MASK OFF, MIDD: Asking for what you want

By Maria Kaouris

Hunched over my laptop, three empty cups of Greek yogurt and two decimated honey packets to the right of me, I diligently do my homework in Ross Dining Hall. I’m enthralled with my international law readings (side note: for a month, my Tinder bio was “talk regulatory trade barriers to me,” which was inspired by Week 7 of my poli sci course’s syllabus. I got next to zero matches, although I was “superliked” by the guy who checks out my groceries in Hannaford). 

Suddenly, I feel a shadow cast over me a lanky specter, if you will eager to get my attention. 

“Um, excuse me?” he asks. 

I turn and shoot him a confused look and raucously slurp my coffee, equally bothered and intrigued by his interruption. Subsequently stuffing my face with seasoned potato wedges (probably not the most socially insightful move, seeing that I was about to engage in a riveting conversation), I wait for him to continue. Suddenly, he stuns me with an unanticipated question.

“Could I have your number?” 

As an objectively stressed-out person, I have a response prepared for nearly every possible scenario. That is, every scenario but the masked-stranger-asks-you-out-in-the-dining-hall-when-you’re-eating-potatoes scenario (but now, if that ever happens again, I’ll be totally and completely prepared).

Weighing my options namely, the degree of promise each of my Tinder matches holds and the likelihood that my Zoom crush will message me and ask me to coffee (answer: unlikely, seeing that he told our entire class he has a “serious”  girlfriend whom he is very in love with) — I let him squirm a little. After an uncomfortably long silence (he can probably see the wheels turning in my brain), I type in my easy-to-memorize phone number. 

As my new love interest floats away, victory palpable in his step, I am suddenly hit by a wave of nausea — what if he’s a freshman? Even during these unprecedented times, I didn’t sign up to be a cougar. The second he walks out of the dining hall, however, I look him up on go/directory and immediately breathe a sigh of relief. 

While nothing romantic materialized out of our subsequent interactions, this boy has dared to do what few other interested men in my life have done: put me on the spot. In an era of carefully constructed texts and premeditated Snapchats, it is now quite rare to receive an in-person, wholehearted expression of interest. In my opinion, there is nothing more attractive than a person who knows what they want.

Truthfully, I’m not usually on the receiving end of such interactions.

My freshman year, two of my guy friends said the first word they would use to describe me was “intimidating.” To give you context, I’m 5’3” and sit in chairs like a human pretzel. There is nothing inherently intimidating about my stature nor my strength, as I have been gifted with noodly arms that barely support my body weight when I do a singular push-up (I’m not exaggerating). 

And so, the only thing inherently “intimidating” about me is my personality, my overwhelming confidence in knowing what (or who) I want (just ask my dining hall crush last semester, who was likely startled to receive a note from me in the mail over quarantine. Needless to say, we did not reconnect this fall).

Throughout the years I have learned that, while communicating doesn’t always get me what I want, staying silent almost always leaves me feeling dissatisfied. Inundated with more questions than answers, I end up feeling overwhelmed with insecurity, rather than experiencing any semblance of clarity. 

For some guys, this straightforwardness is probably attractive (we love a woman who knows what she wants!). For others, it’s jarring and far too frank (although, in my defense, who can resist my big brown eyes?)

Regardless, I am learning to prioritize my own comfort in romance, rather than worrying how my honesty is perceived. 

These conversations, when approached with respect and an eagerness to listen, are oftentimes fruitful. Avoiding necessary talks because it might make others feel awkward is how we end up confused and farther from fulfillment — in whatever form we seek it out (clarification: don’t try to make the other person uncomfortable but, if they are, allow them to deal with it).

While I am still learning how to walk the talk, these skills have served me well so far. While important in romance, they translate similarly to our professional careers. How are we supposed to advocate for ourselves professionally if we cannot do so in our personal relationships? How do we ask for a day off? Or a raise? 

If honesty makes you nervous, remember that, at least for now, you can hide behind your mask. 

MASK OFF, MIDD: If you can’t ask for what you want, you’ll never get it.