Monday, March 5, 2018

7 Reasons Women Don't Want to be Called Sexy (And 3 Ways to Know if She Does)

Originally published on The Good Men Project.

In the age of #metoo, how do men handle random interactions and flirtatious encounters?

I’m walking down the street on my way to work. It’s a path I’ve trodden hundreds of times. Whenever I pass by the local bar, my body tenses. Even though it’s closed at this hour, men still seem to gather out front. I’ll likely be fine, but this is how it is to walk past a bar in the morning going to work. A man calls out, “You’re sexy.” I respond, “Thank you.” I keep walking, but he leans in, starts to walk with me. “Can I get your number?” “No,” I say and keep walking. He doesn’t follow me. At the pace I go, I’m not surprised. I mean business. I’m late for work, and it’s 8 a.m.
This is a scenario that’s familiar to many women. It comes out of the blue and calls for more attention than we want to give or have time for.
Imagine, instead, this other scenario. I’m walking down the street on my way to work. Same scene. Man calls out that I’m sexy. I thank him. He smiles. I smile. That’s it. Exchange complete. This one works for me. This one leaves me feeling safe. This one tells me the man is listening and not just pushing for an agenda.
The first scenario is one of the reasons women don’t want to be told they’re sexy.
1. “Sexy” isn’t freely given. There are strings attached. Even responding to the words with a simple thank you can be read as an invitation for more. If a man is offering a compliment, let it be just that: a compliment. A woman responding is not an invitation for more--unless it’s clear it’s an invitation for more. If she’s dressed for work, seems to be moving quickly, has headphones on, or doesn’t respond, it’s because she doesn’t want more.
2. Sometimes a woman doesn’t feel sexy, so telling her she’s sexy doesn’t land. In this case, it’s not about you. You may think her clothes cut a phenomenal figure. How could she not know it? Truth is, sometimes we don’t. I might be bloated, tired, distracted, overwhelmed, none of which is about you. This means my sexiness doesn’t depend on external factors. It’s how I feel on the inside. You’re not going to convince me. I need to find my own true north.
3. A woman’s sexiness doesn’t depend on you! What an onerous task that would be, to be responsible for a woman’s sexiness. There might come a day when the man might be absent or not feeling the woman’s sexiness, and then what? If a woman depended on you for her sexiness, she might just fall apart. Okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but when people are externally referenced around something, they have a hard time internally sourcing it. If a woman feels sexy, you want that to grow from the inside out, watered by her own self-esteem, not by the words of others.
4. It can be manipulative. A man tells me I’m sexy, and now I owe him something. Somehow, we’ve had a transaction, and that transaction means I have agreed to be part of a system which obligates me to do something. I now owe the man a smile, a phone number, more of my time and energy. Men have been known to guilt-trip me because I haven’t responded or haven’t responded positively. The guilt trip doesn’t work these days, but when I was in my teens and twenties, I felt as though I had done something wrong. I would go along with the interaction, getting manipulated by the man, thinking that I somehow owed him something. I didn't.
5. Sometimes a woman doesn’t want any more attention on her body. Now, a sexy comment can definitely be about more than physical appearance, but I’d put money on the idea that the comment probably IS about physical appearance, especially if it’s done publicly from a stranger. Honestly, we get so many comments about how we look, should look, don’t look, don’t look good enough, do look good enough, that sometimes we’re sick of it. Therefore, if we don’t respond/respond well, know that this might be a cause.
6. It’s an invasion of private space when we’re in the public. Some women simply want to be free and undisturbed when they’re in public. They don’t want to have to be on guard when someone calls out to them. They don’t want to be called out to at all. It doesn’t matter how hot you are, sometimes we just want to be left alone!
7. Sloppy sexual energy. This is when a man is oozing so much sexual energy, he might as well have become a life-sized walking penis. He is a man who is not in control of his sexual energy, and a woman can feel it. It’s one thing for a man to be connected to his sex and his sexual energy, which is potent and non-threatening. It’s another to hear the words, “You look sexy,” coupled with a massive dose of uncontrolled testosterone. The latter is huge turn-off and unsafe.

What if a woman does want to be called sexy?

Certainly, I’ve been there, and I know other women have been there, too. In my experience (and when chatting with other female friends), three things really matter: connection, calibration, completion.
Connection means a man is actually connected to the woman. For some, it could be minor--though this is always a bit dangerous. Eye contact and a smile might not be enough to establish rapport. A friendship or romantic relationship might be enough that she would appreciate hearing those words. When it’s a random man at a random time, it can feel invasive and disconnected. Furthermore, saying those words doesn’t create a connection; the connection must exist before the words are spoken.
Calibration means the man has felt into the woman, assessed whether or not she might be open for a comment, and is confident she is. When in doubt: ask. (“If you were into it, I would love to give you a compliment.”) He sees what her pacing is, what she might be up for, and then moves from there. If he starts to speak and finds there’s little to no response, he changes tactic and perhaps chooses not to move forward with what he had intended to say. He matches her beat for beat.
The last piece is completion. Telling a woman she’s sexy doesn’t mean there needs to be any acknowledgment, any thanks, or any reciprocity. Consider the interaction complete. She doesn’t owe you anything, not even a thank you. Now, I was certainly raised to say thanks and try to do so, but if a woman feels like you’re invading her space, she might not be up for any sort of response. In that case, you considering the interaction complete would be a welcome gift.
In the age of #metoo, people are grappling with how to handle random interactions, flirtatious encounters, sexy texts, first kisses, and more. With some presence and awareness, slowing down the pace, and ultimately caring for the person you’re interacting with, you have a much higher degree of chance that you’ll leave the person you’re interacting with not only better than you found them but better off for having met you.
Photo credit: Getty Images

Thursday, March 1, 2018

My Father’s Anger, and the Wounds I’ve Healed

Originally published on The Good Men Project

Can a man be a better grandfather than father?

We were sitting at the dinner table when my father came home. The scene before my father: buoyant, joyous, filled with laughter. My brother was cackling. I was in on the joke simply by being his sister. I remember the giggles, like neverending champagne bubbles. Then, my father arrived, and we were tense, giggles splattering into straight faces, stretched tight like a rubber band about to split, and it did, or I should say he did. I don’t remember what my brother had done. Perhaps it was his grades. Perhaps something else or nothing at all. All I knew is I was grateful I wasn’t the target of my father’s anger. He unleashed a firestorm at my brother, doing nothing short of incinerating him. My brother sobbed while I stared at my plate, wondering if the peas would magically turn into carpet to transport us out of there. Then, dinner was over, and we could go back to acting like it didn’t happen.
That’s what happened in my family; the anger boiled up and over, directed at one of us (usually my brother), and then minutes, hours, the next day, it magically evaporated. We would pretend it hadn’t taken place. It took me years to work through the idea that working through conflict was desirable, and all men weren’t scary. Then, it took more time to realize my husband wasn’t my father when my husband was angry. I peeled back layer upon layer, wondering why I glowered when men showed interest. Slowly, that too began to melt away.
I remember when I was about ten years old, I was playing in the pool with my father and the other kids. I don’t remember what he did, but I do remember screaming at him, “I hate you!” I had never said that before, and I’m not even sure I meant it, but in the moment, it was real. Later that night, my father was noticeably absent after dinner. I asked my mom where he was. Outside. Near the pool. He was upset that I had told him I hated him.
I couldn’t believe my father could actually be hurt. He had shown few emotions other than anger and playfulness with little middle ground and a hairpin trigger temper. I sucked up my pride and went outside. I apologized, which felt awkward and sad in my mouth as though the small words could never erase the large words that had been spoken. Years later, I came back to this: men could be hurt and hurt deeply.
Years later, I came back to this: men could be hurt and hurt deeply.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I made peace with my father. I learned how much he had wanted us to have the life he never had. He grew up in Nebraska, and his father came out to San Francisco to find work. Finally his father sent for his mother and their four kids. They arrived in the San Francisco train station where his mother was served with divorce papers. His father had hooked up with a San Francisco socialite and abandoned them. That was the role model my father had.
It’s a pretty low bar when your father has abandoned you. In the absence of that, my father tried to fill in the gaps with societal expectations: work hard and provide for your family even if it means commuting an hour in the morning and a hour and a half at night. Work became a proxy for family because family got the emotional dregs of the day generously sprinkled with frustration and fatigue.
I understand he was doing his best, trying to create a life for us where we weren’t living hand to mouth, but the fallout was hard and especially hard on my brother.
In me, my father instilled a powerful work ethic, infallible honesty, and a desire to do better. Along with that, I am incredibly sensitive to criticism. My brother seems to be the one who didn’t escape. The father wound is deep, so deep, I don’t know if it will ever be healed, but I have to believe it is possible. As Jed Diamond writes in “Healing the Father Wound: It’s Never Too Late,” it truly is never too late. It is possible to make amends with a man who lashed out with verbal violence. It is possible to make and find that peace.
The father wound is deep, so deep, I don’t know if it will ever be healed, but I have to believe it is possible.
I don’t have answers except to say that my father does spend time with my son. Gone is the stress from my childhood days. Here is the man who truly is a better grandfather than father. It’s not that he’s perfect--far from it--but I can see the gentleness in his touch and patience in his manner. My son loves him and wants to spend time with him.
For me, this is the healing of generations. My father brings his best to my son, and my son will learn to bring his best to those around him. I hope my son will learn that creating the best life for those around him is not about working himself down the angry dregs of his grandfather. I hope he will remember our own peaceful dinners when he sat with me and his father and learned how to be in this life.
At the end of the day, I wish there were some way to wrap up my father’s anger in a tidy little package to be set aside, but I know that’s a fallacy. Instead, I take my forgiveness with my brother’s hurt, my own memories of cold squishy peas with effervescent giggles, and try to hold it all. Some days it is easier than others. Other days, I look at my son and the laughter which rises effortlessly into the air. It is the promise of a new generation, one that is learning how to love without creating suffering.
Photo credit: Getty Images

7 Reasons Women Don't Want to be Called Sexy (And 3 Ways to Know if She Does)

Embed from Getty Images -- Originally published on The Good Men Project. In the age of #metoo, how do men handle random interaction...