I'm sexy and available! Chat me up!

There's nothing wrong with me, but I can stand around all night and men do nothing.

Published October 2, 2007 10:37AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Here are my stats. I'm a woman in my mid-30s. I am black and appear to many strangers as racially ambiguous. I was raised all my life in a suburban, mostly white neighborhood. I am well educated. I am well liked by work colleagues. I have been described by unsolicited and varied sources (on two continents, even) as attractive.

And I can't get a date. The cherry on the sundae came the other night when I went out with a group of friends, and every woman but me got attention from the men. Yeah, some men do occasionally chat me up -- like 65-year-old men from Italy whom I meet on the train. Flattering, but it doesn't exactly help me with my problem (because of the age thing). I'm looking around and it seems that no age-appropriate, even marginally attractive men who are my socioeconomic peers ever chat me up (other than the useless catcalls on the street that most women get).

I do recognize that there are many factors that may be coming into play. I'm a black woman who is frequently in mostly white environments. There is still a taboo on interracial dating, especially of the white man/black woman variety. But the dearth of dates happens when I'm in all-black environments as well, so it's not just the racial thing.

I'm also kind of shy when it comes to men, so it could be that, too. I often don't know how to read signals or to respond when I recognize them. I might be answering my own questions, actually.

I don't think any weird hygiene or personality issues are at play. I'm really beginning to wonder whether there's just something essentially undateable (except to senior citizens) about me. Am I a dud, destined for utter failure? Because I'm at the point where I feel like I couldn't even give it away. Nobody's interested, and I can't figure out what to fix. On paper, I think I've got to be suitable for somebody, but it just seems so hard.

Can't Get a Date

Dear Can't Get a Date,

I have one simple observation: You do not seem to have a clear plan of action to meet and talk to men. You took steps recently to be in the general vicinity of men, in a social setting in which talk between single men and women is encouraged. But it does not sound like you introduced yourself to any men. It sounds like you waited to be approached, and when you were not approached, you concluded that the evening had been a failure.

You say that no appropriate men chat you up. You say nobody is interested. You say that you don't know how to read signals. You say, "Here are my stats." These statements indicate that you see yourself as the object of someone else's attention -- the alert recipient of signals, the possessor of attributes for another's appraisal.

If you see yourself as the object, then you don't need a clear plan of action. The action is up to others.

Perhaps when you think about courtship you imagine a man appearing before you with a witty but self-effacing statement of introduction, interested and charming, socially and economically qualified, doing all the things that would allow you to slip into a relationship comfortably, without fear or difficulty. Perhaps you expect this to happen. It might happen. But I have not heard many stories from actual women of such things. I have read fairy tales in which it happens, but I do not know any real fairy princesses. So I see no reason why you should depend on this one thing occurring. It would be rather like wanting to get some money and so waiting to win the lottery. There are other things you can do that more directly increase your chances of getting what you want.

First, of course, you must identify what you want. If there is no man you want to meet, then there is no point in doing anything -- although sometimes you cannot know if you want to meet a man until after you meet him and then it is too late. But there must be a man every now and then whom you see, or hear about, and become interested in meeting. This is how I would suggest you proceed: Identify a man you want to meet and then take the action necessary to meet him.

If you are shy this may be hard. You may be scared. That is OK. Just because something is hard, or scary, doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. If you were to rule out all actions that are scary or difficult, you could not get along in life at all. So think first of what action would achieve the result of meeting the man you want to meet. Then perform the action.

As I said, this idea I have is simple. Simple things sometimes sound stupid. Some people think only complicated things are smart. But the simple truth is often disarmingly charming. For instance, if you are in a room full of women and men who are trying to act smart and sophisticated, and so are making statements that are filled with double or triple meanings, and are making reference to various current pop stars and relevant political figures, and laughing at the expense of others, and asking each other what they do for a living, you may feel that the only way to talk to a man is to make those same kinds of noises. But I do not believe this is true. I believe that if you say to a man something disarmingly simple and direct, you may end up having a conversation with him in which each of you reveals a little bit about yourself. For instance, say you see a man you like the looks of and you go over to the bar and you say, "You are a man I like the looks of." What would happen then? Maybe nothing. But maybe he would say something to you as well. He might say that you are a woman he likes the looks of as well. Or he might ask you a question, such as, "What is it that you like the looks of about me?" or, "Just how far can a plunging neckline plunge before it ceases being a neckline? Have you ever thought of that?" He might just say, "Hi, my name is Adam," and extend a warm, dry, strong hand. Who knows what he would do. It might turn out that he was really dumb and couldn't think of any response. To your surprise you might realize that you had inadvertently addressed a reptile. So that's why they call it a turtleneck! What can you do? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say.

The point is simple. You must take concrete, specific actions to meet actual men and talk with them long enough to determine if a second encounter should be scheduled, and if it should be scheduled, you must name a place and time, or exchange information that will allow for further communication about a place and time.

Yes, it's a simple idea. And you are not a simple person. But complicated people doing simple things makes the world a better, more charming place.

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