Rules of Attraction, or, Love in a Time of Confusion

Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed, anymore?

I’m not ogling, I’m…I’m…appreciating!

But when does a smile become a leer?

Is there, now, any appropriate way for one adult human to indicate attraction toward another adult human? Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed anymore?

Must we revert to formal introductions, chaperoned courtship, and a kind of Regency-romance style of communication? (with apologies to Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, whose cynical proposal of marriage to Scarlett O’Hara/Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film, Gone with the Wind, is echoed in the image above – credit where credit is due). “My dear sir, it cannot have escaped your attention that I find you to be the embodiment of male pulchritude (translation – “damn, baby, look at that butt! And those sculpted arms!”) and that I would greatly enjoy appreciating you more closely, you gorgeous hunka…”

Oh, wait – I digress. That’s not exactly Regency style, and is clearly off-limits. If you say it out loud.

What if you say it with your smile and your eyes? Bad? Wrong? Certainly ridiculous, in my case.

But if online dating is just too creepy and scary, and when merely striking up a conversation with a person to whom one is attracted feels perilous, how is anyone going to find love?

Or more to the point, how are adults to find each other to share (after an appropriate period of “getting to know one another,” probably vetting by trusted friends, and maybe a background check and some medical testing), erm…. how shall we say this? to share, erm, … mutually consensual physical affection?

There’s a chapter in my book called, “God Help Me, I’m Turning Into Betty White!”

No offense, Betty, I love you – everyone loves you – I’m just referring to that shtick you do, where you look sideways at a much younger man – with obvious, intense and substantial appreciation.

The chapter in the book recounts a fleeting incident of that kind of thing, where the younger man almost certainly didn’t notice me noticing him, and I noticed how ridiculous I was being anyway.

But Betty has been doing that bit, or playing characters who behave that way, probably since she was younger than I am now. And it is (was?) funny because women of a certain age are not supposed to feel, and certainly not supposed to display, desire. Because that would be ridiculous, right? Hilarious?

Well, it may be ridiculous, and maybe hilarious, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

Is the Betty bit ok, anymore? Or is that not OK? Seriously, I’m asking. I used to think this sort of thing was utterly harmless. And for God’s sake, Betty White is pretty damn harmless. And funny.

But if women object to being objectified, men get to object, too. It’s a goose/gander thing, right? Equal is equal.

Does that put any form of appreciation for another adult’s physical beauty off limits?

Case in point: I was in the local drugstore (pharmacy, or “chemist’s,” for you users of British English) the other day, looking for this little loofah thing I could have sworn I bought in that store, but I couldn’t find it.

So I went looking for a store clerk to help me find it – and as I turned toward the sound of someone asking an unseen clerk for help, I saw a stunningly handsome man striding around the corner of the aisle, toward the unseen clerk who was trying to help him find what he wanted. They later resolved the problem by ordering the item for him at the desk.

Where I waited, at what I hope was a decent, respectful distance, for my turn to speak to a clerk to help me find what I needed, which, it turned out, they also didn’t have.

But I waited long enough to ….um,….appreciate this guy. Trying to be discreet, but still. I appreciated him long enough to notice that he was the embodiment of my current (unattainable, I suppose, much to my regret – but see, “lack of youth and beauty finds recompense in experience and enthusiasm,” above) ideal – jeans, work boots – obviously made his living working hard, and from the look of him, working mostly outside. Black hair. Good natured with the clerk. A nice, nice looking guy, who appeared to be the kind of guy who knows how to do stuff.

And look absolutely amazing while doing so.

I mean, this guy could stop traffic.

(And actually did, later, when we both tried to pull out of the parking lot at the same time. You know how that goes – you go and stop, because you see another person pulling out, and then they stop because they see you, and you both wait a sec, and then you both start going, until someone makes a decision about who gets to go first. In this case, he backed his pickup truck – my new favorite vehicle, when driven by the likes of him – out a little, saw me coming, and stopped, but I stopped too, and then we both started and stopped again, and then I waved him on, laughing).

He was laughing too, flashing a blindingly beautiful smile. A smile that suggested that he knew I had appreciated him, and (sadly, to me) thought it was funny.

He turned right, I turned left, and that was that.

And the day just continued like that – it was a lovely, sunny day, I was in a good mood, wearing a bright rose-orange t-shirt, jeans and shades, and my hair was blowing around, fetchingly, I thought, in its naturally curly state, and good-looking men were walking, biking and working outside, all over the place.

And I smiled at them.

That’s OK, isn’t it?

Or isn’t it?

The more I think about it the closer I come to another panic attack.

The men I smiled at that day weren’t seeking attention from me. They were just out and about, doing what they do.

Was I wrong to smile at them, appreciatively?

Seriously, I’m asking. Was that wrong?

Because I’m not very good at hiding my, erm, appreciation for good looking, talented, kind, effective men who look like guys who know how to do stuff – fix things, build things, open things that won’t open, close things that won’t close, etc.

Handy man. In the practical and the James Taylor sense (“I fix broken hearts, baby I’m your handyman…”)

What do I do now? Seriously, what do I do?

Get me to a nunnery?

Still hoping to find affection, somewhere, and awaiting your sage advice, I remain, your humble, devoted, confused, anxious,

Ridiculouswoman

Divestiture, Episode One

I want to stick with what matters, now…

The pink dress I wore, the night I met him.

Recycle.

The red two-piece outfit I wore, on the third date, when we sat and talked under the statue of Lincoln in the park.

Ditto.

I kept the dress from the second date, because I love that dress, and I hang on to the vain hope that someday I not only be able to wear it again but that I’ll be able to get the massive coffee stain out of it, the stain that can’t be passed off as just part of the pattern of the dress, which is kind of like an abstract expressionist painting done in dark reds and light browns on a cream surface.

The dress he bought for me as a present – modest, navy blue and soft pink floral, feminine, kind of prim, the sort of dress I didn’t think I’d look like anything in. But I think he wanted me to realize that it was about me, not the dress.

Skirt suits. I’ll never wear suits again, I swear. Out.

A box full of old guidebooks and pamphlets from places in the UK and Europe I had visited in high school, or after law school. I kept them thinking I’d read them later. Not.

My law school notebooks, for God’s sake – why on earth did I save those?

I saved a few cute stories I wrote, illustrated with photographs of me as a very little girl, and handmade chapbooks of poems I had written when I was in elementary school. I was charmed by who I was as a child – boldly creative, funny and unafraid.

Even with this, I’ve barely made a dent, in the bedroom closet that doubles as the attic in this house.

Then there’s the wedding dress.

Why do I still have that? There is no possibility of anyone I’m related to ever needing it, wanting it or fitting in it – it was fitted to me, short and fat. I suppose I’ll have to see if I can sell it.

Wedding shoes. My daughter and I wear the same size shoes, but nah. I’ll give those away.

Boxes of books from college and papers I wrote while “up at Oxford,” on a program of study abroad. I’ve visited them once or twice and I’m always impressed with my younger self – the intellectual passion that comes through in these long-ago essays. But those are next.

The Mom box. It’s a box of stuff my eldest brother saved when he was shoveling out her house. Turns out Mom saved her school papers, too, and in just the snippet of them I’ve read, I discovered an ardent early feminist who wrote about the roles women should be allowed to take up and the unfair limitations imposed upon them. That was in the ’40s. I’ll give my brothers and niece a chance to take the box, but I don’t think they will.

Shoveling out Mom’s house took six months of arduous work, research, sorting, categorizing, selecting, selling, distributing, etc. I hope I thanked my brother for that.

But I’m going to be the one doing that for this house, while I still can.

Because other than photographs, which she needs and loves to look at, there really is nothing here that will be of any service or meaning to my daughter after I’m gone. And I feel oppressed by all this crap. I want to feel the “joy of tidying up” Marie Kondo wrote about. I want to get out from under it all, clean up, get minimal. Breathe.

I want to stick with what matters, now, and tone down the sentimental hoarding of old stuff that will be of no future use or meaning to my daughter or anyone else.

I had a little medical scare two weeks ago – went to the doctor and got the all clear from the ultrasound tech.

And then they called me back.

Radiologist thinks he saw a little sumpin’ sumpin.

In my previous post, “Trading Fear for Flow,” I wrote about how law school somehow seemed to have switched on a kind of generalized anxiety disorder, that expressed itself primarily in OCD type behavior – checking, checking and re-checking. I described how a perfectly mundane, everyday experience blew up into a near-full on panic attack, about an inevitable lawsuit that never was filed.

You get to a certain age and the medicos seem to have an urgent need to explore, poke, prod, test, image, scan, scrape and centrifuge bits of your bits, and yes, check and check again. (See, “fear of inevitable lawsuit,” above).

So I can’t blame them, really, for wanting me back. I’m pretty sure it a mere shadow of things long past and gone, and that it is nothing.

But it could be something.

All the more reason to go for the “flow.”

And to divest this house of all the crap, so others (far in the future, I hope, but still) won’t have to.

The appointment is just under two weeks from now, and I’ll be writing about other stuff before then. But I’ll keep you posted.

Now, about all those boxes of old newspaper clippings (remember print? Ha!) and programs from concerts and shows, and scraps of fabric I’ll never make into anything….I’ll get my shovel and have at it.

Until then, I remain, your loyal, humble, devoted,

Ridiculouswoman