- At Home
A male friend of mine says the phrase “still waters run deep” is used to describe someone: “thoughtful, complex, psychologically savvy, and deep.” Most of my friends agree. It is an expression that gives an allure, a mystery and unknown possibility to the person it describes.
How many wallflowers have emerged as mysteriously provocative with this single label? The truth is I doubt there have been many. While wallflower is commonly used to describe women, men seem to have been given all the rights to still waters.
Like the magic capsules my son puts in water that transform into dolphins, dogs, turtles, spiders... we expect these still-water men to expand into complex and attractive beings who in time will reveal a hidden vitality - and some of them probably do.
The first time I actually heard the phrase used to describe someone I knew it was by a professor to describe one of my classmates, a thoughtful guy, quiet and slender with slightly greasy black hair, delicate hands, a pleasantly soft mouth, and dark eyes that might have been hiding great deepness.
It was after I had kissed him and listened to excerpts from his bookshelf and lines from his poetry - deciding that he wasn’t masculine or bottomless enough for me - that I heard the rumors that our professor was sleeping with him. Perhaps my professor plunged his waters and saw depths or a passionate and subtle nature that I couldn’t.
I have been criticized for liking “masculine” men. Could I blame Elizabeth (Bennet), Jane (Eyre), and Catherine for my predilection for inaccessible ones? When did Mr. Darcy, Mr. Rochester, Healthcliff... these Byronic-heroes, become for me the prototypes of the perfect modern man? At what point did these inaccessible, dark and silent heart-throbs become my definition of mysterious and sexy?
A friend once described being married to her husband like being married to a lighthouse. When the light came around and she was in the beam, it was lovely (warm, inspiring), but the rest of the time the searchlight fell somewhere else. It made me feel the urge to run as I imagined a life spent watching the beam move away and the cold chill that followed. Wouldn’t this be worse than simply imagining, but never reaching, an inaccessible depth? After she spoke, I stood in her very white kitchen, drinking coffee, searching for words to make the image shatter into thousands of untrue pieces.
I have recklessly dated quiet, remote men with bad tempers, imagining their silent exteriors to be thin and breakable. I expect them to give way (maybe even from love) into meaningful sensitivity and connection. It didn’t matter that the men always stayed cold and aloof. Some cultural stereotype or picture of romance made me hold fast.
I know that have I tossed aside my share of “nice” men for creeps. In his essay “Against Dickatude” Michael Chabon writes:
“Desirable women so often seem to go for the dicks among us; in my days of active pursuit I was brushed off far more than a few times with the information that I was “too nice.” Thoughtfulness shades to obsessiveness, attention to smothering, punctilio and politesse to a kind of ironic compulsion.”
And so I continued on my mission to plumb the depths of an unavailable man. In graduate school, I fell in love with a dark and silent Mr. Darcy type. I was convinced that he was the epitome of what is meant by still waters running deep. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He played the piano, wrote, and had eyes that were so blue and dreamy that even my friend, Marvin said they “made him swoon.”
Early in the year, he invited me to go with him at dusk to hear the elk bugle. He brought a blanket, and we lay down on a grassy hillside. I looked up at the sky and felt light and giddy as the stars until the sound of the elk began to resonate across the valley. The elk bugled an excruciating noise of sharp echoing intensity and longing to attract cows and challenge rivals. Like a submarine blindly moving across the ocean depths, their signal went out across the blackness, searching, waiting, pained.
It turned out, of course, that my Mr. Darcy had a girlfriend. Even so, my best friend from school and I met him on Fridays. He would lean back in his chair and silently flash those blue eyes. She would spin in her diaphanous dresses and openly mock him for his “I live on the dark side” image, and in the end, he romanticized her for it. What was there to do?
When I met my now ex-husband, I’d had a long history of desiring quiet brooding types, and the man I married was as controlling and distant as any of the fictional men I swooned over. I have found the dark and handsome, brooding heroes of my youth to be more dangerous in real life than full of meaningful depth. Not one has revealed a better self, passionate, and loving.
And why did the meaning of still waters running deep change? What slight of hand occurred to turn the phrase in reverse and go from suggesting silent danger to emotional depth? Shakespeare clearly had it right.
“Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep;
And in his simple show he harbours treason,
The fox barks not when he would steal the lamb;
No, no, my sovereign, Gloucester is a man
Unsounded yet, and full of deep deceit.”
Shakespeare: 2 Henry VI., iii. 1.
Is the mere withholding what draws us forward? And should it be okay, even desirable, to plumb the inaccessible depths of a man to reach a person or partner? These days, I am searching for a man sparkling near the surface. No more deep diving.