Out of Practice

November 22, 2011 § 26 Comments

From yesterday’s Times:-


I have been out of the dating loop for almost two decades and I think I am so out of practice that unless someone actually makes overt declarations, I haven’t got a clue what they are thinking.  I like to think I am a good judge of character, but when it comes to whether or not someone fancies me, I am, fittingly for a plankton, completely at sea.  I seem to have lost the language of subtle signals – that someone is interested or not interested.  They can come thick and fast but do I pick up on them?  And, if I do, am I reading them correctly?

It wasn’t easy when I was young but we were more in tune and braver then, in some ways.  Might feel a bit embarrassed for a day or two if we took someone’s attention or friendliness to be something it wasn’t, then move on to pastures new.  In middle-age, perhaps because of all the baggage so many of us carry, we are all more hesitant and confused and scared of making asses of ourselves.  More to lose?  The humiliation of planktonhood is bad enough as it is, without the further humiliation of misinterpreting someone’s intentions.

After many a lingering cup of tea or coffee in a cafe, I now have a crunch date with Smidgen – or at least what I suppose is going to be a crunch date.  We are going out to a restaurant with some friends for supper, and my feeling is that if things don’t progress a little – words spoken, actions taken – then they never will.  There again, maybe quite nothing will happen because, for all I know, the idea hasn’t even entered his head?  Have we been singing from entirely different hymn sheets all this time?  I wish to God I knew.

Some friends have said, nonsense, a man doesn’t contact a woman, let alone spend so much time with her, if he doesn’t fancy her.  They say, think of When Harry Met Sally, but I am not so sure.  Is that not the same as saying men only bother to make an effort to enjoy a woman’s company if they think they are going to get her into bed?  What of straight-forward friendship between the sexes?  I have a great many close male friends.  We are affectionate and intimate but sex has never entered the equation because they are mostly married.  The difference is that Smidgen and I are both single, but does that guarantee that, because he has chosen to hang out with me occasionally and goes in for a bit of body language, he is interested?

From where I am sitting now, I haven’t got a clue.  I suppose I just have to go out for supper and desperately try accurately to read the signals – or lack of them?  I just wish I hadn’t forgotten the vocab.


§ 26 Responses to Out of Practice

  • rosie says:

    I remember reading something a while ago about how men only hang out with women they want to sleep with, even if they’re not consciously aware of it (??) so there could be something in it.

    I’m rubbish at reading the signals too. Even before planktonhood descended I’d need to be hit over the head with a cast-iron frying pan before I realised someone fancied me. Looking back, I’m sure I’ve passed up at least a few possibilities by being so crap at all the game playing.

    It sounds like Smidgen is definitely interested. If nothing has happened by the time he’s walked you to your front door I’d be tempted to take the plunge and go in for the snog, if you want to of course! It will be hideously embarrassing if you have got it wrong, in which case he’s been giving out mixed messages, but you could put it down to one too many Pinot Grigios. The embarrassment will only be short lived (ok, for a week or two) and it’s got to be better than regret at what might have been or more fretting about what may or may not happen. Or maybe that’s complete rubbish. I’ve also been out of the dating loop since about 1855 so what do I know.

    On another note, I was in the library yesterday and was blocked from The Plankton due to it having ‘pornographic content’, which I thought was quite amusing. They must lead a very quite life in that library.

  • rosie says:

    quiet life, even.

    • MissM says:

      I’m with Rosie on this, better to risk some short lived acute embarrassment than to be forever wondering “what if..” rather like removing the band-aid quickly and getting it over with. If you are wrong then so what, you had nothing happening with him anyway so nothing really was lost. If you are right you will move into a phase of such happiness you will wonder why you waited so long to move things along.

      I do feel that it must be daunting for men in that they are always the ones expected to make a first move, which over a lifetime must be very wearing. A number of knock backs must be a blow to the ego and make it even harder to go out on a limb another time. I don’t necessarily blame them for being indecisive or sending mixed signals in those circumstances. Just as you don’t wish to embarrass yourself, neither do they.

      The exception to this are those dirty old men who confidently chase after anything in a skirt that is half their age and seem totally oblivious to the expressions of revulsion on the faces of the girls as they do their best to avoid them. These men must have either totally avoided the embarrassment gene or live in a different world in their head in which they are very handsome and their comments are welcomed.

      • Jane says:

        As horrendously neanderthal as it sounds, I do believe that men are more naturaly programmed for the ‘chase’ than women. Do men spend hours dissecting every nuance ‘did she mean this, or that’ ‘did she give out those signals? or did I get it wrong’ and on and on. They make their move, suffer a bit of embarrassment if they get it wrong and then move on to their next quest. If women had to do the majority of the approaching, the place would be littered with women who were crushed with having got it wrong and couldn’t move on. Best leave themen to what they are set up to do (much as I sticks in my craw to admit it)

  • Gilmore Jones says:

    So true. You have just confirmed planktons are a true subspecies.

  • Leftatforty says:

    Spot on again P. I feel exactly the same. I have resorted to asking: Are you flirting? Please let me know if you are. Give me a signal. Perhaps a wave a red flag…

  • Sarah says:

    I felt like that too. Didn’t notice a thing, me. To be honest, I was always a tad surprised when someone did fancy me, after years of being an married amoeba seemingly morphed into an asexual being because of my status. The French men around me certainly didn’t live up to their reputation of flirting with anything in a skirt.

    It was superbly liberating to be free again and able to flirt without being cast as an evil bitch.

  • MissBates says:

    A dear friend (happily married for umpteen years) and I were talking on the phone about another friend’s crumbling marriage, in which the husband has had a string of affairs. Dear Friend remarked that he had fallen prey to “predatory women,” and I took mild issue, saying that HE was the one who had strayed from his marriage vows, etc. I said that I, for one, have always had a strict “hands off” policy with married men, and she then remarked, very matter-of-factly, “well, you don’t really flirt anyway, do you?” I was a bit taken aback, and replied, “well, you’ve never so much as seen me in a room with an available man.” “Oh,” said she, and the phone went silent for a bit before we took up another subject. Awkward.

    Which brings me to: Dear Friend and I have known each other for ten years. I’ve been a guest in her home countless times (always for family gatherings, never wider social events), and am closer to her than I am to my sisters. And yet . . . so ingrained is my plankton-ness that she doesn’t even see me as someone who might flirt, given the opportunity.

    • Steve says:

      apropos of nothing,… I’ve just read your comments in the “Plankton Music” piece and was sad to hear that you’ve been depressed.

      Just wanted to say….I always really enjoy reading your comments MissBates and LOVE the way you write.

      Might not be much in the great scheme of things , but you’ve got a fan on this side of the pond!

  • Margaux says:

    Yet again your post chimes a chord – no – scrub that, make it an orchestra.

    I had one creeping around me a couple of years back – all tactility and meaningful intensity and mouthed I love you’s on parting. Drove me mad as nothing ever happened beyond that. Eventually I did the big ‘come on, then’ and he sprang back in horror. Turns out he’s like that with everyone.

    Sometimes I think that men of a certain age flirt (if indeed it is ‘flirting’ – I could be wrong!) just to see if they ‘could’ with you- but if you signal back that you ‘just might’ they back off….I’ve come across that more than once.

    On the otherhand I have a platonic male friend who never makes the first move. He makes a point of it. He just hangs around a lot, inveigling himself into the object of his interest’s life and waits for the woman to move it all along. (How tedious)

    I’d be interested in some of your male commentators’ views here – as I sure as hell don’t get it either!

    • Steve says:

      I’d hazard a guess that it’s even worse from the male perspective.

      Not only is is hard to read the clues, but we’re invariably (even in the 21st century) expected to make the first move.

      Daunting! I’ve always needed copious quatities of alcohol to make the first move whether that be at a party or elsewhere -and frequently overdone the booze. Then you’re not looking your best 😉

      • Patrese says:

        I can’t say if it’s worse, but I’m sure that it’s pretty much the same for men. I can’t read clues, and invariably mine are not picked up correctly – la di da.. What’s the answer – we need a code which everyone understands!

  • fi says:

    I think there may be something in this not flirting business. If we can’t send signals out to blokes, or read theirs back, is it any wonder we’re on our own? Apart from the other reasons of course I.e. Being picky, too choosy, over valueing what we have to offer etc etc

  • Jamie says:

    I can tell you what this bloke would prefer. As you part, give a strong kiss just to one side of the lips and squeeze the upper arm at the same time and then a really loving gaze into his eyes. No bloke could miss that but if you don’t get a response you have not really gone out on a limb. I had so many rejections as a young man that I decided in the end to wait for the meaningful kiss. A 20 year marriage was the result.

  • june says:

    Ive never been a lot of good at flirting or attracting men at all for that matter, i seemed to have all the bits, in the right places, they just dont seem to work. Thats what i think now sometimes, June you were not good attracting men when you were younger, why do you expect to do it now!. Ive been through the reasons why, tons of times in my head, where i lived, small town, i never was really a small town girl, so i think perhaps if moved to city before, who knows, but there seem so few available men here, a fellow plankton has been searching since her divorce 6 years ago when she only mid 50s and had no luck, and shes a very attractive women, always had short hair,ive grown it now, no difference, im very petite , but i know loads petite women had no problems atttracting men.certainly not a bad relationship with my dad, i adored my dad,he was a kind and caring man. So i come up with no answers,apart from must just give out wrong vibes, or im just too choosey. Ive even wondered if im asexual, ive never been very passionate about men, or sex, can take it or leave it, so that doesent exactly help, have i never seemed available! .

    Think Miss Bates my friends might say same about me and the flirting,i dont think any of them visualize me with a man somehow, as you say is our planktoness so ingrained they cant even imagine it. I get comments like, when anyone asks if im happy living in city, ive lived here two years, i say “yes i do prefer it and i like living here but im still lonely on my own without that special someone” “o well youd be alone wherever you were” a bit cruel that, you think god am i such a plankton you cant see me with anyone..

    Like our fellow planktons i enjoy your comments,might i suggest if dear planktons smidgen or long shot ever come to fruition,you take over her blog.

    • MissBates says:

      You are very kind indeed, June, but I wouldn’t presume. I have authored a book on divorce and prenuptial agreements (my dismal areas of legal expertise), but I don’t have any smidgens or poppy seeds or even long shots on the horizon, so I must leave the chronicles of life at “the bottom of the sexual food chain” to our very own Plankton-in-Chief, who writes about this with a verve I simply don’t possess!

  • I could never read the signs either. Even when a semi stranger grabbed my left breast in a taxi I didn’t like to say anything in case his hand had just slipped. When I first began dating my husband and wished that curates would reach hand-holding stage a little quicker, I did devise a very cunning strategy to speed him up. It involved swans, and I would share it but, unfortunately, I’ve forgotten what it was. It didn’t work anyway. What I did learn from him, though, is that when a man shows you a catalogue of carpet samples on his sofa it’s a come on. And when he scribbles an algebraic sum for you on the back of an envelope it’s consummation. Part of me will be a little disappointed if you get to the algebra stage, though, for you write about planktonhood so beautifully.

  • rosie says:

    MissBates, just curious as to why your good friend of 10 years would invite you to family gatherings and not wider social events. It brought to mind Meera Syal’s ‘hey big spinster’ routine from Goodness Gracious Me (I think it was shown in the US?) about an attractive single woman who turns up alone at a party full of smug marrieds and all the women are scared to death she’s going to steal their man. Just a thought!

    When it comes to flirting, if I could speak to my younger self I’d grab me by the throat and tell me to just bloody well learn how to do it and get out there. I’ve been told I’m ‘too much like a man’ or don’t seem interested (when I’m a raging volcano inside!) more times than I care to remember and that can’t be a good thing in the romance stakes.

    • MissBates says:

      Hi Rosie — Well, I think that she herself lives a very cozy family life and simply doesn’t throw a lot of larger parties. And, like many happily married women, I think it never occurs to her that I might like to be invited to something more “grown up,” even if I’m the only single person there.

      As for flirting: oh, I know HOW — in fact, am even rather good at it. I just never have the opportunity to flex the flirtation muscles, so to speak. I am not above deploying a flirtacious attitude from time to time — for example, in laughing at the lame jokes of older male attorneys from whom I need an adjournment, but generally speaking in social settings there are no real “targets” — I’m not about to start flirting with the married men there, because then their wives would automatically delete me from the invitation lists of the few events to which I AM invited…..You get the drift!

  • EmGee says:

    I’ve never been able to read the signals either.

    My coffee date today lasted from 10 am to 12 pm, and when we parted, he said, “I am definitely calling you to invite you to dinner at my house”.

    Now that’s a signal even I can understand! 🙂

    The oddest thing is that I went in planning to order an Aztec Latté, and when I asked if they still made them (new staff since my last visit), the barista (not Starbucks) said, “sure, I just made one”. Turns out my ‘date’ had ordered one too, just before my arrival. 🙂

  • Chris says:

    Dating in middle age is different from dating in the teen years or the twenties. Your hormonal balance has changed, you mood music has been honed through experience. Both parties may well carry the baggage of previous disappointment and failure. Self esteem may well be an issue. For some life will have battered them so low their esteem is all but gone. For others their self esteem and consequent expectations will be on a ludicrous high. that bears no semblance to reality. The thing to remember is that none of us is the bright beautiful thing we MAY have been in our twenties. But that does not matter. If you truly want to find love you will but I have a feeling that many people are looking for an awful lot more than that. Materialistic modern life can be so reductive.

  • Steve says:

    In ascending order, the three most terrifying things in the world are as follows;

    3. Ghosts
    2. Spiders
    1. Asking a woman out, if you really have no idea of her response

    Numbers three & two, I can just about cope with, although both bring me out in a cold sweat. Number one? No chance……

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