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Too Mush Of A Good Thing

My co-worker’s not my type, but, I guess, is cute in a navy blue golf shirt kind of way. He’s nice and smart, so I often talk and joke with him. Lately, though, he seems to think I want to be more than just co-workers (eeuw). He goes out of his way to avoid me, and talks loudly about his girlfriend when I'm in earshot -- his way of rejecting my “advances” (like saying "bless you" when he sneezes). This has happened twice before at other jobs and makes me feel awkward and dumb. Why are some guys like this while others get that I’m just a very friendly person?

--Sending The Wrong Signals?

A man can get “signals” from a woman across the room with her back to him, confiding to her friend, “By age 8, I knew I was a lesbian”; which, of course, is her way of telling the man, “Just for you, big guy, I’m wearing the purple pasties with the propellers.”

Studies by psychologist Antonia Abbey, evolutionary psychologist Martie Haselton, and others, show that men actually have a tendency to perceive friendly overtures as overly-friendly overtures -- inferring sexual interest from a woman where there is none. The most likely explanation is Haselton and David Buss’ “Error Management Theory”: Humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to make errors in judgment on the side of their least “costly” option. Women, for example, are prone to underestimate men’s commitment, since, back in the Pleistocene era when human psychology was formed, being easily charmed into believing a cad would stick around to dad probably meant starving their furry little children to death. Likewise, in the great hairy singles bar that was the cave, it would have been less costly for a schlub to make a fool of himself chasing a girl who wasn’t interested than to miss an opportunity to pass on his schlub genes.

Be aware that there is a certain kind of guy who’s more likely to get freaked by friendly. He’s the guy who goes decades without a girl giving him a second look; well, save for a steel-piercing glare that says “Hello, rapist!” when he randomly pulls into the parking space next to hers, and accidentally makes eye contact. He’s the guy who always had a stuffed-up nose in junior high, who might have a girlfriend now, but only because she clubbed him over the head and dragged him on dates. Or, at his worst, he’s the guy who wrote me about the co-worker who “broke (his) little heart.” For over a year, he had it all planned: “I figured she'd marry me and have my babies.” And then, she got engaged -- for the second time since he’d known her. Oops…it seems he’d never gotten around to asking her out!

So, is your problem merely being overly sunny to the overly pathetic? If you can honestly say you’re just being friendly, not “Can you help me find the file cabinet key I lost down my cleavage?” friendly, you’ll have to decide what’s more important, being true to yourself or never being mistaken for the office nympho. If it’s the latter, wear dark glasses and a smock, keep your head down in the hall, and speak only when spoken to. The alternative? Deciding it’s their problem if they get squirmy when you wear those Ann Taylor separates that scream “Line up here for a lapdance,” and say sexually charged things like “Hey, how was your weekend?”

Posted by aalkon at January 3, 2007 1:27 AM

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Maybe the problem isn't him exactly but his girlfriend. It's possible that he mentioned STWS one time too many and his girlfriend went off like a firecracker. Now he's making sure that he avoids doing anything that might be misinterpreted by the co-workers who will no doubt be interrogated by his GF. Of course, if he's with this kind of psyhco then he's got a whole drawer full of other problems that I would rather not think about right now ....

Posted by: pakratt at January 4, 2007 1:55 PM

Another thing untoutched by this column: the fear of legal problems. With the load of sexual harasment suits that litteraly errupted in Corporate America, having an affair at the office can be more painful than catching an STD. After being filled, a complaint of sexual nature never goes away, even if it's proven unfounded. There's always the "Yes, but if it's true..." lingering feeling lasting in the air. This can emasculate a carrer faster than Loreta Bobbit on crystal meth. As we can all see it is really evolution in process only in a legalese way.

Posted by: Toubrouk at January 5, 2007 1:30 PM

If us hapless men are wired to over-react to friendly overtures from women, as Ms. Abbey reports, how do you suggest that we adapt our filtering mechanisms to friendly female input to find out if it is in fact "overly-friendly?" Speaking soley for myself, I find it dastardly frustrating trying to sort it all out sometimes. I also think some women enjoy playing it both ways; start out hot then monkey with the temperature control just to see what will happen next.

Posted by: lostcause at January 6, 2007 10:55 PM

Well, one shouldn't flirt if one isn't serious. I know many women think its fun; it's actually very cruel.

And believe me, few can detect the difference between "real" and "fun" flirting.

Posted by: Brett at January 21, 2007 7:35 AM

I've had something very similar happen to me at work and I'm absolutely positive that I don't come anywhere close to being perceived as the office nympho. I'm just a person who likes to acknowledge the presence of another human being when they pass me in the hall by saying "Hello"! After I had flirted shamelessly in this manner a couple of times with a co-worker, I noticed that he began to duck into hallways or stop at someone's desk if he saw me approaching him. It happened enough that I know it wasn't coincidental. I finally decided that his behavior was just too bizarre and stopped speaking to him..who knows what strange things lurk in the corners of his mind?? BTW, I wasn't not attracted to him in the slightest.

Posted by: Teresa [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 17, 2007 10:15 AM

I know I'm late to this one, but I need to add what happened to me once when I was in the Army. I was at the range control office scheduling a training area for my unit. I was joking with the sergeant in charge. A few days later, i recieved flowers. I was a newlywed and thought my husband had done something nice. No. A soldier who wasn't even in the conversation sent me the flowers with his name and phone number. He thought it was the thing to do because I was a nice person. Needles to say, I never heard from him again after I called his sergeant and told him what he did.

Posted by: PJ at December 3, 2007 3:29 PM

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