To Pursue or to Be Pursued? That Is the Question

Yesterday, a very lovely and wise reader called me on the carpet about my New Year's Day invitation to Mr. Emotionally Available--and argued that I should only be with a dude who pursues. But ... really? I'm not saying that I (or any woman) should doggedly go after someone who is not giving her the time of day. But isn't there room for some give and take? (Regardless, I'm feeling kind of depressed today.)


As those of you who have been reading for a while know, every once in a while a comment comes in that I think warrants a post-length response. We find ourselves, now, at one of these moments in Maura Kelly history.

Yesterday, some very wise and sweet reader called me on the carpet about

my pursuit of Mr. Emotionally Available.

She wrote that she loved my writing, that she thinks I have "a generous and kind and curious heart," that she likes the way I treat my friends, my fellow gym-goers, stray cats, etc.

[MAURA NOTE: I'm quoting that part above not because I'm trying to brag, but because I'm feeling a little defensive! So I just wanted to remind everyone I may not be a complete waste of space.]


She went on:

When it comes to men,

though ...

Well, how to say this other than that you make healthy choices in every

other area of your life, so why not here? This guy, the one you call

Emotionally Unavailable? Maura, he is telling you, upfront, that he is

not going to give you anything substantive or ever meet your needs ... His charming unavailability probably appeals to every competitive

instinct you have, which is normal. But what I've learned is that you have to teach people--especially

men--how to treat you. And this is a great opportunity for you to stop

yourself from getting hurt by an attachment to a guy who has no stake in

protecting you.

I repeat, she said: You have to teach people--especially men--how to treat you.

So: Is she right? Do we need to teach guys how to treat us? And if so, who'd like to lay out the guidelines for how we should teach them?


If teaching men how to treat us means we shouldn't "pursue" them in any way ... I'm not sure I can wholeheartedly buy into this. More on all that below.


My commenter continued:

I'm not sure it's your inner voice telling you to call him so much as a

kind of old habit where pursuing men who aren't

calling/emailing/romancing you keeps you from being freaked out by the

real intimacy that could come from being with someone who makes himself

available to you.

Now, let me make a little factual correction here. Prior to very recently, I've never really "pursued" a guy who wasn't pursuing me. I've pined for these dudes, sure; I've cried about them; I've made myself sick over them ... but I have NOT perkily pursued them. No way. I really didn't have the self-confidence for that.

What's more, I believed that, as a woman, I wasn't allowed to pursue; that it wouldn't "work" if I pursued. I think that somewhat sexist mindset-- that I have to let a man take the lead, that I

should wait to hear from him, that I shouldn't write an email response

than is any longer than the one he sent me, etc., etc.--made me

feel more anxious, trapped and helpless than I might have if I felt like all sorts of actions and possibilities were open to me.

But starting sometime towards the end of 2009--around the time I

began to get back to my normal size after losing the extra weight

that had piled on while I was taking SSRIs
--I began to feel all right, for the first time in my life, about pursuing a little. Or, at least, about being in more frequent, playful

contact with a certain very young person who is employed by the city to

make sure none of its citizens go in flames. It wasn't really much of a

risk, since I knew that things would never go anywhere with the B.F. ... but maybe I was

just trying things out a little, getting used to using this new tool

(let's call it "the prolonged flirtation device") in the MK kit.


How did I suddenly become confident enough to engage in prolonged flirtation? Maybe it was partly John Keegan's coaching. Maybe it was because, thanks to this blog, I'm getting used to putting myself out there more; and I realize that if I take lots of little risks, it makes individual risk less scary. I also think that the anti-depressants helped enormously to curb my anxiety, and

to free me up to follow through on certain instincts, flirtatious and



So ... here's the thing. Do I think it's great when a guy pursues, pursues, pursues? Of course I do. That makes it easy. Does that mean I also think it never works out when a woman makes a flirtatious phone call or something? I think it's probably less likely that anything will work out in a situation like that, I will admit.

And yet ... I tend to think that most kind, decent people with healthy egos treat everyone with respect ... whereas insecure people who don't like themselves all

that much aren't going to treat you with respect no matter what you do.

I think we run into a problem when things get unbalanced--when either

the woman OR the man pursues, pursues, pursues when the other person

isn't responding sufficiently.

But I really don't think it's such a big deal if the woman puts out a feeler now and then, throws out a line, make a suggestion or extends an invite.

What's more, I suspect that if a woman feels like she's allowed to pursue--if she feels like she can do anything she'd like to do--that confidence will appeal to certain people. It won't appeal to everyone, sure ... but maybe it will make her all the more appealing to anyone who might be right for her.


My commenter had a little more to say.

She wrote: I know the vulnerability that comes with real intimacy has been been a

turn-off for you, , historically, but it's the only way out of the endless new nicknames ... and the loneliness that comes from spending

time with guys to whom you are not a priority.

It's funny, I read this yesterday, and I kind of wanted to cry.

Not because I regret the phone call and the street corner smooch--not at all.

But because now that all the holiday hub-bub and excitement has died down, and all I've got is two cold winter months stretching out in front of me--just me and my lack of expectations--I do feel lonely.

Unfortunately, though, I don't think there's an easy solution to that problem. And I certainly don't think I'll suddenly stop feeling lonely if I resolve to, like, never call another dude again. And much as I'd like to be interested in some of the dudes who have (perhaps doggedly) pursuedme lately, I'm just not. In the past--for a year or two--I did make a concerted effort to say "yes" to multiple dates with guys I wasn't into if (a) I could stand them and (b) they were showing a lot of interest. That little experiment didn't really yield anything. So while I think this question--of why I'm not more into the hordes of men who are after me--is still worth pondering, I don't think there's a quick fix.

I have decided to swear entirely off the Baby F., though, for what it's worth.



dear commenters:

i'm running so late today that i don't have time to respond properly. but thank you for all the props! and--really, Soma and Edwinna--also for telling me to stop and think. you know i'm always interested in what you have to say, and that i always really appreciate it, even if it's not easy medicine to swallow.