Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sugar and Spice and All Things TOO Nice?

When we were children we learned that boys were made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails, while little girls, on the other hand, were made of sugar and spice and everything nice (i.e. all the good things too numerous to mention – probably flowers and sunshine and rainbows and unicorns’ horns).*

Thus, little girls everywhere knew that they had been mixed just perfectly to be sweet and sometimes a little sassy (hence the spice) but still always nice. Thus, when little Suzie and Jane were playing with their dolls and throwing tea parties and Suzie all of sudden had a bout of spoiled child syndrome, refusing to share her teapot, someone’s mom would rush over reprimanding: “Now Suzie, look how you just made Jane cry - be nice and share your teapot!” Suzie would grudgingly comply and that would be that. Meanwhile, in the next room, Davie and Bobby are playing with GI Joe and bashing each other’s brains out.

So when a man addressing a now grown, sexy, sassy Suzanne tries to grasp why she is always smiling when she sees him, possibly throwing in a big hug too, laughing at his jokes, but failing to return his calls, he needs to understand that he is confusing seeming interest with an extra tablespoon of molasses.

Recently, a friend of mine (let’s call him “Rob”) sought my guidance. He explained that he had called "Suzanne" last week and never heard back from her. When he saw her out the other night among mutual friends, she seemed thrilled to see him and spoke to him in a way that – to him – conveyed romantic interest. “I think I should call her one more time” he throws out there. My response: “Absolutely not. You’ve called her, she knows your number and she didn’t call, text or email back – she’s not interested.” “Well, then why doesn’t she just say to me with a big smile, I think you’re great but I’m just not interested.” (The smile is very important in this delivery. Said in a matter of fact manner and there is a solid chance of severe ego damage) Believe it on not, Rob is truly bewildered by why Suzanne can’t just come out and make this statement.**

Yes, why doesn’t she just say “Rob, you seem like a good guy, you’re not bad looking, you’re obviously pretty bright, but I have zero desire to go out with you. You do nothing for me and I would never sleep with you.”

“But Rob, she is saying it. She’s saying it by not calling you back” is my no-nonsense response. When a woman is interested her problem is typically calling back too soon, cancelling plans with her friends to be available when the guy offers last minute tickets to a show, etc. It is rarely the case where she is that interested but has mastered the art of being too coy. There really should be a “She’s Just Not That Into You” movie that could explain to guys, just because a woman is friendly, just because she smiles when she’s talking to you, just because she talks to you, it doesn’t mean she wants to go out with you. Probably, it means that she is remembering the scene with the teapot and is trying to be nice and spare your feelings.

The truth is, Rob is not alone in asking this question. Another male friend suggested to me a few years back, why can’t you just tell a guy nicely, “thanks, but I’m really not interested.” Even among the more outspoken and forthright of us, it’s awkward for women to be so direct and seemingly “mean/bitchy/not nice.” And honestly, do you see guys embodying the diplomatic frankness they apparently seem to desire from women?

So this is today’s question: Men, would you rather women just say, straight up in the middle of a conversation, “Joe, you seem nice, but I’m not interested” or would you rather they sweetly blow you off? Not that there’s any guarantee that even knowing your collective preference women will be able to accommodate - the kitten’s whiskers in them may simply not let them …

*For the curious, this well known nursery rhyme, “What Are Little Boys Made Of” (which was published around 1820 and attributed to the English poet Rober Southey) is part of a larger work called “What Are Folks Made Of.” Apparently, mothers are made of “ribbons and laces and sweet pretty faces” while fathers are made of “pipes and smoke and collars choke”. You can find the full rhyme at I would like to know what lawyers are made of (briefs and motions and self-aggrandizing notions?) Bankers, anyone?

** Deborah Tannen provided a pretty good analysis of how men and women are socialized to use language differently in the book “You Just Don’t Understand." It’s an oldie but a goodie.


  1. I would much rather have someone tell me they aren't interested!

  2. We don't want the direct rejection. Any interaction after that will be very cool and quasi-hostile after such a rejection.

    What we DO want is a nice subtle rejection that doesnt confuse us. Sadly, we are easily confused, and if you don't call us back for a month straight but then smile when you next see us we take it as a mixed signal.

  3. I disagree. Sometimes, too often, women play hard to get. They don't call you back on purpose not because they are NOT interested but precisely because they ARE interested. In this city, the games people play are legendary. But, to your bigger point, I would rather be told straight up- I don't want to go out with you again.

  4. OK, so this blog is pretty interesting. Good perspective on how women think.

  5. In a perfect world everyone would be friendly and upfront, but that's not going to happen. Call once. Only. You also can best her chops when you see her and say, "Hey - great to see you! Called you last week, but never heard from you." Her body language now will say all. If she is into you, she will say, yes - let's hang out. Otherwise, ask her best friend out.

  6. If a girl doesn't call you BECAUSE she is interested - you need to move on,'s waaaaaaay to short and there are a million others out there.

  7. Ok, that last comment gave me a good laugh - very funny re: asking the friend out.

    But your point is right on. Any guy who is observant should know when a girl is playing a little hard to get (she makes it clear by giving you just enough to keep you interested...) and when she is really not the least bit interested. Yes, body language often reveals a lot.

  8. jeremy says:
    Nice post Marni! In my dating experiences, the chemistry factor can sometimes be elusive. Did she have a good time? Why didn't she respond to a call or text; maybe she got side tracked or doesn't like to text...and dare I say, sometimes it is instructional to actually know WHY the girl is just not into you...I have extracted reasons from woman such as; I was too shy, too short, I look like the stepfather, was too nice, lived too far away,
    etc can be a learning experience to actually reveal the reasons for failed chemistry sometimes, instead of just having hurt feelings toward hearing the truth...maybe you can improve yourself in knowing more...I think that has been the source of the mystery and confusion of dating for me...the ultimate WHY is there chemistry and WHY is there not???

  9. Hi Jeremy, thanks for the comment! You raise great questions. There is a difference being made in this particular blog, though, between a woman who was intially interested in the guy (and for whatever reason after a date(s has determined that it is not going to work for her) and a woman who has not been interested from the get go (and wants the guy to take the hint). But there will definitely be a blog (or several) on the issues you raise above (how helpful feeback from a date can be, why chemistry is present sometimes and elusive other times, etc.) Keep the comments coming!

  10. I read the blog again and I see what you're saying Marni, but whether its an initial date or an initial interest that has dwindled/changed or is teasing us, aren't we all craving honesty. And even if you are being blown off or ignored, sometimes there is room for a second chance...

  11. Marni, as a man I have never been one to simply "disappear." Either in person or on the phone (and at times, by email) I have always conveyed directly to women that I wished to move on (and I did always try to be diplomatic).

    So from my perspective it's hard and even angering when women take this route.

    But I am beginning to understand that this is just the way many women do things. They won't do things the way I do them, even if I wish they did.

    I just went on a 2nd date, and it went well - or so I thought. I called her 2 days later and left a voicemail, asking her to call me back whenever she could. She never did.

    I will admit I was tempted to contact her again, but I was then reminded of your words ("Absolutely not. You’ve called her, she knows your number and she didn’t call, text or email back – she’s not interested.") and understood it'd be futile for me to call again - and I'm already moving on.

  12. You raise an interesting point re: disappearing vs. diplomatically telling someone you're not interested - another reader also touched upon that issue in a previous comment and I intend to address it very soon in a future blog...

    I am so glad my words stayed in your mind and kept you from calling again. Women have a way of handling certain things that can be different than the way men would, and there are many reasons for this difference in behavior/thinking (e.g., the way girls are socialized which is hard for men to understand as they were not socialized in the same way). Understanding what's actually going on is really the key. As I said in my latest blog, knowledge is power.

    Thanks for the comment - keep them coming!