Part one is here
So, then, what's the deal? Why, as my mother would say, haven't I "met a nice young lady and settled down"? I've got a couple of theories I've fine-tuned in response to Ma's question. Each time she asks me about it on the phone I can feel my eyes rolling to the back of my head as I launch into yet another defense of my actions, or shall we say, my inaction. For starters, I'm shy. I know this sounds like a dumb excuse, a lame way out. Princess Diana was shy and look who she married. But she was beautiful and she was the one who was pursued, not the one doing the pursuing. In the Asian context in which I now live I'll be the one who has to find out my gym mate's name, digits, and favorite night out before I can get an up close and personal. Maybe I should move to a place where the women are a little more aggressive. Indonesia's an option. It's not far from here and I heard the women there can be very forward. Yes, I must note that as an option. "Hey Ma, look who I met. Actually, look who met me!"
Being shy sucks. Take last week for example. I was out at Cobble's having a drink with friends after work and at the table next to us sat five good-looking women. They were celebrating a birthday and pretty supped up on alcohol when we sat down. Immediately Tom Peters starts eyeing the ladies and doesn't even bother to hide his lust, eventually leaning over to offer Sadie a tip of his glass "in honor of your 20th birthday!" I reached for a napkin to expunge dinner. Sick. What a poor attempt at a pick-up line. But, as is often the case, it worked! Within minutes the rest of us corralled around their table and soon we were all singing "Happy Birthday, dear Sadie, Happy Birthday to you." Fast-forward three hours. Tom walked off with Sadie and two of her friends. Paul had Rachel's arm. Dennis had Man-Li's. And I held firmly to my briefcase as I ran in the other direction to catch the last train home. When I got home I looked myself in the mirror with the same realization I'd had since Junior High: being shy sucks.
Unfortunately, being shy isn't my only problem. I'm also terribly anxious. My anxiety leads to fear and fear leads to inaction. I become immobilized around women, particularly attractive women. The fact I am so darn self-conscious doesn't help. This scenario gets played out over and over again: John sees attractive woman, attractive woman sees John. John steps toward woman. Woman steps toward John. Woman looks somewhat interested. John is very interested. Woman gets closer. John gets closer. John's palms sweat. Woman gets closer. Sweat breaks out in John's armpits. Deodorant defense breaks. Woman is still getting closer. See John? Now see John run. See women look away in the direction of some other guy. If I had a dime for how many times that's happened since college I would be rich enough to donate a new library to the school. I just can't handle the pressure, even at 41. What's wrong with me?
My friend Tom says my problem is women like cocky men and if I cant at least play the part then I have no chance. Carolyn (she is happily married) says the opposite: women like a man who is shy, retiring, and reflective. "You have a lot to offer, John, just be a little bolder at the start. Women will like you." Mark tells me my anxiety and fear has something to do with the way my Mom handled me as a child. "You know, the psychology of it." He's even asked me if I was held a lot as a kid? Did I spend more time with my Mom or my Dad? Were my brothers and sisters treated differently than me? If so, how? If not, why not? And Angela, my sister-in-law has a two-point plan for me: "Step one: lose 25 pounds. Step two: take a course in public speaking." Thanks. So, in order for me to ask a woman on a simple date I need to turn into a cocky, arrogant sort, stay shy and "retiring" but believe on the inside that women will like me, and I need to return to my Mom's loving arms and reprimand her for too much love and care, all while I kill myself in the gym and then sign up for a course on how to speak to strangers? Perhaps you can see why I'm immobilized. I wish the whole thing could be a lot easier, which leads me back to thinking about Indonesia.
If you ask me, my religious experience is what really put me in this mess in the first place. I grew up in what my most recent priest called a "quasi-Christian home." By quasi he meant half-hearted. And he defined this for me when I went to him with my 41-year-old virgin problem and he started asking me about my "family of origin." Dutifully, and out of respect for the old bird, I jumped right in telling him about my enthusiastic Christian mother and my I'll-go-to-church-kicking-and-screaming father. I shared with him how much my parents marriage sucked but how much the church just thought we were the perfect little family. My Dad was a deacon by day and a royal jerk by night. My mother was a volunteer by day and a nasty gossip hound by night. But in the eyes of the other families and "singles" (even then that word had a negative connotation) we were something special. It was like a star hung high above our heads and an angel of God shone light all around us wherever we went. I often thought how suddenly that angel could turn of his or her light as soon as we walked inside our back door. It was a sad irony.
As all you other "good Christian boys and girls" out there know, treating sex like the plague and girls if you're a boy and boys if you're a girl like people who had the disease was a top priority for all Christian parents, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and old, fat, hairy, angry church leaders who caught you in a dark hallway about to kiss Julie Davis. (I was so close, too, and then he came emerging from the shadows where he had been lurking, old Mr. Sanders. It was like he wanted to kiss Julie the way he practically ripped off my right arm, which had been resting perfectly normal in the small of Julie's back.) But I was an obedient little soldier in the Lord's army. No kissing, no hugging, no drugging, no drinking, no abomination, and certainly no good vibrations. This was the way I lived, and to be honest, it didn't feel all that unnatural or hard to do when I was 16, 17, and 18. Actually, it didn't feel strange avoiding these "worldly practices" when I was 23, 24, and 25 either. But at 41 I can say without any hesitation, it feels weird. It feels antiquated. It feels abnormal. It feels just plain dumb.
And that helps to explain, to me anyway, why every time I go to ask a girl out I also feel antiquated, abnormal, and just plain dumb. And that's not a good combination for a guy who's looking to unlock the code on marriage.
To be continued.