Seduction should include a bit of mystery, collaboration, intuitiveness, innuendo and nuance. Picture: Pexels

Washington - As the pain grew intolerable in my right hip, I treated myself to a professional massage. I am a single mom and busy professional. Luxury items don't happen often. I expected to feel relief from a chronic sports injury. Instead, I was flooded with grief.

"I can see that you're flinching when I press here. Is that where it hurts?" she asked.

"Yes. Yes, that's where it hurts." I said trying to hide the lump growing in my throat.

While the kind and patient masseuse pressed her hands into my muscles, I wept into the face holster. It wasn't her kneading the persistent pain in my right hip that brought me to stifled tears. It was the sudden realisation of how very long it had been since someone had touched my body with such care and attention.

As a middle-aged, single, heterosexual feminist living through this volatile time, when relationship norms are unclear and constantly shifting, the divide between men and women has never felt so wide. And I have never been so lonely. Men can't seem to get it right, even when they publicly shout their support for women.

Before my divorce four years ago, all my previous dating happened in the 1990s, and those old ways aren't working anymore while the new ways are still being mapped out. In my experience, the days of using sex appeal to begin a relationship are over. Because if that's all there is, it's dehumanizing. It leads to shallow intimacy, being objectification or coercion.

Either party as the dominant decision-maker, particularly the man, is also a glaring red flag. Women desire more autonomy these days, but we also want to be a part of a duo. Where do we find this new balance of shifting gender stereotypes? 

For one, I don't need a man to ask permission for every move he makes. We shouldn't let the battle cry of consent translate into boring sex. Sometimes spontaneity is what makes sex passionate, particularly sex with someone you don't know well. But men, please, check your entitlement at the door. Intentions are important, and everyone's intentions during sex should be of care, healing and relief, not of personal appetite and blind conquest.

But this will require men to do something they are infamous for not doing: paying close attention. The trite wisdom of the late 1990s, early 2000s - that men are from Mars and women are from Venus - allowed men a pass; they weren't expected to learn the nuance of nonverbal communication. Women were coached to spell out their desires because male brains just "don't work" at picking up subtleties of feminine persuasion. Men were positioned as needing to be hit over the head with a big stick like a cave man to understand the more emotional female brain.

Seduction should include a bit of mystery, collaboration, intuitiveness, innuendo and nuance. Otherwise it's not seduction, it's a business deal. Like a partnered dance, you have to be in tune to the other person's moves without needing verbal guidance every step of the way. Is it too much to ask a man to pay close attention to what my eyes are saying without having to spell it out? Sometimes there aren't words for what I'm trying to say. It's called nonverbal communication, and it takes intentional awareness to understand it.

If a man misreads the signs and puts his hand on my knee without asking - and I remove it - can't he simply say he's sorry without having his ego shattered into a thousand shards of blame? I've been taking risks and perfecting these communication skills my whole life out of necessity. I've been apologizing for myself for decades. It's time for the men I date to meet me halfway.

Nothing turns a woman on faster than when a man pays attention to the little things, even if it's the things she doesn't like. If I find that man who pays close attention to me, whose ego isn't made of egg shells, then I'm likely to reward him tenfold. 

The Washington Post