Your post is a clearly stated accurate description of a conflict I know too well. Thanks for writing it and reminding me of how important it is to find others to relate to on this website.
Your subject is not only one of attraction and sexuality. It is the description of a social interaction. For me, one of the problems of having been too fused in many ways with my primary caregiver (Mom!) is that I also lack a simple understanding of these kinds of exchanges between two people, i.e. intimate ones with women. Sometimes it feels like I've got some wires crossed internally that won't allow true computing of the situation. And if I rely too much on others to know this, I can get more lost and embarrassed.
When I first started facing all of this stuff a few years ago, I received counseling from two different men who referred to a way of knowing what to do, as a man. They were kind about it, but nonetheless, I was left to wonder. Was this something I ever knew or just forgot? If it was never in my consciousness, could I learn it somehow, at this later stage in my life? Although these both seemed like valid questions they actually left something else out, namely the importance of how to develop a deeper trust in myself. Learning how to reach out and communicate in the way I want to do that has been an important part of growth and recovery. One might say that this whole time I've been in pursuit of a deeper "knowledge" of something. The moments when I feel present enough to acknowledge this pursuit, things make just a little more sense.
Although there are no stated rules in this area of physical affection, there are ways in which people come to know each other. Men and women may do it differently, but at some point in a healthy relationship I think there would be some celebration of this on a equal level. What's so hard for me is that I want to subscribe immediately to something greater, some elusive view of sex and love. Yet by doing that I tend to skip over something else that is unstated. This is very similar to how I interacted in my family. Strong feelings were not addressed. Ways of learning social interactions were missing. When this modus operandi takes over too much it's possible that I am leaving out the other person and possibly the chance to actually know them intimately.
As your post illustrates, this is a process of trial and error. One question I have is, what was your overall impression of the "I'm flattered" response? For us who have a healthy amount of self-contempt, it can be very difficult to trust that someone is being truthful. We might also expect and desperately desire a response that would immediately address or erase our "self-disgust" in some way. Unfortunately, the sheer "weight" of self-loathing amidst the anxiety of reaching out can make us unable to hear the reality: that someone is actually giving back to us another honest experience.
Thanks again for putting this out there. It's good to know that others have these questions. Hope I've at least provided some food for thought.
Lose the drama; life is a poem.