Ask a Cowboy


Editor’s note: Hello fans of cowboy wisdom! The Advice Cowboy is riding off into the sunset on this column. He’s focused on writing an incredible new thriller series that will be released in May 2017 (get ready!) and rodeos (of a kind). For now, please enjoy the wisdom below and check out the archives for more.

Dear Cowboy, 

I’m in a lot of rodeos with this guy. Another kid, his friend, said he liked me. But I can’t tell. I really like him and I have his phone number. I am way too afraid to use it though. Does he like me? Signed, confused heart.

Dear Confused Heart,

It’s been my experience that, at least when it comes to romance, confusion is often a self-imposed condition. Nature, in its infinite wisdom, has outfitted us with a highly sophisticated tool to dispel confusion in this and almost any interpersonal situation; it’s called communication. If you really want to know if someone likes you, all you have to do is ask.

Now, of course, that sounds easy enough but we come up with all sorts of reasons why we don’t use this amazing tool more often. When it comes to affairs of the heart, there are two big culprits — one is fear of being rejected and the other is that, just maybe, our hearts know we don’t like them quite as much as our brains let on.

You say you really like this fella, so I recommend you work up the courage to set your fears aside and ask him. Use that phone number, or better yet — since you rodeo with him — just catch him alone down by the chutes, look him right in the eye and say, “I like being around you, let’s have dinner some time. Nothing fancy and no pressure, but maybe we should get to know each other a little better.”

If he says ok, it should be pretty clear he likes you. If he says he’s not really interested in supper, then it might be fair to say he’s not that interested; it’ll sting a little, but it beats mooning around for something that won’t never work out.

I know we all want the folks we’re hankering after to sweep us off our feet, but they are often wrestling with their own insecurities and fear of rejection too. Taking a risk means someone has to go first.

I’m reminded of the time I was riding my horse up in the mountains and we came face to face with a grizzly. I’m not sure who was the most surprised. Actually, that’s not true — it was my horse that was most surprised because he took one wild-eyed look, gave a little whinny and turned out from under me and headed home. I ended up dumped unceremoniously right in front of the bear, expecting the worst. I sort of scrambled up to my feet, which was probably the worst thing I could do, and he raised up on his hind legs, snuffling and snorting and eye-balling me.

It soon became clear that neither of us wanted things to get worse. He probably wanted to get back to ambling through the meadows or whatever bears do, and I wanted to get back to not being mauled, but neither of us knew what to do to get us out of that moment. He just stood there looking at me and I stood there looking at him and neither of us wanted to go first, afraid of what might happen next.

After what seemed like an eternity, I worked up enough courage to take a small, trembling step backward, then another. The bear, emboldened by my actions, did the same. We both started picking up speed until I turned and took off in a stumbling run. I looked back over my shoulder once and he was a half a mile away running the other direction. I never did catch up to my horse.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, no matter how scary it is, someone has to go first. It’s rough, because it requires putting yourself out there and you risk getting your heart all mauled up, but wouldn’t you rather know exactly where you stand with your cowboy rather than waiting for him to make the first move — especially if he’s the one waiting for a clearer signal from you?

Dear Cowboy,

People say, “find what you like and what makes you happy.” Here’s the crazy thing: I don’t seem to do so well around people, but when I get around horses, I feel really happy. I would love to learn more about horses and spend time with them, but I don’t know anybody who lives near and has horses. They say, “ask and ye shall receive,” so I’m asking: How can I learn about and spend time with horses, and maybe meet a nice, caring cowboy in the process?

Signed, Fort Lauderdale Girl

Dear FLG,

Thanks for writing. Right off the bat, I can say we have something in common: we both like horses better than most people. And for good reason. Horses don’t talk nonsense all the time. They’re kind and gentle and loyal and smart, and they don’t steal your favorite whiskey and run off with your best friend. (Sorry, I think that last part might be what they call “over-sharing,” or “unresolved issues.”) But suffice it to say, I sure get where you’re coming from, and want to try and help you find a way to spend some time with horses and maybe a cowboy too.

Now, last I heard, Florida was not known for being a huge cowboy state — aside from a pretty interesting history of “crackers,” cowboys that used whips to gather cattle rather than lassos and whatnot. But that was a long time ago, and you want to find some cowboys and horses in the here and now.

Could be that this is a matter of changing up your definition of a cowboy so you can broaden your search a little.

I’m reminded of the time I was dating this gal who had a hankering for Chinese food, and since there isn’t a Chinese restaurant in LonePine, we drove down to Westerly to eat at the Mongolian Palace. But when we got there, it was now a Mexican place. By this time, we was both real hungry and little cranky, but she wanted her damn Chinese food so we drove another hour down to Rock Springs but by the time we got there, every damn restaurant in down was closed for the night. We ended up eating at the truck stop; pancakes and eggs over easy and hash browns, but the cook’s name was Han and even though he was born in Chicago, his great grandpa was from China.

I guess what I’m trying to say is sometimes definitions trap us in certain courses of action that may not even be all that beneficial in the long run. Once you think about the attributes you want in a cowboy — someone who is kind and loyal and loves horses — you don’t necessarily need a Stetson-wearing buckaroo to make your dreams come true.

In this case, seems like it all comes back to horses. If you want to spend time with horses and the kinds of guys who like horses, go where the horses are.

I think, in Florida at least, that’s going to boil down to two places: veterinary clinics specializing in livestock and riding stables. If you made yourself a list of all the vets and stables in the greater Fort Lauderdale area, and then dropped by and introduced yourself and explained your love of horses, I bet you’d be able to find a volunteer opportunity that puts you around horses real quick. And if you hang around the kinds of places where horses are, you’re way more likely to meet the kinds of guys who share your love of all things equine.

Dear Cowboy,

How do you get a cowboy to like you without talking to him?

Signed, Shy Girl Problems

Dear Shy Girl,

I’ve got some good news, some bad news and some really good news.

First, the good news. According to folks much smarter than me, 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. Plenty of other smart people take issue with that number, but no matter the specifics it should be pretty clear that a whole mess of nonverbal attributes — your body language, gestures, your eyes and your tone of voice — convey a lot of information in addition to words. In a sense, how you say things is at least as important as what you say. At first blush, that may seem like good news to people who don’t like to use their words, but it ain’t.

Here comes the bad news. If you’re too shy to say anything, chances are pretty good your body language is communicating the timidity, fear and all around lack of confidence that keep you tongue-tied in the first place. None of those things are particularly appealing when we’re looking for potential romantic partners, and they sure won’t get you noticed.

There are many ways you can get noticed without talking. You can wear crazy clothes, or carry a sign, or mime your intentions, do some kind of crazy dance or just throw rocks at your intended snuggle bunny to get their attention. But chances are, if you’re too shy to talk, you’re probably too shy to wear a “look at me, cowboy” T-shirt.

So what can you do to noticed? It’s simple, but hard: Be brave. Work up the courage to say something, anything, and what you will convey — with your words and your actions — is that you’re brave enough to do something even though you’re not real comfortable doing it.

That’s kind of the definition of brave. If you’re crazy, or have all the confidence you need, doing difficult things just comes second nature. But if everything in your being is telling you NOT to do the right thing, and you do it anyway, that’s courage.

I’m reminded of the time the rope in the hay hoist got stuck in the pulley, and dad wanted me to go up and fix it. I was always real nervous about heights, something I kept pretty well hid, and it just so happened that the pulley was way up in the rafters of the barn, a good 20 feet off the ground. I didn’t want to admit I was sacred, so I worked up the necessary courage, slowly inched my way up the ladder with a pair of pliers until I got to the top. I held on grimly with one hand while untangling the rope with the other. Everything was going pretty well until I finished up and looked down, then things started getting a little wobbly. I guess I overcompensated because the next thing I knew, the ground end of the ladder went shooting out from under me and I made a half-hearted grab at the rafters, missed, and came crashing down to the ground like a terrified, pliers-clutching comet. I hit the ground hard and lay there a little stunned, covered in cow poop and old hay and mud.

Dad didn’t even laugh, just first asked if I was ok, then helped me up told me he was real proud of the way I fixed that pulley, knowing how scared I was of heights. From that day forward, I realized how smart my old man was, and also that I could, if necessary, get past my own fears.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you work up the courage, dig deep and try to talk to your cowboy, being scared, and overcoming it, will work to your advantage. And that’s the really good news. Your shyness will work in your favor because you’ll be showing your cowboy that he’s so important, you’re willing to fight back your fears just to meet him.

What you say doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to be polished and it doesn’t even have to be good, it just has to be authentic. Try something along the lines of: “Hi, I’m really shy and I suck at this, but I wanted to talk to you.”

If your cowboy is worth his salt, he’s gonna say something like, “I’m glad you did, because I’m shy too.” Or maybe he won’t. Maybe he’s not the guy for you, and you’ll end up temporarily on the barn floor with your heart aching and covered in cow poop, but at least you’ll find out for sure. And if he’s not the guy, you’ll know the next time you see someone interesting, you can work up the courage to talk to him too.

Dear Cowboy,

What’s the easiest way to catch a cowboy’s eye or win him over? My friend has a boyfriend whose best friend is awesome; I like him a lot.

Signed, Lovesick

Dear Lovesick,

You pack a whole lot of question into one little sentence. The thing to keep in mind is that getting someone to notice you is a whole different problem than getting someone to like you.

I’m reminded of the time I spent a couple summers clowning at the local rodeo. For those unfamiliar with the concept, rodeo clowns help protect bull riders from further damage after they are separated from their bull. It’s a delicate and somewhat trying time for the unseated rider during which the bull — an angry, twisting locomotive of muscle and horn — is dead set on goring or trampling or otherwise maiming the recently dislodged source of so much irritation.

That means the rodeo clown has two distinct jobs: distract the bull — that is, “get noticed” — and then make sure the bull focuses its attention on the clown and not the rattled and temporarily-vulnerable cowboy … in other words, the clown also has to “win over” the bull.

Getting noticed is the easy part: I’d wear garish clothes with floppy bloomers and tattered bandanas in every pocket, paint my face and hop around like a madman. Getting the bull to commit is much harder. You have to work for it. You have to really get in there where things are dangerous, between the horns and the heart, and put yourself at risk.

The trick is holding your ground just long enough for the bull to forget about his rider and focus all his angst on you — if you bolt too soon, he heads back after the cowboy, and if you stand there too long, you’re gonna get steamrolled. I was never very good at the timing, which is why I only lasted two summers as a rodeo clown, and also why one of my retinas is held in place by a little nylon band.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that romance and rodeos are pretty similar. Getting noticed by a cowboy is about as easy as a clown getting noticed by the bull: you can dress up, act a fool, make him a pie, get your friend to tell her guy to tell his friend or just tell him yourself (honest communication: it’s just crazy enough to work).

But the real challenge is what comes next: keeping yourself close enough he’ll want to commit without letting yourself get steamrolled. Anything could happen: he could trample your heart, his attention might get diverted by some other gal, you might get scared and jump into one of them rubber barrels — emotionally speaking — when he gets too close, you might realize he’s not the cowboy for you or, in the best case, you might find yourself in a long-term relationship that suits you both.

Whatever happens, winning someone over means taking risks. Falling in love is stupid and exciting and dangerous, but worth every terrifying moment — and you don’t even have to wear clown makeup.

Dear Cowboy,

I live in South Africa and my brother has recently been to the USA, and in the Midwest area. From what he tells me, country people are down to earth which I like because I am the same. My question is how well do cowboys take girls from out of the country? I am asking this because, to be honest, the guys here have lost all sense of respect and I do not want to get mixed up in that. So how are the guys your side?

Signed, Wondering

Dear Wondering,

I think it’s safe to say the guys I know would be delighted to meet a girl like you — adventurous and interested in the cowboy way — and the fact you’re from a far off place makes you precisely twice as likely to attract the attention of a cowboy as a homegrown girl. Being unique is a rare commodity and something you can count on to add a little glamour to your appearance in cowboy country. The human brain is curious that way. We get so used to the things around us that we tend to take them for granted, and the appearance of something, or someone, new is like a lightning bolt.

I’m reminded of the time I got the chaps scared off of me at the old Pioneer Cemetery. It’s right on the edge of town and I drive past it almost every day. It’s safe to say I got so used to seeing it, the old faded tombstones and tumbleweeds, to such an extent that I barely thought twice about it. I guess that’s why, one evening several years back, the sight of the freshly turned earth lit up by my headlights caused me to take notice. They hadn’t buried anyone there in 50 years, so I stopped my truck and went ambling on over to take a look and as I got closer, I heard some growling and yowling and saw dirt flying up out of the ground by a weathered old tombstone near the base of an ancient, twisty oak tree. I ain’t scared to admit I was a little bit spooked by the whole thing. Just about then, a bony old hand come out of nowhere and grabbed my shoulder and a creaky old voice said, “Help grab him.” I damn near jumped out of my skin and right up into the top of that old tree.

As it turns out, it was just old many Caruthers trying to get his at his dog who’d run off after a badger and was digging in after it. The old man turned on his flashlight and lit up that damn fool dog, who poked his head up out of the hole, all covered with cemetery dirt, and I had to laugh. But I ain’t never looked at that graveyard the same way, and I never would have gotten so scared if not for noticing something out of the ordinary.

I guess what I’m trying to say is if you showed up in cowboy country, you’d get noticed, only in the good way, just on account of you being so unexpected. Do I think you could find a cowboy here? Absolutely. But does that mean you should give up on your home and set out for America? Maybe. I’m pretty fond of this country and would love everyone to get the chance to see it. But before you saddle up for a big old lifestyle change, make sure you haven’t just gotten used to the familiar all around you.

As I’ve said before, being a cowboy ain’t just about wearing a hat and boots, driving a truck and listening to country music recorded prior to 1990 — those are just some common attributes of the cowboy life. You can be cowboy in the middle of the biggest city in the world as long as you have some common values — a love of the outdoor life, not shying away from hard work, treating people with respect and always sticking up for folks who need a hand. I don’t know if there are any actual cowboys in South Africa, although I’d sure like to visit someday and find out, but I’m willing to bet there’s lots of decent people who act like cowboys ought to act. So don’t give up on those fellows just because you’ve gotten used to them. But come visit the good old USA anyway!

Dear Cowboy,

There’s this guy who I became friends with over a year ago. We used to talk all the time but once he got a girlfriend, I respected them enough to not try and mess things up. But he would always count on me for advice through their relationship. Once he and that girl broke up, we resumed our friendship like it never ended. But here recently, our friendship has changed. I reunited with him at a local PBR rodeo we had and we started talking. We have literally talked every single day ALL day since then. We hang out frequently, and we always have a blast with one another. I am head over heels for this guy and I’ve told him. But when we talk about dating, he responds with the same answer usually: “I am dumb for not wanting to settle down with you right now, but after my recent relationship, I just want to have fun for a little while.”

I respect his wants, but as soon as I feel like I can accept us as friends, he steals my heart again by texting me “good morning beautiful.” “You brighten my days.” “You mean the world to me.” I just don’t know what to make of it all. His friends have tried talking to him. He even tries making me jealous by talking about how he is going to go on a date with this girl, or that girl. Whoever. It’s almost like he enjoys my reaction. I think he does like me, but the timing is off since he did just get out of a relationship. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him. He calls me sweetheart, darling, honey. All the cute pet names a guy would call his girlfriend. I just want a guy’s perspective on this situation.

Signed, Girl with major crush

Dear Major Crush,

I’m gonna tell you something you probably already know but don’t want to hear just yet: the guy you’re crushing on is not the best choice for you, at least for the moment. You’re looking at basically three scenarios: 1) The first, and best case for you, is that he’s just taking it real slow until he knows he’s ready to commit his heart to you. 2) The second, and still not too bad, is that he only wants to be friends with you, possibly forever. 3) The third, and least palatable of the bunch, is that he’s stringing you along to see if he can find a better option and keeping you as the backup plan.

I’m reminded of the time I was helping some friends burn the dry grass out of their irrigation ditches. The thing we wanted to avoid the most was letting the flames hop over into a stand of cottonwoods that was dry as kindling. But we had a backup plan. If worst came to worst, my pal was going to hop on his ATV and go racing back home and call the fire department to help us out. Well, naturally, worst quickly came to worst and my buddy hopped on his ATV to race on home but the thing we forgot to take into account was how his house, and the phone — remember, this was long before cell phones — was on the other side of the rapidly growing wall of flames. As he went racing hell for leather through the inferno, a flaming branch fell down the back of his shirt and in the ensuing excitement of trying to extricate the burning embers, he rolled the ATV into the ditch.

Long story short, by the time the fire department finally arrived, there wasn’t nothing left of the cottonwoods, we were in a lot of trouble, his ATV was wrecked and he needed a new shirt. I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s always good to have a backup plan, unless YOU are the backup plan. Then it can start to suck. The good news is, no matter which of the three scenarios I mentioned is accurate, the best course of action for you is exactly the same: live your life on your own terms and do not wait for him. You can tell him straight up that you’re interested in being together, but that you ain’t gonna put your life on hold until he either makes up his mind or finds someone else. The worst that could happen is that you meet someone else who’s chomping at the bit to get romantically entangled with you. Actually, the worst that could happen is that he’ll be forced to admit he doesn’t want to lose you and you’ll have to find out if getting serious with a commitment-phobic cowboy is all it’s cracked up to be. Based on his track record so far, you may want a backup plan of your own. No matter how it turns out though, the most important things are to be true to yourself, be open to possibilities and to stop waiting around for life to happen to you. Because while you’re waiting, it’s passing you by.

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