Teach a Martian how to be a boyfriend.
March 20, 2007 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Throughout my life, I've had to learn social interaction as if I were a Martian anthropologist... consciously studying, taking notes, and practicing. A few years ago, I finally cracked "how to make friends" and seemingly overnight, I started making real connections. It was amazing. But now, from experience and from talking to my all-too-quickly growing posse of close female friends (most of whom I wished could have been more than that), I'm learning that the way you interact with someone you're interested in isn't as simple as having a great friend that you make out with like there's no tomorrow. There are subtle, maybe very simple, but essential things that separate lovers from pals. I need you to tell me-- in the most literal terms possible-- what those things are.

I'm 28 and male, btw. Thanks, Mefi.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 101 users marked this as a favorite

I would hate to be the one to bust your bubble, but isn't this a little chatfilter-y?

That being said: humor and originality. i can't tell you how many conversations ive started by answering the, "how are you doing today" line with something other than "fine." the new people i'd like to get to know better are funny and cool. and kind.
posted by phaedon at 6:24 PM on March 20, 2007

Not to put too fine a point on it, "Don't fuck your buddies."

If you get your pants off with someone, they expect to be promoted from the "pal" pool to the "lover" pool, and generally don't react well to finding out that they haven't been, in your head. Or that you have no such seperate pools.

So, first have those pools. Second, do the sort, the first time you take off your pants with someone.

All kinds of life improvement strategies follow from those very basic steps. You can come to realize that the right ratio of folks in the different pools, for you, is, say 8 to 1, or 100 to 1. You can realize that your life is complicated enough that you'd benefit by adding additional pools, like "mate" or "mother of my kids." Or, you could have more and better steps between steps needed for promotion from one pool to a more exclusive pool.

But you've first got to have pools, and be able to sort.
posted by paulsc at 6:25 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

E-mail is in profile.
posted by geoff. at 6:26 PM on March 20, 2007

once you figure it out, could you tell the rest of us?

I find myself in exactly the situation you describe, way too often. I'm toying with the hypothesis that everyone else is just as confused as me, but isn't admitting it.
posted by goingonit at 6:26 PM on March 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

That is I would rather carry this in e-mail than on askmetafilter, so things won't come back to haunt me.
posted by geoff. at 6:26 PM on March 20, 2007

I hope you're looking for a list of some behaviors that people engage in when they're interested in someone else beyond a platonic sense, 'cause that's what I'm giving you:

Laughing a lot at what the other person says seems to be one of my hallmarks when I have a crush (this is fueled by my crushing only on people who have the ability to make me laugh in the first place).

There is also a hoarding of inside-jokes... you build up a repetoire of shared, special topics that you can make reference to (to highlight for both of you that you get along and have a history, perhaps).

Leaning. Evidence that you want to be in physical contact with the other person is a pretty big factor. When I like someone I find myself making excuses to sit closer to them, bodies touching in any acceptable fashion.
posted by dorothy humbird at 6:27 PM on March 20, 2007 [5 favorites]

There is actually a good bit of scientific research that answers this question. Yup, some lab-coated dudes sat around in bars and such and watched people be smooth. A good synopsis can be found here, as brought to you by the fine folks at the Social Issues Research Center.

I am such a geek - and so very, very alone right now.
posted by phrontist at 6:40 PM on March 20, 2007 [31 favorites]

One of the things that's great about having friends is the snowball effect that friends can have into meeting other friends or possibly romantic partners. If you're interested in one or some of your female friends, talk to one of your female friends who you are NOT interested in (and who is not interested in you, if at all possible, perhaps one who is happily in a relationship) what she thinks you should do about it, whether she thinks you have a chance with one of the other people.

In my world there has always been a sort of flirt-flirt-flirt-CHOOSE buildup of interactions with someone I am interested in. That is we will spend a lot of time together, stay up late talking, spend a lot of time checking in with the other one, having meals and a lot of incidental time together, possibly filling roles in the other's life that are sort of the "lover pool" as paulsc says [like a date to a wedding or the person you go see the new blockbuster movie with each time or the person in your MySpace top spot, whatever it is these days].

At some point you get to a point where you are like "this can't go on like this" and usually at (or before) that point one or the other of you will do something that is fairly unambiguously making a move. This can be the standard "want to come up for a drink?" line after a long night out, or it can be going away for a weekend together or it can be asking the other out on a proper date (phrased as such) or basically some activity that is likely to end up with a lot of making out type activity or a clear "we are not going to be making out" message from one of you.

So the trick is, to me, figuring out when you are in the ramping-up phase with someone. This is tricky because it can happen fairly fast (all in one day, or a week) or it can take a while depending on people's speeds they do this stuff at. So some of figuring it out is knowing the person you are interested in, if possible. If you know they go home with guys on the first or second date and you think you've gone on three or four "dates" with them, well maybe it's not going to happen for you, or you need to be more proactive. Similarly people will be trying to figure you out, whether you like them, whether you're single, whether you're free on the weekend, and unless you are a weird creep type, making this information available and not be some sort of "man of mystery" is to your advantage. If you want to be seen as available, make yourself available-seeming without being desperate. Tell people you're interested generally, and if you trust them, who you might be specifically interested IN.

And lastly, yay for you, you have a bunch of new friends and you solved the friends problem. This too can be cracked. Be someone who likes himself and is interesting and make other people around you like themselves and feel interesting (you're probably already doing this) and you're on the way there. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 6:44 PM on March 20, 2007 [12 favorites]

if you're talking about how to move things from one category to the other, there is always mentioning it/asking. then you will find out whether they are interested too and possibly cut out a lot of unnecessary stuff, especially since they are already friends. short of that, lots of eye contact, joking or using other excuses to bring up romantic or sensual topics, and as someone mentioned making casual physical contact and paying attention to see whether it is welcomed or reciprocated.

if you're more thinking of how those relationships should be different, you'll probably get a lot of responses saying they should be different, but i want to register that there are people like me who see the two as basically the same plus or minus sex. except for probably that anyone you're in a sexual or romantic relationship would like to know that you're actually attracted to them rather than just using them for conveniently available sex.
posted by lgyre at 6:45 PM on March 20, 2007

I assume you're asking how to act so that women know you're interested in them romantically?

That's flirting, really. What might help, given the anthropologist-on-Mars thing, is women's magazines. They often have "How to read his body language to see if he really likes you!" pictorials or articles on "Subtle cues he's into you"; women often use these sorts of things to decode male behavior, which is what it sounds like you would like to do, too. Glamour or even Seventeen might be good to pick up at the supermarket.

(Really, we all kind of have to learn these things from scratch in most cases; it's just that women start young!)
posted by occhiblu at 6:45 PM on March 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Flirt with them. Which is hard to describe. Sometimes mild teasing isn't bad, just don't overdo. Sometimes flirting is more sassy/risque/contentious than normal conversation. You're focusing more on engaging them with you, communicating that you're interested in them, beyond normal politeness or wanting to be friends or whatever. Also the eye contact is a little different.
posted by octavia at 6:46 PM on March 20, 2007

dorothy humbird
"There is also a hoarding of inside-jokes... you build up a repetoire of shared, special topics that you can make reference to (to highlight for both of you that you get along and have a history, perhaps)."

I quite enjoy this specific behavior.

I also like being able to know what the other person is thinking or about to say, simply by reading subtle body language.

I think body language and "closeness" are definitely different.
posted by jmnugent at 6:48 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like the women's magazine tip actually. Even if the women you're after don't read them (and I would hope that's the case), it's sort of an accretion of the pop-culture messages that are pounded in to us all the time. But honestly, read the paper above and if you're looking for more, do some searches through scientific journals. Then hit on the reference librarian that helped you find them.
posted by phrontist at 6:57 PM on March 20, 2007

posted by Zed_Lopez at 6:58 PM on March 20, 2007

You're right in that it's another subtlety... and it's one part flirting in a way that it's OBVIOUS, without going so far over the line as to be creepy.

Melanie Boyer often chronicles interactions in a way that I, an austistic/aspergers guy (27 years old) can understand. Reading through her blog might provide clues.
posted by SpecialK at 7:01 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The big difference between "girlfriend" and "female friend you make out with" is, in most cases, exclusivity. (of course, polyamory exists and works for some people, but it's a pretty advanced maneuver, and even if you thought you might be inclined that way, I wouldn't recommend it for someone just figuring this stuff out) Exclusivity doesn't just mean monogamy, that neither of you makes out with anyone else. It means that the role of partner is unique. You can have lots of friends who fulfill different needs for you, but in most cases, only one romantic partner.

A person in a relationship wants to feel as though she fills a role in her partner's life that no one else could fill, and that her partner wants no one else but her in that role. She wants to feel like she's the only one you want to make out with, the only one you want to hold hands at the movies with, the only one you want to have brunch in bed and read the Sunday paper with. She wants to feel as though you spend a portion of the time you're not with her wishing you were, and that she's the first person you want to tell when something good happens to you and the first person you want to comfort you when something bad happens to you. She wants to be not just important to you, but unique in your life as a source of joy and support and companionship.

Of course, you don't get all of that with someone right away. It takes time, and there's a lot of good advice above about how to tell if someone's interested and how to flirt and how to build a relationship. I just thought it might help you to keep in mind what the aim of all of that flirting and dating and whatnot should be, and what she'll be aiming for when all that is going on.
posted by decathecting at 7:19 PM on March 20, 2007 [9 favorites]

Read sosuave.net and alt.seduction.fast with the most critical spirit you can. There are step-by-step descriptions there—the sort that you won’t get from women or women’s magazines, because women and women’s magazines both have an interest in preserving the mystery of how female attraction builds and is maintained, since something unarticulated is perceived as more romantic—but there’s also a lot of poo-flinging, irrelevant misogyny, and advice to treat people badly, which shouldn’t (IMO and IME) be necessary.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 8:03 PM on March 20, 2007

A lot of the advice so far has seemed to me to be insufficiently martian-oriented. I will try to be as explicit as possible.

If you like her and are trying to show it:
1. Say her name a lot.
2. Make eye contact.
3. Ask her questions about herself.
4. Laugh at her jokes. Smile at her.
5. Make fun of her just slightly. This one is tricky even for the most socially suave, so we'll say it's extra credit.

Of course, this is assuming that things are not at the stage where you are ready to ask her out.

If you are trying to tell is she likes you:
1. She will laugh at your jokes.
2. She will use body language. Leaning, touching your arm or shoulder, sitting next to you in social situations, walking next to you.
3. She will make eye contact and then when you look at her, will look away and then look back. At least, I do this, rather unconsciously.
4. She will invite you to do things with her. Not date things necessarily, but maybe more frequently than just friends would hang out.

I am basing these on my own behavior.
posted by mai at 8:14 PM on March 20, 2007 [12 favorites]

Wow, that SIRC Guide to Flirting linked above was amazing. I had multiple epiphanies about why my social interactions are constantly failing while reading it.

Just want to reiterate to anyone else in here that it's worth reading, and don't let the length or the slow start scare you off.
posted by zhivota at 8:51 PM on March 20, 2007 [3 favorites]

Throughout my life, I've had to learn social interaction as if I were a Martian anthropologist... consciously studying, taking notes, and practicing. [...] There are subtle, maybe very simple, but essential things that separate lovers from pals. I need you to tell me-- in the most literal terms possible-- what those things are.

Paging grumblebee ... grumblebee, to the white courtesy phone, please....
posted by eritain at 9:51 PM on March 20, 2007

in the most literal terms possible

Since your'e a guy (although it happens in reverse, too)

They're your friends now. Unless they got to be friends with you under the assumption that they wanted to jump your bones - it's not going to happen. It happens, but far less often than statistics that someone may state to you. Anecdote does not equal a data point.

The best thing you could do hope for is to relate to them how you'd like to meet someone nice and interesting (replace those with your own specific, rather than generic desires - detail is good). If they're *really* friends with you and they think that your boyfriend material, many will go into matchmaker mode and try to introduce you to girlfriend-candidates. This is where the anecdotes come in... if their reply is something like "oh, I'm single, " &c&c or something out of the ordinary that you'd expect from them, then maybe play along and see where it leads.

If you're boyfriend material in their eyes, they might go a little overboard. If they don't try to set you up, don't take it badly, though - it's possible that their circle of friends might just be 'out of circulation' for the moment. Don't sweat it, don't be pushy.

After that, it's up to you. Don't 'make friends' with these candidates that your girl friends introduce you to. If they interest you, be foreward with your intentions (albeit, if you're that socially incompetent, you might lose the friends who recommended you/set you up) and if they touch you, touch them back.
posted by porpoise at 9:56 PM on March 20, 2007

The missing link here is the woman's interest in being your lover. If that is not present, you cannot proceed.

If you are fortunate - looks, wealth, fame, great charisma - women will develop an interest in becoming your lover before they ever meet you.

But you're not fortunate. You are a Martian. So you must begin by cultivating such interest. Some women will not be interested in being your lover. You need to learn techniques to identify them and to make yourself stop spending energy trying to make them into lovers, as that is wasted energy. All of your current friends fall into this category. They are close enough to you that, should they have wished to become your lover at any time, they could have done so. They did not, therefore they do not so wish.

Some women's interests can be aroused. This is not done by becoming friends with them. It is, instead, done by starting with and staying on the message that you view them as potential lovers, not as potential friends.

Women like different things. They like to laugh. They like humor and power and mystery and romance and affection and sexual fulfilment. They like men who dress well and stay clean and well groomed and who smell good. They like men they could be proud to bring around to their friends' party and introduce as their boyfriend.

You have to make clear and valid offers of at least some of these things in order to find a lover. When your offers are tested or questioned, you must not back down - you must show they are good faith offers and that you intend to make good on them.

I disagree that your current female friends will be of any use to you in finding you a lover. Their friends will immediately think, "If he's so great, why aren't *you* dating him?" The answer is because they don't think you're actually all that good a candidate. Go out and find your lover elsewhere.

I am no expert in this area. But I have been a Martian.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:33 PM on March 20, 2007 [4 favorites]

the thing about girls who are already your friends is that they may be martians too. they may be interested but have been unable to express this themselves, or are waiting for you to do so because sometimes girl martians can be even more clueless than boy martians about how this is supposed to work.
posted by lgyre at 11:20 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just one piece of advice, re: making fun of someone as a form of flirting.

As a general rule, DON'T make fun of something that she might be sensitive about. Eg never make fun of a woman's weight or looks. Don't make fun of her intelligence, or other things that are truly important to her like her religion if she's very devout, or her ethnic background. Even if you think you're making a lighthearted joke about one of these topics, she might take it more seriously than you mean and be hurt, or she may just think you're kind of a jerk. (You may be able to joke about these things later, once you know each other better -- once you know where her "off limits" topics are, and once she understands that you're not meanspirited.)

Flirting should be lighthearted, no chance of really hurting her feelings. So choose relatively neutral topics, but ones with some connection to her: her hometown sports team, maybe? Ideally first flirtation material would be about something that is obviously just a matter of personal opinion/taste. And you should have your own side too, so a conversation can evolve. Bears vs. Eagles. Chocolate vs vanilla.

Example (ok, it's lame, but best I can do off the cuff; imagine a song has come on the radio):
"Suzy, I can't believe you like "I Believe I Can Fly"! That's so dumb."
This would be just insulting her taste, not flirting.

"Suzy, I can't believe you like "I Believe I Can Fly" -- so cheesey! Now, "Wind Beneath My Wings", there's a song. [grin]"
This is more gentle, and you give her an opening to tease you back -- you're not insulting her taste or intelligence, you're just opening a silly topic for mock debate, a pretext for the two of you to talk and grin and joke. If she's interested, at this point she'll take the opportunity to slag your song and defend hers, or maybe she'll start listing other cheesey songs, or whatever.

You could study up on gentle teasing by watching romantic comedies that are geared toward women. Also note how eye contact works in the scenes where characters are falling for each other - the eye contact will linger a bit longer than in friendship exchanges, then one or the other character will give a half-smile (especially at the corners of the eyes) and then break eye contact "softly".
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:27 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

grumblebee hears the page, flips the head on the bust of Shakespeare, presses the button, slides down the pole, lands in the grumblecave dressed as Carmen Miranda, hops onto the grumblescooter, powers up and drives to Metafilter...

This thread is a goldmine for us Martians! Anon, you should write up your findings on "How to Make Friends" and send them to one of us (email, profile, blah blah blah) so we can post them. I bet others here would be grateful.

I'm a little unclear as to exactly what you want. It sounds a little like what you want is "friends with benefits." Others here may disagree, but I think you should get over it. I think it's really hard to make such relationships work.

We can grossly divide romantic relationships into these categories:

1) Love 'em and leave 'em flings. Example: meet a girl in a bar, flirt with her, make out with her (maybe sleep with her), and then never see her again. That's the most extreme version of this category. But I'd also include a casual dating relationship that lasts a few weeks -- one in which the couple has little in common except good sex.

I think this is achievable (people do it all the time). And there's much advice here (re: flirting) on how to achieve it.

I don't think anyone has pointed out that getting this sort of fling is a numbers game. Unless you're incredible attractive and charming, you'll have to ride through many rejections. Many guys don't get a date because they get frustrated by the first (or tenth) rejection they get.

2) Friends with benefits. Example: you have a really good friend, who just happens to be an attractive girl who likes making out with you from time-to-time. She's always available for a little romp in the hay, but she never tried to push the relationship into a more serious category. She's a great person for you to experiment with. She'll let you dip your feet into the pool, but you'll never have to worry about getting your hair wet.

This is unrealistic. I'm sure there are folks here who have been in such relationships, but there are folks here who have drawn royal flushes in poker, too. The odds are against it. Sex/attraction is powerful, and even if things start out this way, they're unlikely to stay this way. One of the partners is likely to start wanting more (or less), while the other one will want things to stay the same. When this happens, the sexual part of the relationship will probably end and the couple will be left with an awkward friendship, which may go too.

I totally understand why so many people want friends-with-benefits relationships. All the fun with none of the pressure. But most of us want a million dollars and a date with a supermodel, too. Doesn't mean it's likely to happen.

[I think this same problem tends rear its head in threesome relationships. Everyone starts out saying, "We're all adults. We can handle this." But then someone's feelings change, and he gets jealous of the other two.]

3) A partner (e.g. a girlfriend).

I don't have much to say (that hasn't already been said) about achieving a Type 1 relationship. Learn how to flirt. Also, learn how to please potential partners in bed (there's a whole industry -- books, videos, etc. -- ready to cater to your needs, here).

I'll talk about Type 3. First of all, how is a partner different from a friend? To me, the main difference is the level of dependence. Friends can be really close, but at some point the closeness stops. I'll help my buddy move into his new apartment, but I won't come over every day and do his dishes.

That was a really unromantic way of putting it, but I see a serious romantic relationship (in some ways) in a similar light to a parent-child relationship. If you have a child, your life centers around her. If you go on a business trip, you think about what gift you'll bring back for her; you carve out special time, each day, to spend with her; you'd take a bullet for her.

Not all serious relationships need to be THAT serious. There's a spectrum between friendship and coupling. (I know we Martians like sharp divisions, but we won't find one here.) I know that for me, my life is not my life anymore. It's OUR life. Of course, I still have areas of privacy, but there's a part of my brain that's always running the wife program.

Such "co-dependency" can be good or bad (or a mixture), depending on the internal dynamics of the relationship. It's sort of like being an employee. No one wants to work for McDonalds, but I'd love to work for one of those companies where people work together to make something interesting, play multi-player games at lunch, etc. I'm lucky enough to be in a romantic partnership like this. I'm happy to be an US, because it's so much fun.

How do you achieve a Type 3 relationship? I think there are two major ways:

1) Start with a Type 1 (casual dating) and let it gradually drift into something more serious. This is a crapshoot. It might or might not. But, again, it's a numbers game. Date enough people and you'll eventually find Mrs. Right.

There's one great danger to this method: sex tends to blind people. So you may THINK you've found Mrs. Right, make a serious life decision based on this assumption (marriage, chidlren, moving) only to discover, once the spark wears off, that you don't have as much in common as you thought you did.

2) Start with a serious (platonic) friendship and let it bloom into a romantic relationship.

This is the "wrong" way to do it. Everyone will tell you that girls who want to be your friend don't want to date you. There's some truth in this, but it's also how I've gotten into all my serious relationships, including my marriage. (My wife and I were best friends for a year before we started dating.)

Assuming your prove everyone wrong and wind up dating your best friend, you'll wind up in a really strong relationship, because it will be based on that friendship bond. I'm sad for those guys who long to get away from their wives and spend time with their buddies. When something happens to me, I immediately want to tell my best friend about it, and my best friend happens to be my wife.

There are some BIG cons to my "method." Forging a romance this way takes a long time (my guess is that many guys think girls don't date friends because if a girl isn't dating them in in six months, they assume she never will -- but maybe six months isn't long enough). And, of course, it sucks to wait something out for a year and then get disappointed. On the other hand, if you're forging a real friendship, you'll still have that friendship, even if it never becomes anything else.

Another con: this sort of courtship is less exciting (initially) than the more traditional kind. If your friendship slowly builds into a romance, that pretty much eliminates the possibility of seeing her across a crowded room, and suddenly coming together like two crashing locomotives. To me, this is a worthwhile tradeoff. That sort of passion doesn't last long anyway (it's 99% about newness and mystery). But it definitely IS exciting, and I hope everyone gets to experience it at least once in their lives.

Most really young women don't want to date their best friends. They want the excitement of the crashing trains. After a few of these relationships (that often end badly), they tend to long for something more. Some of these women just keep crashing their trains, hoping that eventually they'll crash into someone worthwhile. But some of them realize that the whole train paradigm isn't working for them. These women become receptive to dating friends.

In my experience, women start maturing this way in their late twenties and early thirties. So a final con of my method is that it made me really lonely teenager and young man. I didn't find happiness until my late 20s. Since most guys are much more active daters in their youth -- when women are less mature -- they learn what they know about women from very young women. So they naturally think that women don't date their best friends. This is true of very young women (most of the time).

How do you turn a friendship into a relationship? You don't. You just become really close friends. You become best friends in all the world. At that point -- at the point where you're already a partnership in every way except in the bedroom -- it's pretty natural to find yourself suddenly kissing.

One last idea: make sure you're working hard on yourself. Become a super interesting person. Read, travel, cook, etc. In addition to the joy you'll get out of all these experiences, they will make you a much more attractive person.
posted by grumblebee at 7:19 AM on March 21, 2007 [40 favorites]

fuck that was long -- even for me! Sorry.
posted by grumblebee at 7:19 AM on March 21, 2007

I can't disagree strenuously enough with the people who say that women don't date their friends. Ladder theory is not a rational way to view relationships, especially relationships among nerdy, vaguely socially awkward type people. Out of my circle of friends, who are sort of nerdy, cerebral folks, the only ones of them who didn't start out as good/best friends with their romantic partners are the ones who met through online personals. Many, many women love to date their friends. Seconding grumblebee on the long buildup, but it's totally worth it. Don't write women off simply because they haven't yet expressed romantic interest in you; sometimes these things develop organically over time.

Come to think of it, online dating may not be the worst idea for someone like you, because it makes your intentions clear from the getgo, ensuring that the women you meet understand what your interest is in them. Have your female friends help you write your ad. And if it doesn't work, no big deal; it's a pretty low-cost activity.
posted by decathecting at 7:39 AM on March 21, 2007

decathecting, do you think I'm wrong about young women? Barring a few isolated cases, I don't remember many of the girls I knew in high school or college dating their best friends.

I started noticing that (and benefiting from it) from about 25 on, with a huge acceleration in the 30s.

Too many guys apply a 22-year-old model of women to more mature woman. I suspect this is because they formed their model of women when they were young and the women were also young. And they forget to update this model.
posted by grumblebee at 8:24 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

One more very specific data-point you could look for:
If a person looks at your lips, odds are that they're thinking about kissing you. You can do the same thing to indicate that you're thinking about kissing them. Don't stare. The whole point is that it's sort of accidental, and then quickly corrected as soon as the looker notices that they're looking. Like, you meant to look them in the eyes, and then suddenly realized you weren't. When both people are doing this, and becoming aware of each other doing it, then it's time to move in for a first kiss.
posted by vytae at 9:03 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Grumblebee, I've always dated friends, beginning when I was 16. I know a few other women who have done the same. But you're right, the percentage of women who date friends tends to rise with age. I'm assuming that since this asker is 28, his friends are likely in their mid-to-late 20s or older. I'm also assuming that since the asker said he didn't really have many friends at a younger age, he's not making assumptions based on what his 22-year-old friends were doing at that age.
posted by decathecting at 9:28 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cynically, women are more interested in getting laid at a younger age and not thinking about life partners (e.g., friends). This is probably true of males, but they're just so horny we can never find out if they won't sleep with someone.
posted by geoff. at 3:22 PM on March 21, 2007

vytae is exactly right about the looking-at-lips thing. Watch a romantic comedy and you will see this at work. Eye contact, eyes flick down to the lips, back up to the eyes.

Everyone is aware of this cue, even if they don't realize it. (I tried to explain it to a roommate once. I that I was going to stay totally stationary but look at her lips just for a second. Then I did this --just looked at her lips for a moment, then back up to her eyes -- and she yelped and involuntarily backed away from me. It's a powerful cue.)

So it's not subtle -- if you do it, she will know you're thinking of kissing her. It will evoke an immediate response, either:
- a positive response: a slight smile (including a softening of the eyes) maybe with dropping her eyes to the floor, giggle, touching your arm, looking around and then looking back to you and smiling, or
- a negative response: tensing up, maybe a "frozen" smile (ie, without any movement at the eyes), maybe folding her arms in front of her -- body language that says "uh oh, I think you've got the wrong idea" --, backing away or changing the topic, or looking for someone else to join your conversation (looking around for others and not smiling when she looks back to you).
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:43 PM on March 21, 2007 [7 favorites]

I need you to tell me-- in the most literal terms possible-- what those things are.

I think this advice from Paul Wilczynski is directly applicable to your situation. Excerpt:
When I was a teen thru my mid-20s, I characterized myself as a 'nice guy'. Same story I hear here on a regular basis ... lots of women would tell me what a great catch I'd be for someone else. Sounds nice the first time you hear it. Maybe the second, and possibly the third. After that, it gets old really fast.

What I finally realized, after a long time, was that I was waiting for "something" to happen, and it didn't. I certainly didn't want to offend a women by suggesting we be something more than friends, did I? I certainly didn't want to risk getting my face slapped by suggesting (in any manner) that the bedroom might be an appropriate place to spend the rest of the evening, did I?

Let me tell you, in no particular order, what I've learned about this whole thing called "relationships between men and women". Take it for what it's worth ... and remember it's often worth what you pay for it. Some of these points are interrelated ...

1. With rare exceptions, women are not offended if you make a pass at them, as long as it's done with some amount of taste. In fact, after a fairly short period of time (mileage may vary), women draw an important conclusion if you don't make a pass. And that conclusion is that you're not terribly interested in being more than a friend. Let me explain that I consider 'make a pass' to be a very broad term ... it can be something as non-threatening as putting your hand on her arm briefly and telling her that you think she looks especially nice tonight.

2. If you're interested in a women as possibly more than a friend, you have to tell her that - somehow - fairly soon. Probably by the end of the first date. Again, it doesn't have to be anything Outrageously Significant, but it's got to be something. (see last sentence above). It doesn't have to be words. It at least has to be some sort of signal....
More dating advice.
posted by russilwvong at 4:52 PM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Re LobsterMitten: This eye flick you describe—watch any movie with John Cusack in it and you'll see him do this, to (I think), amazing effect.

Re grumblebee & decathecting: Add me to the queue of women who've just always dated/"gone out with" guys who were first friends. I'm 23 now, and I've done that since I was in junior high. I don't think you should revise your theory, grumblebee—we're just a couple data points. But add me anyway.

I got my start early, though—I was kissing boys on the playground in 2nd grade...
posted by limeonaire at 4:56 PM on March 21, 2007

decathecting and limeonaire, if you're willing to share, it might be useful if you elaborated on these friendships that turned into romances.

During the friendship phase, was it 100% a platonic friendship? If so, was this true for both you and the guy (as far as you know)? When you became aware -- or suspected -- that the guy was attracted to you (if this happened before you returned his feelings), how did it make you feel? As best as you can describe it, how did the friendship morph into a romance. You you remember the first moment? Did someone "make a move"?
posted by grumblebee at 5:35 PM on March 21, 2007

i have no idea, and have an enduring problem not being able to comprehend the people i end up with as partners are supposed to be something distinct from "best friend who you happen to also have hot sex with." it has caused lots of headaches...

and i wish i knew anyone who'd refute personally the whole "girls like guys who make them laugh" bit. because it's never been tied for me with sexual attraction. at all. some of the people who make me laugh the most i could never imagine sleeping with. ever. there's just no statistical relationship between those two things for me, but it's a kneejerk tip people always whip out as a sign a girl likes a guy. ?? am i seriously the only woman for whom this is not true at all?

sorry to ask that; i just wonder.
posted by ifjuly at 5:38 PM on March 21, 2007

Well, I like girls who make me laugh. I have NOTHING against a hot bod, but -- maybe this is a sign of my age -- there has to be more. Our personalities have to click, and sense of humor is a big part of personality, at least for me.

If I REALLY click with someone, it doesn't matter what they look like. (This intensified as I got older.)

(I'm confused by the grammar of your first paragraph.)
posted by grumblebee at 5:47 PM on March 21, 2007

this question wasn't directed to me, but since grumblebee seems interested in case studies, i can give some. i am female and all four significant relationships i've been in have started as good friendships.

#1 we were best friends and he dated several other people. we spent a couple of months apart and i realized i was interested in him. when we saw each other again, he told me how he felt and asked me out. i was in high school. i broke up with him eventually because really i was only interested because i was kind of desperate and we were not really a good match, even friendwise. it was my first relationship; had i known better at the time i might never have gotten into it in the first place.

#2 we were best friends and it was completely platonic. in fact, it later turned out that he was gay, but no one knew that at the time. one night he mentioned he was thinking about kissing me and we talked about whether that was a good idea. this is a conversation that could probably only happen between martians. we ended up fooling around after that, and after that i started being more attracted to him. things went on from there to friends with benefits at first and later something more. i broke up with him eventually because he didn't really seem that interested in me (and probably wasn't because he was gay) but other than that it worked ok.

#3 we were best friends and he was attracted to me. i wasn't particularly thinking of a relationship, but we talked about sex because we were best friends and i complained about not getting any sex. he asked if i would like to have sex with him. i said i would have to think about it and i did and then we talked about it on another day and i said i was interested and we had sex and things went from there to friends with benefits and later something more. this lasted over three years but he eventually dumped me because although i was perfectly happy being friends with benefits, he felt that he had to progress the relationship by becoming exclusive and so on, and then eventually had a bizarre meltdown combining feeling trapped in the relationship and feeling guilty about feeling trapped. that was too bad because at first, we really wanted the same thing (to be friends with benefits).

#4 we were friends, not best friends, but good enough to have gone on trips together. it was completely platonic on my end. at one point i was looking for something casual and i thought he might be interested, so i emailed him and asked if he wanted to have sex (i know that's incredibly uncouth, but that was the only way i could muster the courage to do it). we made plans to hang out and things went on from there to friends with benefits and eventually something more. we are now best friends, got married last year, and have been together almost five years.

i also have a lot of friends who date in similar ways. i think this form of interaction is actually much more popular among martians than non-martians, but it seems like a fair bet that some of the op's friends are also martians since martians seem to clump. and i think a real advantage of this type of dating (assuming you'd like to eventually be best friends with your partner) is that it's much easier to develop an attraction to a random person than it is to develop a whole set of lifestyle and interest compatibilities so as to become their best friend.
posted by lgyre at 8:06 PM on March 21, 2007

I'm another one who has often dated guys who were friends first. In fact, this kind of thing is so common in my social circle that we've been referred to as "incestuous". Now that I'm in my mid-twenties, most of the guy-girl combos in my inner circle have been tried. One of these pairings ended in marriage, a couple ended in great turmoil and heartbreak, but most simply resulted in closer friendships once people realized they weren't meant for each other, romantically.

Now that I've mostly exhausted the opportunities for romance within the group of people that I trust and admire the most, I'm finding it a bit hard to date strangers. Sure, dating friends incurs the risk of losing the friend if things go sour, but I haven't found that to be a big problem in the past. On the other hand, dating somebody that I know almost nothing about, that's scary. How am I supposed to trust somebody, or know that they're a good person or that we have compatible values and senses of humor, if I haven't known them for 8+ years??? That's overstating it, obviously, but it was sure comforting to have a years-long track record of friendship with somebody before trying anything romantic with them.
posted by vytae at 9:35 AM on March 23, 2007

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