Guys, read their lips and remember, as hard as it is to believe, sometimes a woman's attention and concern does NOT mean she's in love with you.
Once, after a particularly dispiriting romantic experience, I got into a conversation about dating with a male friend. He said: “Sometimes, when I’m dating a girl, I’ll become convinced that she’s in love with me. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s like a worm in my brain. I can see that she’s picked up on it and will try to tacitly convince me otherwise, but once the idea is there it doesn’t go away.”
I remember him trailing off, “I don’t know why that is....”
Well, I know why.
The first reason is that patriarchal cultures have difficulty in conceiving of women as autonomous human beings with needs and desires that don’t relate to men. One only has to look at popular culture to see how many stories are about a male protagonist embarking on a personal journey, with a female supporting act (usually a love interest) who serves to do nothing but advance the male plot line. The idea of men acting as a supporting role for women in the same way seems slightly absurd.
If we transpose this phenomenon to dating, what it means is that men have trouble imagining that women have any desires that don’t relate to them in some way.
The second reason is probably a product of the first: women are consistently dogged with the stereotype of being relationship-obsessed hysterics (thanks a lot, bunny-boiling Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction).
And in a way, I don’t blame men for believing that stereotype, when single women are degraded so routinely. Singledom in women is usually presented as a failure to achieve the ideal of wife and mother: single women are haunted by nasty words such as “spinster” and must contend with caricatures of lonely women who are lost without a man to define them. Who can blame a man for thinking women are desperate to get married when being a lonely failure is posited as the only alternative?
One consequence is that a sizeable number of men (such as my aforementioned friend) in the early stages of dating become convinced, apropos of nothing, that the women they are seeing are concocting a diabolical plan to trap them into a relationship.
I first started to notice this occurrence a few months ago, when several of my female friends were, in succession, “let down gently” by men who had come to the evidence-free conclusion that my friends had fallen in love with them. I began to wonder if this was a pattern – so I started asking single women in their mid-20s to early-30s about their experiences.
The response was remarkable: one woman told me she had dated a man who insisted she tell him when her period had arrived because he was so afraid she would use a pregnancy to entrap him; another told me she had woken up next to a man she didn’t recognise after a particularly heavy night, only to have him tell her she was a “lovely girl” but he was sorry that he “wasn’t looking for anything serious at the moment”.
Conversations with many single people have led me to the conclusion that the problem starts at the early stages of dating. From the very beginning of a romantic encounter (one that lasts longer than 24 hours, anyway) women can feel reluctant to assert themselves. If they tell a man they just want sex, they fear the man will see them as whorish, and that the usual standards of humanity and basic respect may not apply. If they tell a man they want a relationship, they anticipate his bunny-boiler antenna will be set off and he will run away screaming. If they tell a man they’re open to seeing what happens, he will assume that’s a contrived way of pursuing a relationship, and ... well, see above.
The upshot is that women on dates can feel obliged to appear aloof and beguiling: interesting, but not too interested; pliant, but not too overtly sexual. This precludes women from being able to set their own relationship terms, which allows the man to decide what his female date wants, and all too often he deduces her desires from a set of stereotypes.
It’s very important for me to emphasise that this analysis does not apply to every single relationship experience. I have met far too many wonderful men to think that every single one is guilty of the ludicrous behaviour I outline here and women who are too brilliant to tolerate it anyway. But I have heard this same dating story enough times to conclude that it is a definite pattern which is the result of gender politics (or sexism, as it’s otherwise known).
So if you’re a woman who is reading this article and indignantly agreeing with every word, my advice is: don’t be afraid to assert yourself with the men you date; there are excellent men out there who can see past all this simplistic nonsense.
And if you’re a man who is reluctantly admitting this analysis might apply to you, I say this: women aren’t always looking for a serious relationship. Or maybe they are – and you’re just not as irresistible as you like to think. – Guardian News & Media