Updated: Nov 19, 2019
In fifth grade all the girls played jacks at recess. There’s an art to jacks. One must juggle several things at once. Drop the ball too close; the jacks spin out of control. Too far; you miss the ball entirely.
One recess, just as the jasmine was blooming on campus in our little pocket of Eastern New Orleans, a boy approached our circle of jacks. The game came to an abrupt stop. To my horror the intruder looked directly at me. I suddenly felt naked, sitting there cross-legged on the playground surrounded by giggles. The freckled ginger fixed his gaze and seemed to rehearse a line in his head until he finally squeaked out, “Annie, will you walk with me to the office?”
Holy hell. A boy was asking me for “twosies!” Because death was not an option, I had two choices: ignore him, opting for the security of my circle, or follow the cartwheels in my stomach to unchartered waters.
My first “meet cute” with a boy. The nerves I felt were not isolated to the fifth grade.
When I am first noticed, I feel like I’ve been surprised stepping out of the shower. In that one instant, I am exposed and a rush of humiliation washes over me. It’s that “Dear God, I was having a perfectly good time killing it until you made me aware of me” moment. It’s stranger danger matured and intrinsically animalistic. Dogs snarl and then sniff each other’s behinds as a sign of peace to peculiar dogs. Humans panic and either avoid or switch on our flirt – that giddy little game that’s never quite evolved.
Flirting, by nature, is ambiguous. That’s why no one thinks they are any good at it. Everything is vague. Even us. Long before we’re hit on, we put something out — funniness, sexiness, hopefully brains. Our initial anxiety is whether we can keep the act going. But as with any ruse, there is an element of truth to every farce. Our act was inspired by an internal desire too bold to admit. We’re smarter and sexier than we give ourselves credit for. So why are we stuck on the bar stool and avoiding the hottie smiling across the room?
The bar stool, my jacks circle, Tinder chats, and other safe spaces render a false sense of security. Sure, we can handle a good flirt with a bartender or strike up some sensational wit in a chat room. But, that bartender isn’t quitting his shift just as your Tinder match isn’t jumping through your phone. It’s once we step out where it’s intimidating AF. Every insecurity applies to life outside that box and will continue to until we stop being our own editor.
Everyone has a tiny freak within – something unusually darling about us. Disguising it only guards us more. Respect is earned through behavior. If you want to end the night with even a shred of self-respect, quit editing and play the real you. That hottie just might accept your freak, and even better, your freak might no longer scare you either.
But, guards aren’t always obvious.
Supposedly, men greet with facts: “I’ve got this project lined up.” Women, on the other hand, compliment: “OMG! You look so good, girl.” While at a recent party I confirmed this. My husband entered and immediately went to talking shop. I marveled over the unexpected mid-century modern influences, complimenting the hostess, who dropped everything to tour me around. For the guys it was laying their cards for superiority. For us gals, it was reassurance that we come in peace.
If you think this is nuts, reflect back to school. How many boys raised their hands in class, stating facts and claiming dominance? How many girls hesitated to raise their hands at all? If you were among those girls, did you hesitate because of the quality of your words? Would they be meaningful or threatening? Or worse, would your words be so dumb that you should never have participated at all?
If men and women initiate with two entirely different desires, when does it ever work?
I know enough to know that good guys let their guards down too. Eventually they stop claiming superiority just as one day we realize that we were quality all along. I had my last “meet cute” 16 years ago this week. There were no fireworks. I stammered and he ribbed. Eventually we stopped editing. Flirtation is at its best when your charm charms you. You realize your wit, talents, and beauty, but only if you’re willing to lock you down first. That seems like a happier happy hour.
I never left my circle that sunny afternoon playing jacks. The little ginger boy walked to the office alone. I guess I dropped the ball on “twosies.” Maybe I needed to win over this “onesie” first?
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.