Need someone to help me run 'Google Translate' on a woman ...
February 2, 2006 5:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm a man in his thirties who has gone on very few dates in his life, and I'm having trouble getting a good read on the behavior of a woman who I've been interacting with.

She is someone who works at my company, although she and I are in entirely different departments, and neither of us are managerial staff or in a position where one of us would be a supervisory role to another. (Please, no comments about interoffice dating. I'm being cautious, but given that we work nowhere near each other, don't interact with each other almost at all in our jobs, and our office's sexual harrassment policy is fairly progressive about the concept of employees dating, I think I'm fine.)

I had asked her if she would like to grab lunch one day, and she said she would; we grabbed Italian at a place down the street. During our first lunch, I admitted I wasn't entirely clear whether we were on a date or enjoying lunch as friends; she indicated that she was seeing someone (only since the end of December, though), but didn't mention who, only saying that he too worked at our company. However, later in the meal, she said that a meeting of the minds was sexy, and at that point, we had been jazzing back and forth on different conversational topics and mutually enjoyed tastes for quite some time. ("Oh, you should check out ... ")

We have had numerous great conversations since then. Her eyes seem to light up when we run into each other -- that's definitely something I'm picking up on, it's not just me imagining it. We're introducing each other to our respective tastes, and we seem to have an insane amount of things in common.

And she's definitely taken steps to incorporate me into her life.

Yesterday, she came up to visit me at my desk and drop off a DVD of a comedian we had discussed and she thought I might like.

Tonight, we're grabbing dinner, then visiting a comic book store (she is a fan, as am I), then seeing a friend of mine perform stand-up.

What I find an especially mixed signal is that this Saturday, she invited me to dinner at a friend's house out of town -- but, noteworthily, I'm accompanying her to this meal at her friend's house and her friend is married, so it's me, her, her friend, and her friend's husband. In the resulting quartet, I'm sort of the male companion to her in that role. You see how that last one could definitely throw my "what the heck?" filter for a loop?

Rereading this before posting, I fully understand that all of these signals could be read textually as expressing simply an interest in her in cultivating a good friendship.

But, I really think that were you to have interacted with her face-to-face, you'd see these signals are falling in a gray area, and I don't think it's smart to read this simply in blacks and whites. If I've not given you enough data (which I don't think I have), what might I look for in her face, her behavior, etc. to give me some better feedback?

In my early twenties, about ten years ago, I let myself fall for a woman who brought me deeply close as a friend but didn't reciprocate my feelings. I'm really quite scared of opening myself up that deeply again, but at the same time, I don't want to misread signals that might be indicating an actual romantic interest in me.

Also, frankly, she's special enough, and shares enough of my interests, that I'd like to keep her in my life as a friend even if there truly is no romantic interest in me. I just need some help parsing out the signals, trying to get a clear read on this situation. Ladies, I tell ya, you sure can be difficult to figure out at times!

[Parenthetically, I've also heard that some women, as a strategic "tactic" of sorts, claim initially to be dating someone, and then, after they've determined they like the guy, "break up" with the boyfriend (who never existed in the first place). I don't know for certain that's what's happening here, but I wonder.]
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (70 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

If she's taking you to meet the best friend and her husband, then she's auditioning you for the boyfriend role, IMHO.

A few more dates and you'll know. (If she asks you in for coffee.....accept.)

Either way it sounds like you've at least made a friend.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:16 PM on February 2, 2006

I could have made almost this exact post about a year ago--lots of things in common, get along great, work together but in different departments, went and did stuff with married couples, hinting for me to invite her to things, etc. to the point where I was about 60% sure she was interested in me. The only difference seems to be that I ended up where I couldn't be friends with her any more, for better or for worse. If you're not at that point, I'd say just let it ride for a bit.

She ended up saying no.
posted by LionIndex at 5:18 PM on February 2, 2006

From everything you've said, she seems into you. I wish I knew how she acts when you touch her, that is always an important sign. Does she touch you? Do you touch her leg when you are sitting next to her? Those sorts of subtle flirtations can be key.

The only thing you really can do is be upfront with her and tell her you are interested in something more. Even if she is dating someone, she is taking you, not him, out of town for dinner. That relationship could be on its last throes. I think you have a good shot.

Disclaimer: I thought I had a good shot last Saturday and when I called the woman this week she only wanted to be friends. I was convinced otherwise. So take my advice with a grain of salt.
posted by Falconetti at 5:19 PM on February 2, 2006

From the way you described it, I would say she probably likes it. I've never heard of the 'tactic' of claming to have a boyfriend in order to feel out a dude, but it seems a little dishonest, but I suppose it could be true.

I would ask you what your question actually is, is it "are these signals actually signals"? Well, that's hard to answer because all we have is your description to go on, and that's never easy to tell.

My advice in trying to figure out if she's being honest about the boyfriend would be to cultivate your friendship to the point where you could expect her to be honest with you and then ask her more about her boyfriend. If she tells you she does at that point, she either has one for sure, or almost certainly doesn't want to date you.

So yeah, give it some time, get comfortable with her, etc.

I honestly really doubt she would lie about having a boyfriend. It's possible for a woman to have a boyfriend and still be attracted to other guys (see this ask right after yours). And lying about having one at the beginning of a friendship seems pretty weird.
posted by delmoi at 5:26 PM on February 2, 2006

From what you've said, she's totally into you. Don't overanalyze, just let things happen. The dinner with married friends doesn't seem odd at all, it sounds like something one who is interested in another would do to try to get to know him better and to introduce him to her friend circle.

As you've pointed out the "I'm seeing someone else" could be true or it could be a layer of protection. Whatever it is, it isn't any of your concern -- that's her problem. If she really is seeing someone else then it will be up to her to decide which (if either) of you to continue seeing, and there's nothing you can really do about that. And if it's a layer of protection that she uses to give herself an out in case you're a creep, then it's the same situation -- either she likes you and will eventually take down that wall or she doesn't. So just don't concern yourself at all about the other person, as that's her business. Your only concern should be getting to know her better and making things progress at a rate that both of you are comfortable with. The fact that she may or may not be seeing someone else is irrelevant to you -- at least at this stage of the game.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:27 PM on February 2, 2006

As a girl, I would say she seems very much into you. You both seem to be spending a lot of time together, and if she's seeking that time out and NOT introducing you to her boyfriend, that's a really good sign. Don't rush into assuming you are a couple, but I would definitely try letting things ride out and maybe pushing things towards the romantic direction if you are interested.

A warning is that if she's not the kind of person who is very assertive in terms of relationships, she may be waiting for you to express interest. So, if you can find ways to hint your interest to her in the near future, go for it - if you wait to long, she may just give up hope and move on.

Good luck!
posted by tastybrains at 5:37 PM on February 2, 2006

If you enjoy what's going on between you now, just keep doing that - enjoy it. There's very little as satisfying and energizing as that kind of chemistry. And if you're developing a real and warm friendship, it will withstand the stress when someone decides to lunge.

And someone always lunges.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:15 PM on February 2, 2006

Don't overcomplicate this. I'm your age and I'm a woman. If I were dropping off DVDs we'd discussed, inviting you to dinner with friends, and accompanying you to shows and comic book stores, it would be because I was interested in you.

So just ask her. Keep it simple, and ask now before you get more wound up about it. Try something like, "We've been spending a lot of time together, and I've really enjoyed it. We have a lot in common. I'm interested in you as more than just a friend, and I was wondering how you might respond to that."

She'll tell you exactly where you are. I mean, if she likes you already and is no longer serious about the other guy, she'll be thrilled that you asked this so that you can get going on another level. If not, she'll set you straight right away so that you can move on. Either way, you're moving closer toward finding a woman that's right for you. There's no way to mess this conversation up. That's how you've got to look at it.

Younger people are going to argue with me, because romance, mystery, and intrigue are more important in your 20s. But once you reach a certain level of maturity, clarity matters more. No one wants to get hurt again in their 30s, and no one wants to throw away good time on something that's going nowhere.

It could be that she's messed up somehow, and doesn't know what she's doing, and is still seeing the guy and also is interested in you. But if that's the case, you really need to know that's who she is before you proceed. So again, the answer is to ask and find out where her head is.
posted by Miko at 6:37 PM on February 2, 2006

Don't make it too easy for her..
Human nature is bizarre, and we tend to want what we can't have.
It sucks to be the guy providing companionship while the bf gets all the goodies, and it happens all the time to nice guys.
So, be nice, but not too nice. I don't advise game-playing, but if you're too easy and too sweet you'll get nowhere.
Be as assertive as you can while still being yourself, but be a man. A little self-confidence goes a long way.
Finally, keep in your mind that she is not the only woman on earth-if not her then the next one will work. You cannot radiate desperation or you're dead, you must find some confidence in yourself.
posted by BillBishop at 6:43 PM on February 2, 2006

I usually advise people that if you like someone, life is too short not to go for it and see what happens. Let us know how the dinner goes.
posted by minarets at 6:54 PM on February 2, 2006

I would follow Miko's advice. Playing a game where you end up hurt because you had different views of how things are, will only end up hurting both of you. If she is into playing with people's feelings, I think you already had enough of that and that situation is not worth pursuing.
That said, I think it is very positive that she is taking you out to show to her married friends, so why not just go ahead and ask :-) If you get a no, you are still her friend and things can calm down to that level of interest.
posted by KimG at 6:55 PM on February 2, 2006

OK, I'll offer the big disaggreement here. It's entirely likely that she's stringing you along as "just a friend" because ... well ... because some women do that. You have experience with that, obviously. You know what I mean.

life is too short not to go for it and see what happens

You should go for it. Absolutely. But be prepared to just cut her off completely if she says no.

Life is too short to get strung along.
posted by frogan at 6:59 PM on February 2, 2006

It sounds promising. Just go for it and don't waste energy on doubts.
posted by johngoren at 7:21 PM on February 2, 2006

Hmmmm. I've been in the same boat as you many times, anon, and in all cases she did only want me as a friend, even though I was sure her signals screamed otherwise. So, were I to speak entirely from personal experience, I would say she's probably just interested in being friends.

That said, people are different. It's entirely possible that this woman is interested in you. And there's only one way to know for sure. Ask her.

Sure, she may tell you she just wants to be friends. That's a real risk. But at least you'll know, and like Miko said, being in your 30s, you don't want to get hurt bad again. And while her telling you she just wants to be friends can and probably will hurt, it'll hurt less than if you waited and stressed and fretted about it for months and months and then made your move. By that stage, your emotional investment will be much bigger than what it is now, ergo, your level of hurt will be greater, and it'll be harder for you to move on.

There is another reason to ask her what the go is, also. That is, she may actually like you! Imagine if you asked her and she said yes! Then all that pretense would be gone and you could 'get down to business', so to speak.

But if she likes you, and you wait too long, she'll probably start to lose interest too. She may find you indecisive or find someone else she likes more, and obviously that's something you don't want to have happen.

So really, as scary as it might seem, just ask her what she wants out of this, because while a bad answer might hurt, a good answer will be great!

Good luck!
posted by Effigy2000 at 7:30 PM on February 2, 2006

At this point it's all about physical contact while at the friend's house - because that contact is semi-public and therefore goes 'on record'. If she touches you frequently, you're in.

You might be tempted to ask the husband, in a moment alone, about this mystery boyfriend. Don't.

Have a suggestion for a dessert place on the drive home.
posted by sohcahtoa at 7:38 PM on February 2, 2006

I love your thread title.

I think there's a good chance that she likes you. There's also a good chance that since she told you she was dating someone else, that's why she's feeling comfortable enough around you to act girlfriend-like. She may also be interested in you, and like to date both you and the other guy, and that's the reason she mentioned him.

I would either ask her straight out, or, if that's too big, maybe organize an extremely date-like outing -- nice dinner, you pick up the check, romantic walk afterwards -- and see how she responds.

The other thing to watch for is how her friends are treating you. Are they acting like you're a friend, or like you're "hers"?
posted by occhiblu at 7:46 PM on February 2, 2006

You have to ask her. Seriously, that's all there is to it. Ask if you guys are getting closer or just friends?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:57 PM on February 2, 2006

Ask her on a fucking date. Use the word "date." THIS IS NOT A SECRET WORD!
If she says no, don't be a dick about it. If she says yeah, you're in.
posted by klangklangston at 10:16 PM on February 2, 2006

Exercise your flirting technique. It takes a little courage (so maybe I shouldn't be giving this advice), but I have learned that you can couch honest discussion in a, well, sexy way. Classic disarming charmer: "Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?"

(Yes, you can actually use it word for word.)

Make a few light but bold comments -- look her in the eye, say something like "If I were your boyfriend I wouldn't let you near a guy like me." Well, don't start with that one, it's a bit tricky and advanced. Maybe something more like "That's such a sexy perfurme you're wearing today," then a wink.

I'm not saying you have to pull off a whole tightrope act, just that this is one way to do the probing, while letting her know that you're probing for the answer. If she really doesn't want to be more than friends, you're going to find out pretty quick.

Then you can always end it with puppy-dog eyes, but a Mona Lisa regretful smile, and say "I wish you hadn't said that. I don't think I can be just friends with you."

Then, of course, you have to mean it.

Again, this is as much from observation as personal experience, but the odds are excellent that she doesn't have that level of honest interchange with any boyfriend she may or may not have. At the very least you'll give her pause.
posted by dhartung at 10:38 PM on February 2, 2006

Instead of talking about it, why don't you set up a romantic situation, make a gentle but obvious move, and see her reaction? Most women still like to be swept off their feet.
posted by semmi at 11:01 PM on February 2, 2006

Jeez, what's with all the subterfuge and mind-reading? Just ask her. If she's lying for some reason (never heard of that 'tactic' either), you'll know without a doubt when she's ready to stop pretending. Until then, take her at her word or ask her again.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:06 PM on February 2, 2006

what klangklangston said. Open and honest without being all Official Sounding about it.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:06 AM on February 3, 2006

"That's such a sexy perfurme you're wearing today," then a wink.

+10 creep points, IMHO.
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:51 AM on February 3, 2006

What I meant to say is: there are ways to be smooth and keep your cool whether she responds positively or negatively to your charms. But at the heart of it, if you're not a don juan type (based on your post you're not at all), don't try things that you can't pull off comfortably.

dhartung, that wasn't intended to be a jab at you--it's late, and I type faster than I think sometimes.
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:54 AM on February 3, 2006

Your first sentence reminded me of my husband. We met and married when he was 37. Yes, he was shy and inexperienced, I could tell. And we were friends too. I'm sure my eyes lit up when he was around (they still do) but I know he still wondered/worried about my interest in him just like you do with this lady. But I guess I was worth the risk because he finally asked "Would you like to go on a date with me this weekend?" As simple and as hard as that. I don't want to scare you off, but we married each other 6 weeks later :)
posted by LadyBonita at 1:13 AM on February 3, 2006

I think you think about this all wayyyyyy to much. Pony up, ask her out, see what happens, be prepared to handle the results, be it dating her, keeping her on the friends ladder or having your heart stomped on a bit.

Don't give away your energy by waiting for her to make the first move or dictate your actions.

Big risk = possibility of big win.

Either way, you'll know.
posted by willmize at 3:25 AM on February 3, 2006

Classic disarming charmer: "Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?"

Hmm, except that kind of implies she's an older woman. Not that she's necessarily going to take it that way, but you never know. Why risk a cheesy line that could go bad? In general, that kind of line only works for people who just naturally operate that way; shy guys trying to play Don Juan often just accumulate creep points.

I think Miko's advice is great. Take it.
posted by languagehat at 4:51 AM on February 3, 2006

I want to second BillBishop. The difference between getting her and not getting her is confidence. I don't want to pile on the pressure but I honestly believe how you handle asking her out could make the difference between a yes and a no, especially if she's never seen you really take charge.

> she's special enough, and shares enough of my interests, that I'd like to keep her in my life as a friend even if there truly is no romantic interest in me

The problem is, this is not the attitude of a man who gets what he wants. If you go in with this in the back of your mind, you're inviting failure. Or worse, she'll say yes but still think of you as wishy-washy and subservient. You'll sense this, and be jealous of every guy that she doesn't see that way. Don't let this happen to you.

I'm not telling you to turn into some kind of macho asshole, and I'm not suggesting that you're a wimp either, I bet that you have all kinds of inner strength. But she needs to see it.

Another thing: if she does say no, and you tell her that you can't be her "pretend boyfriend" anymore there is still a chance that she'll change her mind, especially if you've handled the situation with a confidence she's never seen in you. Give this a chance to happen.
posted by teleskiving at 5:16 AM on February 3, 2006

Follow-up from the poster:

I first wanted to thank everyone for their responses so far. I would appreciate it if you "kept 'em coming," so to speak ... I need as many opinions as you guys are willing to give.

Tonight's dinner went really quite well. The restaurant was really quite nice -- good food and dim lighting -- and she loved visiting the comic store, like a kid in a candy store. She laughed at almost every humorous thing I said -- another thing I interpret as a signal, as I don't think I'm quite THAT funny (although I did feel particularly "on" tonight). She did have to leave early because the stand-up acts were running long, but that didn't seem to comment poorly on the night in general. During dinner, we found a few more common areas of interest (we're both cat owners).

I asked Jessamyn to post this response because it seemed like the majority's response was tending towards asking her if this was something romantic, and although I normally believe in the wisdom of crowds, and specifically these crowds, I nevertheless wih this one really have to question you guys: are you really SURE of this advice? It just seems FAR, far too soon for me to ask again. After all, we only grabbed lunch a week or two ago, and it was at that time that she told me of her boyfriend when I questioned whether the lunch was a date.

For me to ask her again, so soon, if this is romance seems to me as if it would be conveying the impression that I can't live with a friendship with her; and I can live with a friendship, although I'd prefer for it to be a deeper, more romantic relationship. I am really thinking she's sending me signals of something more, but I don't even want to bring that up in the conversation, for fear of making her self-conscious with me.

Also, I hate to admit it, but this is me. So I am really not quite certain what physical signals to be looking for, or what physical signals to be sending her. It seems as if even the most simplest measures can be deeply fraught with meaning nowadays; I remember seeing a "Sex in the City" episode in which the cast members discussed how a man reaching for the oldest one's hand in public was a far more intimate gesture to them than even sex. So it's a bit hard to figure out what's mild and what's not.

Thanks in advance for your continued advice on this one.
posted by jessamyn at 6:33 AM on February 3, 2006

Can't emphasize this enough - Miko's advice is spot on. Why not tell her you've been burned by a similar situation in the past, and you just want to clarify?

IMHO honesty always works best. Good luck!
posted by Space Kitty at 6:45 AM on February 3, 2006

Sex in the City is for retards. You do not want a woman who lives her life based on Sex in the City. She'll be vain, flighty and neurotic. Only a week or so after mentioning the boyfriend? Well, you may actually want to do some recon. At that dinner with friends? Get a moment with the guy and ask about this boyfriend you've never met. Be casual. But he should give you an idea.
Then, assuming the coast is clear, just ask her on a date.
posted by klangklangston at 7:03 AM on February 3, 2006

Regarding the notion of just flat-out asking her.... if it seems too early to do that, or if you would get all sweaty and awkward in that situation, you might just say at lunch one day, "So, how are things going with whatshisname?" The way she answers will probably be a good indicator of whether she thinks of you as a boyfriend or a girlfriend.
posted by spilon at 7:13 AM on February 3, 2006

Anon, I am definitely sure of my advice. It is a risk; but it's just a risk that you'll find out a truth you don't like. And that truth exists independently whether you find it out or not -- you see what I mean? Life is risk; take no chances, recieve no rewards. The worst-case scenario is that she does like you, and wants you as a friend. In what way is that bad? The best case scenario is, well, wonderful. So give it a shot.

I honestly believe how you handle asking her out could make the difference between a yes and a no, especially if she's never seen you really take charge.

It's interesting to see how many men think this. I don't believe it's true, and I'd be interested to see if the other females here agree. Women are not creatures who must be trapped by elaborate psychological games, manipulated by movie-dialogue strategies, or dazzled by stagey acrobatics, especially once they get a little older. Guys, we like you or we don't. Your 'charming' behaviors are not what won us; it was the fact that we could see that you liked us, and so were strongly motivated to try them out. And the risk with using 'charming' behaviors is that when they fail, they can be off-putting. The important part is that you're indicating that you're attracted, and that can be done in a straightforward and comfortable fashion.

It sounds like you'd like to wait another week or so, maybe see her again a couple more times, before bringing this up. That's fine, as long as you can stand the wait without obsessing too painfully. And I'd recommend keeping the conversation direct and clear, but light. You don't need to fall on your knees or confess undying love. That would be scary. Just lay it out there in a kind, matter-of-fact way, and see what she says.

And finally, please don't assume your lack of experience is necessarily a big negative. Depending on what her life has been like, it may be a wonderfully refreshing change to be around someone who isn't overly smooth, jaded, and arrogant. It wouldn't be a huge stumbling block for a decent gal. Set those worries aside; you can get to them later if things work out.

I will stand by this as good, hard-won advice. Of course, it cannot be a guarantee that you'll get the girl. You can only try, but it sounds like you're really ready to give it an honest try or you wouldn't be asking. I really wish you luck with this. Do watch out for yourself, and spend at least as much time considering whether you really want someone like her as much as you want her to want you. You deserve someone great, too. If this doesn't go the way you'd like, at least you've gotten some excellent dating advice from everyone here, you've gotten out there and been social with a woman you're attracted to, you've built some skills at negotiating the emotional arena, and you know you're a likeable guy. So even if things fizzle with this gal, you'll be in a great position to reorganize and move on with greater confidence. Don't worry - she'll be happy to have you, or some other gal will. Good luck.
posted by Miko at 7:14 AM on February 3, 2006

I don't think that asking her where you stand is necessarily bad advice, but I also think you've still got time. Your relationship isn't even two weeks old. Keep up the flirting. Don't force the moment.

I would wait and see, at least, how Saturday goes — that should be very informative, both in how she treats you and how the friends treat you.

Please don't conduct "recon." If friends-from-out-of-town don't mention a boyfriend, period, over the length of dinner, that is signal in itself that there either is no guy or he is unimportant.
posted by rafter at 7:36 AM on February 3, 2006

just ask her on a date, really.
posted by matteo at 7:41 AM on February 3, 2006

Given the elaboration:

I think it's highly possible that because she's told you she has a boyfriend, she's not feeling like she has to censor herself around you because she's not worried you'll get "the wrong idea." Given what you've said about yourself, it's highly possible that you're in just-friends territory and don't realize it.

When things are going well for me with a guy, I tend to get flirtatious with everyone.

On the other hand, I don't invite the non-boyfriends out for dinner dates with my coupled friends...

If I had already told a guy that I was dating someone else, and then he asked me out, I'd likely take that as a sign he wasn't respecting my boundaries (whatever role I might have taken in blurring those boundaries aside). I think just asking her out is a bad idea. I certainly wouldn't be offended if the guy asked about how the other relationship was going, though. I like that idea -- I think it gives her a good opening for clarifying things a bit without bringing everything to a screeching halt.

And I agree with Miko about it not mattering how smooooooooooth you are once you're already friends. A guy approaching a woman he doesn't know is one thing, but once I already know you, unless you get creepy-clingy-I-want-to-be-with-you-forever-suicide-pact on our first date, you're fine and I'm willing to make a lot of allowances for nerves.
posted by occhiblu at 7:57 AM on February 3, 2006

It sounds like the relationship is still pretty young. If she is in a relationship then forcing her to choose, especially after only a few dates with you, isn't likely to work out well at all. There's no rush. My advice: you are in a very good place right now and you should keep doing exactly what you've been doing. Don't push it. Don't ask her how "serious" the relationship is or if you're more than friends or any of that nonsense. It's just such a dumb question. Focus on spending time with her and getting to know her better. This is what you want, after all, whether she's friend or girlfriend.

At the same time, I would suggest you be a bit more aggressive: if you let her completely control the pace of the relationship then you're not being true to your own needs. You don't want to get typecast as the harmless guy-friend if that's not the role you want to play in her life. While there's no reason to issue any ultimatums (that's what you're really talking about, after all) at this point, you shouldn't be shy about letting her know how you feel in a somewhat indirect manner. Buy her flowers. Invite her over and cook dinner for her. When the time comes it should be pretty clear how you feel about her and how she feels about you.

And yes, stop worrying about interpreting signals and focus on just enjoying having her in your life.
posted by nixerman at 8:13 AM on February 3, 2006

If I were in your shoes I'd give her a single Red Rose when I picked her up on the way to this out of town dinner; and I wouldn't say anything about my deeper feelings during the dinner. Then when I dropped her off at the end of the night I would say "I had a wonderful time with you this evening and I would like to continue seeing you. Would you be interested in going on DATE next weekend to see _______?" On that next date, I would raise the question (in a format suggested above) regarding her 'boyfriend.'

> Younger people are going to argue with me, because romance, mystery, and intrigue are more important in your 20s.

*grain of salt* I am (happily married) in my (late) 20's...
posted by iurodivii at 8:19 AM on February 3, 2006

Valentine's day is coming up. Ask her what her plans are. Things will become more clear.
posted by Blue Buddha at 8:23 AM on February 3, 2006

Dude, grow a set - if she's taking you to friends for dinners and hanging with you at night and all this, when the hell is she supposed to be seeing this other guy? I can't quite tell, but it sounds like she's only mentioned him that one time a few weeks a ago...?

You all are already dating, you just haven't made it physical yet. Make it so.
posted by tristeza at 8:45 AM on February 3, 2006

This thread has been illuminating. Some of the guys are suggesting, IMO, playing games with her. Some women are into that (I think). Many of the woman are suggesting you be direct with her (apparently none of the game-players are on AskMeFi). Perhaps your approach to her should be determined by what kind of woman you're hoping she'll turn out to be: the kind who responds to game playing, or the kind who doesn't.

From what you've said so far Anon, my guess is the latter. So just ask her already. "Look, I can be really dense about these things, so I have to ask you straight out: are we dating here, or are we just good friends? I have to tell you, I hope it's the first."

Casual physical contact is always a good sign that she's into you.
posted by adamrice at 8:51 AM on February 3, 2006

I think Miko's advice is powerful, but before asking I'd go to the friend's dinner and have a good time, enjoy yourself and them - WHILE minding carefully what sohcahtoa had to say about touch.

Personally, I think ersatzkat is onto something as well. Enjoy each other's presence without loading up the atmsphere with expectations or repressed feelings. Just be sure you let her know in subtle but unmistakable ways that you really lkie her and might be interested in it developing into more. And don't forget the dessert.
posted by Pressed Rat at 9:04 AM on February 3, 2006

Way too early. You don't have to force the issue yet.

And when the time comes: what Miko said.
posted by Marnie at 9:21 AM on February 3, 2006

Valentine's day is coming up. Ask her what her plans are.

This is great advice. At no other time of the year can you so easily and naturally find out where you stand. If she really has a boyfriend (or definitely wants you to think so, which comes to the same thing), she'll say "Sorry, I have plans." If she doesn't, and things are going as well as you hope, she'll say "Not yet..." Which is where you say "Well, you do now!" and collect your prizes.

(Frankly, I don't think it's time for the single red rose just yet.)
posted by languagehat at 9:24 AM on February 3, 2006

Dang, I'm dying to know how Saturday goes. This is better than TV. You *must* update us afterward.

My advice is to just be open and take it all in. You're right-- things are still really new, and you don't want to over-eager it to death. See how Saturday goes, how the friends treat you. This might be an undercover interview so she can see how you get along with her friends, or it might be a totally face-value come-hang-out thing. (Although, it does make me wonder what mr. other guy is doing or knows about Saturday night.) Anyway, just go, be yourself, (the most gentlemanly version of yourself- get doors without being awkward, let her go first up the stairs, etc.) On that note, when you go through a door, put your hand on the small of her back to gently lead her-- maybe I'm dorky, but that just feels intimate and caring to me.

Second the idea about knowing of a dessert / coffee place to go to afterward. I'm from Chicago--email me if you want suggestions. That could be tell tale.

Do update us! Have fun!
posted by orangemiles at 10:09 AM on February 3, 2006

When I was younger (I'm now 40 and married), I was very much like you. To other people, dating was a fun/light activity. To me, it was a HUGE TERRIFYING THING! A single date -- something I rarely had -- was a major event. And I would NEVER ask a girl out, unless I got 100% unambiguous signals that she was interested in me. Since my version of "100% unambiguous" was the girl grabbing me and kissing me, I basically never asked a girl out.

Here are a few stories of me being stupid:

1) 20-years old: hung out with a girl in the park, talked to her for hours, great conversation. The talk veered towards romance, we established that we were both single. Eventually -- after many dropped hints (all from her) -- she said, "What do you think about something happening between you and me?" I paused for a really long time, not wanting to say the wrong thing, because I was really attracted to her and I didn't want to screw anything up. After an incredibly long silence, I sort of stammered, "Um. Well. I guess whatever happens ... happens." After another long pause, she sighed and said, "Well, I guess if something WAS going to happen between us, it probably would have happened already."

The insane thing is that it was only in retrospect -- years later -- that I realized she was interested in me.

2) 24-years-old: I had a crush on my best friend. This supposedly unrequited crush went on for FOUR YEARS. The girl and I hung out together pretty much every free minute of every day. I never made a move, because I didn't want to screw up the friendship. I lay in bed every night, agonizing about her. Years later, she told me that she was SO frustrated that I wouldn't kiss her. Eventually, she assumed I wasn't attracted to her, got depressed, got over it, and moved on. (We actually did have a couple make out sessions during this four-year period. In my bizarro world, that translated to "She'd just had too much to drink -- she couldn't REALLY be attracted to me.")

3) 30-yeas-old: I had a similar relationship to the girl I'm now married to. Luckily, she waited out my year of nervous friendship.

Don't be me.

PS. If I'd been braver, I'm sure I would have had my heart broken from time-to-time, but I also would have learned to play the field a bit more and not make such a mountain out of dating. I wish I could have taken a win-some, lose-some attitude.
posted by grumblebee at 10:41 AM on February 3, 2006 [2 favorites]

"Women are not creatures who must be trapped by elaborate psychological games, manipulated by movie-dialogue strategies, or dazzled by stagey acrobatics, especially once they get a little older."

It was in my late teens that I realized this, and have had no real trouble finding and dating women since. (Though the lack of bullshit does mean that you tend to get into solid, long-term relationships.)

And the single red rose? Gaaaawd no. Might as well spout sonnets wearing opera gloves. Cheeeeeeeese.
posted by klangklangston at 10:47 AM on February 3, 2006

Valentine's day is coming up. Ask her what her plans are. Things will become more clear.

I want to third this as great advice. Be casual about it, but also have a plan ready beforehand -- something fun and maybe a bit geeky, but not really a romantic "date" date (after all, you guys are comic book geeks!) -- so your conversation can go something like this:

You: So, do you have plans on Valentine's Day?

Her: Not really, why?

You: Well, there's this exhibit at the museum of geekness that I happen to have these tickets for.... etc.

I frankly think that if she's not talking to you about her boyfriend, and if she's free on Saturday nights, then the boyfriend was probably a smokescreen to hide behind in case you turned out to be a jerk (which, clearly, you did not).

Also, don't feel the need to dive into this. Enjoy it going slowly. Just keep it fun and light and be willing to ramp into it slowly. The best partners are the ones you made friends with first.
posted by anastasiav at 11:02 AM on February 3, 2006

And the single red rose? Gaaaawd no. Might as well spout sonnets wearing opera gloves. Cheeeeeeeese.

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:37 PM on February 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

All the things you've done together so far could have been done by her with a female friend. She may just like you. If you can't bear the thought of being just her friend, you've got to tell her how you feel. You are in far too much turmoil to let this go on much longer with clearing the air. Talk with her.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:43 AM on February 4, 2006

And the single red rose? Gaaaawd no. Might as well spout sonnets wearing opera gloves. Cheeeeeeeese.

You know, if a single red rose is definitely "you", I would never call it cheese. Cheese is only cheese if it's a less-than-genuine or less-than-personally-authentic gesture.

If it's "a single red rose" because it's the cliche best way to woo, then that's cheese. If it's a single red rose because you're a single-red-rose kind of guy, I don't think that's something you should smother.

Someone who likes you or loves you does so because of (or sometimes in spite of) your true nature.
posted by ersatzkat at 8:17 AM on February 4, 2006

update from the original poster

"Frustratingly, I don't have an answer for you all as to how she feels. My plan was to ask her the Valentine's Day plans variant on the subway ride back downtown, so as to minimize the awkwardness were she to indicate no plans, I ask her out, and she decline. Unfortunately, we were offered a ride home by our hosts, and I wasn't able to convince them that it was unnecessary.

She was warm and funny; I managed to make quite a few good jokes; I think I looked okay; no mention of a boyfriend was made during the entire evening by any party; and we had some absolutely fascinating dinner conversations, all of us. I had a good time, and enjoyed being with her and her friends, and I think I left a good impression, and they certainly did on me. That alone is worth much.

I think I read even further signals. Eye connections, smiles, laughs, and other things.

I will ask about Valentine's Day plans when the opportunity presents itself over the next few days (the next time we get into a back-and-forth conversation), and see how it turns out.

If you could spare some good karma to send my way, it'd be appreciated.

If something pans out, I'll try to get news back to the thread somehow, for those who are curious."
posted by jessamyn at 6:49 AM on February 5, 2006

Sounds pretty good, anon. Keep your expectations in check, but definitely prepare to ask that question. Good luck!
posted by Miko at 7:43 AM on February 5, 2006

No mention of the boyfriend at all during the weekend? Certainly seems as though she made him up on that initial conversation. The signs are improving for you. You may indeed have a real shot!

I still stand by my original advice, and the suggestion that you should ask her what her Valentines Day plans are is an excellent one. But, as always, be prepared for a bad answer, just in case.

We're all expecting an update soon, so let us know what happens, anon!
posted by Effigy2000 at 7:31 PM on February 5, 2006

Had another thought about this today (yes, I am one of the many vicariously living this with you):

The Valentine's question is truly an excellent idea. But do make sure you get that question out of the way this week. Why? Next Tuesday is Valentine's Day, and I can tell you from experience that you need your answer before Monday (before the weekend would be better). This is because of the way that holiday will screw with your brain. If you don't know the status of your connection with her before the day itself, you'll be experiencing an excruciating internal monologue on Monday that sounds something like:

Should I get her something for Valentine's day? What should I get? Flowers? Is that too much? What about this card? Too sexy? This one? Too ambiguous? Should I go with cool and friendly, warm and cuddly, or hot and steamy?What if she doesn't get me anything but I get her something and it's awkward? What if I try to be cool and get nothing, but she gets me something and it's awkward? When should I give this to her? What if I get something but can't get the nerve to give it to her, and then she gets offended because she thinks I didn't take note of the day? What if I run out at lunch and grab some Russel Stover assortment and one of the last four hideous cards left in the store? Will that do? Can I fashion some sort of origami heart made from Post-its, perhaps with a bent paper clip cupid's arrow? *head explodes*
posted by Miko at 6:42 AM on February 6, 2006


"This may not be a perfect reproduction of the conversation,
but it's what I remember from a few minutes ago.

I had send her a humorous link she had asked for last night,
and followed it up with a visit downstairs to pick up a book.
As I'm exiting out, I say something like, "Oh, I forgot. Was
curious: what are *your* plans for Valentine's Day?"
(Emphasis was most definitely placed in that sentence on
the "your".) She looks at me, and says with some
surprise, "I have a boyfriend!" (As if I had just unequivocally
asked her out.)

Answer received. Damage control immediately kicks into
play. "Oh, yeah, I know that. I was wondering what you
guys were doing, that's all." As I'm saying this, I notice her
saying something but trailing off, to the effect of, "It was hard
to enough to explain Saturday . "

I then said something either exactly like, or akin to, "Listen,
[her name], my feelings for you are on the border of close
friendship and, well, whatever, but I'm definitely coming
down on the friend side here. I think you just misunderstood
me. I'm just wondering what you're doing, 'cause I
know what I'm doing."

"Really?" (with interest)

"Yeah, I think I'm going to try that 8-Minute Speed Dating. I
tried the three-minute stuff before, that was just way too
damn short."

"Wow! That sounds pretty cool."

But it being a Monday morning, she had work to do, as did I,
so she shooed me out of her office. The manner of the
shooing was in the same manner she had done on prior
occasions when she was busy, so I don't think long-term
harm was done.

But I suppose I have my answer. Na‹ve of me to think
things were going to work out in a romantic fashion. After
all, they've not in 31 years, why the hell should I expect
things to be any different? Think I'm going to gain 300
pounds and start grafting myself to a couch.

My thanks, nevertheless, to all of you.

I hate feeling the vulnerability associated with that tingle that
means you're crushing on someone; I suspect I'm going to
hate it even more in the future. The cynic in my head
definitely just got his ammo restocked.

Tell me, how the FLYING FUCK do you tell a woman is
interested in you, if all that wonderful crap I just went
through was NOT a sign of romantic interest? I mean, FUCK!

I think I'm off to see "Brokeback Mountain" this week.

By the way, yes, I presume she and I will still be friends, and
perhaps even good ones. I'm glad I got the romance crap
out of my head-picture before the idealism had too much
room to breed."
posted by jessamyn at 8:59 AM on February 6, 2006

Oh, poo. I'm so sorry. I was reading the signals the same way you were and I'm really surprised and disappointed for you. And you did a really great job with that conversation today, especially in damage control mode. What are you doing for Valentine's day? You SHOULD do the 8 minute dating, or at the very least sit home and get on eHarmony and get the ball rolling to meet someone great. (I was way out of practice dating-wise, like 5 years without a date, and I went on eHarmony to get back in the game. It helped me think through what I was looking for and to consider myself a dating person, and a month later I met my husband, but not on eHarmony.)

Sorry again.
posted by orangemiles at 10:16 AM on February 6, 2006

That really sucks! (Hey, I was you for the first 30 years of my life. If you want someone to talk to -- check my profile!). I agree with orangemiles that you should go through with your Valentine's plans. Remember: it's a numbers game! (I know thaty's unromantic, but it's also true.) Some people get really lucky, but most of us -- if we ask out 100 people -- will get 95% NOs and 5% YESes. So you have to be willing to approach many people in order to beat the odds. It's SO easy to approach 3 people, get rejected by all three, and then give up. But if you do that, you're not playing the odds.

I really probably shouldn't say the following, because it might very well lead to more heartache. But if you're really stuck on this girl, you don't necessarily have to give up on her. It still sounds to me like she enjoys getting romantic attention from you. I'm SURE she knows you're interested in her (she must, unless she's a moron), and she's allowing it to go on. Maybe this is because she wants you as a friend. Maybe her current relationship is rocky. Who knows? But it doesn't sound like she's sent you major "back off, buddy" signals.

So one line to take is to keep pursuing her until she either breaks up with her boyfriend and dates you or tells you to stop. I'm NOT suggesting you do this (or not do it). You have to make that decision yourself.

I once knew a girl who was engaged. Then this guy in her office showered her with attention. Talked to her all the time, bought her flowers, etc. Eventually, he won her over. She broke off the engagement and wound up marrying the office guy. I'm sure for every example like this, there are dozens of "just friends" examples.

I you choose not to pursue her, really give some thought to whether or not you're okay with just being friends. If that's going to make you horribly depressed -- STOP. Don't put yourself in a position where she gets what she want from you but you don't get what you want from her. That way lies nothing but pain (for both of you, ultimately).
posted by grumblebee at 10:26 AM on February 6, 2006

Booooo on her, mate. She's tryin' to have it both ways. Her boyfriend's probably a tool. Still, that way lies drama, and you're not 16. Since you've pretty well missed your chance to do stupid shit that you'd regret for years, you've gotta let this one roll. Ah well. Good luck on the 8-minute-date thing. Personally, I'm wary of getting an idea about someone in the time it takes to cook cheap rice, but I hope it works for you. Silver lining? If you do connect with someone, she'll be jealous and you can (while remaining beatific on the outside) gloat wonderfully inside.
posted by klangklangston at 2:50 PM on February 6, 2006

My girlfriend and I both agree with what klangklangston said. She's definently trying to have it both ways. This is particuarly evident by her response of "it was hard enough to try and explain Saturday." What's to explain to her boyfriend if she really only wanted you as a friend? My guess is he is a tool, and while she probably didn't want you as a lover, she was probably "making withdrawls from your confidence account to boost up her ego account", to paraphrase Penny Arcade.

At this point, were I you, I'd be inclined to cut her off from my life entirely. She sounds a little like she was using you for emotional comfort, or something. But of course, that decision ultimately lies with you.

Sorry it didn't work out. Believe me, I sympathise with you and know exactly what you're going through. But hey, if I can get a girl, so can you. It's all just a matter of time my friend. Hang in there, and good luck in the future.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:25 PM on February 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, in regards to this;

"Think I'm going to gain 300 pounds and start grafting myself to a couch."

... don't punish yourself by eating a heap of comfort food as a response to this discovery. That will only make you feel worse, in the long run. It's cold comfort, I know, but really, it is her loss, and her loss shouldn't equate to an unneccessary self-punishment for you.

Just as a side note to something I said in my previous post;

"At this point, were I you, I'd be inclined to cut her off from my life entirely. She sounds a little like she was using you for emotional comfort, or something. But of course, that decision ultimately lies with you."

One thing I've noticed with women is that if you ignore them, they tend to take more of an interest in you. I can't explain this, and (disclaimer) I'm sure it's not true for all women, but in the past, when I've been too busy with work or side projects to pay as much attention to my girlfriend, she suddenly starts to become alot more flirty and cuddly towards me than times when I'm constantly trying to maul her. This has been true, to varying degrees, with ex-girlfriends too.

Asuming you're still interested in this woman, and assuming that this woman is indeed trying to have it both ways with you and her boyfriend (who on reflection I'm still not sure entirely exists), perhaps cutting her off completely, or paying limited interest towards her, will see her interest towards you increase. But I stress the word perhaps here. And I'll also tell you that this course of action is always easier said than done.

Again, good luck, and whatever else, remember you'll get through this and find someone special someday. I know it can seem dark and hopeless sometimes, but eventually it'll turn out ok.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:58 PM on February 6, 2006

I hate feeling the vulnerability associated with that tingle that means you're crushing on someone; I suspect I'm going to hate it even more in the future. The cynic in my headdefinitely just got his ammo restocked.

I had the most touching conversation with my new squeeze the other night about exactly this subject. We're both dating again after a long hiatus - I had had a really bad relationship and just retreated to lick my wounds for a couple of years, he had been in a bad marriage. He talked about how little awareness there is of the tremendous vulnerability of dating for men. People tend to think women are the fragile ones with the self-esteem issues, but as he pointed out, to be a male in this culture is to repeatedly stick your neck out only to get rebuffed, ignored, dismissed, slapped down, laughed at, or otherwise disappointed nine times out of ten. He said that it takes amazing resilience to keep coming back, to keep believing that the tenth time, it's going to be something wonderful. I'm not sure what mental structures help guys handle this - tons of positive self-talk, refusal to dwell on rejection, focus on future not past, I don't know. Maybe some of the men here can talk more about how they find that courage to try again.

It does seem to be that, despite the many successes of feminism, the last area to undergo change is our sense of who pursues and who is pursued in a relationship. Yes, I have and know women who have bought drinks, asked guys out, proposed, tackled them into bed, whatever -- it's more common than a century ago, surely. But I'd still say that more often than not, men are the ones who we expect to show the interest, ask the questions, or take charge at some level. I'm not endorsing this (I hate gender stereotypes) just observing it.

This could partly be a function of the fact that, growing up as a woman, you have to learn to play defense. For whatever reasons (social/cultural/biological), there are a lot more men interested in being with you (simply because of your anatomy, or an ill-informed romantic sense that you're the one, based on very little understanding of you) than you're going to want to be with. Early on, you have to learn to set some boundaries and cut off attention from unwanted quarters. Especially if you want to be kind and not lead people on. So the problem in dating for women is often not who to reach out to, but who to screen out.

Tell me, how the FLYING FUCK do you tell a woman is interested in you, if all that wonderful crap I just went through was NOT a sign of romantic interest?

I'll repeat my mantra: Ask. Stop trying to read tea leaves and crystal balls -- you'll drive yourself insane. Sure, the body language, dropped hints, tone of voice, actions may indicate that she likes you. But do you want to know for sure? Ask! See, that's what you did in this case and you saved yourself at least one week of heartache, if not more. You're clear now. Isn't that better? Disappointing, yes, but you took a big risk, learned a few things, and now you're better equipped for next time. You're not fooling yourself, and you don't have to live in an agonizing limbo of not knowing.

I'm glad I got the romance crap out of my head-picture before the idealism had too muchroom to breed.

That was exactly the basis of my recommendation. Spare yourself the additional grief by getting the picture ASAP.

This is tough stuff, particularly later in life when we're all a little bit more world-weary. It is hugely fucking scary to get out there and take these risks; it is. It really is. But what's the alternative? You can stay home, never look at any girl again, and keep yourself 100% safe from romantic disappointment. That's a possibility; some people do it. But is that the kind of life you want? Or do you want to take a few risks here and there, accept a little disappointment along the way, so that you can know the joys of being with another person and seeing where it might go?

Yeah -- go ahead and carry a torch for a few days, but think about these things and get ready to move on soon. You've done so much emotional work over this - don't drop the ball. I second the suggestion of going online - I'm a hard-to-match girl and it's worked well for me, because you build a bit of an intellectual connection by writing and talking before you meet. Go for it. Best of luck. It's worth it.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on February 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

One thing I've noticed with women is that if you ignore them, they tend to take more of an interest in you.

To demystify this, and take some of the aura of game-playing away from it, I can explain why this happens with me. I get used to a certain level of attention from the man I'm with. When that level drops noticeably, it seems like kind of a red flag, making me wonder if there are problems he's not sharing. This can turn into a series of uncomfortable questions if you let it, particularly in a new relationship ("Is he losing interest? Attracted to someone else? Did I say something hurtful?") Certainly you can ask that series of questions, but it's kind of a heavy approach that might not be necessary. So sometimes you just test the waters and get flirty. If you see that you can get that attention back, it's quite reassuring.

I would never advocate using this in a manipulative way -- that is, purposely ignoring your SO just to incite this reaction. That may mess with the relationship's sense of security a bit too much.
posted by Miko at 7:44 AM on February 7, 2006 [2 favorites]

I'll repeat my mantra: Ask.

Miko, I think your adive and compassion is wonderful. Thank you for your thoughtful posts. I don't exactly take issue with the quote I pulled, above, but I do think things are a little more complex than that. And we MUST make that clear, because (most) men are not subtle creatures. If you tell a man to just ask a woman if she's into him, he's likely to do just that. He'll walk up to a total stranger in a bar, say, "Are you into me?" Get rejected (probably) and then feel really depressed.

I'm a nerdy, shy, intellectual guy. All the women who have been attracted to me (that I've later discussed the matter with) have admitted that they WEREN'T into me at first (other than as friends). I think it took about a year for my wife to become attracted to me. If I'd asked really early on, "Are you into me?" I would have been rebuffed.

It's complicated, because we men get attracted really FAST and it tends to be a binary matter: we're attracted or we're not. So even if you tell a guy to wait a bit -- until he's spent some time with the girl -- he's likely to interpret that as "if you meet a girl on Monday, ask her if she's attracted to you on Tuesday." Most of us guys simply can't imagine discovering you're attracted to someone after a year. (Of COURSE there are exceptions to this -- and of COURSE women DO get instant attractions.)

As I've posted earlier, I've made the opposite mistake. I've skied away from asking -- even when it was screamingly obvious (or would have been to anyone else) -- that the girl was into me. And I've let her think that I'm not into HER. And eventually she has given up and moved on. So obviously there's a happy medium. But it's different with each relationship.

What helped me out was learning more about women. Women ARE another species to most men. But just as you can learn the ways of cats, dogs, camels, south-sea islanders and the French, you can -- if you're a man -- learn the ways of women. It helps to have female friends. But barring that, there are great books. Deborah Tannon's books turned on many lightbulbs for me when I was younger (try "You Just Don't Understand.")

Also, learn how women work sexually. You don't want to finally be in a relationship and then fumble around in bed. Again, there are TONS of good resources in your local Barnes and Noble.

Finally, I say this with GREAT TREPIDATION, anon, but you might want to check out "The Game" and other "Seduction" books/site. These are basically masoginistic sites, books and techniques that view women as game pieces. But taken with a HUGE grain of salt, the techniques can help some guys gain some confidence.
posted by grumblebee at 10:32 AM on February 7, 2006

"Women ARE another species to most men."

Yeah, to stupid men. But women, in my experience, want a lot of the same things that I do: good conversation, good sex, to have fun and to be able to open up. They're really not mysterious, they really don't need any pedastal, they don't need any "game" thrown at them. The ones who do are generally young, stupid and not worth the time. And while, granted, the proportion of women conventionally considered attractive does tend to be highly populated with the young, conceited and stupid demographic, there are plenty of really hot smart women who don't need the bullshit courting rituals. Those are the ones most worth going after.
Gender roles are socially constructed and fairly artificial. Pretending that women need special treatment because they're a different species or more subtle or any such bullshit is just more archaic crap.
posted by klangklangston at 11:47 AM on February 7, 2006

Gender roles are socially constructed and fairly artificial.

I agree with much of what you say, K, but the science doesn't back you up here. Gender roles are VERY complex -- partially socially constructed, it's true -- but also encoded in our genes. There ARE differences between male and female brains.

I don't think a man needs to be stupid to misunderstand women. Sure, our core needs/desires are the same, but we tend to express them in very different ways.

For instance, like many women (not ALL women), my wife tends to think in a very rich, metaphorical way. If I say, "I'm not hungry right now," she's going to wonder what that MEANS. What it means is -- I'm not hungry right now. Like many men, I tend to mean exactly what I say with little or not subtext. This difference creates many confusions. My wife may assume I mean something that I don't. (I've had this discussion TONS of times: Me: You look beautiful today! Wife: You thought I looked bad YESTERDAY?) Meanwhile, I might fail to notice the nuance in what she's telling me.

Here's another example. In my experience, may women do not like overt sexual overtures. In other words, a guy generally doesn't get far by saying, "Nice ass!" When I was younger, I thought that meant women don't like sex at all. I thought that, because I would NEVER be offended if someone told me I had a nice ass. In any case, in order to respect women's feelings, I acted completely non-sexual around them. So they treated me like a buddy instead of like a lover. It took me YEARS to understand that women DO like sexual overtures. But most of them like it done with some subtlety.

I guess you could conclude from this that I'm stupid. Fine. But I think I'm fairly typical in my level of stupidity.
posted by grumblebee at 12:13 PM on February 7, 2006

I don't think anybody's stupid here, but I agree with klangklangston. I believe pretty strongly that gender roles are largely socially constructed. Maybe not completely, the jury's out, but very largely. Even when biological differences in men's and women's brains are discovered, it is very difficult to assert that their origins are due completely to the effects of nature rather than nurture.
And then there's observer bias (we want to recognize gender in people so badly - when someone has a baby, what's your first question?) Behavior, genetics, early development, and environment can all have their effect on the physical structure of the brain. It's all a complex relationship.

The validity of evolutionary psychology and the roots of gender stereotyping are always in question, and we won't be able to resolve them here. But there is little to suggest that there are major, species-level differences between men and women. We are, in fact, the same species. Perhaps , to greater or lesser degrees as individuals and amongst cultures, we communicate differently or to manage emotion differently; but those behaviors don't necessarily have to result from biological imperative. They may just as easily result from socialization and individual choice.

The bottom line is, does it matter? Those books that attempt to 'translate' men's and women's stereotypical behaviors can sometimes be helpful, especially for people who have been strongly socialized in one direction or the other, or even if they are just socially awkward, bad at reading nonverbal communication, or anxious about sexual matters. They may make people more comfortable by providing a rubric for parsing interactions.

But I've always felt I wanted the same things as the good men do, too. To some extent, every form of love is learning to translate or negotiate between your own highly personal language and worldview, and another person's. That's true in same-gendered love as well as different-gendered love, so I don't think it's highly dependent on the ol' "Men are from Mars..." thing. In fact, I suspect relationships stumble and fall based much more on family issues, money issues, things like abuse and substance abuse, than they do on gendered communication.

Grumblebee, you sound like a really wonderful guy, and I agree with a lot of what you say. In fact, your set of examples of how you blew chances with girls in your younger days was scarily familiar, because I have been that girl often enough, saying "Oh well -- I guess he doesn't feel much of anything for me." But with me and most women I know, men are almost always better off just opening their mouths and talking about stuff - what they want/need, how they think and feel. Being willing to engage. If guys get attracted fast, that's OK, but it's probably just a good life skill to learn not to react on your immediate attractions (I mean, women have to learn that, too) - it's not just some curse of manhood. You have to learn to reflect and be patient. God knows I've gone out too fast with some wrong assumptions, and put my foot in it many times.

To make relationships work, everybody has to have good faith and has to at least try to understand one another, not just retreat into "well, I'm a woman, that's just the way I am." We're all mostly just human.
posted by Miko at 12:43 PM on February 7, 2006 [3 favorites]

A way of cutting through the whole man/woman/nature/nurture argument is just to say that PEOPLE are complex and socializing is complex. Many of us are bad at it. We're bad at reading other people; bad at reading ourselves; we tend to assume everyone thinks just like us; etc.

Miko (thanks for your kind words about me!), I SO want to agree with your "just be honest and direct" world view. It's the world I WANT to live in. But I think most social problems stem from being either too honest or too dishonest. On the one hand you get Kramer from "Seinfeld" telling people "You'd look fine if you just got a nose job." On the other hand, you get Enron.

The really skilled socializers know how to navigate the complexity of the social world. They "read" each individual and apply just the right amount of honesty and directness, with a pinch of flattery, a pinch of subtext, a pinch of flirtation and -- yes -- a pinch of lying. One evolutionary theory -- which has always seemed plausible to me -- is that we've evolved such big brains specifically BECAUSE our social lives are so complicated.

I also think that this stuff changes with age, and Anon will probably discover this as he -- and the women he is interested in -- get older. Young men and women tend to enjoy games much more than older ones. Now that I'm in my 40s, I feel much more comfortable being direct and having people be direct with me. If I were single, I'm sure I would have a MUCH easier time now than I did when I was younger. I would expect a 40-something woman to be more open to direct approach than the 20-somethings of my college days. The 30s -- where Anon is currently trapped -- are an odd transition between the two periods.

Miko, "I'm" so sorry "I" didn't tell "you" how "I" felt back then. You can now look back fondly on the fact that "I" adored "you." "I" was just too shy to say anything.
posted by grumblebee at 1:53 PM on February 7, 2006

*aw, shucks*.

See, anon -- this frontier is easy for no one. Keep your chin up. You've obviously got a lot of emotional generosity and many good things to give - someone is really going to be happy to know you.

And you're in luck; as grumblebee points out, things just get a thousand times easier in your 30s. The only tricky bit is finding those who are available -- the mid-30s is hard, since it's probably the peak 'married' time - many people this age are fairly recently married, and even those bound for divorce may still be trying to work things out. So there's a dip in the number of 'free agents' around this time. But that's where online dating can be a big help, because by definition, everyone there is looking.

Happy Valentine's Day to all, no matter where you are on the uncertain path of love, and good luck, once again.
posted by Miko at 8:48 AM on February 8, 2006

Hi everyone, I'm having a similar problem with "annoymous". Recently met a girl in my school, I'm 21 and she's 19. We exchanged numbers and the first day, I asked her out for a concert, and she told me she had a big test the following day. The following week, I asked her out for a dinner date, and she asked me "are you asking me out for a date?" and I replied, "Yep" and she said oh. After that I asked her whether she has a boyfriend and she said "I'm kinda seeing someone right now, but we can still be friends". Ok guys, I know this sounds silly, but I can't get over her. Is there still a chance for me? Or should I move on?
Any opinions or advice would be welcomed. Thanks : )
posted by Atheus at 5:54 AM on March 11, 2006

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