You know who's the worst at knowing whether or not someone wants to sleep with them? Men.
I don't want to be sexist here, but -- in my experience -- women are fairly adept at reading the signs of complete sexual disinterest. Take for instance, the xoJane staffer who was inspired by my adventures as a subway goddess to slip her card to a cute guy on the train. She stood to exit the train, stopped in front of the object of her attention, smiled and extended her hand with her business card toward him. He stared at it like it was a tarantula. She kept trying to give him the card. He kept making a guppy face at her.
She exited the train, mortified. A man would have probably sat down next to him and settled in for a chat.
Now women may sometimes have a problem telling when a guy doesn't want to be in a relationship with them, hence the success of "He's Just Not That Into You," a book that transmits the simple message that if a guy doesn't call you or email you or make any effort to see you regularly, he probably doesn't want to be your boyfriend.
But when it comes to the very basic signals of erotic apathy -- the avoidance of eye contact, the curt monosyllabic responses, the pointed return to reading a book -- we get that. At least more often than men seem to.
It all goes back to that first high-school guy who slipped an arm around my shoulders. Too "nice" and insecure to just say, "Yo, I don't like you like that," I stiffened my entire body and repeatedly slid out from under his arm like a contortionist. Every time he put his arm around me, I found something to look at on the other side of the room, to the point of extreme ridiculousness. But this dude just kept on truckin', seemingly oblivious to the fact that I was literally wriggling out of his grasp like a fish.
Even at the time, I remember thinking, "HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT HE IS NOT PICKING UP THESE SIGNALS?"
I once had a nice conversation with a guy on (where else?) the train, and at the end of it, he asked me if I wanted to go out sometime. A little startled, I responded with something concise and witty like, "I dunno, maybe?" He offered me his phone number, I took it, and later when I called him, I asked if he had expected to hear from me.
"The way you smiled at me was genuine," he said, "So I did think you'd call." I was like AHA, SO THEY DO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE. Because to be a woman is to have had millions of encounters with persistent men who just kept on trying to talk to you, no matter how palpable your unresponsiveness. You can't help but start to wonder whether something's not working quite right in there.
And look, in our society today, it still falls on men to do the lion's share of the approaching and initiating, which I'm sure is stressful as hell. You probably have to kind of steel yourself to get it done and I'm sure there are a certain amount of defenses to be gotten through just to get a woman to give you a chance. But this sexual tone-deafness seems to extend beyond the realm of just asking a woman out.
As a sex writer and all-around sexual woman, I've experienced repeatedly the way the perceived potential for sex seems to blot out all other social conventions and cues. It's like their sex organs are transmitting such a powerful frequency that it just stampedes over the generally recognized standards of conduct.
Married men, co-workers and other colleagues, the boss who once oh-so-professionally joked about giving me a facial -- it's like they just read the naughty words and figure whoever writes them must be DTF.
But there's a big difference between sexual and sexually available. I can be hot and sexy and write about what I did in bed last night, without signing a social contract that I am now interested in sexy naked times with whatever man happens to find my writing enticing.
In short, just because I like sex doesn't mean I want to have sex with YOU.
And honestly, even if I do want to have sex with you, I don't want to jump immediately into a XXX conversation. Woo a lady, you know? Nobody gets to skip the gauging-interest part of the process. If you want to have sex with me, you have to treat me like any other woman whose sex life you haven't read about. And if I'm laughing uncomfortably, grimacing uncomfortably, avoiding eye contact uncomfortably and trying to change the subject uncomfortably? It's because I'm uncomfortable.
Of course, part of the problem is that women are not socialized to just set and enforce clear boundaries, but even that doesn't always work. As a last resort, I have told men straight-up that I am not interested in them sexually and to please leave me alone and they have continued to cajole and beg and try to sweet-talk me into bed.
Which is scary because it presents the alternative that maybe men know good and well when we don't want to have sex with them, but they just don't care.
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