Q: I’m a grown woman in the middle of a feud between two of my female friends. They’re both complaining to me, and I’m just responding “uh-huh” to give them the hint that I don’t want to be involved. Neither’s catching on. How do I get out of the middle of this spat without either friend feeling like I’m being disloyal and without my blurting out, “This is ridiculous. Grow up, ladies!”—Irritated
A: If only these two would do as a 60-year-old dude in the U.K. just did to dispute a ticket he got on his motorcycle—invoked what the Telegraph called “the ancient right to trial by combat.” Not surprisingly, local magistrates decided to stick him with a fine instead of accepting his proposal of a duel “to the death” with a motor vehicles clerk, using “samurai swords, Gurkha knives or heavy hammers.”
Unfortunately, your female friends are unlikely to break out the Hello Kitty nunchucks to resolve their little squabble once and for all. It turns out there are some differences in how men and women generally deal with disagreements. Psychologist Joyce Benenson explains that women—as the childbearers and primary childcarers of the species—evolved to handle disputes in ways that minimize their risk of being physically harmed through retaliation. This has led to a female tendency toward covert aggression—sneaky attacks that are often hard to identify as attacks, like sabotaging other women’s status through gossip and social exclusion. Men, in contrast, tend to favor more straight-up forms of dispute resolution, from put-down fests to bar fights (with or without medieval weapons).
The thing is, an evolved tendency for a certain behavior (like indirectness) isn’t a mandate that you behave accordingly. You can instead choose to be direct: Inform these two that you refuse to be the prize in this battle of theirs and thus refuse to hear another word about it from either of them. When they forget, be straightforward in reminding them of your retirement as a giant ear. Being direct is sure to be uncomfortable the first few times, but as you increasingly make it a habit, you should find it far easier and certainly more effective than coming up with creative excuses every time the phone rings.
Q: A male friend says that a woman who wants a hookup can just blurt out “I wanna have sex with you!” to a man and have him take her up on that. However, he claims that a guy who says this to a woman is taking a big risk and is likely to just offend her and possibly get a drink thrown in his face. Is he right?—Confused Dude
A: A guy’s “I wanna have sex with you!” does work on women—uh…in movies where the entire plotline is “A nurse gets in the elevator.”
To be unappealingly frank, men, in a sexual pinch, have been known to get it on with items in their refrigerator. So, especially in guys’ late teens and 20s, the bar for casual sex partners isn’t set all that high—as in, “Wow, girl, that’s some pulse you have on you!”
Women, on the other hand, evolved to be the choosier sex. Female emotions push them to hold out for signs that a man would be willing and able to stick around and commit resources, should a screaming baby result from their naked romp in the back seat of the, um, thing prehistoric people dragged firewood around on.
These sex differences were reflected in recent research led by evolutionary psychologist Mons Bendixen on men’s and women’s signaling of sexual interest. Women tended to make themselves out to be more sexually interested in a particular man than they actually were. The researchers suspect this may be a strategy that allows women to hold men’s attention for longer. This, in turn, gives a woman more time to assess a man or “strategically increase his hope of having a chance” with her.
In contrast, the researchers found that men generally pretended to be far less interested in sex than they actually were—presumably to avoid coming off as a man tramp or the sexual version of a starving Dickensian orphan. In other words, your friend is probably right: Honesty, as a sex-seeking tactic for a man, is only “the best policy” if the photo of his perfect match on a dating site is a tall container of lotion wearing an old tube sock as a scarf.