Why men gotta be like that!
April 30, 2014 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Why do men with wives/girlfriends aggressively hit on me?

I've noticed this pattern where people (men, as I am female) who are very openly flirting me are almost always in serious relationships. Here are some examples:

- Coworker who I've never spoken to before catches my eye, stops dead in his tracks and smiles, and walks over to introduce himself, is super friendly and flirty, etc... - Engaged.
- Other dude at work who I rarely talk to and really don't know tells me that "I should come around more often" and is just a little too friendly - Married.
- Stranger that I saw on a semi-regular basis who eyefucks me, smiles at me, etc... - Gave him my number and found out he has a girlfriend.
- General trend of being around couples where I feel like the boyfriend stares at me aggressively - One time the girlfriend actually said something to him in front us. This is always really uncomfortable and kind of humiliating for me.

Is this just a weird case of confirmation bias? Is this just in my head? Is this a thing? How do I get them to stop? I feel like I can no longer trust when someone is flirting me because now I just assume they're in a relationship and off limits.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are any of the examples outright flirting, or could they be your interpretation of flirting? It could be that a lot of men just don't have boundaries (I wouldn't discount that at all), and you could be in a string of really jerky guys, but you may also consider "flirting" to be something that the person on the other side of the equation considered "bantering" or "harmless flirting," which isn't always meant to lead to anything at all.
posted by xingcat at 5:29 PM on April 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

In re: the guy with girlfriend who actually said something to him in front of us - ick.

Feel sorry for these guys' wives and girlfriends, it most assuredly is NOT you, it is them.

Don't worry about these instances, it is not you, it is creepers being creepy.
posted by arnicae at 5:30 PM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

What is the ratio of married to unmarried men in your age group/workplace? Perhaps there simply aren't a lot of single men because you are 30-ish in conservative place where men marry young?

Some of this is just inevitable. Almost every woman gets hit on by many men, many men she does not return the affections of, including married men. It's not as though in daily life I only get hit on by 1-2 years older nice cute single stable guys who read a lot. LOL wouldn't that be a nice universe, though?
posted by quincunx at 5:33 PM on April 30, 2014 [14 favorites]

Sometimes people are scumbags, yes. But not everyone who's flirting with you is doing it in the hope that it'll go somewhere.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 5:34 PM on April 30, 2014 [24 favorites]

It's a thing, for sure. I think it's because they're not afraid of you. Not afraid of being rebuffed, not afraid of having to commit, not afraid of being judged because they're showing you attention.
posted by heyho at 5:35 PM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

It can also be a way of subtly dominating you.

It is disrespectful and totally culturally ingrained.

It peters out as you get older.

Maybe you should catch up on MadMen? I'm ENTIRELY serious. I can't think of a better discussion of this subject going on anywhere else. It'll be interesting to see if the series draws any sweeping final conclusions on this issue as it heads towards the Finale.
posted by jbenben at 5:46 PM on April 30, 2014 [9 favorites]

Examples 1 & 2 could easily be guys who are off-the-market and assume everyone knows it. I'm a woman in this camp. I'm friendly which could be considered flirty, but it's really just me being friendly.

Example 3 you gave him your number after he's making eyes at you? That's on you.

Example 4 is just weirdness and a couple with no boundaries. That's a fight to have at home in private. His was creepy but she was creepy too by putting you in the midst of the discussion.

I think that some percentage of people in relationships flirt and see it as harmless. Some people flirt because they're looking for side action. Some people have been out of the dating pool for so long they aren't sure what's flirty and what's appropriate.

In short, you have to take each one as an individual case.
posted by 26.2 at 5:51 PM on April 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

I mean, there could be a million reasons. Confirmation bias plus the general demographics of your social circle is a lot of it, I bet.

I have also come to realize, as I get older, that 95% of the shutting-down process happens way, way before a guy asks you for your number. You signal unavailability in the same way you signal availability. If you want to fend off advances, you don't make eye contact, you don't open up with body language, you don't ask them too many questions about themselves, etc. I'm not saying you have to do this - it's not your job to keep them from flirting - but if you're at a party and all the other ladies are aggressively cold-shouldering the slightly sleazy ones, and you're just kind of obliviously bobbing along, they will end up targeting you by default.

If this really bothers you, start out a little frostier, until you learn a guy's status one way or another. Then you can either drop your guard or continue to shut them down. I hope this doesn't feel like I'm blaming you - it's stupid and unfair - but in my experience, it saves a lot of trouble down the line.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:55 PM on April 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think there may be a combination of things going on here. First, consider the possibility that you are in an environment with a high ratio of committed/married dudes in it (as quincunx suggests). Second, I think maybe one or two of the experiences you mention are genuinely coming on to you and causing you to lean toward believing the others are flirting when they believe they're being friendly. For example, alternate explanation for your vignettes:
1) An extrovert who likes to welcome new staffers.
2) Possibly creepy.
3) You gave him your number; it's unclear from the way you've stated it whether he asked or you offered.
4) Maybe creepy, maybe over-sensitive girlfriend. Maybe he's zoning out and staring, or wondering "dangit, what was her name again?" or "where did she get that 'Bark Like a Tuna' pin?"

None of this is to say you are definitely wrong or crazy or to try to gaslight your sense of these things in any way. Just pointing out that it's human nature to find patterns in things, and to discount alternate explanations.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 6:01 PM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Sadly there are a lot of men who derive their self-worth from female attention -- agree that it's ingrained in the culture, masculine conceptions of power and self-worth are built up around this -- and for some reason you are appearing in their crosshairs as someone who can make them feel good about themselves.

If you seem to get a disproportionate amount of flirting from men who crave female attention rather than genuine connection, it's true that it might just be bad luck, or confirmation bias. But I will point out that such people can often smell vulnerability. My partner who is a survivor of abuse and violence always seems to get shit from this kind of man (when I'm not around) and it's true that she kind of broadcasts a kind of gentle fragility. I'm a kind person and it makes me want to be protective of her, but other people see her as something they can use to get what they want. It's tragic and shitty that she has to deal with it, it's not her fault, it's not her responsibility, but it's also not a coincidence. I wish I knew how to get these people to stop. My partner's done a lot of work on boundaries and I think it's been helping. Highly personal stuff though.

I also have a female friend who gets all kinds of inappropriate harassment from people in her life, especially at work. She's not a survivor to my knowledge, and does not broadcast fragility in the way my partner does, but she attracts this shit nonetheless. Her misfortune, I believe, is to be very pretty, smart, and interesting. High-status, in other words, if you were looking for a trophy. Again, fucking tragic, not her fault, not her responsibility, and also not a coincidence, and I wish I could say there is a way to make it stop. I'm sorry for you.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:04 PM on April 30, 2014 [10 favorites]

There's a lot here we don't know. Are the men who flirt with you considerably older, the same age, a variety of ages? Are you conventionally attractive? Are you in a male-dominated industry? Do your professional and social circles tend towards the flirty, and/or are they drama-prone (e.g. a lot of intense but messy relationships and/or cheating)? Do you flirt back before you discover they're unavailable? There are about a zillion more questions I could ask.

Some of it could be friendly banter that unintentionally comes across as flirtatious, some people just like to flirt with everyone and don't take it seriously. Some people really are just sleazy. It's hard to know.

If you want to cut more of these off at the pass, start dialing back as soon as you get a whiff of flirtatiousness. You don't have to be cold or abrupt, just polite and calm in the way that you'd be toward any other coworker or stranger, and don't linger. After you've exchanged a couple sentences, it's time to bow out with a "well, gotta go back to work, see you around," or something similar. Don't give them much of your time, and they won't waste it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:17 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe they have unhappy sexless marriages.
Maybe they have open marriages.
Maybe they have happy marriages but are bored.
Maybe they don't mean to be flirty and just have no idea what they're doing.
Maybe they know exactly what they're doing and are sadists who enjoy power-tripping.
Maybe they need to feel validated because their wife was mean to them and they just want to feel like a man for two seconds then go right back to her.
Maybe they're trying to make their wives jealous.
Maybe they are trying to flatter you- they pity a young single woman and it distresses them because they're only ever around other married people, and a hot young single girl just makes them anxious for you and screams "she needs male attention" in their warped world-view.
Maybe they're trying to be fatherly and failing pretty badly at it.
Maybe they just want NSA sex, and that's it, there's no deeper meaning whatsoever.
Maybe you're unusually pretty or charming or dressed in an especially attractive way.
Maybe they got married too young and are really just in a starter marriage.
Maybe they think they're complimenting you or making you smile and being a nice guy.
Maybe they are serial cheaters.
Maybe they are being mind-controlled by aliens conducting secret experiments on human sexuality.

I dunno.
posted by quincunx at 6:30 PM on April 30, 2014 [30 favorites]

This is always really uncomfortable and kind of humiliating for me.

Whatever reason you find this humiliating is probably why this guys hit on you. I'm sure you're a fine person, but there's something vulnerable about you that they can sense and so they go "hunting".

None of this means there's anything wrong with you or that you're doing something wrong. More likely you're a kind, sweet and somewhat naive young women who men see as someone they could possibly take advantage of.

The best course of action is to rapidly shut down anyone who's fluting with you that you do not wish to flirt with. Mentally you'll have to learn how to leave this sort of thing behind i.e. this is their problem, not yours and your'e not doing anything wrong.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:47 PM on April 30, 2014

I don't know how old you are, but when I was in my 20's and even in my 30's, I was quite attractive. In my innocence, I would strike up conversations with people, often men, and want to be friendly, as it was in my family. We would chat and talk and play cards, and gab about this or that, and that was how I grew up.

Then when I got out into the world, I learned that men, even old men, often mistook my friendliness for something more. And there were plenty of men in my office that really played upon my friendly nature to mean a lot more.

So what I would say to you is to learn how to read the signs and, unfortunately, not all men are your friends, they are often on the prowl, and they either might mistake your friendly nature as being a sign that they can move in, or worse, that they can take advantage of you. The signs being, a man standing very close to you, putting his hand on your lower back to guide you (ergh!), or any kind of touching or general boundary crossing. It starts with speech, and asking personal questions, etc.

I dated a guy at work for a while, only to learn he had a fiance. I dated another guy for two years, only to learn that he would never marry me because I was not Jewish. In fact, he bragged about messing around on me to his friends, one of whom told me about it, so I ended it.

Whenever you feel that, some guy moving in on you but you barely know him, ask him if he is married or has a girlfriend. It's not you: it's that you are attractive and they think they can get away with something because you are young and innocent.

You should still seek out romantic love, but ask outright: are you married? Do you have a girlfriend? And avoid men who move too fast and give you lots of compliments. Rather, be friends with a man and date men who respect you and want to be your friend without pushing you toward sex on the first meeting. That doesn't mean you can't be sexual, but listen to your instincts and be willing to drop someone if they don't meet your standards. Don't keep dating a guy if he seems iffy and off to you, right? The same goes for guys reading this, btw. If it ain't working, don't keep it going forever out of some weird obligation. There are plenty of fish in the sea, find someone who's swimming the same direction as you, and you'll know it when you see it. Best of luck to you.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:11 PM on April 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

People in relationships drop their guard, because they have a built-in defense against accusations of hitting on someone else. This makes married coworkers more likely to talk to you about non business stuff because they don't have to worry as much about being misinterpreted. Doesn't account for all your cases, but it is pretty typical; just this week I had a very nice woman I work near approach me for advice and then today explicitly reach out for a friendship (in an endearingly awkward way that might have been uncomfortable if I didn't know she was married with kids.) It's nice when new interpersonal relationships don't have that "will we be friends or will we date" vibe, and attached people take advantage of that...but sometimes forget the other person might not be similarly attached.
posted by davejay at 7:30 PM on April 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you are a female who is any of the following:
- young
- pretty
- extroverted
- friendly and open
- enjoys flirting

then there is a certain type of gross dude who will hit on you because he automatically assumes you're up for it no matter his relationship status. The only way to deter this is to be aggressively closed-off (reclusive body posture, don't smile at strangers, flirt only after you know someone well, etc). Then they will assume you are a huge bitch and be less likely to go after you. None of this is your fault, it is all them and their grossness and misogyny.
posted by schroedinger at 7:53 PM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

who are very openly flirting me are almost always in serious relationships

It's easier to flirt openly when you have no intention of ever following through in a serious way.

Guys who might potentially want a serious relationship with you are probably more hesitant to risk rejection.

Guys who want to stay single forever putting casual sex notches on their belt do exist, but are far more rare than the myth would have us believe.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:55 PM on April 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

There's a certain kind of married guy (or maybe just a married guy at a certain point in his life, or week) who really, really wants to feel like he's still got it--and that "it" is the ability to get you to acknowledge him in some way as a sexual entity, as a male. Whether he's fishing to see if you'll show non-verbal, even involuntary signs of physical interest/attraction, or actively trying to make you feel uncomfortable, or even just trying to catch your eye in a certain way while his wife and kid are right there but he wants to not be identified as 'suburban dad' for that thirty seconds. It's gross when it gets really transparent and forward, but I think (in my experience) most of them aren't expecting to close the deal and actually cheat with you....they just want to feel like it would be an option if they DID want to do that.

Those who are mentioning being read as naive or vulnerable are on to something: I flat out asked one very obnoxious, unappealing guy old enough to be my father why guys who were, well, like him, were so persistent with me but not necessarily with the other much younger, attractive women in the group. He told me, "It's because you feel safe," and it's true: I was someone (still am, to my detriment at times) who put a high premium on being kind to everyone--or to at least never seem "mean girl" standoffish or cruel. I was a late bloomer so never developed that "pretty girl" protective armor that other girls needed many years before I did to fend off unwanted sexual attention. I'm still working on not being "read" that way (even though these guys find out quickly that my boundaries are pretty tough behind that and no, I'm not going to ride their ride with them). If any good advice shows up here on that, I'll give it a try myself.

So, I don't know how to teach you to eliminate those "safeness" or softness or naivete cues you may be projecting without realizing it, but you absolutely have to stop feeling uncomfortable and humiliated by anyone else's poor behavior. By doing that, you're also subconsciously absolving HIM of responsibility for his actions in his own eyes, by absorbing the shame that should be his own.

It peters out as you get older.

Oh, I do wish this was the case. I recently said to a woman in her 60's, "Back in my 20's, I really thought I would have aged out of sexual harassment by now." She laughed and said, "Oh no, the men just get older too." And it's true, sadly. When it stops being men in their 30s and 40s, it starts being men in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, believe it or not. And nursing homes are supposed to be very bad neighborhoods with regards to sexual acting out so apparently there's really no end to it until you die.
posted by blue suede stockings at 8:20 PM on April 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

If you mean being obviously flirty but not truly aggressive, this kind of thing happens to me and while some of the possibilities raised could be true - they are creepy, they are trying to be subtly dominant, you are too vulnerable/naive or whatever.. At work, I have come to believe (I am in a male-dominated workplace that has a rather conservative/traditional culture).. sometimes it is not that complicated, they think you are attractive and friendly, they are being flirty in a friendly way that they see as harmless banter and not intended to go anywhere, they just kind of enjoy talking to a woman who is attractive because most people at their work are other dudes who are (to them) boring and not attractive. I just take it as small talk - these guys are nice, responsible, decent people. The dudes who seem to be trying to make sure I know my place go more for the frat bro, making fun of me, crass joking type of behavior. As far as the looks from strangers who are pretty obvious about it, I wish I could explain this. Maybe they are just oblivious and think you don't notice what they're doing, but somehow I can feel when someone's staring at me even if I'm not looking at them.

I also think it is one of those things where I was totally oblivious to it for a long time, but once I started noticing it, I noticed it constantly. I agree with jbenben about watching Mad Men. I love Mad Men for being so smart about this stuff.
posted by citron at 8:34 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Funny you bring this up, I was just thinking/annoyed about the couple thing today.

I'm not particularly young or pretty, but I did lose a bit of weight a while ago, and started paying attention to hair and clothing in a way I hadn't for most of my teens and twenties (which were mostly spent in mismatched socks and either pyjamas or, not deliberately but essentially, costume-like outfits). I still relate to people the way I did when I didn't bother with leave-in conditioner. That is, I'm fairly open, friendly, curious about and interested in all kinds of people, and I like to kid around a bit. What I didn't actually realize was that that is what flirting is. Until I more obviously ticked some of the boxes on the generic 'reproductive-aged woman' checklist, I had free reign to shoot the shit with whoever about whatever, and didn't have to worry about it being sexualized. I didn't even think of it, in 98% of exchanges.

Cut to a good bit of weight lost, decent conditioner and non-theatrical clothes that match: a lot of interactions with dudes (actually, in general) are awkward. I was hit on a few times out of nowhere, I thought, in a group setting, by guys whose girlfriends or wives were out of town. It's kind of amazing they were that ballsy about it, given the group is fairly tight-knit. Obviously I shut it down. But it occurred to me that if I weren't me, and something did happen, I'd be the one to lose a group of friends, not the men. I'd be the bad guy. Also, all of a sudden, some of my women acquaintances started acting funny when I'd talk to their male partners (in the way I've always spoken, to anyone). A few women, who were totally fine and normal when their partners aren't around, were outright snotty. I started getting invited out less often. Out in the world, walking around, I was freaked out by the kind of objectifying attention people who were always 'pretty' are used to and deal with, I've now observed, with heavy defenses.

I don't know what to say about it, other than this realization has been a massive disappointment. I am profoundly annoyed that I can't both feel good about my own physicality and like clothes and all of that, for myself, and engage with people the way I've done all my life with no concern.

My solution with couples has been to maintain almost exclusive eye contact with the woman and consciously limit the length and friendliness quotient of exchanges with the dude. Which sucks, because not infrequently, I actually have more in common with the male person, and would prefer that conversation, especially when it's clear (from my feeling, from his responses) that no funny business is happening on either side. But it can be unsettling to the partner, so I just back off, for the sake of social harmony. (I'm not talking about my bffs, here. I would hope that there's enough trust to not have to worry about it.)

I also started dressing a bit more conservatively than I did when I first lost weight, when I was proud of my effort and wore fashiony tops for my own enjoyment (because what the hell, if not now, when). I'm sad to say it's definitely helped tone down some of the bullshit. I want to be clear that I am not saying, in any way, that this is an acceptable 'solution'. I do not think the onus should be on me or any woman to wear oxford shirts and avoid mascara. The shitty responses have nothing to do with me as a person. But, I can't be arsed to deal with the aggravation most of the time, and it's made some things just easier.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:55 PM on April 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

Ignore all this. It's possible it's partially your perception. I have a girlfriend who always thinks men are hitting on her and I never get the vibe that is what was going on. Conversely, I have literally never experienced this in my life and I'm a pretty dang good-looking and charismatic person (or so I've been told - in any case I am a young female with a nice figure and I often wear revealing clothes when I'm just out and about because it's hot where I live). I think I have had men hit on me, but that I just never interpret it that way.

If you like it, enjoy it - but I would advise you to enjoy it quietly because talking about it sounds like bragging to most people. If you hate it, ignore it. Just make a note of it so that you don't get stuck in a creepy situation with them and then move on (so basically flag it and move on but in meatspace).
posted by sockermom at 9:18 PM on April 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I get hit on my married men all the time. (I actually have a gallery of screenshots of married dudes I know that i've spotted on Tinder).

My theory is that they need their egos stroked by a woman who flirts back, or they miss the excitement and energy of flirting, they miss interacting with an attractive woman who isn't going to nag them or fight about money, or they are actively trying to cheat. The first three options are pretty common, and while they're distasteful, i'm not sure how angry it's worth getting over.

When a guy genuinely wants to cheat on his wife, it usually feels pretty different than the first couple of options. I wouldn't bother getting angry until you get a request to spend time outside of work or until they start touching you.
posted by Kololo at 9:32 PM on April 30, 2014

Maybe some of them are poly-amorous or in open relationships?

I have a gf who I'm in an open relationship with and sometimes I ask other girls on dates.

I don't think it's a big deal.

Just 1 data point for you.
posted by crawltopslow at 10:13 PM on April 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Keep your arms crossed. Always. It will help.
posted by xammerboy at 1:19 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

A lot of folks who are already spoken for will flirt in a relaxed sort of way without thinking about it or really meaning anything by it. They're already in serious relationships, and most of them aren't looking to cheat, so for them it's just harmless fun. Yes, this is very annoying if you're single and looking to potentially start something serious.

If I were you, I would focus less on the guys who are casually, spontaneously flirting, and instead look for guys who seem to get more serious and controlled around you, or who even seem a little defensive. In my experience, that's more in line with how a single person acts when confronted with a person that he or she is attracted to. Of course, that's also how people act when they dislike you, so that's also pretty annoying.
posted by sam_harms at 1:23 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, not everyone who is acting in a flirty manner is aware that he or she is doing it. When you're feeling attracted to someone your behavior towards that person will change automatically, regardless of what you intend. You might just be particularly good at picking up on someone's attraction to you. The eye-fuck guy on the bus, for example, may have had no idea how obviously he was projecting his desire. You'd be surprised at how un-self-conscious people can be, especially men.
posted by sam_harms at 1:39 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I get the sense that you are more interested in understanding why the men who hit on you tend to be unavailable/married rather than single. I agree with many posters here that some married men are looking for re-assurance that they still got it, so they may be more outrageously predatory. I am amazed when I see this kind of behavior because it makes them look so unappealing and pathetic.

If you want to attract single men rather than unavailable men, you should start thinking how that can happen. I doubt that married men will hit on you in places where they are not likely to hang out, like at parties with your peers, groovy coffee shops, Meetup.com events. I'm not saying this is full-proof, but it lessens the chances of interacting with married men. At work, I would report these guys to HR if they are making you uncomfortable. It won't take long for the married jerks who hit on you to hear that you are serious about work-place harassment, and frankly they will have more respect for you if you take such measures to get the message across that you are not interested in being hit on at work.
posted by waving at 4:38 AM on May 1, 2014

I developed early and have looked the same age since I was 12. At that time men started hitting on me. Not teenagers, MEN. Creeped me right-the-fuck out. In the seventies, it was still a man's world and any pretty 'girl' was fair game. If I wanted to go unmolested in the world (in both senses of the word) I had to put up my shields.

You have to be a bit stand-offish to all dudes, until you can suss out their intentions. Good guys understand and have no problem, guys with boundary issues may call you on it. It's subtle, and not unfriendly, but it's a mechanism you can use to your benefit.

1. Keep a fair distance from people, guard your personal space.

2. Keep your voice in the lower register, most of us don't know that we're doing it, but our voices go up when we're flirting.

3. Don't be so obviously on the pull. This one is hard, especially if you're single and like men. You want to be open to meeting guys and getting to know them, because you want to get to know them better and maybe date them (or hang out, or whatever y'all do these days to kickoff relationships.) But assume that all men are hooked up with someone, until they tell you otherwise, and treat them accordingly. If they're single, they'll clue you in.

It's totally unfair, but it's a cultural thing, and I would have thought that by the time your generation got to this point that folks would be more enlightened. Clearly this isn't the case.

So act as though every guy you meet is in a relationship, until he tells you he isn't. That should serve you well.

As for the oily dudes who ignore the clues, there are dirtballs in every bunch.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:48 AM on May 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

I had similar experiences as Marie Mon Dieu and cotton dress sock. I was pretty naive and clueless about men when I was younger. I also found it easier to talk to men than women for some reason, maybe because I was never into girlie things. As a result of various factors, there was rarely a time when my friendliness and curiosity was not misconstrued as flirting and did not make the wife or girlfriend, if there was one, uncomfortable. I found myself in plenty of male friendships but most of them were, I discovered as I gradually grew out of my naivete, never about 'friendship' from their perspective. Now I have one honest to god male friend who sees me as that and only that, I'm conscious about what I wear and I've been building some awesome female friendships that will last a lifetime. Sure it'd be nice if this kind of gender bias didn't exist and we could all just be our friendly selves and dress like we want but, yep, that world don't exist yet.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 6:13 AM on May 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
"I get the sense that you are more interested in understanding why the men who hit on you tend to be unavailable/married rather than single. "

THIS. Exactly this. Waving, you hit the nail on the head. It's extremely rare that a single man will hit on me in an obvious way. If they are single and obviously flirting with me, they're probably a) some stranger on the street, b) twice my age, c) extremely creepy with no boundaries. If I am interested in someone who is available I frequently feel like I have to make all of the effort and draw them out which is exhausting. It would be nice to be hit on by someone available, in my age range, and not creepy! That hasn't happened to me in years.

It is true that some of the examples I listed could just be people being friendly. However, those particular situations pinged my radar in way that felt a wee bit off. Those interactions were just one notch into Overly Familiar territory. My intuition is pretty spot on and there are tons of other friendly male coworkers who don't ping my radar.

I am 25 years old and working in a male dominated workplace for those wondering.
posted by taz at 6:41 AM on May 1, 2014

How do I get them to stop?

One thing you can do is wear a band ring of some kind on your left ring finger. I have an eternity band I wear all the time, and when I really want to send out a Not Available signal I'll put it on my ring finger. Interestingly, it doesn't stop the attention entirely, but guys that flirt with married women seem to be easier to spot at a distance, and are thus easier to avoid.

- Stranger that I saw on a semi-regular basis who eyefucks me, smiles at me, etc... - Gave him my number and found out he has a girlfriend.

It's not clear if he told you he was single before you gave him your number, but it's perfectly okay to ask someone if they are single before giving them your number. If a guy finds that off-putting that's good to know, too! Also, maybe it's just me but this seems like a gross way to describe someone you willingly gave your phone number to.

Is this just a weird case of confirmation bias?

Based on your examples it does seem like it could actually be a small percentage of the men you are probably interacting with on a day-to-day basis.

On preview, and reading your update:

It's extremely rare that a single man will hit on me in an obvious way. If they are single and obviously flirting with me, they're probably a) some stranger on the street, b) twice my age, c) extremely creepy with no boundaries. (emphasis mine)

Is it possible you are deliberately picking up on signals from unavailable men, while subconsciously pushing away men looking for a relationship? In any case, I think my advice about the ring will cur down on the number of strangers on the street from hitting on you.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:03 AM on May 1, 2014

It might be hard to get third-party confirmation about people's relationship status at work, but try to ask around, if you're interested in someone there. Friends in your social circle can give you the low-down on guys who show up at parties. Watch out if a guy is cagey about his availability. (A friend of mine got caught up in a situation with a guy who'd come up with a ridiculously elaborate deceit architecture designed to play on sympathy - sick family in hospital requiring regular cancellations of dates, unreliable scheduling due to visits with his and his 'ex-wife's' kids - it helped him that he lived in a different town as well.) Get as much outside information as you reasonably can.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:40 AM on May 1, 2014

Some time between 23 and 25, the quality of the men who hit on me changed dramatically. I believe that it was because at 23, I just moved to the US and was very FOB (fresh off the boat) in a particularly feminine, Eastern European way, which American men tend to mistake for a whole bunch of things that it's not, such as old fashioned attitudes towards male vs. female roles, submissiveness, eagerness to please, and so on. Basically, guys who would have a hard time getting dates in general (attached guys among them) thought they'd have a chance with me. Once I got my bearings and gained confidence, I started getting hit on by higher quality men: closer to my age, more socially adept, less married, etc.

Perhaps some of that it going on with you as well? Is it possible that you are quite attractive while at the same time projecting a particular kind of femininity that makes a certain type of a guy - a guy who knows that he has less to offer because he is taken - think that you are easier to get? Acting generally more assertive would certainly help matters, if this were the case.
posted by rada at 9:07 AM on May 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think there's a couple things going on here. First, as a lot of folks said, the married/attached dudes are more likely to flirt because they have less invested in the outcome-- rejection is not as painful, and in many cases they're just looking for validation/attention anyway and not actually looking to get involved. It's gross and disrepectful that they use you in that way, but there it is.

Second, to the question of why you don't get hit on by available single guys more often: I'm not a dude, but my sense based on the guys I'm friends with and those I've dated -- quality, not-creepy guys for the most part-- is that they don't do a lot of hitting on women in public places, for a lot of reasons... the probability of rejection is very high, and they've absorbed the message that hitting on a woman you don't know very well can be seen as crossing a boundary. They generally meet women to date through friends, groups (like a rec sports league or a church), or online dating. So if you want to meet a single guy, you should use those avenues.
posted by Asparagus at 9:10 AM on May 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

I had similar problems, and a similar situation, around your age. I was fairly introverted and quiet, which I think a lot of people incorrectly interpreted as passivity. So I'd attract these brash, macho, assertive men, including a good number of married ones, who were exactly the opposite of anyone I would want to be with. The men I was interested in tended to be quieter, less annoyingly self assured, and WAY more respectful than the men who were approaching me.

So I figured I had two options. I could completely, fundamentally change the way I presented myself somehow in order to stop attracting goombahs and start attracting the men I was interested in. Lots and lots of problems with that. Firstly, that would be a whole lot of work; and secondly, I suck at subtle social stuff anyway. I could not even imagine walking around being loud and making lots of eye contact with people or whatever I'd have to do to accomplish that sort of thing. I honestly had no notion of exactly what sort of interpretive mating dance I'd need to perform in order to accomplish my goals passively like that. None.

So I chose the second option, which was to cut out the middleman. I just decided that men suck at doing the choosing, and if it was going to be done right, I'd have to do it myself. By default, I would (usually politely) reject men who approached me, and I took the initiative to approach the men I was interested in, usually after a little reconnaissance to try to figure out if they were single. (And if you make a mistake and give a married man your number, the appropriate reaction is "Ha ha, oops! Number retracted." You didn't do anything bad.)

This will probably go against a whole lot of your social conditioning. You'll risk rejection, and even when you're successful, you might question whether someone is actually attracted to you or just being polite or something. Women are trained to be passive like that, and to care a whole whole lot about others' motivations and inner lives. You don't have to stop that entirely, but you can still care about others' feelings without making yourself entirely responsible for them. I would hope that none of the men I approached accepted out of a sense of obligation or anything like that, and I don't think any did. But even if they did, that's not on me. As long as you're not pushy or persistent or creepy, it is a safe assumption that someone who responds positively to your advances is interested.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:53 AM on May 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

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