Mostly Mensch: Reading Signs

IMG_0249I like to consider myself a reasonably intelligent individual, but there are certain areas where I clearly just don’t catch on. One of the big problems that has plagued me since…oh, let’s just say puberty…is the ability to discern those subtle (or occasionally not-so-subtle) signals from a woman as to whether there’s an interest there or not. As one of my friends says, “Josh, a woman would have to hit you over the head with a sign for you to read it.” While it would be a challenge to read something while being bludgeoned by it, they’re not necessarily wrong in sentiment.

I remember a party a number of years ago where I was chatting within a group of people much of the night. This group included a close female friend and a few new acquaintances. There was great conversation all night, especially with one woman. “Cindy” was attractive, smart, witty, but I never got any indication that she was interested in anything beyond the conversation. My female friend left the party with me that night and asked if I’d gotten “Cindy’s” phone number. I said no and asked why. My friend (gently) whacked me on the head and told me that she’d clearly been flirting with me all night. I wound up getting “Cindy’s” number through another friend later. We went out a few times, found that the chemistry didn’t extend beyond the party conversation, and parted on amicable terms. But what continued to bother me is that I had absolutely no idea that an attractive woman had been flirting with me all night.

Something that may complicate my reads is the people that I hang out with. I’m an extrovert and if I’m going to have an immediate attraction toward someone, it’s likely going to be another extrovert. I was a theater geek in high school. I hang out with a lot of open, expressive folks. This brings up some issues when it comes to getting a read on the social situation (and I’m sure this includes me at times). We’re theatrical, which can mean that it’s tough to tell when we’re acting and when we’re being serious. We’re tactile in general—lots of hugs for everyone. I take no issue with this, but it makes reading the situation just a bit more difficult when it comes to the subtle signals.

As for me, I’ve been told that I have a history of being approximately as subtle as a sledgehammer in my female interests (or as my more kindly friends put it, I wear my heart on my sleeve). I remember a post-rehearsal drink with a castmate in one of my community theater experiences. She was someone that I had been interested in for a long time, but was fairly certain that she wasn’t interested. She was telling a story, and she suddenly stopped, smiled and said, “It’s not going to happen. I’m flattered, but it’s not going to happen.” Apparently what I thought was attentive listening was actually me staring at her with starry-eyed affection. Over the years, I’ve developed a defense to that lack of subtlety, which is to be so subtle about my interests that the woman might not have any idea that I’m actually around (that experience in theater comes in handy here to squelch the natural reactions!). I can’t say that this option is any better, but it certainly leads to fewer embarrassing moments.

I understand why subtlety and signs are helpful. Full-fledged, all-out signs of lust and/or affection are not only overwhelming to the recipient, but can set up expectations for both parties that are not only likely difficult to maintain, but probably completely, totally, unrealistic. “Discretion is the better part of valor” and all that. But I have to ask—would it be so bad to just tell your crush that you like them and ask if there’s any mutual interest? Not in the middle-school manner of passing it in a note followed by the check boxes with “yes” and “no” next to them. In a mature, straightforward, non-creepy manner. I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. But in many ways, I wish that I could take a potential rejection straight out and know for certain rather than doing all the thinking and rethinking that comes with trying to decipher the signs. Both have their pros and cons, but neither is a fun or easy option. Readers, what do you see as the best approach?