By Amy Alkon
Q: My girlfriend’s “best friend” is a straight guy. I trust that she THINKS he’s just her friend. However, as a guy, I know that if he could hit it, he would. FYI, I’m not really a jealous or insecure person, and my guy friends complain about this same scenario, so this can’t just be my stuff.—Annoyed
A: There’s a saying, “A true friend accepts who you are and helps you become who you can be”—for example, a person who’s naked in her true friend’s bed, feeling really guilty about cheating on her boyfriend.
Sorry to be less-than-reassuring, but you and your guy friends are right: For many men, the friend zone is a holding area where they wait to Mr. Sneaky back-massage their way into the sexfriend zone. In a study of 88 opposite-sex friendships by evolutionary psychologist April Bleske-Rechek, men were more attracted to their female friend than vice versa and more likely to assume that she also had the hots for them—a belief bearing little correspondence to how the woman actually felt. Women, on the other hand, tended to assume that their male friend had only platonic intentions. And sure, some male friends are just looking out for their female friends—but others do it in the way a hungry lion looks out for a limping gazelle.
Bleske-Rechek’s findings align with research by evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton and David Buss, suggesting that we evolved to make protective mistakes in perception—erring in favor of whatever assumption would be least costly to our mating and survival interests. Men tend to overestimate women’s attraction to them because they lose more by missing a possible mating opportunity than by making asses of themselves hitting on a woman who isn’t interested (and, in fact, would eat a live pigeon to avoid having sex with them). Women, however, tend to underestimate men’s interest, because they have a lot to lose from believing a cad will stick around to be a dad.
You aren’t without options here, though it’s probably best to refrain from dusting off the old flintlock and challenging the guy to a duel at dawn. Showing jealousy suggests you have reason to feel threatened (like maybe he really is all that). Instead, simply be the better deal. Consistently show your girlfriend that you’ve got what women evolved to prioritize in men—a willingness to invest time, energy and resources—like by really listening when she talks instead of uh-huhing her while blowing up alien invaders on your phone.
Do this stuff not because you’re afraid of losing her (which stinks of desperation) but because you haven’t forgotten that you love her. And as a show of how secure you are, maybe even encourage her to hang with him—that is, whenever she’s all, “Golly, it’s been months since I spent the better part of an hour at the mall trying to decide between two slightly different vanilla-scented candles.”
Q: I’m a 41-year-old male sports fan, and every girlfriend I’ve had has initially claimed to like sports. But once I’m all in, she admits that she never liked sports at all. Why can’t women just be honest in the beginning?—Bugged
A: Say you like camping. A woman who likes you claims she likes camping, too, perhaps believing that she could like camping—not quite connecting it with everything she absolutely hates, like peeing in a hole and bugs that don’t come in pink resin with a matching choker.
Of course, women aren’t the only ones who claim to be a little more woodsy or literate or … sportif … than they actually are. However, men tend to lie to get sex, while women tend to lie to get love. But because women evolved to be the nurturers and peacekeepers of the species, they are probably more likely to say yes or OK to stuff that they’re not very yes or OK with. (Some confuse being a pleaser with being kind and giving in healthy ways.) Men, on the other hand, evolved to be the competitors of our species and are more comfortable with conflict—starting in infancy, when they’re beating up the kid in the next crib.
What’s essential to figure out is whether the lie is a little, “I like what you like!” stretchie or part of a disturbing pattern—suggesting that she’s either a pathological liar or a gaping void looking to use love as Spackle. Expect hyperbole at the start, and ask probing questions to see whether a woman is truly into sports—beyond challenging some other woman to a cage fight over the last pair of DKNY ankle booties in a 9 ½ narrow.