Perplexed in Paris

Why do single Western men have the attention span of fruit flies?


Cary Tennis
April 16, 2004 11:57PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

Why is it, do you think, that most single Western men seem to have the attention span of, say, fruit flies?

It usually goes like this: Boy (from the age of 25 to 45) meets girl, or runs into girl again after a long time. Boy expresses intense romantic-sexual interest in girl through compliments, body language. Sexual interest is not immediately consummated. Boy doesn't follow through in spite of phone number and e-mail address exchange. Girl decides, after two weeks, that since she's interested too, she might as well recall herself to boy's attention. Boy responds immediately and enthusiastically to e-mail. He's not in town right now but will call as soon as he gets back, and get together. Boy doesn't call, e-mail or otherwise manifest himself. Girl is at a loss to explain why.

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I have a partial theory to explain this: Boys (OK, let's call them men) in our field are constantly being bombarded with offers and solicitations -- sexual, professional or recreative. One interest displaces the other immediately, so that there's no follow-through, as though each and every one of these offers were on an equal standing, which is to say, not worth much more than a few hours'/minutes' attention, before moving on to a new source of stimulation. As though all of it, including interesting single young women, were cable programs to be skipped through with the remote.

So what am I to do to grab attention without seeming needy/desperate/too available? Male friend's advice: "If you're interested, just call him!" Female friend's opinion: "Maybe you shouldn't have sent the e-mail in the first place. You showed your interest, and that dampened his." What to do?

Please don't tell me that I'll meet someone someday who's interested enough to follow through and hang on. This type of behavior is spreading like a virus -- in Paris, of all places, which is where I live!

Perplexed in Paris

Dear Perplexed,

Today, I would like to address the fear of seeming to be too needy, too desperate and too available. Are you, in reality, too needy, too desperate and too available? If so, OK. You seem the way you are. Nobody gets confused.

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But if you are not too needy, too desperate and too available, then what kind of person would think you are? The person would either be insufficiently informed, or not be thinking straight. If he's not thinking straight, you don't want to be with him anyway, right? But if he's misinformed, you have to give him enough information so he can understand your behavior.

But first you have to establish what too needy, etc., actually is. How needy is too needy? Say you meet a man and follow him around the bar all night, tugging at his pants leg. Then you follow him home and unroll a sleeping bag on his steps and eat a box of raisins, and fall asleep, and when he walks out in the morning you hand him his newspaper and offer him money if he will sleep with you. That might be considered acting too needy.

What about too desperate? What if you meet a man and tell him right off that if he doesn't become your lover you will throw yourself into the Seine? That would be too desperate.

What about too available? Say you meet a man in a bar and you tell him that as long as you live, wherever you are, married or not, anytime, day or night, if he should ever want you, all he has to do is send you an instant message and you will fly to his side. That would be a bit too available.

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There are extremes on the opposite end of the spectrum as well. What would it mean, for instance, to have no needs? A person with no needs at all would be like a reptile; she'd have a very slow metabolism and a big cold reptilian eyeball looking out at you.

Likewise, a person with no desperation isn't in possession of all the facts. We're all condemned to certain death, after which there may or may not be a bonus round. That would inspire a hint of desperation in anyone.

As to available: If you are utterly unavailable you're either not interested or dead. If you're dead, he's either not interested in you either, or, if he is interested in you, he's probably not your type. If you're alive and interested, you have to be a little bit available.

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So those are the extremes. Most of us exist somewhere in the middle. We are at various times and to various degrees needful and not needful, desperate and not desperate, available and not available. We live our lives along an emotional continuum. So I think this fear of seeming to be too needy, desperate and available is hooey. Besides, come on, you don't think guys actually say, "Damn, she is too needy, too desperate and too available. Maybe if she were not so available, or didn't seem so needy, maybe I'd call her!" I don't think so. They don't think that hard.

What about seeming to be kind, attractive and interested? What's wrong with that? What would be wrong with seeming beautiful, intelligent and full of confidence? And if some moron misjudged you, what would be wrong with saying, "You, sir, are a moron, and obviously misinformed"?

As to all that other stuff about guys and their attention spans and fruit flies, I guess you had to be there.

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Cary Tennis

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