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.
I 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?
We 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.
I 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?
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.
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.