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A Field Trip to His Campus: What Do Men Perceive as Flirtatious?

Let’s call them Bob and Jane.
 
Jane sits poised and graceful next to him, her figure firm and unmoving underneath her silk top. Gold hoop earrings dance around her rosy cheeks as she reveals that the girls in their class often act hostile towards her. Bob chimes in to mimic their high-pitched drivel, capturing the intonation and timbre perfectly. Laughing, Jane reaches out and touches his shoulder for all but a moment, calling him hilarious and brilliant. Her hot pink fingernails set Bob’s bloodstream on fire. Her lips are full and moist and parted. Her mouth is so warm; tastes like cherries.
 
He perceives a gasp. A squeal. Resistance. Obscenities. Force. Slight pain in the chest and shoulders. More obscenities. A hot pink fingernail pointing to the door. A tight lip, a pale face, some tears. And finally, the retort. Women always like to have the last word. I hope you’re happy. You ruined what I thought was a great friendship.
 
A greatwhat?
 
Welcome to the friend zone, Bob: The place that Dr. Ali Binazir, author of The Tao of Dating (2011), hyperbolically describes as “a territory only to be rivaled in inhospitability by the Western Sahara, the Atacama Desert, and Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell.”

                                           
But is the “condemnation” to the Ninth Circle a deliberate and diabolical act on the woman’s part? Senior communications major Esther Jeong recalls a situation in which she met a guy at a barbecue and simply invited him to a campus ministry group, thinking it was a nice gesture; he, however, interpreted this as a sign of interest. After she made it clear that the feelings were not mutual, they never spoke again.
 
The testable question
 
As Bob pulls out of her driveway, Jane wonders what on earth compelled him to lean in and kiss her. From the beginning, their friendship had comprised of jokes.  Just a few hours before, when they’d seen a movie together, there had been no flirting and no attraction whatsoever – at least to her knowledge. That was what she’d loved about him; that was why she’d invited him over after the movie ended.
 
And yet, she couldn’t help but retrace the hurt that was etched boldly across his face as she’d sent him out of her house, the passion with which he had held and kissed her. What signal(s) did she emit that translated to a green light in his mind?
 
Was it…
a.When he’d asked her to be his partner for the class project, and she had accepted with a smile?
b.When he had made jokes about the assignment and she’d laughed and chimed in? Normal.
c.When she’d suggested meeting outside of class to assemble the finishing touches? Everyone likes A’s…
d. When it was her idea to get ice cream to “celebrate” the end of the project?  Who doesn’t like ice cream?
e. When she’d called him smart and witty on more than one occasion? Well, I mean, he is.
f.Before he got into his car to drive away, when she’d given him a small hug? It was barely a hug.
g.When they’d continued to talk even after the project was over? If he had an issue with that, he could have spoken up.  
 
Jane’s certainly not alone in her curiosity. What are we doing incorrectly? Are we simply failed communicators when it comes to the opposite sex? To gain a better understanding of how to interact with men, I interacted with the male species, and they were kind enough to provide fruitful advice for our lovely collegiettes.
 
The data
 
Out of the 15 college males who were surveyed, 14 agreed with Bob in his deduction: given the above details (ag), Jane was definitely into him, no doubt about it.
 
And, given the above details, these men were asked to select the first point in which Jane’s interest appeared evident, producing the following results: 

Surprisingly, the majority responded with d, when Jane had suggested getting ice cream to “celebrate.”
 
They were then asked to indicate all of the stages that they considered flirtatious, which yielded the following outcome: 

All but one of the respondents selected f, when Jane had given Bob a small hug goodbye. Running close behind in popularity were g and e, which were talking after the project was over and calling Bob smart and witty, respectively. Although only one of the 15 males answered with b, the enlightening implication is that there are in fact men who perceive expressive gestures – such as laughter – and jest-ures as signs of flirting.
 
Nearly ¼ of the males surveyed agreed that “compliments, even subtle ones that don’t hint at sexuality, are flirtatious and suggestive.” When Jane called Bob smart and witty during their project collaboration, and when she laughed at his imitations of the girls in their class – calling him “hilarious and brilliant” – Bob may have read between the lines to deduce apparent interest.
 
When Bob asked Jane to see a movie with him, Jane’s acceptance sealed the deal for many of the outside observers. “If she didn’t like me, she wouldn’t have agreed to see a movie” was the majority opinion when responders were asked what they would think if they were Bob.
 
Moreover, 40% asserted that Bob’s action was justified as soon as Jane invited him inside her house, as Bob was simply dropping her off. 60% answered that the kiss was justified when Jane sat down on the couch and motioned for him to join her and engage in a conversation.
 
What does this mean for us?

“She should not have pestered Bob with her problems: guys tend to take the revealing of personal problems as a sign of requesting intimacy,” answered one respondent at the end of the survey. “She should never have invited him in to ‘talk’”
 
Of course, there’s a particular thrill and value of getting a fresh perspective outside of the feminine realm, especially when the crux of your problems derives from ruthless girl drama, but many men perceive this as an invitation: one step closer to the heart – and everything that’s anatomically nearby…

 
Another respondent agreed, replying that “guys really only do that when they are interested in someone or if they have been friends for a very long time, so to us that indicates interest.”
 
Many of the responses simply stated that Jane should “be clear” about her position early on. However, this is, paradoxically, vague and unclear to us. Gentlemen, what do you specifically propose so that we are crystal clear without being cold and sharp?
 
One male suggested that Jane should have subtly but constantly dropped the hints from the beginning. “I think it is important for people to throw the word ‘friend’ around a lot in conversation, such as ‘Wow I’ve never had a ‘friend’ as smart as you,” he said. “I think in that situation something like that should have been enough to give Bob the message.”
 
So, ladies, it’s unanimous in one area: we need to make it clear from the get-go that we’re not interested, but not by blatantly saying, “I’m not interested.” Rather than assuming that every man we come in contact with wants to engage in frivolous and promiscuous rendezvous, we should recognize the potential power of even the most subtle, seemingly harmless gestures.
 
This way, the man has the option to enter the friend zone if he so desires, or he can continue on in the direction of his pursuits. Whatever his motives may be, give him the choice – don’t throw him into the friend zone without his consent. “It’s humbling,” says Chicago Tribune sex columnist Gina B.
 
View the open-ended responses from all 15 males here: https://docs.google.com/a/terpmail.umd.edu/document/d/1tT3-mFWGwX-2MfEo6ZPaYbqGr2y4vS-RyaAzh98k1RQ/edit

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