I was recently rewatching old episodes of Sex and the City, cry-laughing at how poorly the show holds up in today’s modern dating culture (it’s bad, guys), when I became enraged by one of Charlotte’s comments. In the season two episode “Evolution,” the show’s resident Pollyanna says that Carrie should stop leaving underwear and a toothbrush at Big’s apartment, because “it’s important to remain a creature of mystery.” Nevermind the fact that a few spare tampons in your partner’s medicine cabinet is convenient — you’ve got to be mysterious, dammit!
It wasn’t Charlotte who pissed me off so much (although I think we can all agree that early-seasons Char was the worst), it was the fact that her antiquated advice still lingers. During the “how to be a French girl” internet craze of 2015, the main thread of seducing like our Parisian counterparts was “be mysterious.” And today, there are still countless blogs and advice columns out there that tell women that they should maintain an air of mystery on dates.
I, however, am not a creature of mystery. While there are some things that I keep a little close to the chest, on the whole, I’m an open book. In fact, I’m not just an open book. I’m an open book covered in yellow highlighter.
The idea behind being mysterious is that if you reveal as few vulnerabilities as possible, you’ll maintain your partner’s interest by keeping them on their toes. This is probably why the concept bothers me so much. It immediately assumes that, in order to keep a potential love interest’s attention, I’ve got to play a little game that involves siphoning out information about myself, drip by drip. I’m not engaging enough to entice someone on my own — there must be mind games involved.
The idea behind being mysterious is that if you reveal as few vulnerabilities as possible, you’ll maintain your partner’s interest by keeping them on their toes. This is probably why the phrase bothers me so much.
As someone who used to take terrible dating advice to heart, I used to try to spin this little web when I’d go out with guys. I’d try to seem alluringly withholding, answering questions with vague responses and making sure to be non-committal when it came to making plans. I actually once told a guy that I couldn’t commit to a date to a museum exhibit that I was really excited about because, “I never make plans that far ahead.” I thought that response would have him wondering what, exactly, a worldly woman like myself had going on in her life that she’d never plan a Friday night on a Tuesday. That obviously wasn’t the case — I came off as incredibly aloof, the guy never called me again, and I went to the museum exhibit solo.
Luckily, I finally realized that I was overshooting the mysterious act for one major reason: It was the opposite of my nature. I love connecting with people, so I naturally find ways to relate to them. It’s like a nervous tick, one that I still find myself doing today. So if a guy I dated mentioned that he’d backpacked through Europe, I’d be itching to tell him how much I’m dying to move there. If he talked about his affinity for pizza, I’d ask — with fervent enthusiasm — what he thought the best pizza joint in NYC is. (It’s Joe’s on Carmine St. Don’t @ me.)
That said, I do have a tendency to overshare and overstate my emotions way too early in dating situations. I remember a particularly cringe-worthy episode with a guy I’d met at a party and had been casually dating for a few weeks. Things were going great with us, but I was struggling to find an apartment to move into post-college, and the stress was starting to get to me. In a particularly crazed text exchange, I told him that if I didn’t find an apartment, I’d have to move home to New Jersey, and that freaked me the hell out because I really liked him and I didn’t know where that would leave us. He was, understandably, a little freaked out — we hadn’t been dating long enough for us to be an “us” yet, and the fact that I was factoring him into my plans so soon read as desperation. Things ended pretty swiftly after that, which is why I started my cursed experiment in mysteriousness.
So although I’ve tweaked my personal filter a bit, I still refuse to call myself “mysterious,” because I’m just not.
Now, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I no longer try to play coy, because I’m really bad at that. But I also don’t tell a guy everything that’s on my mind. And to be clear, that isn’t so that he’ll like me more — it’s for self-preservation. In order to keep myself from getting hurt, I’ve had to learn when and how to share certain things. Truly, this isn’t only about romantic situations. It’s about practicing good judgement and learning that, sometimes, it’s better to keep things to yourself.
Instead of sharing that I’m a sex and relationships writer on my Bumble profile, for example, I mention it on a first date so that guys can’t immediately Google me, see this column, and then make assumptions. (And if you’ve somehow managed that anyway, welcome!) I try not to let on how much I like a guy until I’m able to really assess my feelings and figure out whether or not they’re real. And I find that this has inadvertently made me a better communicator, because I can state my feelings clearly after thoughtful consideration, instead of spewing random emotions whenever they pop up.
So although I’ve tweaked my personal filter a bit, I still refuse to call myself “mysterious,” because I’m just not. But I’ve found a good middle ground that I feel comfortable in, and it’s had everything to do with me — not the men I’m dating, or the bad advice of Charlotte York.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there’s no “right” way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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