The REAL Reason Men Always Think Women Are Flirting With Them

Photo: WeHeartIt
Love, Self

Because saying "Hi" isn't necessarily an open invitation.

You’re standing in the grocery checkout line ten people deep, and you lock eyes with the man behind you as he struggles to balance his cereal and frozen pizza. You make a crack about his healthy diet, and before you know it he’s asking for your digits.

Whoa, slow down, dude! Not only were you just making small talk, but you’re not attracted to him whatsoever, and now you’re awkwardly stuck in line pretending to be busy texting.

“That’s what I get for being friendly!” you think.

But let’s take a step back here and explore what’s really going on in his mind. Research supports an evolutionary hypothesis called Error Management Theory, which proposes that men over-perceive sexual interest by women because they are driven to reproduce.

Basically, they want to spread their seed and pass on their genes.

I’m not trying to defend the players out there, but there are definitely some good guys who get lumped into the category just because he had the balls to approach you.

According to this theory, he is biologically motivated to see if you’re game. Do you blame him for taking a chance to connect?

Interestingly, according to Error Management Theory, women tend to under-perceive a man’s sexual interest. That’s because a woman is at risk of conceiving and possibly getting stuck child-rearing with the wrong man — or no man — by her side. Evolutionarily speaking, when she’s knocked up, she’s missing out on other opportunities for better matches who can help her survive.

So what’s causing all this misinterpreted body language?

Dating coaches, including myself, teach women how to send green light signals that shout “I’m available!” so that men will approach them.  Men, like us women, fear rejection.

As an active dater, it’s your job to let him know through non-verbal behavior that you’ll greet him with kindness if he’s brave enough to come over.

These approach signals use warm body language, such as eye contact, smiling, turning towards a man that interests you, and even breaking the touch barrier, to say you’re interested. Unfortunately, though, this is the same body language you use if you’re just genuinely a friendly person!

My husband explains it clearly. He says that men are culturally and socially expected to be the ones to approach women to ask them out.  An average man may strike out nine times until he gets a base hit — that’s a pretty low batting average.

Guys will likely need to get in a lot of at bats to find “the one,” and unfortunately that means you might get hit on when you never wanted that attention. He’s likely misinterpreting your positive reaction as a signal that you’re feeling it.

Rather than thinking “eww!” and writing him off, hit pause and reflect on his motivations. His caveman brain is likely telling him that because you’re responding, or even enthusiastically conversing, it must mean you’re into him.

He’s not a mind reader, so can you blame him?

Another confusing aspect is that he has no idea whether or not you are attracted to him. Unfortunately he’s not Mel Gibson from What Women Want, so he can’t read your mind. 

Think about how differently you react and respond to the exact same pick up line when it comes from someone that you think is hot, versus someone whose appearance turns you off. He doesn't know what category he falls into!

If you’re friendly, chatty, or outgoing, sometimes the only way he will know if you’re interested in him is if he puts himself out there and asks you out. Let’s cut these guys some slack, ladies!

Your body language can easily be misinterpreted. That statement is not an excuse for men to engage in sleazy catcalls and whistles — that’s just never OK, but take his interest as a compliment.  You can be flattered that he finds you attractive.

If he misreads the fact that you laughed at his joke as a sign that you’re diggin’ him, it’s your job to let him down gently. You can even express appreciation for his confidence, which is a buffer to his self-esteem.  The last thing we want is for him to be disheartened from appropriately approaching other women. Everyone deserves to find love, right?

So, pretty lady, the next time a guy misinterprets your interest in his grocery selection as an opening to be asked on a date, try to keep in mind that this may be biologically ingrained in him. You probably don’t need to be rude to this caveman!

Samantha Burns is a marriage and couples counselor, and the love guru behind


Explore YourTango