Test Case

A self-help book editor uses what she learns at work and in life to help herself.

Can The Good Guys Ever Win in the War of the Sexes?

Is he 'creepy' or caught in a paradox with women?

In a recent Facebook thread, a woman posted a 'Missed Connection' from Craigslist where a man wrote that he had admired a woman in a recent event where they were in a group hot tub together. She had been with her friends, and the rule of the event was no talking in the hot tubs, so rather than approach her, he later posted a Missed Connection, letting her know he admired her hair and her tattoos and would like to get to know her better, but hadn't wanted to interrupt her with her friends.

The woman who re-posted this to Facebook, as well as the first few (female) commenters, all decried the man for being 'creepy', for looking at the woman sexually in any way, for “only” liking her for her tattoos and hair (as if we don't get tattoos and do our hair for the express purpose of being seen as interesting or sexy), for posting the Missed Connection, and for how he wrote his post.

After a few comments, a man, and after him, a couple others, began a conversation about how men are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to approaching women they find attractive. To paraphrase one man: “Women complain when men DON'T express interest and then complain when they do.” Another said “It's creepy if the woman isn't attracted to the man, but not if she is.” I really appreciated these men for steering the conversation from a standard “eww, men suck” discussion to something more nuanced and meaningful.

To me, this thread reflected the elephant in the room between men and women: that women say they want men to be forthright, romantic, genuine, and honest, yet when a man she isn't necessarily attracted to approaches a woman (or, in the case of the Missed Connection poster, doesn't approach her out of respect, and then expresses interest later, anonymously, in a public forum) she often complains bitterly that he's a creepy pervert.

There are real creepy perverts out there, no doubt. I'm talking about the genuinely good man who finds a woman attractive and wants to talk to her, and so approaches to express his interest, even if just coming near her an acceptable distance and making eye contact, whether at a party, cafe, on the street, in a bookstore, or even online. Several men I've spoken to about this have admitted that, because of this disconnect between what women say they want and how many women respond when they get what they say they want (men to be forthcoming about their inner experiences), they've trained themselves not to approach or show any interest to a woman they they find attractive. Without exception, these men are smart, creative, ethical, funny, interesting men. And they choose to be single rather than talk to an attractive woman, because they don't want to be seen as creepy or to make the woman uncomfortable. And then the single women I know wonder where all the good men are. This seems like a paradox to me.

To me, creepy happens when a man (and this also happens with women approaching men) expresses interest, the woman clearly expresses her lack of interest, and he keeps hanging around or pushing the issue. Or, a man just 'hangs around' her without speaking about his interest. It's not the interest itself that's creepy, it's the refusal to take no for an answer and/or not being willing to express his wishes to her.

To my mind, the man who confidently approaches a woman, any woman, without a thought or worry to how he might come off or to whether or not he might be seen as creepy are the men who don't really respect women at all, and just see women as a conquest to be had. In the Pickup Artist (PUA) community, men are encouraged to approach women for the express goal of being rejected, figuring this will make men less sensitive to rejection. PUA trainers repeatedly tell their students that “it's a numbers game”. In other words, approach as many women as you can. Most will reject you, but some will have sex with you.

Good men – men who genuinely want to relate to a woman in more ways than only sexually – are the men who will choose not to approach a woman, whether out of shyness or worry that he'll come across as creepy. Those are the men who respect womens' personhood and don't see them as a mere collection of female body parts. Those are the men women should encourage to approach them. Those are the men that women are looking for when they complain that there are no good men. Yet those are the men that see the paradox of dating – that women say they want confident men, but will complain about you if you approach her as a decent man (as opposed to an overconfident blowhard) and will be turned off – and often choose not to even bother. This is also, in my opinion, the origin of the assumption that women only date jerks. The jerks are the ones who have no compunction against approaching a woman, but are more likely to see women as merely sexual conquests, while the so-called “nice guys” who respect women as people are the very ones who may have some hesitation or shyness, and as such get written of as either creepy or passive.

The Missed Connections poster, by virtue of the fact that he did not approach this woman out of respect for her and for the rules of the event, seem to me to be squarely in the “non creepy” camp. He respected this woman enough not to want to make her feel uncomfortable. And for that he gets called creepy.

I think this is one of the deep-seated problems with male-female relations in general and dating specifically. Men are supposed to somehow know what women want and need, and women don't seem to feel the need, generally speaking, to be more verbal and clear about those wants and needs. In dating, men are somehow supposed to intuit how open – or not - a woman is to his approach, and then the exact right approach to take. If he makes one wrong move, he's missed his chance and the woman will have another story for her female friends about how “this one creepy guy looked at me when I was naked in a hot tub!” Women think nothing of dressing in sexy outfits and then complain when men look at them in a sexual manner (by the way, I heartily approve of sexy outfits on women, and I absolutely disagree with anyone who says that how a woman dresses can be blamed for men physically or verbally assaulting her or assuming they have any right to touch her without her consent).

I don't blame the good, single men I know for being confused and disheartened by this state of affairs, and for deciding not to even bother. I might suggest that women give men the benefit of the doubt, as well as consider being more clear in their communications with men who show an interest, and not to assume he's creepy because he thinks you're attractive. I tend to be polite to men who approach me in a polite way. If a guy asks if he can take me out and I'm not interested, I just say “No, thanks.” In every instance, the man has politely said “OK” and left me alone. I know that this isn't always the way it happens, but I'd rather err on the side of politeness (of course taking into consideration the context of the meeting. If it's a dark alleyway and I'm alone, I'm going to get myself to a public, well-lit place when approached by a strange man, but in a bar or coffee shop or party, why not be polite?) than on the side of assuming every strange man is a creep.

I'm fond of a particular quote that's been attributed to George Carlin: “Men are from Earth. Women are from Earth. Get over it.” In normal male-female relations, we are not at war. We all want the same things: to be loved and to be seen and accepted for who we are. The “War of the Sexes” is a myth. Only when we start treating each other as teammates and not as enemies will women be safe from the genuine creeps, and will men feel safe enough with women to be vulnerable the way women say they want men to be.

Melissa Kirk is a writer and editor who works as an acquisitions and developmental editor at New Harbinger Publications, a self-help psychology publisher in Oakland, CA. 

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