2014-01-29 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Taking the mystery out of dating

In her fun and delightful guide, “Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris,” author Jennifer Scott tells the story of a mysterious neighbor who lived across the courtyard from her host family in Paris.

“Almost every morning when I pulled back the curtains in my room, he would be at his window looking out with a cup of coffee. In the beginning I was quite shy, so I would either draw the curtains back or scurry out of sight and just peek through a gap in the thick drapes to get a better glimpse of him. One time he caught me doing this and smiled and raised his coffee cup.

Thus began a five-month flirtation, Mrs. Scott tells us — a flirtation that existed only through the window. Although she exchanged smiles and waves with her neighbor during the entire course of her stay, she never actually met him in person.

“In a way, I’m glad I never did,” she says in the book.

“The thing that was so alluring about this man was that I knew nothing about him.”

This line, tucked into a chapter titled “Cultivate an Air of Mystery,” seemed to sum up my dating experience.

According to Mrs. Scott, mysteriousness is an attractive quality to have. So I should have been flattered when a man recently called me mysterious over dinner. He leaned back as he said it and tilted his head at a cocky angle. He had the same half-smile, half-smirk men like him always wear when they tell me I’m mysterious — as if they alone have figured out the answer to a complex puzzle. It was all I could do not to roll my eyes.

I have the impression the “mysterious” line is one some men use often, as if they were paying us a compliment. What they don’t realize, however, is how much it reveals about their own character. Because if you ask my friends or family — those who love me best — not one of them would say I’m mysterious. In fact, I’m a bit of an over-sharer. Want to know how much I paid for my dress? When was the last time I got my eyebrows waxed? What size bra I wear? Just ask. Hell, there isn’t much I won’t tell you. The trick is in finding the right questions. And listening to the answers. Not pretend listening, but really listening.

I’ve found that the men who claim women are mysterious are usually the ones who can’t be bothered to pose interesting questions. And who don’t generally care to hear our response, anyway.

Mrs. Scott assures us that cultivating an air of mystery “is not to be confused with being fake, putting on airs or trying to be someone you are not. It is simply being yourself without hiding behind a wall of people pleasing. It’s about not exchanging fake pleasantries or sharing truths about yourself with people who are not terribly important to you.”

Some men would do well to page through her book. Then they’d know that so-called mysterious women are not keeping secrets, we’re just saving our stories for those who pay attention. ¦

— Editor’s note: The writer’s book, “Unremarried Widow,” was reviewed in The New York Times on Sunday, Jan. 5.

Return to top