After an unpleasant experience one summer, I unexpectedly remembered my 11th grade English teacher. Let me set the stage a bit. Through work, I met a man that I became friends with. We texted, hung out at lunch, and grabbed beers. It was lovely. Thrilled at making a friend when I felt myself too old to make new friends (I’m 28 and cranky), I considered myself blessed to have a new person’s perspective in my life.
Going out with him and another male friend one night spelled disaster. As we listened to our other mutual friend’s latest situation about an ex-girlfriend, I felt the need to prove I was one of the guys. We were, after all, drinking beers and shooting the shit about women. After I said ‘Bitches, amirite?’, I then casually mentioned that after our drinks that night, I had one more guy ‘penciled’ on my dance card. Pencil meaning sex, obviously, because I’m immature. The first guy laughed, and my friend bolted. Confused, I figured I had farted or something.
“Not so”, said the first guy. “It’s because he likes you”. Now I was even more confused. I had no idea, absolutely none, that he had those feelings. Later, after I finished getting my dance card penciled, I mused about that abrupt departure. Did I miss something? Was there a sign, or did he say something, ever? Was I a terrible person for broadcasting my nocturnal pursuits? Then I became miffed. Why should I limit my conversation and treat every male friend like he might secretly have feelings for me? That was his problem, not mine. Then I thought about my high school English teacher explaining courtly love and Eleanor of Aquitaine. You know, normal post-coital thoughts.
Nobody wants a history lesson, and I assume if you’re at all curious, you can go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole on this later. Suffice it to say, courtly love can be equated to the origins of chivalry, in the early Middle Ages. A man is “forced” to love a woman from a distance because it wasn’t romantic to ask her to mini golf. He then tells her his feelings some time later after passion consumes him, sometimes in a long lyric poem, but she romantically refuses him. So, he tries again, and she says no. Rejected, he goes off to a far land, but of course, sends another long lyric poem.
Lady Better-Than-Good, don’t be loth:
you’ll find me all hoary and still loving you,
since I have neither heart nor strength to free myself.
(Arnaut Daniel, The firm desire that enters)
He’ll venture to slay a dragon or something epic. Then, POOF, he wins her heart with his surging masculine feat. The woman is powerless with his gesture. Before she felt nothing, and now with a taxidermized dragon head, she’s smitten. They fuck in the castle, maybe get married and that’s the end.
I have mixed feelings of how people dated before Tinder. Eleanor of Aquitaine, a very powerful woman who eventually became the Queen of France, England, and then a Holy Land crusader, was really into being rich and dictating the dating environment. She had her own Court of Love full of beautiful poetry fostered by sexually frustrated men, and beautiful women taught that their only value was to be wooed in rhyming verse and dangerous feats.
Okay, maybe not that mixed. Seeing the rules of courtly love feels like a tremendous waste of time. I would have just nipped it in the bud at that initial conversation.
Guy in chain mail: Do you like me?
Me strumming the Lumineers on my lute: I don’t.
Chain mail: Bummer.
End of conversation. Don’t slay a dragon for me. Go find another woman, and dip your poetry quill there. Don’t hate me because I don’t share your secret feelings I knew nothing about. Maybe write a poem, burn it, and move on.
What happened to butterflies? What happened to goosebumps? What happened to sweaty palms and dry mouth? Why is love and dating supposed to be tortured and secretive when it could be solved with an honest conversation. Anyone can make the first move. It’s not easy, but oh my gosh, imagine the savings on therapist co-pays, endless text messages back and forth to a best friend, and sleepless nights would be INSANE. Instead of having a friend dissect every message you sent to your crush hoping for a hint that they might reciprocate, maybe just text him to hang out.
Then to his gorgeous face, you say you like him. Does he feel the same way. Is his answer is yes? Fantastic! Proceed to plowing or movie date. The answer is no? Tough luck girlfriend. Be upset, but move on to someone worth your time.
If you still want to be friends, that’s great. But for the love of human decency, don’t just be nice to someone in hopes they’ll wake up and realize they want to date you. Because if they don’t, at best you’re leading him on, and at worst, you’re a terrible person.
Why aren’t we brave? Why are we afraid of butterflies? We don’t have to slay dragons to get people to like us, but somehow that seems easier than being emotionally vulnerable. But the problem with hidden feelings is that that they can breed resentment. When you harbor passions for someone who has no idea, it can brew trouble. When he sleeps with another girl and you’re expected to be the good friend who hears about it the next day, the jealousy can be maddening. Why do we do this to ourselves?
One of my favorite quotes is from the movie, “We Bought a Zoo”, starring Matt Damon. The plot of the movie is self explanatory from the title, but his character Benjamin Mee says “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
Mull that over. Greatness could be that she likes you back. Or, it could be a sucky outcome, but with liberation to move on. Get those sweaty palms, weak kness, and a little vomit on your sweater, like Eminem about to rap Lose Yourself. Those twenty seconds (and the build-up) is excruciating, but it’s always worth it.
That being said, rejection sucks. I’ve told guys I like them, and sometimes it works, and most often, it doesn’t. I’m single as of publication date. I wrote a love letter to a guy I’ve had feelings for five years from the bath tub of a beach motel. I’ve told a man outside of a bar in lightning storm I like him. I told a man after sex I think he and I might have a shot, and he laughed. I told a guy I just wanted to keep things casual with sex, and he said he was looking for a wife. Yet, I’d rather be single than wishing I was.
Maybe there is something to ‘the dance’, and not laying all the cards out on the table. Maybe, but wouldn’t you just rather know? Stop spinning your wheels, and just move forward.
I ardently hope chivalry is dead, because it wasn’t doing us any favors.