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The Box Theory (Part 1) – I Asked Women For Their Insight On This Pivotal Theory In Male Psychology

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USFSP chapter.

Here we go again, you like a new guy. While not always exciting, it’s an inevitable part of life for us heterosexual girlies. (It’s okay, the sooner you admit it, the sooner we can work through this together and decide what comes next.) If the title of this article piqued your interest, I’m guessing you 1. don’t know if your crush likes you back or 2. know he doesn’t like you back and are wondering what you can do about it. Either way, you’ve come to me for help, and I promise I won’t let you down. You may be thinking, what is The Box Theory? What do the boxes mean? Take a deep breath and prepare yourself because I’m going to walk you through all of it. In Part 1, you’ll learn what The Box Theory is and hear what the other women I asked have to say about it. Plus, stick around for Part 2 to hear my experience with The Box Theory and my interview with the biggest crush I’ve ever had. 

The Box Theory (graciously gifted to us on TikTok by the amazing @Tinx) is a psychological concept observed in men that allegedly explains how they perceive and categorize the women they meet. Occurring subconsciously, every woman a man meets gets placed into a box within the first few minutes of their meeting. These boxes can essentially be labeled “Romantic Potential,” “Hookup Potential,” and “Zero Potential.” Moving forward, everything that woman does reinforces the man’s belief that she belongs in the box his brain put her in. Here’s the scary part — no matter what a woman does, she is never able to switch boxes.  

Now that you know the gist of The Box Theory, you can learn exactly what it means. When a woman is placed in the RP Box, the man can conceive a reality in which he is involved with her romantically, either now or in the future. Conversely, a woman being placed in the ZP Box means the man absolutely does not see her in any romantic way. (Somewhere in the middle lies the HP box – from my understanding, men will sleep with just about anyone, so I’ll have to wait until I ask men in Part 2 for more information on what earns a woman this ranking.) This placement does not happen by choice, but merely because of an instinctual feeling about their potential together. In other words, if you’re placed in the ZP or HP box, you’re just not Her (not for him anyway).  

As important as it is to understand what The Box Theory means, it’s also crucial to understand what it doesn’t mean. Being placed in the “wrong box” does not reflect your worth as an individual. It also doesn’t mean you have nothing in common with this guy, that you don’t get along great, that he doesn’t find you funny, beautiful, or smart. I repeat: The Box Theory does NOT mean any of these things. He may find you funny and intelligent, and you may have a lot in common — but you can still be in the ZP Box. It’s just how it is, at least in my experience. Men can view women as fulfilling all those traits in a completely non-romantic way. If you take anything away from this paragraph, let it be this: being in the “wrong box” has no impact on whether a man will sleep with you. Read that again. If a man subconsciously sorts you into the ZP Box, he may very well still sleep with you if the opportunity presents itself. While he doesn’t see you in a romantic way, that won’t necessarily stop him from seeing you in a sexual way since men’s brains typically separate the two. So, don’t sleep with a guy expecting it to change your box — because it won’t. 

You may be wondering, how is this different from women? Think of a time in your life when one of your guy friends had a crush on you but you never liked him back. Now, think of a time when one of your guy friends had a crush on you and you eventually caught feelings for him in return. Or maybe it was a guy who you never saw yourself liking that you inevitably fell for. These are a couple of examples demonstrating why The Box Theory does not apply to women. Women meet men and over time, the dynamic of their relationship determines what their fate will be. This can manifest in many ways: a woman having her biggest crush ever on a guy she never expected to like, or a woman once viewing a guy as the love of her life who she now views as nothing more than a friend. Whether it is one of these scenarios or anything in between, the point is that women can view the same man differently depending on their interactions and energy. In men’s minds, a woman literally remains in one box. 

As far as I know, there is nothing a woman can do to change her box. That is the unfortunate reality of the heterosexual world. This means no matter how many times you pretend to like his favorite sports team, his favorite artist, watch his favorite show, or play his favorite video game, if you’re just not that girl, those things won’t make you that girl. (Bonus points for not molding your personality to fit what a guy likes in the first place.)  

Accepting that you will never be the girl a certain guy wants is much easier said than done. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t wanted (or tried) to change boxes a few times myself. And my guess was that other women had experienced the same thing. So instead of guessing what other women’s experiences were, I asked them myself. Below, I interviewed two women from two different age groups to compare their experiences with The Box Theory. These women will be referred to as Serena (a 35-year-old, married mother of two) and Blair (a 19-year-old, single college student). 

Her Campus: Have you ever been romantically interested in someone who wasn’t interested in you? 

Serena: Yes. 

Blair: I don’t know, I never like to confirm whether or not they’re interested in me. I can be interested in someone else, but the fear of rejection just closes me off from wanting to know whether or not they’re interested in me … I never formed crushes with people who I wasn’t already close enough with to know if they liked me or not. 

HC: Why do you think they weren’t interested in you?  

S: Because I guess I wasn’t their type, or they weren’t at a place to be interested in me at the time. 

B: Yeah, there was one specific time when I was really close with a person. I got that vibe, but I didn’t want to ruin our friendship, I was interested in them, but it never made it to the point of them knowing I was interested, so I always wondered if I wasn’t obvious enough or why they never saw me in that romantic aspect. 

HC: Do you think you could have done anything to make them interested in you? 

S: No because that’s not my personality — I’m not going to try to make someone interested in me. 

B: Yes and no. I feel that I could’ve performed and acted in a certain way that would’ve made them more interested in me, but you can’t perform forever, so … 

HC: Have you ever been “just friends” with a guy you ended up liking? What made your view of them change? 

S: Yeah, I think that starts … A lot of relationships start off as being interested and then liking them, and then being just friends and liking them as well. You can’t put each person into … like it can develop … I was friends with this person since I was 12 years old, so we were just friends for 10, 15 years before anything. We grew up and I was interested in the things he liked and [he was interested in] what I liked, and it just grew from there. 

B: Yes, for sure. That’s usually how most of my crushes form. When I get to the point where I’m laughing with them and having a nice time with them, I notice that I do find them attractive. Or when I feel comfortable enough to talk to him about anything and also have a fun time. 

HC: Have you ever been romantically interested in a guy you ended up just wanting to be friends with? What made your view of them change? 

S: A few times. Life itself, growing apart [made my view of them change]. 

B: Not off the top of my head. I don’t form crushes until I really get to know the person, so I usually know I’m not interested beforehand. 

HC: Have you ever heard of The Box Theory? 

S: Not until now. 

B: No. 

HC: After learning about The Box Theory, do you think it applies to your experience with men? 

S: No because I think that men eventually will give into any woman … if they’re interested and if they’re attracted to that woman. 

B: Yes, I 100% see the theory. I will notice just from how men interact with me or my other girlfriends what box we’re put into. Typically, they regard you a lot higher [when you’re in the romantic potential box]. My coworker mentioned that men know within 15 seconds if they’re interested in a woman, so we went around asking all the guys at work if it was true and they all agreed.  

HC: What do you think causes men to sort a woman into a specific box? 

S: I think the friend box is for either someone who they want to be romantic with and view more than just a hookup, so they put them in a friend box until they start really catching feelings because they try to suppress their feelings, or they just are not attracted to the girl and they don’t have anything in common with that person. 

B: I think looks play a large role in that but also their dynamics as well, watching how she interacts with both the guy perceiving her and with her environment.  

HC: How do you think a woman’s box impacts how men treat her? 

S: Some men treat the ones they don’t put in the friend box worse than the ones in the friend box, and I think other men, who treat women like shit, treat both the same. It just depends on the person. 

B: Yeah, they typically go out of their way to start a conversation with you, even if it just seems like a friendly conversation. When they don’t see you in that romantic box, they usually disregard you in conversation a lot more, even avoiding eye contact with you and only making eye contact with the girls they are interested in. How they value you is different. 

HC: Do you think a woman can do anything to change the box she is in? 

S: I don’t know because if you change who you are to just satisfy somebody else’s needs or wants, then you’re changing who you are. I don’t think you should do that – whether you do it or not is up to them – but I guess if you conform to anybody’s likings, it will happen. 

B: Typically no, but there are probably rare cases where that does happen. But all around, no. It’s more about whether he thinks it could ever transform into a romantic relationship. Any drastic changes in her looks that the guy isn’t attracted to, or if she’s wronged him or his loved ones, [could move a woman to the ZP box]. 

HC: Do you have any closing comments on men’s distinction between sex and romance? 

S: I think there’s a pretty good, accurate conclusion to that because men are not emotionally attached to people like women are — it’s just biological, I think. Sex is just sex to them but a relationship — that’s getting into the core of the person and men try to suppress that because society taught them to suppress their feelings and emotions. If they open that door up, that’s making them vulnerable. Anybody can have sex with somebody — you don’t have to know the person inside and out, or their emotions and feelings to have sex with somebody. 

B: I would have to agree. Particularly in relation to the different hormones released during sex. When women orgasm, they feel closer to their partner and with men, it doesn’t faze them at all. I feel like women also give a lot more in sex, so they typically don’t gain as much from any sexual experience as men do. Men are almost always guaranteed to orgasm, but women aren’t. 

Well, there you have it. Two different women, two different lifestyles, two different experiences. After speaking with these ladies and hearing their perceptions of The Box Theory, it’s interesting to see how much their interpretations differ. While my experience is different from both of theirs, I’ll save that for Part 2. I’d also like to add that for now, I’m taking all this information with a grain of salt since this theory (about men) was created by a woman. We’ll see if this theory truly cuts the mustard when I ask the guys themselves in Part 2. 

That wraps us up for Part 1 of The Box Theory, but I hope everyone has gained a better understanding of the concept and learned something from this week’s interviews. In one way or another, I think this phenomenon impacts everyone, so I challenge you to consider a time in your life when you encountered The Box Theory in action — it may not be as hard as you think. Be sure to circle back for Part 2, where I divulge the juicy details of my experience with The Box Theory in an interview with the biggest crush I’ve ever had (eek!). Plus, I’ll ask him if the theory is true and more importantly, if there’s something you can do to land in whatever box you want. 

Gabrielle Takacs is a writer at the Her Campus at USFSP chapter. Her main interests lie in the Wellness and Lifestyle categories but she is thrilled to add her perspective to a wide variety of topics. She is most excited to explore politics, pop culture, and beauty as future article subjects. Beyond Her Campus, Gabby is a dedicated biological health sciences student minoring in nutrition. She hopes to earn her DNP and work in obstetrics at a hospital. Despite being a STEM major, Gabby has had a lifelong passion for writing and literature. She hopes to become a published author with projects including novels and a series of children's books. In her free time, Gabby loves fitness, painting, and spending time with her 2-year-old godson. She is also a huge movie buff and is always down for concerts or relaxing at the beach.