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Too Mush Of A Good Thing
I just posted another Advice Goddess column. A girl keeps having male coworkers mistakenly thinks she's into them. Is it something she's doing? Not necessarily. Here's my answer:

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?”

P.S. David Buss saw the column in a paper when he was traveling, and wrote me a nice e-mail about it, which made my day. The entire thing is here.

Posted by aalkon at January 3, 2007 9:16 AM

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Comments

> than to miss an opportunity to
> pass on his schlub genes.

Sociobio types have two annoying qualities.

1. They're cold.

2. They're smug.

3. (They're closed-minded!)

"Wants to get laid" turns into "pass on his schlub genes" without so much as a pop ballad to soften the blow. And. golly, there's just nothing else to say about it. Watch the next comment: Amy will say "But that's what's *really* happening!" No attention will be squandered on anything human, emotional, cultural or expressive. It's this one thing that's true-true-true, and it's held so close to the face that you aren't permitted to see anything behind it.

Blech. Never have so few principles been used to say so little.

Posted by: Crid at January 3, 2007 6:40 AM

Funnily enough, Crid, I disagree.

Though I am terribly weary of THIS simplistic sociobio constant "back in the Pleistocene era when human psychology was formed" - I think Amy describes some bracingly accurate stereotypes here.

Less pretentiously - yeah, I knew this guy with the schlub gene problem.

He only got the "message" when his fiancee finally slept with his brother - this was her third outrageous social solecisim! - and -pouring his wee heart out to me - kindly explained that although he was technically "now free" I shouldn't entertain any expectations myelf! (I had merely been office friendly...and even that was hard because he was such a tit!)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 3, 2007 7:21 AM

"Wants to get laid" turns into "pass on his schlub genes" without so much as a pop ballad to soften the blow.

Blame me, I wrote that. It isn't from some study.

Did we all leave our humor winders at the office?

And I'm tired of this simplistic criticism of ev psych. Whether or not we know exactly what happened in cave days is immaterial. The current data (at least, what I use in my column) is solid. And it all points to the fact that we have very old psychology, psychology that's sometimes a mismatch for the world we live in, because it works best for a time when we lived in small bands of hunter-gatherers without birth control, technology, or much else.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 3, 2007 7:24 AM

Can;'t help it, I'm a SJ Gould partisan

Posted by: Crid at January 3, 2007 7:30 AM

Amy, I think you may have gotten this one wrong.

"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)."

That doesn't sound like the way a guy acts when he thinks a girl likes him. It sounds like he doesn't like her, and that she's the one mistaking the signals.

Notice the "(eeuw)". That sounds like "I don't want your horse, and besides, it's a dumb horse anyway." She doesn't mention anything the guy has done that would indicate he's interested in her, and men generally aren't subtle.

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at January 3, 2007 8:00 AM

Todd, I answered this one because it was interesting to me because I know people normally blame the girl in this situation. Guys don't like to get in sticky situations, like when the girlfriend comes to the Xmas party and there's this cute bubbly girl hanging around her boyfriend. The guy wasn't interested in her; he thought she was interested in her. There's a certain kind of girl who makes guys nervous -- too exuberant, too much sexuality bubbling over...not necessarily directed at them...but they want to avoid getting into hot water or an uncomfortable discussion.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 3, 2007 8:37 AM

Gould was wrong (and a mess):

http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/001524.html

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 3, 2007 8:46 AM

Either way, you're point about clueless men holds - I know, I'm one. I never have any idea if a girl is attracted to me or not, so I reflexively assume they are. Only moments later does the voice in my head say "Dude, she's a cashier, she's paid to smile!"

Posted by: Todd Fletcher at January 3, 2007 9:09 AM

> (and a mess)

Don't be churlish.

The advice was great. The girl I knew who had the prettiest face of all couldn't afford to smile, because guys would assume she was proposing marriage. Beauties who are on top of things take control of casual encounters, so that it's not their own moods that get ruined by the presumptions of the dim.

> The current data...

Stop it. It's embarrassing.

Posted by: Crid at January 3, 2007 9:14 AM

"And it all points to the fact that we have very old psychology..."

Nope, Amy.

It all boils down to the interpretation of psychology according to some pretty crud-covered templates.

"Me Tarzan/You Jane" often yields some unexpectedly fascinating insights, but it's not the total answer.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 3, 2007 9:16 AM

Don't be churlish.

Now you've charmed me, by using one of my favorite words.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 3, 2007 9:16 AM

Regarding misinterpretation of a smile, here's a quote, again referencing Martie Haselton's work, from one of my Advice Goddess columns I never got around to posting on my site, entitled "Cad To The Bone":

According to studies by UCLA’s Martie Haselton and other researchers, men are prone to overestimate women’s attraction. Haselton references an Associated Press story about 12 female Safeway employees who filed grievances over the supermarket chain’s “smile-and-make-eye-contact rule,” contending it led some men to believe the women wanted to bag more than their groceries. One produce clerk said she “is hit on every day by men who think she is coming on to them. Another...said she has hidden in a back room to avoid customers who have harassed her, propositioned her and followed her to her car.”

And Jody, It all boils down to the interpretation of psychology according to some pretty crud-covered templates....

Dev Singh did research that showed that men, across cultures, prefer women with a .7 waist-to-hip ratio. That's not interpretation. That's straight data. The way I interpret is is equally solid: If you're a woman, and you want to attract men, wear clothes that reveal a waist. If you don't have a waist, or much of a waist, do your best to look like you do...as Joan Crawford did with those big shoulders on all her clothes.

It's silly and facile to dismiss evolutionary psychology the way you do. I read the studies. As in every discipline, not every one is good and worthy. The ones that aren't don't make my column. As for the rest, I take the solid data of researchers and translate it so maybe the average person with a sex/dating/relationship problem can solve it with more than simply an opinion I pulled out of my, um, bra.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 3, 2007 9:19 AM

Sorry, Amy.
I was attempting to be churlish, not silly and facile:)

Will try harder!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 3, 2007 9:29 AM

My favorite word is sugartits. That and acetylsalicylic acid.

Posted by: Hasan at January 3, 2007 9:33 AM

> not silly and facile

Right; stay out of my territory.

> to dismiss evolutionary psychology
> the way you do.

It's worse to use it as a utility flashlight in a dark basement, then presume you know what the whole room looks like!

At Indiana, Psychology was one the two majors for people who were entering adulthood without a clue. Most of them will leave adulthood without one, too. Why be an "evolutionary psychologist" when you could just study evolution? Of course, the conferences are in less elegant hotels, with less elegant croissants in the lobby. And if you get published in a scholarly journal, you're less likely to get laid than if you got a color portrait (in a sweater; smiling) next to your piece in Psychology Today.

> That's straight data.

But I like fat ones, too!

Posted by: Crid at January 3, 2007 10:09 AM

"My favorite word is sugartits. That and acetylsalicylic acid."

The joke being, I guess Hasan? - you have to take the aspirin after they bash you over the head for calling them sugar tits?

(I LIKE!! I am very literal-minded.)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 3, 2007 10:09 AM

Women get a rough break in corporate America. If she doesn't play with the boys at least a little, she's no fun. Too playfull, and she's the office flirt. I've only experienced a few (less than five) who effectively walk the tightrope. These are the women who are sexy, fun, and (seemingly) unwavering in their loyalty to their loved ones. Not surprisingly, these are also typically the most successful women in the room. I hope their husbands appreciate them.

Posted by: snakeman99 at January 3, 2007 10:30 AM

> Only moments later does the
> voice in my head say "Dude...

Exactly

Posted by: Crid at January 3, 2007 10:40 AM

Snakeman99, were all of those "effective tightrope walkers" married?

Posted by: Pirate Jo at January 3, 2007 10:42 AM

Jo - the specific examples I'm thinking of were/are indeed married. At a big law firm, you can always tell which marriages among the new lawyers will last. Incoming male attorney with newly-pregnant wife? He's in it for the long haul (or at least till the kids reach college age). Incoming female attorney with husband making noticeably less money? Red flags flying. But the biggest red flag by far is when the wife/girlfriend doesn't bring her husband along on business social outings.

"Only moments later does the voice in my head say "Dude..."

Ugh. I know a guy who hits on sales clerks and waitresses all the time. Its really embarrasing. I'm not saying they aren't fair game, but you have to have some seriously entertaining game to get over the creepy captive audience aspect.

Posted by: snakeman99 at January 3, 2007 11:17 AM

But if I'm at, oh, say, a Christmas party, and a woman I've made fleeting eye contact with maybe twice during the night stops by on her way out, asks me if I'm married, and when I say I'm not, gives me her card -- I'm probably just reading too much into it, right?

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at January 3, 2007 12:35 PM

Is it Safeway's company party? Does she actually phrase it as "Did you find everything you were looking for?" or "Didja need some help out to the car with that?"

Posted by: Crid at January 3, 2007 12:56 PM

Yah, man, those check-out girls are insatiable.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at January 3, 2007 1:27 PM

Failed callback... Tough room.

Posted by: Crid at January 3, 2007 3:28 PM

Hey, the crickets liked it.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at January 3, 2007 4:36 PM

Crid writes:

1. They're cold.

2. They're smug.

3. (They're closed-minded!)


Irony, thy name is Crid.

Posted by: Patrick at January 4, 2007 1:56 AM

Good morning, Patrick. See this:

http://www.metafilter.com/mefi/57473

Posted by: Crid at January 4, 2007 4:11 AM

Penultimate graph of the NYT piece:

"But instead of finding common ground, we’re finding new ways to spit on the other guy, to push them away. The Internet is making it easier to attack, not to embrace."

Is this an American thing or a human thing? Americans talk about unity, consensus and "embracing" as if these were goals we all share without discussion. It's not just the New York Times.

Personally, I've always admired the distance between people.

Posted by: Crid at January 4, 2007 4:21 AM

Are you also a mefi user, Crid?
(Polite, genuinely interested question...)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 4, 2007 5:10 AM

You can't fool me with your conniving and trickery, Tressider!

(Daily reads are Mefi, Digg, CNN, Goldberg, Insta, the Treacher sites, and several techy thangs. Alkon gets about 90% of the comments)

Posted by: Crid at January 4, 2007 8:20 AM

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