20-Something Swag

(forever young, sometimes broke, and always snarky)

Month: August, 2012

How to Talk to Boys

The following interaction, and my experiences on a Christian college campus suggest that the tutorial promised in the title might be handy for young women who, for whatever reason, made it to adulthood being comfortable talking to only one man: Jesus.

I was recently driving with some new friends between a wedding reception and a pub where it was guaranteed that we would meet new people–including male people–as the logical product of two friend circles colliding. One of my traveling buddies reported back that the bride, my dear childhood friend, had agreed to introduce her to any guy she felt intimidated to talk to. I responded, perhaps made more blunt by Red Hook, “Or you could just talk to them.”

“What?” I was asked, as if I had just suggested trying to bring the mullet back.”You could talk to them. I talk to boys all the time,” I said, referring to adult men, but enjoying the tongue-in-cheek effect of “boys.” Three other voices asked in unison, “Really?” “Yeah, it happens every day,” I answered, thinking they were joking then suddenly feeling inexplicably worldly. One said, “I can’t do that. Especially if they’re attractive. I tried to say something interesting to a guy, but all I could think of was John 3:16.” “Well,” we all laughed as I rotated around to face the backseat passengers head-on, “if a man has a problem with that, that could be a deal breaker for you.”

They seem to be doing just fine.

Ya know, talking to strangers in general isn’t easy for everyone–my little introverted self included. And talking to people you find attractive can be even more intimidating. I’ve been sent into mute anxiety by my share of brown eyes and tilted grins. But nothing has been more paralyzing in conversations with men than the expectation that I have to construct coherent sentences, while being charming, intelligent, funny, and cute; discern how many kids this guy wants to have when I’m not sure if/when I want kids; consider whether our names would look okay hyphenated; try to figure out what he really means by, “That’s my favorite book, too!”; and plan our wedding; all while trying not to spill my drink. It’s just too much.

If you’ve ever felt that way, can I just say, calm the heck down. Then take a deep breath, and next time you’re in a social situation where you find yourself face-to-face with a male person, follow these simple steps. Or make up your own. I’m no expert, and this is not a guide to dating a boy. I really couldn’t tell you how to do that. Let’s start with talking. But whatever you do, remember that asking you to have coffee is not a marriage proposal. Okay, now that that’s covered, Scenario 1.

Scenario 1) Say “Hi.”

1.b) If he says “Hi” back, don’t freak out. He means “Hi.” No one is offering to have anyone’s children. Unless you offer. Please, don’t offer to have his children.

1.c) If you have made it this far without any reproductive propositioning, now would be the time to further the conversation. This is most effectively accomplished by asking a question. You can skip “How are you?” in some cases. I’d start with some name swapping unless you want to prolong the mystery. But if you are looking for that kind of mystery, just stop it. This isn’t I Kissed Dating Good-Bye. It’s I Stopped Worrying about Getting Married Long Enough to Talk to Somebody. Stay focused. Besides, if we’ve made it this far without talking to men, kissing dating good-bye is the least of our worries.

1.d) Yay! You know each other’s names. If you even think about tacking Mrs. to his name, I will kick you in the face. For one thing, you just met him. For another, you already have a name. Accept it. Your next step is to continue the conversation about each other’s lives or interesting current issues, families, interests, etc. Surface-level small talk is dumb, but don’t dump your entire life story in the first ten minutes. This isn’t about being ooh-mysterious. It’s about having emotional boundaries.

1.e) And now you’re talking to a boy.

Sometimes it doesn’t go so well from the get-go and you might regret your newfound conversation skills. You can decide a conversation isn’t worth prolonging for whatever reason, but if a guy is clearly a douche bag and doesn’t respect your time (or his own), don’t waste yours. But in very few cases should you return douchebaggery for douchebaggery. Be kind, be classy. Also, see Scenario 2.

Scenario 2) Say “Hi.”

2.b) If he says “Girl you talk too much. Shut up,” you might want to say something really sweet like, “I’m sorry to bother you,” but I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say anything per se.*

Then there’s always Scenario 3) Say “Hi.”

3.b) He says nothing, walks away.

3.c) Find someone else to say “Hi” to. Maybe a girl this time. Talking to boys is overrated.

*Bonus points if you can name the source of this quote.

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Tattoos & Rumors: Why I’m Getting Ink for Homemakers Everywhere

The rumors of my sordid love life are true, folks.

I am in love with Ted Kooser. Sure, he’s 73 and looks like a slender version of the old man from Up, but age really is just a number (sometimes a very big number), and who didn’t ball their eyes out during that film?

He’s in love with me, too. He just doesn’t know it.

The other rumor, that my summer sun-kissed back will soon host some ink, is also true. Now, before you freak out, Grandma, remember that Luke has, like, three tattoos and Kari designs tattoos professionally (and she’s designing mine!).

In junior high and high school, I toyed with the idea of having a tattoo, drawing Christian symbols on my ankle and my forearm. An ichthus, a dove, a Psalm about hope and singing. I wanted something that was both aesthetically beautiful but also an image that meant something to me and would continue to mean something to me long after I grew old and the tattoo became “just a bruise/ on a bony old shoulder, the spot/ where vanity once punched her hard/ and the ache lingered on,” as my dear Ted might say.

For lack of more precise terminology, my sophomore year of college was a year of feminist awakening. I was discovering my voice as a student, a writer, a person of faith, and a young woman. It was a painful time for me as I felt betrayed by a history that narrowly defined what “women’s work” looked like in one breath and demeaned that work in the next breath. After months of debating how to identify in my new awareness, I told my mom that I identified as a feminist. At the time she didn’t react disparagingly, but about a year ago she confessed while we sliced fresh peppers for pepper jelly, “I was worried that you would judge my choices, because I associated feminism with bra burners and women telling me to get a ‘real job’ and not spend time with my family.”

Christian symbols not included, I supposedly marred my holy temple with a navel piercing long before this feminist awakening. I like to think of my custom-made peach pearl barbell as more of a piece of art not many people see than a defacement, like the beautiful tombstones in the caverns of ancient cathedrals. That’s a generous metaphor, clearly, but whatever the case, my human urge for beauty gained through pain was temporarily satiated several months before I met the amazing Mr. Kooser in a writing poetry class where he charmed me with “A Jar of Buttons.” This poem slowly stowed me away and has stayed with me for five years now, because it holds that tension between respecting women’s histories, communities, struggles, and work, while recognizing the ways women have been written out of history if they aren’t some hard-ass, brazen bitch.

A Jar of Buttons

This is a core sample
from the floor of the Sea of Mending,

a cylinder packed with shells
that over many years

sank through fathoms of shirts –
pearl buttons, blue buttons –

and settled together
beneath waves of perseverance,

an ocean upon which
generations of women set forth,

under the sails of gingham curtains,
and, seated side by side

on decks sometimes salted by tears,
made small but important repairs.

from Delights and Shadows, Copper Canyon Press, 2004.

There’s this saying that “well-behaved women rarely make history.” It’s sad to me how true that is. The women’s movement and continued pursuits for gender equality are just as much mending circles as they are epic battles on the high sea. We are generations of women (and men) coming together to share our lives and work together. And through that work we prove that progress is possible and real. Through that work we make small but important repairs–to each other and to the world around us. And what do we have to work with? Whatever we can get our hands on: pearl buttons, blue buttons. And that’s what my tattoo will say.