C: Does that ever really work? Just coming out and being so ... obvious?
A: Well, if it's the right guy, sure. It certainly beats the alternative
C: What do you mean?
A: Having no idea whether or not a man is interested in you.
C: You really can't tell?
A: Well, generally that IS how you tell, they make a move.
Let's talk a little about fear and honesty and owning your own feelings.
I really hate the phrase "own your feelings" because it has been taken up by as a mantra by wacky pop-psych and militant feminists and others I tend to get cranky around. But if I can get past the idea that people I don't like use a particular term, and get to its usefulness, there's something valuable in that phrase.
Our society has all these elaborate rules and games on how to properly conduct the mating ritual in humans. You can't admit to being attracted to someone outright, so you have to drop hints and do some detective work to dig out if the other person likes you too (who is, of course, trying to hide that they like you just the way you are trying to hide that you like them). You have to make jokes about liking them so that if they do not return your feelings, everyone can just pretend it was a joke and no one has to feel AWKWARD because that's the worst thing EVAR. Girls should never ask out guys because that's forward - make them come to you. Guys should never ask a girl on a date outright, because that puts you in a vulnerable position where she now knows that you like her and she has all the power. When you do ask someone on a date, first you ask them out for something small, like coffee. Work your way up to an actual "date" date only when you're sure your feelings are reciprocated - except you are never, ever, EVER to tell her how you feel because that will scare her off, and you are never, ever, EVER to ask her how she feels because then she will feel obligated to give you an answer that you expect.
See, people are afraid of their own feelings. We construct elaborate social rules to prevent us from our own feelings. Our society is based on a mountain of myths, all designed to prevent us from feeling our feelings. Guys and girls can't ever be friends because the sex thing always gets in the way (remember When Harry Met Sally?). You can't ever admit to liking a friend, that'll destroy the friendship. And forget about admitting you like someone who is already in a monogamous relationship! Then, once you're in a relationship, don't ever ask for what you want, you have to subtly hint and cajole. FSM forbid if what you want is a sexual kink! Why, then you're a monster! If you look at/feel attraction for other people while in a romantic relationship, that will make your partner feel all kinds of bad feelings, so don't ever even look at another person of the appropriate gender - especially if your partner can see you!
These are the forum threads I haunted not too long ago. I'm not making this up, nor am I summarizing. Most of these are direct quotes. In one thread, a man sagely intoned that men and women could never be platonic friends. You see, apparently a man and a woman could never, ever, EVER be alone with each other if they are not in a romantic relationship because they could not help themselves, they will fall upon each other like ravening beasts. Unfortunately, I have TONS of experiences that says *that's* not true!
Then, if you admit to liking a friend, well, now the sex thing is in the way there too, causing (dramatic music) TENSION and AWKWARDNESS, and we can't ever allow ourselves to get into any situation where we might feel that! This goes double if the feelings aren't reciprocated.
Now, if that friend is already in a monogamous relationship, well, admitting your attraction is even worse! Because now you've *admitted* to the attraction, so the partner has absolutely every right to be jealous and to believe that you are no longer trustworthy to be in the presence of the person you fancy.
And the hiding of the emotions doesn't stop there. Once you're in a relationship, you can't now *start* to reveal your feelings, because your partner might then learn something about who you are! And your partner might not like you as that person! And you might be rejected! Oh, the horror! We might actually feel bad! Now, don't get me wrong, feeling bad sucks. But being in a relationship with someone, spending all your time and energy with someone with whom you have to constantly watch what you say and guard your actions sounds like the worst of all possible hells to me, not to mention impossible.
Looking at another person while in a monogamous relationship might make your partner be forced to confront feelings of inadequacy or abandonment, or some other issue. We can't have that! We must protect our partner from having any uncomfortable feelings at all costs because then they might, I dunno, learn something and grow as a human, or, worse yet, make YOU feel uncomfortable by having to put up with their shit.
So, here we have an entire society of people who are afraid of their feelings. Oh, the effort and the energy expended to protect themselves from feeling those feelings! My god, it's exhausting just thinking about it! There are rules and regulations and laws and mores and assumptions, and we're supposed to navigate our way through this complex and conflicting mire by somehow picking up the map through osmosis or something.
Or, we could own our feelings.
Here's what I mean. See, in all of these situations, there is an unstated assumption that our admission of a particular feeling or having a particular feeling should come with an expectation of the other person's behaviour. If I tell you that I love you, my admission should make you love me back. The fear that it won't is what causes the trouble here. But if I let go of that expectation, if I state that I love you with no particular attachment to the idea of whether or not you love me back, well, then it's not nearly so scary. Of course, it might not stop me from *wanting* you to love me back, but the act of saying "I love you" is no longer frightening if I do not *expect* any particular response, if I'm not *attached* to that expectation or desire of wanting any particular response. I have removed my attachment from your response. "I love you. Just wanted you to know. OK, see ya!"
If you tell me that you love me, and I don't return your feelings, the expectation that I am *supposed* to return your feelings will make hearing this admission difficult, and that will cause the awkwardness and tension in our relationship. Combine that with your own expectation that I *should* love you back, and here's where we have drama. But if I do not feel obligated to return your feelings, there is no awkwardness on my end when you tell me that you love me.
Now, I actually have a big problem with obligation. I was pretty thoroughly programmed with this little nugget. My parents are SJs - there are an awful lot of shoulds when dealing with SJs, being rather attached to "tradition" for tradition's sake in many cases. When someone says "hi", you should say "hi" back. When someone sneezes, you should say "god bless you". When someone tells you "god bless you", you should say "thank you". When I say "I love you", you should respond with "I love you too". Hell, I was raised Catholic - attend a Catholic mass sometime and see how they programm the congregation to always respond to certain key phrases, and how to respond. It sounds like a freakin' brainwashed cult:
"And the Lord be with you" - "And also with you." "We lift up our hearts" - "We lift them up to the Lord". "We should give thanks to the Lord our God" - "It is right to give Him thanks and praise".
If you've never heard the monotone responsorials before, I highly recommend listening - it's damn creepy. I thought so as a kid when I was not yet an atheist. In fact, the responsorials were the first thing that pushed me away from the cult ... er ... I mean religion.
In order to de-program myself from this sense of obligation, I have intentionally refused to respond to people in expected ways, even if the response is actually the truth. I do not bless people for sneezing (nor do I say gesundheit), I do not thank people for blessing me, I do not respond to "hi, how are you" with "fine, how are you?". I do not say "I love you too" every time someone I love says it to me. Now, I make a point to explain this to my partners, so they understand what I'm doing and don't get hurt if I don't say it back every time. I still struggle with this, I still feel the pull to respond appropriately, the programming is so deep. But I refuse to let my genuine feelings get muddied up with obligation.
So when I am in a situation where my feelings actually are not reciprocated, I feel much less awkward because I do not have that sense of obligation. It is not my responsibility to behave the way this person hopes I do. And if he has the courage to tell me that he is attracted to me without knowing how I feel about him, that courage deserves to be rewarded by, the very least, me not flipping out on him and ceasing to be his friend.
I am responsible for no one's actions other than my own. I cannot help having feelings, but I can attempt to remove my expectations of what other people should do in response to those feelings.
When in a romantic relationship, I try to create an atmosphere that allows my partners to come to me with any particular feeling or request. It doesn't mean that I can't have my own reaction to it - some things might hurt me or piss me off. It means that my partners and I are *allowed* to come to each other and the other person is not obligated to respond to our admission in like kind. Of course, once I'm in a romantic relationship with someone, there are a *few* assumptions of expected behaviour, such as "you will not hit me if you are angry". I think it's a pretty reasonable expectation to place on a romantic partner of no physical violence to an admission of a feeling. But that's sort of a general expectation of treating a human with dignity and respect, not one attached to a particular feeling.
If I have a feeling of getting really turned on by wearing a strap-on harness and dildo and penetrating my male partners' anuses, I believe a healthy romantic relationship should allow me to admit to this desire, providing I do not attach the expectation that my partner is now obligated to allow me to experience this desire with him. I can't reasonably expect to get what I want if I never ask for it. How will I know if any given partner is open to the experience if I don't ask? Other than him admitting it himself, because then it's still the same situation, only the roles are reversed. But I have to be able to let go of any attachment to the expectation that he will respond in the manner I most desire him to. Then it simply becomes a statement. I like pegging my boyfriends. Period. You are not obligated to be pegged. No tension or awkwardness on my part for admitting it when I have no attachment to the outcome. No tension or awkwardness on his part if he doesn't reciprocate.
Now a lot of people might say "sure, this is all great in theory, but that's not how the world works. People get jealous, people act on their emotions in ways that they shouldn't, people feel obligated. Just because you're all enlightened or whatever and can be all Buddhist and remove your attachment to expectations doesn't mean that other people can. So you can't go around acting all honest and stuff because it's fucking things up with people who live in the real world." (and yes, someone actually did accuse me of being "enlightened" and that I should have more understanding for everyone who isn't, and they used that specific word).
So, OK, it's true a lot of people have not done the work (and many who aren't interested in doing the work) to really analyze their feelings, get to the bottom of things, question the necessity of social mores, and deliberately attempt to rise above the petty maze of rules and regulations and not be controlled by their fears.
I do not think that absolves us of trying to behave better anyway. First of all, nothing will change if there aren't the first few people to try it and show how it works. Second of all, there *are* some people who desire to stop all the games and the lying and who do not wish to be ruled by fear, and I can choose to surround myself with those people more often than with the ones who don't put in the work to know themselves and better their relationships.
Most of my friends are male. Many of them are in some kind of situation where a romantic relationship with me is not possible. Some of them are monogamous, some just have incompatible dating styles, some are long distance and unlikely to see me in person in the forseeable future, whatever. There are a handful of these friends to whom I am attracted. I have admitted to my attraction to every single friend that I have an attraction for. And guess what? No drama, no lost friendships, no jealous wives, no real awkward moments even. I admitted my feelings without getting all attached to an expectation that they would suddenly turn to me after my admission and say "OMG, I feel the same way! Let's run off together and start a geek-commune with lots of kinky sex and intelligent people!" Doesn't mean I'm not disappointed that no one is willing/able to run off and start a geek commune with me with lots of kinky sex and our best intelligent friends. But the goal of my admission was not to achieve this reaction. It was simply to admit to my feelings because my feelings wanted to be admitted.
In some cases, the feelings were not returned. In other cases, they were returned, but something about the choices we have made in our lives makes it not possible at this stage to be in a romantic relationship together. And both reactions are OK. They know how I feel, they told me how they feel, and we go on with our lives. We have constructed friendships that honor those feelings without requiring a change in circumstance or hurting anyone. For example, with the friends who are already partnered, there is no need for the partner to feel jealous, or limit our interactions, or assume anything illicit is happening, because, although there are feelings involved, there is no attachment to the expectation that the person I'm attracted to should behave in a certain way. In other words, I'm not a threat to anyone's marriage because me having the hots for the husband doesn't mean I'm going to do anything about it or get upset if he doesn't do anything about it (of course, had he been the type who *would* act upon these feelings in direct opposition to his wife's feelings, I wouldn't have respected him enough to develop an attraction in the first place).
I have some other friends. These friends have not yet learned to divorce their attachments to their expectations. These are the friends that make things awkward. Again, most of them are male. Some of them have admitted to having romantic feelings for me. When they tell me these things, I do not feel obligated to respond in kind. In my ideal situation, someone would express his attraction to me, and I would smile and say that I was flattered, and then go back to whatever it is we were doing before the admission. I do not pretend to like him back (and then start avoiding him, hoping he'll get the hint, which seems to be the most common response), and I do go on being the same friendly friend that I was before the admission.
But, with these types of people, the point of admitting their attraction is to get me to respond back. So they will keep letting me know how they feel. Sometimes they will drop hints, and sometimes they will ask me outright for things, like a date or sex. When this happens, I will have to say, clearly, that I do not return their feelings, but we can still be friends if they'd like. I do not enjoy letting someone down, but I will do it. I absolutely hate it when people hem and haw and are vague and ambiguous, and then start avoiding the person just to avoid having an awkward conversation (even if I have been known to do it myself in the past).
But, with these "friends", it doesn't stop there. They are so invested in getting that response, they will continue pushing. I can't tell you how many times I have gone through this process all the way to the "thank you but no" stage only to have somone grope me the next time I saw them. I've gotten pretty darn good at fighting off Octopus Hands. Someone will try to touch my breasts, and when I say no and physically restrain them, they'll use the other hand to grab for my crotch. *This* is the reason why people have developed the avoidance tactic. And this happens more often that you'd expect.
Then it's this type of behaviour that makes the recipient of the affection (in this scenario, it's often a woman) do the avoidance dance. The "Um, yeah, I'd love to hang out sometime, but, uh, I just got *really* busy with work and won't be free for the next 12 years" conversation. The "always hijack another person into accompanying you so that the guy expressing is affection is never alone with you to tell you what you are afraid to hear" method seems to be another favorite move.
So people develop an expectation that someone's admission of their feelings will be accompanied by an expectation of how *they* themselves should behave. Now we have these expectations on both sides that create these elaborate societal rules.
But when we dispense with the bullshit, when we remove our sense of expectation and obligation, none of this is necessary. I can admit to someone that I like him because I do not expect him to respond in kind, even if I might hope he does. I can hear someone admit to liking me because I do not expect that *I* should respond in kind when I don't want to. And the world goes on.
But then, when two people's desires for the path of the relationship happen to match up, we don't have this time- and energy-wasting dance of people trying to figure out if the other likes him or her and trying not to be the first one to say so, and they can just get down to the business of relating to each other.
I understand that all these complex rules are designed to make society run smoother ... but if we could learn to let go of the expectation that comes with our feelings, then we are free to feel those feelings without all the drama and heartache and pain and tension and awkwardness that these rules are designed to protect us from.