Do 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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