I’m an attractive, 42-year-old single mom with a 13-year-old son. I’ve been widowed for three years, and I’m finally ready to date. I’ve found myself increasingly attracted to this man (actually, I’m yearning to jump his bones), but he’s only 32. I sense the attraction may be mutual. The problem is, I’m the queen of mixed signals. If a good-looking guy checks me out in the grocery store, I scurry to another aisle and kick myself later. After this guy went out of his way to call to say he wished our conversation hadn’t been interrupted at a party the night before, I told him, “I’m just needy; I’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen.” Please don’t tell me to find a man my age. They don’t give me the time of day — except for the ones who creep me out. What I can say or do to let this man know I’m interested without coming off as a desperate older woman?
                      —Own Worst Enemy

    You’re right to worry about coming off as a desperate older woman. You probably do sound desperate — desperate to get rid of the guy: “I’m just needy; I’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen.” Should he call back, maybe add, “You’ll do, since the suicide hotline guys started hanging up on me when they realized I don’t want to kill myself, just bore them to death.”
    Your signals to the guy might be mixed, but they’re coming through loud and clear to me: You want a relationship; you’re just too terrified to have one. You’re probably scared of both success and failure: What if Stud Boy likes you? What if he likes you, then leaves you?! And you’re sure the grocery store guy, upon closer appraisal, will realize he’s made a terrible mistake, so you scurry away like a bug after the lights come on: “Yes, yes, I look like a woman, but I’m really a giant cockroach wearing a lot of Better Separates.”
    There’s something in you that doesn’t think all that highly of you — the part that suspects this guy’ll see you as some ridiculous old bag. Wowee, a whole 10-year age difference. (Any excuse’ll do!)
    When you do meet a guy who creeps you out, your old insecure-speak should come in handy. Nothing usually makes a man on the make want to bolt like the words “I’m needy,” except maybe for the announcement “I’m off my meds, I’ve got a loaded gun in my purse, and what a cool coincidence that the back of your shirt looks so much like a bullseye.”

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