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Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I have lost my touch.

Not my sexual one; at least I hope not. Well, being told that I have “a nice touch” as the guy spurts all over my stomach, sort of makes me think I’m doing OK in that department (thank God).

No, the touch I have lost is the ability to converse with men: no longer do I have any confidence in chatting them up.

Two months ago, approaching a bloke wasn’t really an issue for me. Sure, I had nerves about doing it, just like the next woman, but over the years I’ve learned to channel my nervous energy into being talkative, rather than letting the anxiety eat me up. Instead of worrying, I would instead try to relax, flirt, crack a joke or tease a guy in a friendly way in order to break the ice. Sometimes it worked: I’d get a phone number (or, if I was really lucky, a shag); other times I’d get rejected - I learned to take both in my stride.

But things have changed for me now. I feel tongue-tied; my old inner confidence is non-existent. Unfamiliar self-consciousness now fuels my anxiety; self-doubt lays the tracks for my feeling vulnerable. Where once I felt strong and self-assured, I now feel exposed and even a little paranoid. I worry that I am transparent; that my motives behind talking to a guy – eg, that I fancy him – are obvious. I finally realised just how affected I now am, when I got talking to a man at my gym.

He had given me eye contact from the pool. With this non-verbal communication, the old me – the anonymous me – would have immediately chatted to him. The new me went and sat in the steam room – alone. He joined me a couple of minutes later, causing me simultaneous delight and terror in equal measure. Instead of talking to him though, I sat there quietly; legs pressed up against my boobs, my arms around me in self-protective mode.

Did he notice how frizzy my hair was? Could he see I had tried to hide my belly behind my thighs? Was he thinking, ‘Oh god, I’m stuck here alone with a girl and she’s going to try to chat me up’?

Self-doubt; lots of it. A paranoid voice in my head that I rarely, if ever, hear; especially one that is so self-deprecating. And rather than relax, as I previously would have done, I was instead hoping that the steam was hiding my imperfections, alongside my anxiety.

Then he cracked a joke. I practically wept with happiness and relief at his breaking the silence. Nervously, I responded; we both laughed. We kept up the banter for a few minutes; me worrying that I was talking nonsense. Then he told me he was heading off to the sauna. I said I’d join him in a minute. And then I spent the next five minutes berating myself. How dumb it must have sounded: a complete stranger telling someone that they will ‘join’ them. How obvious it must have been to him that I fancied him – how stupid of me to make it so blatant.

But then I was attracted to him. He was handsome; his hairy chest was very sexy; the fact that his feet were definitely bigger than my own size 8 ½s did fill me with inner joy. The problem wasn’t my level of attraction, or even, of possibly making it obvious to him. It was because I worried that he might, by some tiny chance, know.

This isn’t to say that I expect every new man I meet to recognise me, or to be aware of the blog and book – far from it. But with my now non-anonymous private life on such public display, it has left me fearing that it’s a possibility. And though I’d be totally honest about the content of my writing with any guy I meet (and after getting to know me, I’d hand him the book to read), I do feel that unlike most people, I have no secrets now; nothing new to discover about me; no shield of privacy for my protection. So regardless of the slim possibility of a bloke knowing about ‘Abby’, being outed has left me - emotionally - feeling sucker-punched: my personal life – and how I live it – will never be the same again.

So when I followed this guy into the sauna, it was with much trepidation. He smiled at me as I entered and – with no-one else there – I chose to sit on the bench next to him, with enough distance between us so he didn’t feel I was sitting on his lap (though I would have liked to, for sure).

He broke the ice again, which I was thankful for; I was barely able to speak. We cracked a few more jokes and I relaxed a little. But I still felt tongue-tied. The old me would have asked him questions; tried to find out what he was like. I couldn’t. All I could think was that if I did, he would suspect that I was trying to get into his pants, which although not totally untrue, was not entirely accurate.

Too late: he stood up and exited, saying the sauna was too hot for him. Gutted. I sat there and berated myself for not being more talkative: with my old courage I would have made far more progress by now. A few minutes passed and I left too; the heat making me tired, so I lounged on a chair by the pool. Then I spotted him swimming. And again he was looking at me.

Previously, this would have been enough confirmation for me to advance things with him: eye contact + following me into the steam room + conversation x two + further eye contact = enough interest to pursue the situation. As he got out of the pool, the old familiar voice inside my head shouted, ‘Ask him his name!!!’, but with my new nervous exterior, all I could do was lie there, hoping I was looking pretty and intelligent enough for him to want to talk to me again.

When he walked past me, he grinned and said “See you then”. There was a brief moment – a snapshot in time where you can feel the tension in the air – and I knew it was up to me to speak, given he had initiated the dialogue. But instead, I smiled sheepishly back, mumbling, “See you” in response, and when he then walked slowly away towards the changing room, I knew I had missed my chance.

It seems I need to find a way to regain my confidence with men; it’s going to take me a while, I think: I still feel very fragile. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to go to the gym as often as I can: besides getting me fitter, hopefully I’ll see this guy again – and talk to him properly this time. Worth getting some sore muscles over, I reckon.

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