Tag Archives: manners

Maybe don’t put my hand on your penis. (perfectionism, manners, and personal failure)

I’m a perfectionist. I can still recall which questions I missed on 6th grade world history tests (primitive peoples wove clothes out of plant fibers, -2 points). I like my CD’s organized by genre then alphabetically by artist. I’ve meticulously tweaked my crock pot mac and cheese recipe to the point that it’s like eating magic. When I inadvertently punctuate incorrectly I’m overcome by a sense of embarrassment.

This perfectionism extends to my social interactions as well.

manners matterI had the good fortune to attend a prestigious all-girls prep school, thanks to some very generous financial aid. Suddenly little me was in the big leagues of old Southern money (where even the kids who think they’re middle class have family with some serious real estate and actually go places every single vacation). So I learned to keep up and to exist in this strange new world to the best of my ability, which meant mastering manners.

It was a world in which 6th grade girls all go to Cotillion class, wearing white gloves and learning to fox trot, and goodness knows I put on my white gloves and learned, though at that age I towered above the boys. I can set a table with the best of them, introduce people like a boss, and write a thank you note that’ll knock your socks off.

Perfectionism coupled with manners means I tend to spend a lot of my time making people feel better rather than prioritizing what I actually want. I think a lot of us actually do this. We’re told that being selfless, courteous, hospitable, and humble are ideal and the epitome of human behavior.

Not being autonomous. Not being happy.

Why hasn’t my perfectionism allied itself with my sense of autonomy? Or my own happiness? Wouldn’t that be ideal for self-preservation? Where’s Miss Manners taking on Flight or Fight when I need her?

I’m actually embarrassed that my warped sense of politeness has kept me from speaking up for myself, to the point that I’ve delayed posting this for about a week. Last weekend, I went on a date with a guy I’d been talking to for a while. He’s so nice, funny, interesting. He even used to be a zookeeper! How cool is that?

so uncomfortableWe had drinks, dinner, and sat around talking. On this date, I wanted my hand held. Maybe some kissing. We had talked about going bowling. I didn’t want him to take my hand and try to put it on his penis.

This guy has read Tinder Buttons enough to know I wanted to meet in a public place and that I always have contact people, and has even directly referenced that time that another guy tried to get me to give him a handjob in a coffee shop parking lot by trying to put my hand on his dick. He knows that didn’t work for me. Though in retrospect, he joked about it in a way that suggested he found it an intriguing maneuver, not a jerk move.

I was so confused. I had been pretty clear that I didn’t like that in the post, and I’d made it even more clear in direct text conversation with this guy.

I pulled my hand away when I realized where he was guiding it. What I wanted to do was shout a little bit. Instead I took a deep breath, anchored my hand in my lap, and kept kissing him.

“I thought you might want to feel it,” he said.

shut it downI didn’t. If I had, I would have asked to do so. I would have put my hand on his knee and looked him in the eye, and waited for verbal or non verbal consent.

Then there was the attempt to legitimize it. “See, I told you you’re sexy.” I don’t take it as a compliment when a guy gets hard when interacting with me. I don’t. I honestly don’t care that much. I don’t find it impressive. I don’t find it particularly sexy. It’s just like “oh, look, your body responds to sexual stimuli.” Like I’m supposed to be impressed that you’re a sexual being? That you find me attractive?

I don’t need your body to convince me that my body is attractive. High five for having a functional penis and being into ladies?

Are you hoping I'll tell of your legendary penis in the style of Jillian from Workaholics? Because I'm not.
Are you hoping I’ll tell of your legendary penis in the style of Jillian from Workaholics? Because I’m not.

Or is it that it’s supposed to show off the size and/or the density? Because honestly I don’t care about that (though I am aghast that so many men apparently don’t know how long eight inches is. How on earth did so many of you manage to scrape through first grade math?!).

He later apologized for that moment. Immediately “it’s okay” came pouring out of my mouth entirely unbidden. Several times. In actuality, what I wanted to do was say “Please take me back to my car. I’d like to go home now.” But the words wouldn’t come. Instead things like “it’s no big deal” came out. In that moment, it felt more important to me to make him feel better-someone I’d literally only met in person a few hours before-than it was to acknowledge how overcome I was.

And we kept making out. I felt a little betrayed by my physical impulses. The kissing was fun, even if the red flags were looming large in my peripheral vision. But I held back a little and I became tense enough that he noticed. I felt plagued with the question of why does a relative stranger’s sense of self trump mine in my own mind? And why couldn’t I manage to articulate how uncomfortable I was?

“I thought we were getting kind of hot and heavy,” he said in a moment of apology.

That still doesn’t mean literally taking things into your own hands is called for. Especially when you already have acknowledged you know I don’t like when someone tries to move my hand to his penis on a first date.

That said, I still think he’s a pretty swell guy. I had a really lovely evening (especially when we people watched a black tie wedding as we sat and sipped cocktails in our jeans and told various reptile themed stories while we ate Mediterranean food). I just think he’s a guy that got caught up in the moment.

I ended up making an excuse about wanting to tuck my sister in bed and that I needed to leave because all the words were broken and because I was overwhelmingly disappointed in my own lack of candor.

And now, even days after, I’m disappointed in myself for not prioritizing myself. For letting myself be uncomfortable. For prioritizing presenting the perfect image of an understanding woman rather than being an empowered woman, and rather than being understanding to myself.

Me in the mirror
Me in the mirror. UGH.

He’s a nice enough guy that I could have looked at him and gone “don’t do that,” and I think it would have been A-OK. For someone who loves words so much, WHY DID THEY FAIL ME?!

What the hell is wrong with me?!

I am so embarrassed and so frustrated with myself.

Oh heck, I’ll admit it: I’m ashamed.

Gosh darn it.

The Hogwarts-Cosmo Factor (common ground and the gift of being actively present)

Sometimes you meet someone and the connection is immediate. There’s instant chemistry. You have heaps of things in common, and you don’t want to stop talking to each other. Everything about them enchants you. You’re drawn to each other. It’s electrifying (10,000 life points if you heard John Travolta as Danny Zuko’s voice in your head when you read that).

This was not one of those dates.

Let’s call this gentleman Catfish, not in the sense of the internet dating phenomenon of “catfishing” which inspired the vaguely tedious MTV show, but in the sense of the impetus for this date was a quest to find the best catfish in Memphis.

Fake optimism for the win. Sometimes you gotta fake it til you make it. Also, sometimes you just have to acknowledge the awkwardness.
All hail Seth Cohen, king of sarcastic optimism.

At first it felt like we were oil and water. He’s into sciences; I’m into humanities. He’s into athletics; I’m into art. He likes to party; I like to drink vodka in my pajamas. We live on completely opposite sides of Memphis. I was intimidated. There was a brief awkward silence in which I inwardly panicked.

Then my Southern took over, and I started asking questions. They breed charm and poise into us young. Thanks grandma for the Cotillion lessons and infinite manners books!

I forget that sometimes it’s important to talk to someone completely different from you. As I asked about the nuances of pharmacy work and learned about the roles pharmacists play, about the culture of his graduate school, about his family, I found myself absolutely fascinated to learn about a world and a life so different from my own.

And then, at long last, we stumbled upon the common ground: Harry Potter and Cosmopolitan.

Let's consider this gif a flag boldly staked in the midst of the newly discovered Common Ground.
Let’s consider this gif a flag boldly staked in the midst of the newly discovered Common Ground.

We compared favorite Harry Potter books and which Hogwarts houses we’d be sorted into (me: Prisoner of Azkaban and Gryffindor or Hufflepuff, Catfish: Goblet of Fire and Slytherin or Ravenclaw). Plus, it turns out we both spent our undergrad years indulgently laughing at the weird sex positions and stories of strange lady woes in Cosmo. We had, at least in my opinion, a really nice time. He’s a terrific guy, and it was a pleasure to spend an evening in his company.

As we said goodnight in the parking lot, still having not touched each other, I found myself feeling grateful. It’s so easy to go through life and not practice the art of conversation with strangers. It’s easy to write someone off as too different from us, as having nothing in common with us. We put up walls before we even look for where there might be windows.

Since when does having relatively little in common mean you can’t genuinely enjoy some time with someone? Since when does not having an immediate spark on a date mean you can’t have a lovely time?

Just being present with someone is a gift. Being in the moment, being focused on them, caring about their stories and their experiences, and really hearing what someone has to say is a wonderful thing, and frankly a very rare thing. Having someone voluntarily devote their evening to you is an act of faith, of generosity, of confidence that you’re someone who is worthy of their time and energy, and perhaps most preciously, of their stories and thoughts. Yet we’re willing to do this on a first date with virtual strangers, even if we won’t with the people we care about most?

That I can manage to be so genuinely attentive to people I’ve just met in person but that I so often can’t manage to put down my phone when spending time with dear friends embarrasses me. I’m calling myself out. I owe it to the people in my life to be as actively present with them as I am on first dates, if not more so. Yes, there’s something to be said for the comfort factor in that we’re not trying to impress our friends and that we can respect each other’s penchants for texting and social media as means of keeping other friendships going so that we can afford some glances at our phones and some distracted Facebook fiddling. However, I want to be focused enough on you as individuals to absorb your stories, your adventures, your wonders, your fears. I want to listen without thinking about what I’m going to say next, which is actually a piece of sage wisdom passed on to me by Jesus, who tries to live this way.

After all, what if we treated everyone in our lives with the respect with which we treat a first date? What if we brought that attentiveness, the willingness to listen, the sense that this could be something wonderful to each conversation?  What if we treated each other as if each person could profoundly change our lives for the better? What if we kept talking until we found the common ground, the laughter, the Hogwarts-Cosmo factor? Would our relationships become more intimate, more genuine, more powerful?

I like to think so.

Unmatch, anyone?

Guy: What’s up dork 😛

Me: Do you usually refer to strange women as dorks?

Guy: Un no, i normally refer to them as hoochies but you seem pretty cool so i gave you the benefit of the doubt

Me: I’m overcome by your gentlemanly manners.

Clearly time to unmatch this one. I’m not going to reciprocate and give him the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes you just have to let it go.

Channeling Cumberbatch/Frozen as I sit in my ice palace of female hoochie-ness.
Channeling Cumberbatch/Frozen as I sit in my ice palace of female hoochie-ness.

We live in the or.

For the record, I, too, have giant bat like wings that appear while I write.
For the record, I, too, have giant bat like wings that appear while I write.

I have a deep and abiding love for William Blake, poet and illustrator extraordinaire. As in about three times a year, I break down into tears because he is and forevermore will be dead. He is to me as Mister Rogers is to my mother. Yep, I’m the coolest.

One of my favorite Blake lines from his cheeky and sagacious Proverbs of Hell” from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell distills into four mere words the tricky balance that comes with human interaction. “Enough or Too much” he asks us. I find this line from over a century ago particularly relevant to our current communication systems.

Who the hell knows how much texting is enough texting? Is too much texting? Is it enough to disappear when you’re done talking to someone for the evening? Or when you’re done talking to them forever? Is it too much to outright tell someone you’re not into them? Is it too much to say that you’re involved with someone else?

We constantly live in the “or,” straddling the delicate line between enough and too much in each conversation. How do we navigate what’s easy with what’s polite? With what’s kind? How much kindness do we owe people who are all but strangers? And what’s kinder, the slow fade or the blunt truth?

It’s anxiety inducing on all ends. We’re locked in this weird dance trying to figure out what someone else wants, what we want, and how to make both of those things happen without ever directly addressing that all of this is going on. It’s exhausting and frustrating, exciting and absurd. And sad. At the end of the day, it’s sad to realize the level of artifice involved in these maneuvers. It makes my heart ache to think of all of us leading our separate lives, looking for connection even as we try to ensure people stay at arm’s length. Or, maybe since it’s texting, that they stay at thumb’s length.

How much longer can we stand the “or”? Or perhaps, is it only when we find someone with whom the “or” is irrelevant, with whom there is no maneuvering dance but rather a genuine dance of joy, danced together not around each other, that we can escape the “enough or too much” trap?