In the Name of Flirting

Sometimes when I’m about to tell a story that feels intensely personal, I think of telling it as a fairytale instead.  “Once upon a time, there was a girl.” That kind of disassocation, just a bit of distance between me and the person in the story.

But I’m the person in the story, and it grows monotonous to refer to myself as “the girl.”  So, whatever.  Here you have it: all my cards and dirty laundry.

When Robb and I started dating, back when I was 19 and he was 23 and my friends and I were all so impressed with what a man he was – (23!!) – with a full time job and a salary, I created a pattern that turned out to be unhealthy.

I affirmed his every word, declaring him to be the smartest man I knew, the keeper of all information, and knowledgeable in all things.

“You know everything,” I would say to him, with a hazy, lovestruck gaze.  (Oh, that makes me nauseous.  I seriously can’t stand girls like that.)

A friend even said to me once, “You know he doesn’t, right?  You know he doesn’t actually know everything?”

“Well, sure I do.  But what’s the harm in stroking his ego?  What’s the harm in showing him I’m impressed with his intelligence?  Is there anything wrong with affirming the things he says, agreeing with him, and learning from him?”

Well, no.  There’s not really anything wrong with that at all.  Except that’s not what was happening.  And that became the problem.

Robb was – and is – a very intelligent man with lots of knowledge, to be sure.  But all of my babbling about his super genius IQ didn’t do either of us any favors.

First, even though I didn’t mean to, I put Robb on a pedestal he couldn’t maintain.  He didn’t want to let me down or flaw the image I had painted, so he became inordinately afraid of saying “I don’t know,” since his lovely bride had declared that yes, of course he really did know.

He became a secret keeper, a vault of information, somehow convinced that if he let me in on everything he knew, I’d find him less attractive, less charming, less knight-like.  So he stopped telling me things, since the risk of showing all his cards felt too much like saying “That’s all I’ve got; I know no more.  I’m not who you think I am.”

Worst of all, I depicted myself inaccurately.  By declaring him all-knowing, I acted as though I knew little, as if my intelligence were lacking, as if I were simply blessed beyond measure because he had bestowed his information upon me.

I’m a smart girl.  But something in 19-year-old me believed myself to be more attractive if I weren’t quite so smart.  I think I thought it would intimidate him if I could keep up, so I pretended like I couldn’t.

We were married for years before we began to unveil this delusion, and by then some patterns were in place that neither of us wanted.  We had to retrain ourselves to say, “I don’t know” and “I think I do.” Each brings its own humility.

We worked hard to find clarity, to claim the vulnerability we had surrendered with those early mistakes in the name of flirting.

Now, years later, I am appalled to see that I nearly stepped into the same pattern all over again.  I spent some time with someone important to me, and as I affirmed his knowledge and intelligence on whatever topic was his expertise, he began to think I knew nothing.  And alarms sounded in my head.

I think women the world over are forever making up for the first time a woman said, “Oh, dear man.  You are my hero because you are so much smarter than me.”

So, once upon a time, there was a girl.  She’d like to do it differently next time, but she doesn’t really know how.

I’ve said it before; I’ll say it again.  I raise my glass to the smart girls.

It takes serious guts to be one.

9 thoughts on “In the Name of Flirting

  1. You make a really good point for any relationship. I’ve learned over the years that I have to be more honest about myself and about the truth of the situation and/or relationship. I appreciate this post! It’s probably more common than we’d like to admit. Unfortunately early mistakes such as the ones you mentioned, eventually ended a dear friendship.

  2. Love it, Tricia. We know an older couple who is dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s in the husband. The wife said, “I don’t want to have to be the smart one.” (But she has a master’s degree and a very successful music career.) Years of being the “helpless” one in their marriage are crashing in on them as she is avoiding the lesson you learned early on, and he is afraid to acknowledge his weakness.

    You are an exceptionally strong girl, Tricia. I really respect how you have lived into that these last 20 months.

  3. I’m going to print this and save it for when my girls start dating. I can see them being giggly instead of being the smart young women they are! Thanks for sharing!

  4. (faithful follower, and sparse commenter)

    but i’m a rare woman who is 33 (from the midwest) and STILL single (gasp!). yea, it comes with some baggage of its own, you can imagine (e.g. – hurry and get your eggs frozen, what are you doing wrong that makes you still single; yea, people say these things often). though i haven’t learned about all of my unhealthy patterns within the safety of one long-term relationship (though i’ve had 3), i’ve learned a lot from just growing older and dating and STILL being on the market to be married. i simply want to say that even just knowing the truth about yourself that you talk of in this post is huge. it means that you will be able to say “oh, shoot. there it is again. that pattern (one of so many) creeping up”. you can and will do it differently. i’m certain.

  5. I love this so much because I am raising three really smart girls who have never apologized for being that way. They have also never dated–ha! But I’d rather have them be themselves than have to change for any man.

    (Funny aside: my oldest, who is 20, recently got a job as a hostess in a restaurant. She told us that her boss, for some reason, thinks she’s dumb, and he treats her like she’s kind of slow. She thinks it’s funny because this has never happened to her before. What her boss doesn’t know is that she is a double-major in English and Political Science at one of the top 50 colleges in the country!)

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