I am officially off the “meat market”. Turning 40 next year I walk around the world not worrying too much about what men, or anyone, for that matter, think about me. Of course I care for my appearance and to stay fit, but more for my own sake. I was never much of a flirter anyway. Unlike my husband or best friend, who both can get their ways past any queue or defer any ill-tempered official (of any sex) through flirting intensely, I tend to be serious and slightly on guard with strangers.
Which is why it took me by complete surprise that the Egyptian concierge at the hotel in Qatar, where I stayed between my flights, flirted with me extensively. First I ignored it and thought it part of his job description: be nice to women traveling alone. Then he upgraded me to the suite. I said there was no need. Yes, there was, no extra charge, please enjoy.
When I asked for an adapter I called down twice and walked down the third to simply get it. He made a funny scene out of what a true pity it was that I had to come down to fetch it. I found myself giggling like a 16-year-old. I had been very clear that my husband had booked the hotel so there was nothing there to wonder about. But just the fact that he gave me a different picture of myself than I had decided to act upon was a tiny gift I decided to accept.
I looked at Doha at my feet, enjoyed my complementary tarts, high-speed Internet connection, a warm shower and the sleep in a huge bed – a commodity I would miss during my long-long flight to Melbourne. Upon my departure he made an operette-scene about having to see me again, all of it becoming slightly more than I could muster so I slipped into the cab and waved good-bye.
But isn’t this exactly what I try to do for other people, especially children: to give them a picture of themselves as lovable, for whom they are? I am not stupid, I know there was a sexual undertone of the concierge’s flirt, but the essence remains the same; I want to let you know you are a likable person, in my own way.
Photo: Fanni Sarkadi
On my visit to Sweden I took my niece to a musical and as we walked she told me how someone she had met seemed to take to her so easily. “Sweetheart, I said, you need to know that you ARE easy to like, there is nothing strange about that woman liking you!” She said nothing, but smiled to herself.
“Suck it in, I thought to myself, suck it in and never let it go. No matter what some asshole along the line will tell you, no matter how the cool girls in high school will make you feel – know your worth! Know that you are lovable”.
Love and acceptance is so central in our lives that we do the strangest things to get it. Just read Alice Munroe! The basis of all good therapy then is what Carl Rogers termed “unconditional positive regard”. It gives to people what they might have missed during their childhood: a sense of being possible to be loved, accepted, and “contained”, irrespective of the things they think, say, or achieve.
No wonder then that studies on e.g. depression convincingly show that it is the relationship to the therapist rather than the form of therapy itself that makes the greatest difference for results. And yes, the pope is Catholic.
Although most of us are not professional therapists, there is lots we can do for one another and our children in our everyday life. Of course we can’t provide unconditional positive regard to everyone we meet: real life involves conditions and conventions we need to live by. But we certainly could muster a bit more generosity. Maybe flirt a bit more, irrespective of age and gender?
When my eldest daughter was on her way to a wedding and sent me a picture of herself in the dress I replied: “Whoever gets to sit beside you tonight is a lucky person. You are such pleasant and kind company!” The hearts and smileys bouncing back on my screen said it all. I could see the smile on her face all those miles away. And the one on mine still lingers when I think of my Egyptian concierge waving after the taxi. Maybe turning 40 is not so bad after all.