L’esprit de l’escalier

We’ve all been there. Having a great conversation, replies bouncing back and forth, the fizz of electricity in the air, until they say something and you’re lost for words. You freeze, like you did when you heard your nan mention the word “blowjob” that time after she’d had a little too much sherry at Christmas. The moment passes, but on the way home later you think of the perfect thing to have said. It is witty, it is interesting, and it’s also an hour too late.

That’s l’esprit de l’escalier, which roughly translates to “staircase wit”. It’s the moment you think of the perfect comeback just too late, and is the feeling I usually get when I chat with a girl I really fancy.

Unlike many men, I know my limits. I’m no Tom Hardy in the sexiness stakes, nor Ryan Reynolds in the effortless wit stakes, nor Eddie Redmayne in the awkwardly-geeky-but-handsome stakes, nor Lewis Hamilton in the confidence stakes, nor… wait, I forget where I’m going with this…

Suffice to say, I know who I am and what makes me attractive, and one of those things is my ability to flirt. It took me a long time to learn how to flirt after nearly two decades of not doing it; I spent weeks watching First Dates to find out how it was done, and months realising that I could release myself for real to actually flirt with women and not get in trouble for it.

I loved it! Loved wordplay and innuendo and timing and images and hints and outright statements and more, all when done with someone who is flirting back and up for more. It’s sexy. It’s empowering. It makes me feel good about myself, makes her feel good about herself, makes us each feel desired and therefore also makes us each feel desirable. It heightens everything in the most playful of ways and makes every interaction fun and sexy.

Well, not every interaction.

I’ve discovered something. Something I can’t quite explain, and can’t work out how it happens. You see, with a few really amazing exceptions, it turns out that the more I fancy someone, the less able I am to flirt with them.

Makes. No. Sense.

Surely it should be the other way around?! Surely if I find someone really attractive I should be flirting with them all the more? What changes? What is it that turns me from a flirting machine into a friendzoned bumbling idiot nice guy?!

The analyst within me has a few theories. With those I like, but am only somewhat attracted to and not blown away by, there is little fear. The risk is low. If I flirt and try something and it doesn’t come off, or it results in them withdrawing from the chat or the relationship, then I’ve lost less. I was less invested anyway, so it’s not the end of the world, which results in me feeling more free to push the line somewhat with them.

If I really like them, however, the fear of messing up is real. What if I say something too far? What if an innuendo is taken the wrong way, or said too early? What if that joke gets taken out of context? What if I move in for a kiss, or a cheeky bum squeeze, and that’s not their thing? What if I wedge my foot so firmly in my mouth that they walk away entirely? That’d be a disaster, so best to dial down and be the nice guy that she says all women want and that most guys aren’t.


Every single time I do that I then go away and, utterly unbidden, analyse things. “I should’ve said this, that was the perfect point to drop an innuendo in.” “I should’ve linked arms when we walked.” “I should’ve just gone straight in for the kiss, and not second guessed myself.” “I should’ve sent this gif and not that one.” Why didn’t I do these things at the time? Why is it only post-fact that I can so clearly see where I went wrong?!

Every woman wants to feel desired, as does every man. If you don’t, well, you’re not the person for me nor I the person for you. I love nothing more than some cheeky banter and sexual innuendos, and in most cases can more than hold my own (as it were…). What is it about super attractive women that dials down my self-confidence so much that I believe, to a greater or lesser extent, that there’s no way they could be sexually or romantically interested in me so I’ll just revert to the only relationship I know I’ve got a chance at – friendship?

(For the record, the psychologist in me knows that this is down to nearly two decades of being made to feel less and less attractive, desired and desirable by my ex-wife, plus the fact that I’ve had few non-platonic relationships with truly confident and attractive women so am merely adjusting my mean gradually, but that doesn’t make for a good thought process).

(Also for the record, when I say attractive I’m not commenting merely on physical appearance – attraction is obviously made up of so many elements that mere physical attraction is just one facet of a sexy woman, but again, that’s a story for another day).

Weirdly, it feels like I need to give less of a fuck if I want to get more of one. So that’s what I’m going to try to do from now on.


Let’s see if the French have a word for that.

Why didn't I say that earlier...?

11 thoughts on “L’esprit de l’escalier

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  1. I could relate so much to this post! So eloquently put! I too have always found that the more I like someone, the less able I am to find the right words to say. I overthink to such a ridiculous, and outright bizarre level. It takes so many attempts to draft a simple text message, pondering all the different ways the guy might interpret it. In my head I want to come across cool, calm, casual…mysterious perhaps. Probably end up coming across like a rambling mess! I think we make it far more complicated than it needs to be! Look forward to reading more posts from you.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, that is me exactly too! I always think of the coolest, smoothest things I SHOULD have said immediately afterwards as well, and kick myself for not getting there faster! I am learning to accept that maybe being awkward and clumsy is simply part of my charm…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I could live with charming awkward clumsiness if I could tie it up with flirtyness as well! I need to remember, though, that it only needs to click once and everything will be fine after that. 😁


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