thom was unable to be honest -- about anything. Mostly about his fears and flaws, which we all have. He lost me because he didn't believe he was lovable just the way he was. He was afraid that if I saw the real him, I wouldn't love him. Ironically, I loved him unconditionally, I just couldn't live with the lies.
The truth is, if you can't trust the person you love to accept you, exactly as you are, what you really risk is never knowing how much they truly do love you.
In her inspiring book "Lean In," Facebook's Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, talks about women and the workplace, as well as the necessity of honesty in those relationships. Sandberg observes how "people constantly back away from honesty to protect themselves and others. This reticence causes and perpetuates all kinds of problems: uncomfortable issues that never get addressed, resentment that builds, unfit managers who get promoted rather than fired, and on and on. Often these situations don't improve because no one tells anyone what is really happening. We are so rarely brave enough to tell the truth."
Think of the missed opportunities, lost in a sea of fear and doubt. The loves lost or never discovered because of a lack of courage. I, for one, find it to be tragic.
Which is why I beg of men everywhere -- single or married, straight or gay: take a chance. Ask her (or him) out. Be the man. Pick up the phone and DIAL it. Be brave, dammit! That's the biggest turn-on and all it takes is a deep breath. You have to be willing to fail and know that even if you do, the sun will still rise tomorrow and you will survive. Take a chance and risk rejection. She could very well be waiting for you to ask.