By Amy Alkon
Q: My problem is that I’ll go on one or two dates with a girl and then get the whole, “I just wanna be friends.” And they really mean that. They want me to do lunch and go shopping and talk on the phone about their guy problems. How can I nicely tell these girls, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but no, I’m not going to be your friend—and I especially don’t want to hear about your new guy”? I guess the problem boils down to the fact that I don’t want to make a woman mad.—Frustrated
A: Over and over, you hear the same thing—basically, “Sorry … we have to turn down your application for CEO, but we’d love to have you as our parking attendant.”
By the way, your first problem is that you’re wrong about what your problem is. It isn’t how to TELL a woman you aren’t up for the role of pet eunuch. It’s how to BE the man holding her in his arms instead of the one holding her purse while she’s exploring her options in the tampon section.
Consider what the ladies tend to want—whether the ladies are hermit crabs or humans. Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers’ theory of “parental investment” explains that in species that provide continuing care for their young after they’re born, females have evolved to go for “dominant” males. Dominance translates to being more able to “provide protection and material support.”
However, the term “dominant” is a little … uh … unrefined. Women aren’t looking to be dragged off into the sunset by some thug. Social psychologist Jerry M. Burger and one of his students, Mica Cosby, took a nuanced look at dominance and found that women overwhelmingly want a man who is “confident” and “assertive” as their ideal date or romantic partner. And though most also want a man who’s “sensitive” and “easygoing,” none—NOT ONE—of the 118 women they surveyed wanted a man who is “submissive.”
Chances are, “submissive” is exactly how you’re coming off. Your pleaserboy bottom line—“I don’t want to make a woman mad”—suggests a hunger for women’s approval. Unfortunately, that won’t get you out of the friend zone. What will is self-respect—and the assertiveness that comes out of it. When you sacrifice your needs, it should be because you feel good about doing something nice—not because you’re dreaming of a day when your, “Well, hellooo, gorgeous!” won’t be followed by, “Thanks! And I seriously appreciate your watching Senor Fluffyface while I’m on my date.”
Q: I’m a 40-something woman, living with my 50-something male partner. Our relationship is slightly open, in that every Tuesday, we each go out separately and “do whatever with whomever.” I have lived up to my part of this, but I recently discovered that my partner has not. On Tuesdays, he stays home by himself. Beyond being irritated that he’s effectively been lying, I feel weird being the only one doing the open relationship thing. How do I get him to live up to our agreement?—Poly-Annoyed
A: There’s no fun like mandated fun. What’s next, holding him at gunpoint and demanding that he enjoy miniature golf?
Chances are, his lying and your feeling “weird” that things aren’t all even-steven in the sexual snacking domain come out of the same place—the evolution of cooperation and the sense of fairness that fostered it. We evolved to get all freaked out about imbalances—even when they’re in our favor—explain population biologist Sarah Brosnan and primatologist Frans de Waal. In fact, we are driven to equalize things “to our own detriment.”
Understanding the likely evolutionary psychology behind your feeling upset could help you focus on why your partner is saying (a silent) “Nope!” to the sex buffet. My guess? He loves you and wants you to have what you need. And he doesn’t want you to feel uncomfortable about going out and getting it—even if the only taboo things he’s doing in bed are allowing the dog on it and clipping his fingernails and letting them ricochet around the room.