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Auntie Seraphic & the Doomed Tomboy

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Dear Auntie Seraphic,

I am studying engineering. This means that the majority of people in my class are guys, which is fine by me. They are nearly all very nice, and I have never been treated with disrespect. It was the same in high school: most of my friends were guys. This is normal for me, I suppose, as I  grew up with brothers. I act like them, I am told, as I am fond of shenanigans and rowdy jokes (working on that :-p ).

What does make me unhappy, though, is that no young man has ever even looked at me, not even once. I don't understand why, as there is nothing wrong with me to look at, and I have many friends. However, all of my male friends have only ever seen me as a friend and this makes me feel as if I am somehow not a woman.

I know what you are likely to say: that guys want someone who is more feminine, and if I act like them, I will only ever be a friend. However, there is no point in saying that. Goodness knows my mother gave up saying the same thing long ago. You might as well tell me to immediately grow three inches taller; you could also say "Fribble bobble boo," which would be equally helpful. I simply do not understand what that would entail; that is not something about me that is going to change, any more than my eye color.

What I want to know is: is there any hope for someone like me? As all of my friends have had past boyfriends, girlfriends, etc., this has been gradually doing a real number on my self-esteem. Do you really think that unless I make drastic changes to my personality, I am doomed to remain forever Single?

Doomed Tomboy

Dear Doomed Tomboy,

You're an undergraduate engineering student, which means that neither you nor the guys you're around have that much time for romance because when you don't have numbers pouring out of your eyes and nose, you are thinking up ways of disassembling cars and reassembling them on top of the Student Council building or whatever.  Okay, sure, everyone you know has managed to have past boyfriends and girlfriends, but what this means is that everyone you know has had a perhaps shallow emotional connection which just didn't work out and ended in disappointment. That's not really something to envy.  

I don't see that you have to do a major conscious overhaul to your personality, unless it means paying more attention to how people feel, if hitherto you have been careless of other people's feelings (e.g. laughing at people who you thought could take a joke but secretly can't), and realizing what you do to annoy people, if you are annoying people. 

If you make men laugh all the time, and everyone thinks you're hilarious, that's not particularly feminine, but it's a good personality to have, so why change it? You may eventually meet a guy with the same sense of humour who can dig your jokes and you at the same time. Tough-talking gals in the Canadian militia I've known have married tough-talking guys in the Canadian militia. The one I knew best was feminine-looking though, with long hair. You didn't mention if you are feminine-looking.

There are all kinds of way to signal "I'm a girl" without having to stop being you. The absolute easiest is looking like a stereotypical "girl": long hair, skirts, non-sensible shoes, lipstick. Wearing girls' stuff, if you're not already, would not a betrayal of your personality. All it would do is signal "Hey, I'm a girl, and I'm pretty, and I enjoy being a girl and pretty."

The only other things I can think of off-hand are as follows: 

A) that it is not that difficult to stop swearing like a guy, if you are swearing like a guy. (Swearing like a guy makes women seem more like guys.) When I've fallen into a bad-word habit, I pick a substitute word and make myself use that instead until the problem is solved.    

B) that one of the most attractive things in the world--in men and women--is shutting up long enough to listen to other people's stories without sitting there dying to tell your next joke or story, and to ask people about themselves and show a real interest in them as people in themselves and not just audiences who will respond to your ideas and your jokes. Even if you are an intensely chatty, dynamic girl, you can remind yourself to do this. 

I don't know if this will be helpful or not. I just want to assure you that there is absolutely no point giving up on the hope of husband and children when you aren't even 30 years old, let alone 25. As an engineering student, you have better things to worry about at this particular moment, like passing your exams and getting a fellowship or a great job. You have been gifted with the kind of intellectual skills the world really needs, and that's fantastic. There is no doubt in my mind that if you make the grade, you will always be able to make your own living, and that's fantastic, too.  

Grace and peace,

I suggested last week that women are a lot more visual than we are given credit (or blame) for, but men are very visual. Very, very, very. And this means you can put a quiet, shy, kitten-loving poetess in overalls and tennis shoes and a loud, outgoing, truck-fixing electrician in a cute dress and heels, and men will think the latter is the feminine one.  

I keep thinking about Miss Congeniality although one of my life rules is not to look to films or fiction for guides to real life. Maybe it's because I'm a sucker for transformation scenes. And I also love the idea of a smart, strong woman understanding that it's okay to be attractive, it's good to be attractive, and it's fun to be found attractive. It doesn't mean having to dumb down or give up your personality. It just means trying to see yourself as others see you, as Robbie Burns might have said, and figuring out how to make the impression you want to make.

Update: FWIW, since we are on the topic of making a wished-for impression on others, in this specific case, "Hello, in case you have not noticed, boys, not only am I a clever engineering student, I am a girl and pretty", I shamelessly googled about and found this interesting article. Ignore the lame-brained comments. Frankly, I do not think high heeled shoes at all appropriate for wearing to class, but nobody has to wear trainers (runners), either.

Update 2: And, yes, I see the irony of talking about clothes again! However, this is not really about clothes. It is about impressions.

Update 3:  I just noticed that my link is to the Pakistani version of the International Herald Tribune. That certainly explains the references to Eid. I think it still works for us Christian and Jewish girls, though, as obviously the sort of men we are most likely to be interested in are those who at least acknowledge the role of modesty (for both sexes) and religion alongside romance and attraction in society.