Q: I’m a female comic, so being smart and funny and having a strong personality is basically my job, as well as who I am. A friend had me stop by his business meeting at a cafe so he could introduce me to a client he was hoping to set me up with. I tend to show off when I’m nervous (going big, loud and funny), and I apparently terrified the guy. My friend scolded me, telling me it’s a turnoff for men to have to compete with a woman. Come on! I’d be thrilled to have a partner who is smarter and funnier. Shouldn’t men be like that, too?—Bummed
A: As a powerful, confident woman, you can make a man feel like a real animal: a Chihuahua in a bee suit nervously peeking out of a little old lady’s purse. Social science research finds that there’s a bit of a chasm between what men think they want in a female partner and what they actually end up being comfortable with. For example, when social psychologist Lora E. Park surveyed male research participants, 86 percent said they’d feel comfortable dating female partners smarter than they are. They likewise said they’d go for a (hypothetical) woman who beat their scores in every category on an exam. However, when they were in a room with a woman who supposedly did, the men not only expressed less interest in her but moved their chairs away from her (as if they might catch something from her if they sat too close!).
This seems pretty silly, until you look at some sex differences in the importance of social status. Sure, it’s better for a woman to be the head cheerleader (as that plays out in junior high and beyond), but a woman isn’t less of a woman if she isn’t the alpha pompom-ette. Manhood, on the other hand, is “precarious,” explain psychologists Jennifer Bosson and Joseph Vandello. It’s achieved through men’s actions but easily lost or yanked away—like by being shown up publicly by a chick.
The answer isn’t to be someone else on a date (somebody dumber, with less personality). But maybe, seeing as some of the big-personality stuff comes out of fear, you could try something: Challenge yourself to be vulnerable. To listen. To connect with people instead of impress them. You should also seek out men who are big enough to not feel small around you—men who are accomplished, as well as psychologically accomplished. These are men who’ve fixed whatever was broken in them or was just less than ideal.
Q: I’m friends with this guy—only friends, and he knows it. But lately, we’ll be on the phone, talking about our businesses, and he’ll suddenly start talking dirty (saying sex things he wants to do with me). I just make a joke and get off the phone, but then he’ll do it again the next time. How do I get him to stop?—Uncomfortable
A: You get a lot out of your friendship—but last you checked your Venmo, not $2.99 a minute. There you are, talking about your plans for the third quarter, and there are the guy’s sex thoughts—kind of like a goat ambling into your living room. As annoying as this must be, his being motivated to do it isn’t inexplicable. In surveying the scientific literature on sexual desire, Roy Baumeister and his colleagues find evidence for what many of us probably suspect or believe: men, in general, have a far stronger sex drive than women.
This is reflected in how, among other things, men “experience more frequent sexual arousal, have more frequent and varied fantasies, desire sex more often, desire more partners, masturbate more, want sex sooner, are less able or willing to live without sexual gratification,” and are often interested in freakier stuff.
You can most likely get him to stop—but not through hinting or hanging up when the conversation goes “What I’d like to do to you with my tongue”–ward. Tell him straight out: “Hey, from now on, we need to keep the raunchy talk out of our phone conversations. Makes me seriously uncomfortable.” There’s a time and place for everything, and sex talk suddenly flying into your casual conversations is like placing your order at a drive-thru speaker—“Hi, I’d like the cheeseburger with fries”—and hearing heavy breathing and then a low male voice: “That’ll be $8.97—and a picture of your feet.”