My ex- and I used to butt heads over the fact that I need a partner to be honest and open and to tell me what he wants from me, while he feels it should be implied and not explicit, because that’s more romantic. I have never been good at playing the mating game, which is probably why I’m still single, and why I gravitate towards online dating. I hate trying to guess what someone’s motives are and then having to decide how to send the message I want to send without actually just saying it. This is doubly true because I’m really not good at reading or sending these subtle cues.
Recently, this came up with a new male friend, who I believe is interested in me. He put his arm around me as we sat by the river, touched my back, and wanted me to take his hand as we walked. And all of this made me uncomfortable. Not only because I’m not romantically interested in this man, but because I knew he knew I knew what he was doing, but I didn’t know how to respond. I moved away slightly, but this felt rude to me. Yet I didn’t feel like I could just say “Hey, I notice you’re touching me affectionately, but I don’t feel like that about you.” This seemed like it would just cut him down unnecessarily, and in the past when I've been that honest, the other people have expressed hurt. At the same time, I didn't just want to hold his hand and to respond to his caresses to be nice because I've also done that, and had people think I was interested when I wasn't. So I was stuck: there didn't seem to be any proper response. In the end, I just did nothing, and he seemed to get the hint. But the whole exchange seemed strange to me. Why can't two adults be honest with one another?
I was thinking about my male friends in considering what to write about this issue, and realize that the men I feel the safest with are men to whom I feel I can speak my truth. When we can speak honestly and truthfully (which also means respectfully: one can speak difficult truths gently and with compassion), then there’s no guesswork, no anxiety about what’s really going on, no discomfort or tension about what might be unspoken. To me, the idea of being able to be totally honest with a lover is supremely romantic: that myself and a lover or potential lover can feel free to express our love, emotions, and sensuality with openness, and not be worried about saying the wrong thing: how can that be anything but romantic?
I can see where the game-playing – the subtle cues and the dance of touch and glance – can be supremely exciting, and I’ve enjoyed those moments, too. But I don’t feel that they have to be mutually exclusive with honesty and openness, we just have to choose our times. Recently, I experience an intense evening of flirting and sexual energy with a man I had just met. I've never felt anything like it. It was magical, yet there were ethical issues that I felt we had to deal with before we could consummate our feelings for one another. Unfortunately it seems like that cooled the flames, and now I doubt we will see one another again. But if I had ignored those issues, I would have felt awful after the sex, and this would have poisoned anything that might have blossomed between us, not to mention my self-respect and my relationship with another friend. To me, the perfect dance is one of passion and honesty, subtle cues and openness, a dark, hot glance and the respect of full disclosure. As in everything in life, the balance is hard to strike, but I know it can happen. I regain hope when I think about the men in my life who are willing to go there. They are few, but they’re the brave ones.