Filing down my horns
I’ve spent my entire adult dating life playing it safe. I never approach men I like, I don’t flirt with strangers until they’re already flirting with me, I can’t even smile at a cute man across the room. I keep my own desires on a very tight leash.
But I’ve decided I’m tired of playing coy. Men don’t hide their intentions. Why should we?
On a recent Saturday night, out of town for a conference, I wound up having dinner with a man I’d met that day. He was my age, handsome, funny, and uber-masculine in the way I like. Dinner started out as a meal between colleagues, but after a glass of wine and some intimate table talk, it suddenly felt like a date.
“It’s like you’re the angel to my devil,” my sort-of date said when I declined a second glass of wine.
I laughed. “I’m no angel.”
He sat back and looked at me. “Then you must have filed down your horns.”
It was the point in a date when I typically dial it back, when all my natural shyness rears up and I blush and stammer my way to a night alone. But I had already decided to shrug off my natural reserve, and so instead I tried amping up the innuendos and not-sosubtle flirting when my date suggested another round of drinks.
“I feel like I’m corrupting you,” he said.
Normally, I would have demurred, giggled and rolled my eyes. I would have pretended that I was, in fact, incorruptible.
But instead, I looked him full in the face with my best take-me-back-toyour room expression and said, “Who says I’m not already corrupted?”
And that ended the evening. All the heat that was building between us suddenly cooled. My date paid the check, gave me a quick hug and dashed off to his room. Clearly, the harder I had tried the less interested he had become. But why?
Not long after, I stumbled on a passage from “Women Men Love, Women Men Leave,” a dating advice book first published in the late ’80s that reads like a playbook for every relationship mistake I’ve ever made.
“Traditionally, it was the woman’s role to put the brakes on sexually, to modulate the speed and intensity of the sexual involvement,” the book says. “Since men could count on women to operate as a sort of governor, they could ignore their own misgivings and act aggressive, decisive and supremely confident. Women’s growing ease with sexuality has changed all that.”
The authors, both male psychiatrists, gave an example of a woman, Sharon, who after several good but unconsummated dates suggested to her new boyfriend in very explicit terms that she wanted him to stay over.
“All of a sudden, what felt warm and romantic turned weird,” Sharon said. The boyfriend made an excuse, left and never called again.
More than 20 years later, the book continues to make a good point: Even with all the progress toward equality between the sexes, even with all our leaning in, women are still expected to act sweet and innocent on a date. It turns out the role of devil was never ours to play. ¦
— Editor’s note: The writer’s book, “Unremarried Widow,” was reviewed in The New York Times on Sunday, Jan. 5.