You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. — Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird
You have no fucking idea what you’re doing.
Not when it comes to sex and dating and women, anyway. Don’t beat yourself up about it though, because it’s not your fault. Your culture has failed you and the women you’re trying to meet.
We have been working with young single men in our capacities as educators, public figures, and authors for more than thirty years. In that time, the most common question we’ve gotten from guys centers around how to increase their confidence with women.
But there’s a much deeper problem: At least 70 percent of their questions reveal a total failure to understand the woman’s point of view.
Why does this matter? As a man, it is impossible to be better at mating until you understand the subjective experience of a woman, because it is fundamentally different than yours in many ways. If you can account for those differences, you will be well on your way to increased success because most men spend zero time thinking about this.
The differences start from the very beginning, at our deepest primal levels.
When a man interacts with a woman, his greatest fear is sexual rejection and humiliation. This causes him to spend as much time and energy (if not more) on defensive strategies to protect against rejection as he does on mating strategies to attract women.
Women are totally different. In these interactions, they are not much afraid of rejection. Rather, when a woman interacts with a man, she is afraid of being physically harmed or sexually assaulted.
Right now you’re probably thinking the same thing we did when we first learned about this when we were young men: I’ve never hurt a woman in my life and never would.
And we bet you’re right. You are probably perfectly safe.
But SHE doesn’t know that: when she meets you, you could be Jack Ryan, Jack Sparrow, or Jack the Ripper. Any one of those is equally likely. Even more terrifying is the fact that, over the course of her life, the biggest threat to her is men she knows. This is not some idle, irrelevant statistic. The overwhelming majority of women that suffer physical or sexual assault suffer it at the hands of a man they know intimately.
And their fears don’t stop at physical harm; they are just as vulnerable to social and emotional harm as well. Socially, you can spread lies about her or damage her reputation (with men and women), sometimes just by being associated with her. You can pretend you love her, get her pregnant, and then abandon her. This is only the beginning of the harms she potentially faces at your hands.
We cannot emphasize this enough: Mating success requires cross-sex insight. You need to understand how women evaluate your qualities and how they perceive the status, danger, opportunities, and threats that you could present. The better you learn to see these things from women’s points of view, the less unattractive you will be to them and the less confused, resentful, and frustrated you will be by how they respond to you.
We’re not suggesting you have to become a gender psychologist or feminize your whole worldview. You are a man, and women like men; turning into a woman would make you less attractive to (most) women.
We’re telling you to simply understand women. And this is for the simple reason that understanding the female perspective helps you do much better with women, whatever your goal—whether it’s a one-night stand, a friend with benefits, a girlfriend, or a wife. It will help you avoid and resolve arguments, saving you hours of grief. It will help you have better dates, cooler conversations, and hotter sex. It will help you to stop acting like a self-sabotaging dick. And it will also help your relationships with your mom, sisters, daughters, female friends, and coworkers.
To be clear: the insights in this chapter are not a collection of opinions and moralizing lessons. They are based on the best, current scientific knowledge that we have about women’s psychology and sex differences. We’ll also focus on women’s vulnerabilities, concerns, and anxieties that you might not have considered before, because these are the aspects of the female experience that have long stood between men and a greater understanding of—and success with—women.
She Is Tired of Being Objectified, So Subjectify Her Instead
Go to a sports bar in any major city or college town on game day, and invariably you will run into a crew of gorgeous young women in skin-tight, cutoff referee outfits or school jerseys walking around, selling shot specials or beer buckets. This is how everything, not just liquor, is sold to men—hand tools, shampoo, Doritos, porn, cars. All of them shamelessly use beautiful, scantily clad women with big boobs, tight asses, and long legs as the vehicles to deliver their message. And it works.
The problem from a mating perspective (besides the obvious ethical ones) is that normal women feel this objectification acutely. On the one hand, the media have established an unrealistic expectation of beauty for them to live up to, and this makes them insecure. On the other hand, this expectation has created in women the belief that most guys care only about a woman’s boob-to-ass-to-leg ratio, which is a recipe for resentment and distrust.
Here’s the thing though: when women say, “Don’t objectify me,” they don’t mean “You’re never allowed to look at my boobs or notice my butt.” Actually, they kind of like their boobs and butts and hope you do too, if you’re a good guy and you also appreciate their other features, like their eyes or their opinions.
To attract women, you must be able to take their point of view and think of them not as marketing vehicles to objectify, but as living, thinking, feeling individual humans. You have to subjectify them: accept, understand, and acknowledge their individual, subjective consciousness.
Ironically, a great way to understand a woman’s point of view is to think of her as a marketing consumer: a savvy customer evaluating your products (traits) and ads (proofs) to see if they’ll add value to her life. If you want to guarantee mating failure, all you have to do is think of her as nothing more than an inanimate object—as an “8” or a “9,” as a simplistic robot with a set of “triggers” and “hot buttons” to manipulate. At that point you’ve reduced your customer to nothing more than a cash dispenser, or, since we’re talking about objectifying a woman, a sex dispenser.
Objectifying women isn’t just a moral failure. At the purely practical level of attracting women, it’s stupid. It might temporarily reduce your anxiety about approaching them (about making your pitch), because if you think of them as targets, you can try to trick yourself into thinking that they won’t be judging you when you walk up to them. But they are judging you—and that’s OK, as long as you understand how and why.
She Is Physically Vulnerable, and She Knows It
Picture this example:
You are a young, relatively inexperienced gay man. You’re single, it’s Friday night after a long week, and you’ve decided to go out and have some fun. You and some friends decide to check out a new gay bar that you’ve heard has a lot of hot guys.
When you walk in, you encounter an overwhelming sea of men. These guys are all as tall as NBA players, as muscular as NFL linebackers, and as sexually aggressive as a felon on his first night out of jail.
They are all bigger, stronger, faster, and hornier than you. Their heads all swivel toward you, and their eyes look you up and down like sexual Terminators.
You haven’t even met them, but you can see the gears turning behind their eyes. Any one of them could grab you, carry you out of the bar, and put who knows what god knows where, and there is little you could do to stop them. You’re just a piece of meat to them.
But there’s strength in numbers, so you and your friends gather whatever sober courage you can muster and head to the bar. Soon enough, you’ve had a couple drinks, and some of these huge guys approach you and begin talking to you.
Some of them are really lame and unattractive and make crude, ham-fisted passes at you. Some are awkward and annoying. Some are even kind of angry and mean. All of these guys are very unappealing. You don’t want to talk to them.
But lo and behold, some of them are actually pretty intriguing. Yes, they are still big and intimidating, but they want to buy you drinks and pay you compliments. Some of them are really interesting and fun; they do amazing things with their lives and seem to really be into you. They’re cocky and funny. They have that sublime masculine energy that is very appealing.
How would you feel in this situation? Nervous, worried, scared, guarded, self-conscious, and vulnerable? But also flattered, desirable, and excited (remember, you’re gay in this exercise).
Some of the same male traits that frighten you the most also seem to be the most attractive to you. The guys who pose the greatest physical threat are also the same guys you can envision making you feel the safest. The guy who seems like the most egotistical player in the bar is also the one making you laugh so hard that your ribs hurt. It’s all a giant, swirling, pulsating contradiction.
This is the world of sex and dating for women.
And this is what it is like for women every day, in every social situation, with straight guys just like you.
Women are surrounded by bigger, stronger, faster men who probably want to have sex with them and could take it by force. This is their experience not just at bars and clubs, but at school and work, on the street, and the subway. Men stare at them, leer at them, make crude passes at them, and interact with them all day every day, with sex clearly the subtext of every interaction—even the briefest, most innocuous non-mating exchanges.
Her: “I would also like fries with that.”
Him: “Yeah, you would!”
While this is just a thought experiment, the facts that underpin it are very real. For Americans over age twenty, the average man is five inches taller than the average woman (5’9″ vs. 5’4″). He’s thirty pounds heavier (196 pounds vs. 166 pounds), and he carries less body fat (18 percent vs. 24 percent), so he’s got about twice the upper-body strength (what he’d use to pick her up) and twice the grip strength (what he’d use to hold her down). An average woman is as physically vulnerable to an average guy as a big guy (6’0″, 190 pounds) would be to the average NFL lineman (6’5″, 310 pounds)—which is to say, very vulnerable.
Most dating advice to guys fails at this first hurdle. It’s built around the assumption that men and women think alike about sex, romance, and dating without even acknowledging the basic physical differences between male and female bodies and the resulting male vs. female vulnerabilities. This is totally wrong. If you can understand women’s sexual and physical vulnerability, dating should make a lot more sense.
For instance, if a woman seems like she’s sending “mixed messages,” or acting “hot and cold,” or there’s a mysterious push-me/pull-you erotic dance going on, it’s not that she’s being weird or manipulative (at least, typically). It’s that she’s trying to express interest from a defensive posture, and she’s got a hair-trigger threat-detection system that makes her withdraw into her shell when you start pushing too hard. Maybe you really are the good guy who won’t take advantage of her, but she has no way of knowing that when she first meets you. She has to evaluate you herself.
Think about how weird that whole situation is: to be sexually attracted to beings that could so easily do irreparable physical harm to you. Think about the anxiety that internal contradiction could create on a daily basis. For women who are on the more anxious and delicate side, think about the raw physical courage it must take just to go out and meet men. If she pushes when you pull, your question shouldn’t be, “Why won’t she have sex with me?” It should be, “Why would she ever put herself in a situation of sexual vulnerability with any guy?”
The best (and funniest) explanation of this dynamic we’ve ever heard comes from the famous comedian Louis C.K.:
The courage it takes for a woman to say yes [to a date with a man] is beyond anything I can imagine. A woman saying yes to a date with a man is literally insane, and ill advised. How do women still go out with guys, when you consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men? We’re the number-one threat! To women! Globally and historically, we’re the number-one cause of injury and mayhem to women. We’re the worst thing that ever happens to them!
And yet, here we are. Women have evolved this ambivalent arousal/fear, love/hate response to male size, strength, and power. If you want to be successful in modern mating, the more you understand this, the better you can deliver what women love while eliminating what they fear.
She’s Been Dealing With Creepy Douchebags for a Long Time
A woman can tell how well your life is going from how you look, in about two seconds. Your face and body are leaking all kinds of cues about your sexual experience, self-confidence, and personality—and she can see it all in one glance. Before you approach her, she’s already decided whether she wants you to talk to her, and she’s already judged your mate value and your status before you toss the first lame, derpy pickup line at her. She can smell your over-practiced pick-up artists tricks from a mile away. It’s like her superpower.
By the time you’ve met her, a normal American woman has spent years honing that superpower. She had to develop it after putting up with so much shit from lame guys hitting on her, catcalling, sexually harassing, and potentially even stalking her. Since puberty, when she started developing hips and breasts and pretty facial features, she’s had to deal with creepers and sketchballs to some degree or another, and she’s probably pretty sick of it.
It’s hard for guys to appreciate what it would be like to grow up being stared at and sexually harassed every day of your life from age twelve onward. So instead, what you need to realize is that all this sexual attention a woman gets sows in her a fear of raw physical violence—reactive assault—that could be sparked if she ignores your come-ons, rejects you in a way you find demeaning, or dates you for six months before finding out you’re a paranoid, jealous control freak.
That’s the female reality of living in sexual fear. She’s afraid of creeps, weirdos, crazies, losers, and stalkers. And believe us when we say that, from her perspective, they make up a high proportion of men—especially the ones likely to hit on her in inappropriate ways, places, and times. Psychological and environmental factors explain much of this perspective.
The psychological research, for instance, shows that, from a woman’s point of view, most guys she meets will be less kind, less agreeable, less empathic, less conscientious, less reliable, less clean—less everything really—than she and her friends are. Even if she accepts those sex differences, she still has to wrangle with the fact that many mental illnesses and personality disorders are more common among men (the more dangerous ones no less). These male-dominated disorders include alcoholism, drug addiction, autism, schizophrenia, narcissism, white-collar sociopathy, and criminal psychopathy. All of which make each random encounter with a man less likely to end in love and more likely to end with a fight-or-flight response.
Most guys reading this right now are probably sitting there thinking, “WTF, I’ve never done any of that creepy shit. Don’t lump me in with those assholes.” And we agree. Most of you guys are solid dudes. You’re just suffering for the actions of the highly nonrandom sample of guys who hit on every woman in sight. That’s why it’s so important to understand the world from a woman’s perspective.
Think about women’s experiences with guys like a city cop’s experience with people in general. Cops spend 90 percent of their time dealing with the scummiest 5 percent of humanity. The ones who’ve been around a while often develop a cynical, negative, and fatalist view of humans, based on the totality of their bitter experiences. It’s not that humans are all bad. It’s that cops see only the worst.
Likewise, women spend a big proportion of their time in the mating market avoiding the small percentage of guys who are the most intrusive, obnoxious, or insane. Psychopaths are sexually predatory, uninhibited, and confident, so although they’re only 4 percent of the American male population, they might account for 40 percent of the men who have hit on any given woman. Guys with Asperger’s are another factor; although they’re often introverted (and so less likely to approach a woman), if they do approach, they’re bad at reading nonverbal cues of disinterest or rejection, so they’re more likely to persist beyond a woman’s comfort zone. There are almost too many other types of men who do things women find repulsive to name them all.
Simply put, her experience is that the worst guys come straight at her while the best guys are nowhere to be seen.
She’s Probably Just Not That Into You, and You Need to Be O.K. With That
The average guy finds the average woman at least somewhat sexually attractive. Think about it. The next time you’re walking down the street or hanging out in a mall or student union, ask yourself seriously, What percent of these women would I be willing to have sex with right now, if it was safe, easy, consensual, and no strings attached?
If you’re like most young guys, the answer would be well over 70 percent—even including the moms and older women. For some of you freaks, especially including them.
By contrast, the average woman finds the average man sexually invisible, neutral, disgusting, or repulsive. Only a tiny percentage of guys inspire immediate lust in women. And most of those guys have already moved to New York or LA to become actors or models. If you are over eighteen and haven’t done that, you’re not one of those guys.
This is a huge sex difference in initial choosiness, documented in both scientific research and online dating data, that plays out in every domain of sex and dating. (Of course, if a relationship develops between a man and woman, he gets a lot choosier about whether to date her exclusively, move in with her, or marry her—but that’s a discussion for another time. All you need to know at this point is that women are choosier about who they have sex with; men are choosier about who they commit to.) Guys have sexual fantasies about almost all the women they know, whereas women have fantasies about virtually no men. She doesn’t have as many sexual fantasies per month as you do, she doesn’t masturbate nearly as much, and sex is usually more in the background of her consciousness than the foreground.
Another reason she’s not attracted to most men is that she thinks their outfits are stupid and their clothes don’t fit. Because they are and they don’t. She’s right. She also knows what your body would look like naked, and she probably thinks you’re either a lazy loser (out of shape) or a narcissistic gym rat (in too-good shape). None of this should be particularly surprising or contentious. She likes what she likes, and, statistically, the chances are you’re not it.
Where it gets problematic is when you don’t get the picture and she has to tell you, because women don’t like having to reject men explicitly. There is a deep evolutionary logic to this preference, and it has a lot to do with minimizing the very real risks they face from publicly humiliating their suitors. It was almost always better for an ancestral woman to keep a guy within her social orbit as a possible nonsexual friend rather than alienate or upset him. Women aren’t being ambiguous and mysterious and elusive because they’re “playing games” or “fucking with your head.” They’re just instinctively trying to reduce the risk of provoking harassment or stalking or violent retaliation.
Here’s how women tell you they aren’t into you: their first line of defense is simply to play it cool, professional, and neutral. They keep their physical and emotional distance, minimize contact and chatter, and eliminate any signs of affection or interest that could be misconstrued as sexual.
If that doesn’t work, they might escalate the subtle rejection vibes by acting in a way that naive young men interpret as “cold” or “stuck up” or “bitchy.” This vibe is not cruel—it signals that you failed to appreciate their earlier cues of disinterest, and they’ve reluctantly had to make their disinterest even more obvious to get it through your thick head that they do not wish to fuck you. If women wanted to be cruel when they rejected you, they would ask their brothers to cut your belly open with sharp flints and pull your guts out for the wild hyenas to eat—or whatever the equally painful equivalent on Facebook would be.
Women are trying to do the best they can to reject you without humiliating you. The more experienced and confident they are, the better they are at rejecting you obviously enough that you go away but not so obviously that you’re ashamed in front of your friends and other women. But it’s not their responsibility to reject you in the way that would be least costly to you; it’s your responsibility to take the hint as best you can and go away.
She Already Knows She’s Pretty, and She’s Still Self-Conscious
If you meet a woman who strikes you as beautiful, you’re probably not the first guy to notice. In attractiveness research, men show very high agreement in their ratings of women’s faces and bodies. This means that as long as she has been objectively beautiful she has been admired, hit on, masturbated to, and harassed by guys from ages sixteen to sixty, including many of her classmates, teachers, peers, coaches, coworkers, and bosses—not to mention total strangers, pickup artists, and alleged “talent scouts for modeling agencies.” Many of the guys who hit on her were nasty sociopaths, because the nice guys found her too intimidating. And enough women have found her threatening that she’s had trouble keeping more than a few close friends. Her beauty has already been both a blessing and a curse for years before you ever laid eyes on her.
This is one reason why it’s pointless, and often counterproductive, to go up and compliment beautiful women on their beauty. Tell her something she doesn’t already know and hasn’t already heard from a thousand guys. Better yet, don’t tell her anything. Ask her about her interests, ambitions, friends, background—anything that requires some social intelligence to appreciate behind her “hot girl” persona. Just talk to her like you already understand that (a) she’s beautiful, and you both know it, (b) she’s felt ambivalent about her beauty for years, and (c) she’d like to be appreciated for things she’s achieved in her life through her own efforts, not through winning the genetic lottery of physical attractiveness.
Yet here is the great irony about female beauty: she’s still very self-conscious about her face and her body and her clothes and her accessories. Frankly, she doesn’t really understand why you’re attracted to her. This holds true even for a very good-looking woman, because she compares herself to the world’s most beautiful models and actresses, air-brushed to perfection, staring her down from the cover of every women’s magazine and billboard. She doesn’t typically consider what men actually find attractive or she misunderstands it completely.
Most women think that men are most attracted to the rail-thin models or skinny actresses that grace the covers of the magazines they buy. They’re wrong. Studies show that most men are attracted to women with curves and meat on their bones; the high-fertility hourglass shapes (like Kim Kardashian, Sofia Vergara, or Halle Berry), not low-fertility apple shapes or no-fertility chopstick shapes. Also, guys prefer women who are physically healthy and capable, with strong muscles, bones, connective tissues, and immune systems, because this predicts being a sexually energetic girlfriend; a capable, protective mother; and a long-lived partner. (Think Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Biel, Rhona Mitra, or Jennifer Garner…) Men want just the right amount of fat, in the right places, on a strong, healthy frame.
Unfortunately, most women think the male conception of beauty is binary: “fat” (bad) or “thin” (good). So they diet using bad health advice and spotty willpower to strive for the supermodel plank shape, and they lose both their cues of fertility (boobs and butt) and their cues of capability (muscle), undermining their attractiveness.
Remember, she didn’t evolve to be attracted to women or their feminine traits, so she’s sort of mystified that you could find her sexually desirable in the first place. It just doesn’t make sense to her. There’s a part of her that was incredulous during puberty when boys were starting to notice her, and that part is still there. She’s got a bit of impostor syndrome about her own erotic power.
This self-consciousness extends to nearly every aspect of her appearance, including many areas of her body and most of what she wears. Women put a lot of thought into their appearance. Everything they wear and display is probably a conscious choice. Every choice is a statement—but not every statement succeeds. Yet often, women can’t tell if they’ve struck the right balance between formal and casual, tight and loose, sexy and slutty, classical and avant-garde, earnest and ironic. Are they projecting “sexy vamp” or “meth-head jail bait”? Are they projecting “sophisticated Brooklyn hipster” or “Jersey Real Housewife”?
The problem is that they almost never get accurate feedback about what image they’re projecting. Her friends are too polite to tell her the truth one way or the other, and guys are too horny to tell the difference. Most guys are oblivious to clothes altogether, let alone the specific, conscious choices that women make. When it comes to what we wear, most of us just throw on whatever’s clean.
The fact that most guys can’t tell the difference between haute couture and Juicy Couture (or the respective differences in effort and taste) only amplifies her self-consciousness. And if you want to turn her self-consciousness up to 11, be the guy who can’t seem to pick up on her signs of interest in you either. That one is a killer for any young woman who has put herself out there. If a woman’s really interested in you, she will go out of her way to be around you and to be visible and available for you to approach. If you’re oblivious enough not to get those signals, she may even have the gumption to wave at you or ask her friend to say hi. Sadly, if you’re younger than twenty and/or have had sex with fewer than four women, you’ll probably overlook or misinterpret all of those female choice cues. Pay more attention next time.