I find I tend to panic a bit when I notice someone is attracted to me. It often happens that I notice their attractedness well before I’ve decided whether I am attracted to them, or indeed paid any attention to their attractiveness. I met someone recently who, it’s clear, fancies me quite a bit, but although I could repeat a lot of what he said (in half an hour’s conversation), I could give only the haziest description of what he looks like! (I don’t think it’s too much of a stereotype to say that it’s rather rarer for a man to speak to a woman without noticing the way she looks than vice versa!). Anyway, the effect is that I often feel I’m under pressure to catch up and decide!
It’s more unease than panic, I suppose – a feeling that the situation is out of my control, and that I have a responsibility to make my mind up straight away about what I want so as to avoid giving the wrong signals and leading someone on. And yet I know that for many women being desired is something that gives them great pleasure and affirmation. And some women, consciously or unconsciously, use this power to manipulate and control men.
I’ve never wanted that sort of power, and I’ve never sought out that sort of affirmation. I was a bit of a late developer in the dating game, as I’ve mostly had other priorities that seemed more interesting (and deep down less scary!) than pursuing relationships when I was quite happily and busily single! So being desired was always rather unfamiliar ground, and kept taking me by surprise.
It didn’t help that most of the guys I noticed looking at me that way often showed it in a dog-like, rather hopeless, sad and unassertive devotion, which (sorry guys), just wasn’t at all attractive to me and made me feel guilty about not giving them the attention they clearly craved. (On the other hand, when I noticed I was attracted to someone before I had an idea how they felt, I was often so nervous about whether the feelings were returned that I was completely unable to read their behaviour at all!)
Having said that, I’m getting better… the first time I realised someone was attracted to me (I must have been about 17) I panicked and avoided the poor guy (with whom I’d been pursuing a relaxed and (from my side) entirely asexual friendship) for about a month. I’ve come a long way since then, and have navigated serious relationships and casual flirtations with increasing confidence. And once I’ve confirmed that desire is mutual, I am very happily uninhibited. But still I catch myself, as a few days ago, feeling a bit uneasy when I notice someone fancies me, before I’ve made my mind up about them.
But this time, having identified my reaction, I am working to change it. To accept, and to enjoy, the fact of my attractiveness. To accept that me just being who I am, physically and in personality, is going to be attractive to people. (I’d never claim to be drop-dead gorgeous in the conventional sense, but I have gradually overcome the false modesty and lack of confidence that stopped me being aware that I am, in my way, very attractive to particular men).
I am starting to feel convinced that, if someone is attracted to me, it’s not something I’m doing to them. So if they end up experiencing confusion or frustration or disappointment, that’s not my responsibility. Nor do I need to change the way I want to behave naturally – e.g. dancing with less energy and joy – just because of the effect it might have on people watching me. There’s a world of difference between setting out deliberately to seduce someone, which I feel does confer some responsiblity for feelings that have been provoked consciously, and happening to seduce someone by being myself.
So most of the time, if someone is attracted to me, it’s just their reaction to the person I am. And the fact that they are attracted to me does not reduce my control over the situation. My feeling of being powerless comes because I feel I should be responsible for controlling their feelings. But if I stop feeling responsible for that, I can see that the fact that they are attracted to me does give me a degree of power.
Not that I wish to be manipulative or abuse that power. But actually I think being aware of it, and accepting it, will make me kinder and less likely to confuse or hurt people. I hope that through accepting my attractiveness I will find it easier to relax, be myself, and react naturally and frankly, rather than being driven by fears. As with so many things, it is often fear that makes us behave most cruelly towards others – and I’m sure I hurt and confused the poor guy who first shocked me by being attractive to me. I suspect using attractiveness to manipulate often results from fear in one way or another.
Alongside that acceptance I need to develop another – an acceptance of my own desire or lack of desire or simply haven’t-made-my-mind-up-yet. That any of these feelings are appropriate and acceptable, regardless of whether the other person desires me or not.
I have a feeling life might be more interesting with this new perspective…