How to Not Fuck it Up When You Meet a Guy You Like

guy-yawning-pic

When I was in my twenties, fresh out of university with an impressive list of degrees to my name and dumber than a box of hair, I was lucky enough to land a job at a glossy women’s magazine. Only the tea girl was lower in the pecking order than I was, but coming straight from the hallowed walls of my ivy league-ish university and having read every hard book ever written twice, I fancied myself to be rather smart, and also believed that I had something of great significance to contribute to our monthly features meetings where we (they) decided on the content of the next mag.

It took me about five minutes to realise that you can quote Germaine Greer till you’re eleventy shades of purple, but when it comes to men and courtship (yes, we are still in the fifties) well… we are still in the fifties. All that stuff about equality of the genders is deeply true and correct, but it doesn’t help a sister one smidgen of an iota when she is Dating Seriously and trying her damnedest to not fuck it up with The Guy.

Through the one decade older and entire lives wiser women I worked alongside I learnt some deeply important truths, truths that have, over the decades, proved themselves to be truly true. And their trueness is ridiculous because we should be above all this by now and able to be honest and upfront about what we want and how we feel. But, you know how little boys at playschool show up in their pyjamas and dribble and hit things while the girls wear matching outfits, have good hair and make complicated social arrangements? It kind of stays like that forever (sorry, boys, and also sorry for what’s about to come, I know you’ll tell me off properly in the comments section).

The truth is that, for the most part, we women meet a man and want to marry him and also breed by about next Thursday. Men, for the most part, are still wondering if it’s strictly necessary to change out of their pyjamas that day. Which is why, in the early days, we girls need to manage ourselves and our expectations of fledgling relationships if we don’t want said guy to run away crying in fear. And managing ourselves and the situation requires a bit of self-discipline, but is actually much easier to implement than one would expect. You just have to pretend you’re a character in a Jane Austen novel for a while and everything – including Mr Darcy – will go your way.

  1. WWJAD (What Would Jane Austen Do?)

What indeed (see, I knew all those hard books would pay off somehow in the end). What Jane definitely wouldn’t do is sleep over in the first few weeks. It’s soooo tempting because all that Mulderbosch and tomorrow’s Sunday and he made lamb shank for you and everything’s so cosy. This, by the way, does not mean not shagging. You can shag to your heart’s content (if you are a few weeks in, that is. Never, ever do that thing on the first or the second date. I promise. Take it from Jane). But staying the night is too familiar and what’s going to happen is that after coffee and a walk to the bakery the next morning the temptation to stay the day is going to be enormous and next thing you know three days will have passed and you’re still in his t-shirt, only he’s gotten a bit jittery and has developed a nervous tic and keeps gazing longingly out the window because The Spookery has set in and all he wants is to GET AWAY. Do not let things get to this point. Get in your car and go home directly after the shank and the shag. Even if he begs you to stay. If you absolutely must stay the night, leave very early next morning. Because you know better than him what he needs. Go! Voetsek! Hamba! And don’t phone him either. Stalk him on Facebook and go to bed.

The Spookery 

Here’s what that is. On the whole, young men are not as eager to settle down as their female counterparts, ie within the first week of meeting. For this reason they tend to be skittish, excitable and easily spooked. These are the things that spook them:

  • The idea that you might need them for anything, ever.
  • The idea that their personal freedom might be curtailed in any minute way at any time in the near or distant future.
  • The idea that somebody might make a suggestion regarding their laundry and/or personal hygiene/lifestyle/eating habits and that they will feel obliged to change some aspect of themselves.

But The Spookery is really easy to avoid. All you need to do is not be scary. Being scary is knitting toilet seat covers for his digs, being available to hang out with him all the time and sending whatsapps asking him where he is and why he hasn’t whatsapped you. This last thing is very, very spookery-inducing, so I’m going to devote a whole paragraph to that.

3. The WhatsApp Thing

This is a zone of pure treachery, as is the whole social media domain. How people remain in relationships and get married in this era of who-the-fucks-that-girl-in-the-pic and the damning two blue ticks is a mystery and a miracle to me. I can tell you for free that I would be single and living amongst cats had I been dating in the time of Facebook. Again, the rules are simple and have to be adhered to.

  • you never send the first text. Let him send it. He needs to send it. If you don’t let him send it by sending yours first he’ll get confused. They are like that.
  • you never send the last text. If he says, ‘cool! Look forward to seeing you!’ You don’t say, ‘yes! Will be so awesome! Look so forward to seeing you too! You’re so adorable! I love you and I want to marry you! xxxx.’ You don’t say that thing. You say this thing: (               ). Nought words. You think the other things, but you put your phone away, eat some raisins and go for a walk. He might check his phone and think, hmmm, she didn’t answer. Did I come on too strong? Am I too much? Does she even like me? LET HIM THINK THESE THINGS. If he’s a little unsure of you he’ll be much less likely to dribble and show up in his pyjamas, metaphorically speaking. Let him work for you. He wants to. He likes that. It’s his job.
  • You never, ever send a second whatsapp. I’ve said this before here. If he doesn’t answer you, scream into your pillow, phone a friend, go for a run, slap yourself with a Havaiana but whatever you do, do not send a follow-up whatsapp. He will answer you in due course or he won’t. If no reply comes, he doesn’t like you enough. Move along swiftly and don’t humiliate yourself anymore.

4. Be a Green Birkin

Present yourself in increments. Like in the olden days, when you like the boy go slow. Not just for him, for you. This is not about giving up your power, it’s about stating your strength and acknowledging your independence and knowing that not for one second do you need a man to give your life meaning. It’s about not giving all your plans and your friends and everything else up the minute he crosses your threshold. We were all fed that nonsense about being half people without a man in our lives. And don’t berate yourself if you want to walk down the aisle so badly you can taste the tulle. It’s not a weakness, it’s just the way we were raised. But with all your being resist the urge to drop your life and move into his. Be who you were before you met him: fabulous and busy and a little bit unavailable. It’s the same with shoes and bags and apartments. The second you can’t have something that thing becomes insanely desirable. Remember that you are a rare creature of astounding magnificence, and any man would be deeply lucky to have you around, so don’t sell yourself cheap. Be that Birkin bag everybody wanted but nobody could buy. Allow him into your life. Take it from this lady who knows what she’s talking about.

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10 Things I Know About Men at 40 That I Didn’t Know at 20

Writing for women’s magazines for close on 20 years has taught me some stuff about men and relationships. Here are a few biggies every girl needs to know:

– It doesn’t matter how awesome you are, if he’s not ready to settle down it’s never going to happen.

– He’ll say anything to shag you, but only when he knows you’re not the right girl.

– If he’s 30 or older and has never been in a serious relationship there’s a reason for that. Beware.

– Men want exactly the same things women do – to be loved, nurtured and respected.

– Consistent kindness is much more important than grand gestures. The guy who showers you with expensive gifts is often not the guy who shows up when you really need him.

– Men reveal themselves in the first few minutes of meeting you, so listen carefully to what he says. If he says he doesn’t want children, for example, you need to believe him.

– By the same token, he’ll tell you (without meaning to) how the relationship will end. Listen for clues like, ‘I’m bad at commitment/I was unfaithful/none of my relationships have lasted longer than three months.’ It’s a warning to you.

– If he cheated on his girlfriend/wife with you, rest assured he’ll cheat on you, too.

– The way he speaks about other people says more about him than it does about them. He’s mean about his ex? He’s a mean guy. Run for the hills.

– If he regularly needs ‘space’ or you find yourself making a lot of concessions to be with him, chances are he’s just not that into you. And he never will be. Leave, and find somebody else.

Why you cannot shag a guy you’ve just met. Even when you’re forty.

Remember that stuff your gender politics lecturer taught you about men and women? That the only reason we are different is because girls were given dolls to play with and boys were given guns? Well, I’m sure she was coming from a good place and bless her Birkenstocks for it, but fuck me, what a load of bollocks. For 20 years it’s been my job to navigate the tricky terrain of modern relationships and to try and establish what kinds of creatures men and women are and what we want from each other, and I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I’ve learned a thing or two. And the reality aint got nothin’ to do with feminism, dolls or guns.

Here’s a story by way of illustration (and this is just one of many I’ve encountered over the years). I have a guy friend; we’ll call him Michael because he will definitely read this and kill me if I use his real name. Michael is forty, has been divorced for a year and has one child. He is good-looking and owns a successful business. He’s moved on from the angst of divorce and is now ready to meet Somebody. Cue Chantal (not her real name). Chantal is also divorced, also has children and (hallelujah) is also keen on getting involved again. She is gorgeous (as in she’d look great hanging upside down from a stripper pole), has a good income and is ‘tough and kind and intriguing’ (in Michael’s words. I never did meet her to find out for myself. Read on).

Both understand the crapness of divorce; neither wants more children, and when he tells me about her he is more excited than I’ve heard him be about anyone. They have a strategy in place: in order not to affect their kids, friends or family, they will keep their relationship a secret – only seeing each other in private until they know one another better and are confident this will work. Great strategy, you might say – round of applause for these two adults, folks. Except, except – it’s very, very early days and strategies for how to involve children are just an element of what is required here. And in this, people, is where Chantal makes her fatal mistake.

I guess the girl wasn’t reading her Cosmo, or she was taking gender politics lecturer’s advice at face value. But, relationships with men (especially the skittish young ones and the battle-weary divorced) require some planning if they are going to work. You’ve got to see it like going into war. Because (ask Pat Benatar), you are. Relationships are a warzone where you have a 50% chances of getting out unscathed. Be smart, you’ll conquer the enemy. Be stoopid, you’ll get annihilated. So, back to Chantal. In the erroneous belief that they were both adults who had been around the block and the rules didn’t apply anymore, she shagged him immediately. Not once, but repeatedly. She showed up at his house during her lunch break and shagged him some more.

Then they go out on a date on Saturday night and he is (surprise!) distant. Of course he’s distant – this is Male Behaviour 101. Which is not offered as a first year course, but should be. He’s distant because this amount of availability messes with his brain. As much as we would like to believe otherwise, men (even at 40 and 50 and 60) cannot handle when you like them as much as they like you, and the fact that you’ve destroyed the mystery so early on in the game. They need to chase women. It’s hardwired into their genes, and it’s what makes sense to them on a level even they don’t understand. It’s about the fact that he needs to believe you’re a little bit better than him; a little bit hard to get, and a lot worth the effort. Even if you’re so smitten you’d marry him forever tomorrow, for god’s sake, don’t let him know. Come Monday morning Michael ended the relationship. And it could have been a really nice thing if only she’d played her cards right.

So, the moral of the story is this: If you like him and he likes you – as stupid and sexist and retrogressive as this may be – you have to play games. Men. Need. The. Chase. If you want this guy in a long-term kind of way, don’t shag him, don’t whatsapp him ten times a day and (even if it kills you) do not be available every time he dials your number. Because when you instantly offer yourself on a platter his brain short-circuits and he runs away, whimpering. It’s the oldest story in the world – even your gran knew this stuff. If he likes you enough, he’ll come get you. It’s just the way it works.