Are you open to receiving?

Melanie HamiltonDo you think of yourself as feminine? When I hear that word, I think of the terms usually used to define the word: delicacy, prettiness, sensitivity, gentleness, compassion. I conjure up an image of a demure, eyelash-batting, quiet girl/woman wearing pink lace and crinolines. A la Melanie Hamilton, Scarlet’s rival in “Gone With the Wind.” Well, a 21st Century version, of course.

I am nothing like that image or most of those descriptive terms. And yet I know I can be feminine.

When I took the “Making Sense of Men” evening seminar last month, I learned a different take on femininity. The author of the program, Alison Armstrong, defines it differently. Her description of femininity is centered around receptivity.

She says (and I’m paraphrasing here) men are drawn to women they can contribute to in some way. That is not to say we need to be damsels in distress. Not at all. We can still be our usual confident, competent, strong selves. But we have to give off vibes that we are willing to receive.

“Receive what?” you aptly ask. “I am financially and emotionally sound. I don’t need a man. However, I’d like to have a good, fun, caring man in my life.”

Understood. When men like you, whether romantically or as a pal, they offer to help you or be with you. They will offer advice, which some of us interpret as “He must think I’m clueless” and we get upset. A man may also show his fondness of you by warning you (“The weather is turning nasty, so be careful driving on the freeway”), which again infuriates us because we think he must think we’re dolts.

Let me give some examples of what some strong, independent women do.

  • A man you are interested in asks you out for lunch/dinner. You insist on going Dutch as you don’t want there to be any underlying feeling that you owe him anything. Instead, if he offers, let him buy. He likes taking you out. Let him. Instead of arm wrestling him for the bill, smile, say thank you and that you appreciate his generosity. If you feel compelled to even the score, tell him you’d like to treat next time. Or offer to buy after-dinner drinks and/or dessert. Or invite him to your house for dinner next time.
  • A guy you’ve been dating a few times and feel safe with offers to pick you up at your home for a date, even though it’s out of his way. You could insist on meeting him at the venue because it would be easier on him. When you accept his offer, you’re allowing him to do something nice for you. Men like this.
  • A male pal offers to walk you to your car/the subway/the bus stop on a dark, blustery night. You say, “Thanks, but I’m fine.” He’s showing he cares for you by wanting to ensure your safety and spend a little more time with you. Let him. Say thank you.
  • You are struggling with some boxes. A neighbor (not a sleezeball) offers to help. You decline because you don’t want to put him out. Let him help. He wouldn’t have offered if he wasn’t fine with doing it. It will make him feel better about himself to have helped.

You show your openness and receptivity in many simple ways. If a man you like and feel safe with offers something that would be helpful or nice, accept. And verbalize your appreciation afterwards. That’s what they want — to be noticed and thanked. If a man likes you, he wants to make you happy and give you what you want — even if there are no romantic implications.

For example, after a presentation I gave Saturday, a new colleague/friend in the audience told me he was so inspired that he was now committed to taking action within 48 hours. I offered to be his accountability partner. He accepted. I threw out this consequence if he didn’t accomplish what he promised: He’d send me a pound of Godiva. He laughed. “What flavor?” “Milk chocolate with nuts. But if you’re really committed, it doesn’t matter because you won’t be sending it.” We laughed.

He accomplished what he promised within the time frame and emailed me proof. The next day a box of chocolates arrived, not because he missed his deadline, which he hadn’t, but because he said he appreciated my support. And I was glad I’d said what I wanted and he listened! In the past I just would have said, “Email me when it’s accomplished.” Or after the Godiva exchange, said “No, really, you don’t have to do anything.” But he shared that it gave him much pleasure to surprise me with this, even though he’d met his part of the bargain. And I thanked him.

I don’t see this receiving business being against any feminist principles any of us might hold. Nor do I see that receiving nice behaviors means you have to return them, but you could if you wanted. You’re not demanding, you’re simply receiving. And if he wants to know more about how to make you happy, you’ll share.

Do you find yourself not allowing men to do things for you? If so, why? Are you concerned it will imply you owe him something back? Can you let go and just receive? And appreciate him for his kindness?

After I wrote this item, the chocolate-sending friend/colleague wrote in his blog “The Stress Doctor is In” about a different conversation we had. You might be amused about by his posting called “You are in my personal space!.”

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13 responses to “Are you open to receiving?”

  1. bookyone Avatar

    Hi DG,

    Excellent post. 🙂 I frequently find myself in this dilemma, as I have a hard time saying “yes” to anyone’s help, be it a female friend, a guy I’m dating, a male friend, a family member, a stranger, anyone, not because it offends my sensibilities or principles, but because then I feel obligated to do something for the other party, and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t always feel like returning the favor, (OK, color me selfish at times, but it’s true). It’s refreshing to realize it doesn’t have to be this way, and that accepting help doesn’t cost any more than a simple “thank you.” I think I can handle that, even on my worst days. 🙂

    Best wishes from bookyone 🙂

  2. LA Avatar

    Wow, I have always thought the notion of men helping or being of service was a myth. It is refreshing to hear that some of them do exist. I don’t think I have ever met a man who offers anything without expecting some sort of payoff, whether it be money or otherwise.

  3. Rod Avatar

    *cringe* Ouch, LA. Dont know what neck of the woods you live in, but yeah, Id say DG was right. There are still some of us who like to offer assistance just because it feels good to do it. Maybe we are looking for ‘payoff’ but usually the only payoff I would seek is a simple “thanks” or just a smile.
    You’d be surprised at how little it takes to make someone’s day and if I can make yours by offering to hold a door, carrying a box or giving you an umbrella in the rain, and you can make mine by smiling, I think thats a pretty good deal.

  4. Just me Avatar
    Just me

    Wow – much food for thought. When I was young I had to force myself to learn how to graciously accept even the smallest compliment, instead of automatically trying to deflect it. I finally figured out that it’s just more polite to accept it, whether you think you deserve it or not.

  5. seilidhe Avatar

    Accepting what is offered is a hard thing to do sometimes, whether it comes from a male or a female… a friend or a stranger. I know that I tend to tell people, “No, really… thanks, but I can do it/get it/whatever myself.” And accepting compliments has, in the past, been a near impossiblity for me. Why? Not really sure. The compliment thing is that I really *don’t* think I deserve them. The inability to accept what is offered is, I think, related to the same sentiment. I don’t deserve to be given things. And I don’t want to have anybody go out of their way to help. Maybe some day I’ll get past that and learn to accept what is offered in the spirit in which it was intended… doing or saying something nice… because that person might actually believe that I do, indeed, deserve a good thing. At least on occasion.

  6. sd Avatar

    Ouch! *cringe* FLINCH!!!

    Me, for all my life…. 8-/

    I find it incredibly hard to accept a compliment, thanks, favor, help, etc, etc, etc.

    I don’t take offense a la feminism, it just feels really REALLY uncomfortable to me and I then try to verbally and physically backpedal out of it by denying whatever is said or offered…

    In the last few years I have actively and with a steel will become more aware of this, and forced myself to be more gracious about good things said and to accept help when offered even when I could do it myself.

    It’s insanely hard, I actually feel guilty about accepting!
    I must be carrying around some weird mental programming I can’t remember getting 🙁

    And there is some risk in accepting compliments or help from men; about 1/2 the time, the vibe is NOT altruistic, sadly. Maybe that’s living in a big urban area and being a woman alone, maybe it’s just chance, maybe it’s not as ‘nice’ here as where some people live…

    But…. yeah, letting that bagboy stop and load the last 2 bags and take the cart back seems to make him much happier in his job- especially when I resist the urge to look amused or prevent him from doing it, and instead SMILE and say THANKS! because it’s the thought that counts and he was trying to be nice and helpful.

    Repeat this to yourself a million times a day forever, and you just MIGHT be able to change that inner dialog…at least, I’m hoping it will!

  7. Dating Goddess Avatar

    Well, the comments on this and other recent posts cement my belief that I am just so very lucky — and grateful — to have such magnificent readers! The comments have been so vulnerable, self-disclosing, sweet, supportive and thought-provoking (with only an exception or two, which we’ll ignore, assuming those posts come from pain).

    I’ve decided we should all gather somewhere in the world, since DG readers are spread out around the planet. I love going to my stats page and seeing hits from England, Australia, Poland, So. Africa, Singapore, India — it’s truly amazing. Maybe we should all gather in England around Gatti’s wedding to her sweet, sweet man! Not that we’d all be invited — or that he’s even asked her yet — but I’m sure we could get them to at least sup with us one night!

    And based on the gentlemen’s comments here, I’m thinking all us gals who are looking would find these guys charming. Maybe a match or two might come of it! They seem like such fun, thoughtful, introspective, smart, caring guys, don’t you think?

    Anyway, I was just overcome with gratitude as I read today’s comments and felt I had to share.

    OK everyone, gather round — group hug!

  8. Rod Avatar

    *raising hand* I’ll bring a salad DG 🙂

  9. Kvetch Avatar

    I totally fall into that trap. I do not offer to pay, because I’ve seen that most men I’ve dated want to pay and make a point of it. But the rest? Totally busted!

  10. bookyone Avatar

    Hi DG,

    I’d go in a heartbeat, but only if I could wear a mask. BTW: I make a mean chocolate chip cookie. I can’t cook worth a darn, but, boy oh boy, can I bake… 🙂

    Best wishes from bookyone 🙂

  11. greendaze44 Avatar

    It is also frustrating to compliment someone and they always deflect it. My husband was raised in a Baptist home and was taught to not be “proud” or “boastful” about oneself. So if I complimented him he would always push the compliment down by cutting himself down in some way.

    I would say, “You look great in that shirt.” And he would say, “Yeah, for a fat man.” He sings and plays guitar and I would compliment him on his playing or singing, he would just say something like, he messed something up or should have done this or that different. I would tell him to try and appreciate the compliment and he would just make a shameful face. It’s sad really. But eventually I saw him as he “thought” he was. Fat, not good at doing things, etc. We couldn’t play and compliment each other and enjoy each other.

    I had to ask him if he thought I looked good. He would say, “You always look good.” I said, “Well, I need to hear that once in a while.” It was very frustrating.

    So yes, anytime a man holds a door open for me, I always thank him. I especially like to compliment women b\c I don’t think they hear enough of them. There aren’t enough positive people in the world. I used to be a hairdresser so I notice clothes and hair changes easily. When a color of clothing looks good on someone I always tell them. I usually try to come to work with a smile and say hi to everyone I pass. Even shen I don’t know them. People look at me strangely a lot because I do talk easily to people and try to pass a smile on. But I figure, what the heck. I may have made their day.

    I hope many more people can learn to give and receive!

  12. Gatti Avatar

    You are all welcome to come visit, though the wedding might be a bit further in the future due to finishing PhD’s and a few other things!

    I say thank you for stuff all the time, and we also have heart talks as noted in another essay. It is very much possible.

  13. writesome Avatar

    Wow, this is so true. I’m just now learning (post 40) that it’s ok to be vulnerable and receive help from girlfriends or men. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner. I mean, I love to help others, it makes me feel good. Why did I think it wouldn’t do the same for them. My past relationships have always been power struggles at best. I blamed it on the fact that I made more money. But, it wasn’t that. I was just not open to receive, and felt if I did, I was weak.

    It also explains why all the needy girls in highschool had boyfriends and I didn’t.

    Thanks for this post, it’s awesome.