When a woman tells me I'm good-looking, or clever, or funny, my immediate instinctive response is that they're just trying to be charitable, and help me boost what they see as my low self-esteem.
On the other hand, when a woman tells me I'm fat, or slow, or addicted to Moon Pies, or a wrinkled mess, or negative, or repulsive (to use a few actual observations), I tend to believe they mean it, because what other motive would a person have for saying things like that? And if they tell me I'm boring, which I've heard more than any other criticism, I'm especially inclined to believe they mean it.
And then I think I have to win them over and earn their affection. It didn't work with my mother, so god knows why I think it would work with anyone else. Too many movies, probably.
I remember one evening a few years ago when a group of us were at dinner at a BBQ place. There was a lull in the conversation, and Ms. HRP, who was sitting across the table from me, suddenly asked, "So why aren't you dating? Why don't you have a girlfriend?"
I opened my mouth to answer. I knew I shouldn't. I knew the best thing to do was deflect the questions with a noncommittal answer, but the words were already spilling out of my mouth even as I was regretting what they were.
It was exactly like those few seconds between the time your car first fishtails out of control on an icy street, and the moment it slams into the light pole twenty feet away. You know what's going to happen, and the wait seems interminable. It feels like you could read 'Atlas Shrugged' in the time it takes for your car to finally slide into the pole and stop with a bone-jarring 'wham!'
I had been through this scenario enough times to know what was next. I would offer my answer, which I was trying to extemporize as even as I was thinking this, and she would reply, "Well, I'll tell you what I think..."
And then she would offer me a list of all the shortcomings and inadequacies she saw in me – for my own good, of course.
Fortunately, someone else jumped in and cut off my answer before I could get it out, and directed the conversation elsewhere. Thank you for nudging my car away from that light pole.
But yes, I have some emotional investment in all these criticisms. Nobody has pointed out my shortcomings more frequently than I have myself. I frequently make jokes about my own image as a lazy, unmotivated slug, just the way Dean Martin used to make jokes about his boozy, carefree image.