Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dear Jane Eyre...

Dear Bitter Amanda,
I've noticed among women in social situations where they are apt to met new people of the suitable gender for their romantic proclivities, if they happen to be in a relationship, this is information they will tell you early on, particularly if the beau is not in attendance.  It's not overt, it's not jarring, it's just there to show everyone where they stand. "Oh yes, Peru is lovely. I went last year with my boyfriend." That sort of thing. Just slipping in a simple fact.

I like this. I like how it says, "I am enjoying your conversation, and, in case we are reading this situation differently, I just want to let you know I'm spoken for. Let us continue talking about our common interests and having a good time." (Granted, some people wield this like a shield, bringing up their significant other every three seconds, which is a bit irritating, but understandable if they are getting a lot of unwanted attention.)
Men, I've found, do not do this. This is annoying. Maybe it's not all men. I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the male sex as a whole, but a disproportional amount of men that *I* meet and am flirting with/ passing my phone number to/ trying to ask out do not come clean with information about girlfriends until well into the conversation. A number of them don't even slip that bit of information in within the first meeting. I remember one time where I was shocked to find the gentleman in question had a fiance the whole time I'd known him, which was about nine months, and no one had informed me of this. Another time, I thought I'd been asked on an impromptu date, only to find I wasn't when he told me he was meeting his girlfriend at the movies later. Possibly my fault for misconstruing the invitation, but I still contend I should have been informed that a girlfriend existed by at least the first month in of knowing someone.
Is this some sort of convoluted chivalry? Are these men so sensitive to bandying a woman's good name about town that they neglect to tell me that they are in a long term relationship? Or are they dense and ill informed of social rules? Or, am *I* ill-informed and the general procedure now is to shake hands and ask, "Hello. Are you single? I just want to make sure it's ok to hit on you this evening should I feel inclined to do so." Or, and I hesitate to bring this up, are they doing this... conveniently?  ("Oh, I never told you I had a girlfriend? I'm sure I did, I must have.")
What do you think, Bitter Amanda? Why is this happening? And what can I do about it?
Yours truly,
Jane Eyre

Dear Jane,
If I had a dollar for every time I learned far too late in the game that a man was already in a relationship, I would be in a different tax bracket. 
This is so awkward! Women want to make it clear if they are in a relationship and that this is just a friendly conversation and not flirting, but they also don't want to be That Girl who can only talk about her boyfriend. But you also don't want to assume that every man who speaks to you is flirting. Most women have found a way to seamlessly introduce a significant other--generally before someone is asking for her phone number. On the flip side, single women also want to make themselves known without sounding sad or desperate--and they're pretty good at it.
Men are terrible at this. (And many other things in life, such as returning phone calls and regarding the feelings of another.) It's hard to tell if this is an intentional omission of information or just a stupid misreading of social situations. The first is unforgivable, the second is annoying. For me, the strangest part of this phenomenon is situations like not knowing someone is engaged. Your significant other shouldn't be the only thing you talk about, but how can you leave someone like that out of conversation for so long? Not a very good sign, if you ask me. 
And so, Ms. Eyre, let's get to your questions. Why is this happening? I am disinclined to call it any form of chivalry. That, my dear, is dead. Nor is this situation your fault. You're allowed to flirt and you're just using the information you've been given--or not given, as the case may be. 
I think the solution to this problem falls to men. (Sadly. This does not bode well for an efficient remedy.)
Men of the world, it's time to start paying attention. If you are unavailable and someone is flirting with you, you have a responsibility to your significant other to make them known. You don't have to wear a big sandwich board saying "I HEART MY GIRLFRIEND" or anything. Just a quick drop of the word "girlfriend" or even a female name will do. If said with enough familiarity, most women will pick up the hint. Do this as soon as she makes physical contact with you or asks what you do on the weekends. And don't flirt back! She might not be flirting with you, but she'll appreciate the heads up. Even if you're awkward about it, and you very likely will be, at least it's out there. 

If I may go down another path for a minute, I believe there is another reason women are so good at dropping their partner into conversations. It's a defense mechanism. A safety net. Very often, the only thing that stops a would-be suitor from showering a woman with affection (read: groping and sweating all over her) is the mention of another man in her life. The sad fact is that lots of men only stop unwanted attention out of respect for another man. I've had to make up boyfriends in order to get a man unwrapped from around me. It's not enough that a woman has said no or asked you to stop, which is pathetic. 

You keep doing what you're doing, Jane. 
Solitarily yours,
Bitter Amanda

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