By: Jenny Foughner 

I’ve long been a proponent of selective mindreading in relationships. {Sidebar: excuse me, microbiologists? Please. Figure it out. For what are you waiting?} Yes, you’d probably have to put up with some unfortunate yet unavoidable flickers of judgment and disdain from your partner, but you’d also be privy to what she’s really thinking, and (titular reference) what she’s really interpreting your words and actions to mean. Think about it! If she’s right, then you can sit back and enjoy the fact that you’re residing comfortably on her wavelength. If she’s wrong, then you can (politely, delicately and thoughtfully) steer her in the right direction before things get complicated and confusing. As far as I can tell, this would be a win-win situation.

Sadly, we just aren’t there yet; I guess we have to solve that whole climate-change debacle before we can focus on other, more important stuff, so tide us over until lab rats come to the rescue, I’ve put together a handy list of commonly misinterpreted dude-isms. Hopefully these will ease tensions and clarify things for you the next time you find yourself having a seemingly out-of-the-blue fight with your woman. In the very least, they’ll probably make you think twice about saying or doing anything at all, which seems to be the theme of these little exercises. So, you know. There’s that.

Your move: Mentioning marriage, babies, the future, or any combination of the three

Her interpretation: You will, potentially one day soon, wish to do one or more of these things with her

Obvious, right? Well, maybe not. Let me frame it in a way you might be able to relate to. You know how, when you’re not looking to marry/procreate with/commit to someone, the mere mention of any of those actions flips a switch in your manbrain that makes it virtually impossible not to run away and hide? Well, that same switch exists in (most) females, except that it’s programmed to do just the opposite and start a fire of excitement in her chest cavity that makes her wonder whether or not you could be The One. I exaggerate for effect, of course; believe me, most women aren’t commitment-crazed loons looking to get impregnated by every poor sap they meet. When you bring up things that smack of ‘future plans’ to a woman you’re dating, though, then there’s a chance that she’ll begin to wonder if you’ve considered a future with her, and what that implies as far as your relationship is concerned. Now, personally, I think it’s silly to avoid conversation topics simply because they might be misinterpreted, but just be aware that these are hot-button issues that will certainly cause her to think, however briefly, about what it would be like to be with you 25 years down the road.

Your move:  Staring at another girl’s backside and/or chestside

Her interpretation: You’re about to have a torrid affair

I know plenty of ladies who will freely compliment other women’s assets with no insecurity whatsoever. Interestingly, though, these same ladies will spend hours fretting when their boyfriends or husbands express the exact same sentiments with the exact same intonation. We all like to look at pretty people (even babies prefer attractive faces over average or unattractive mugs), so it seems like a silly thing to get upset about, but whether it’s because women are programmed to protect their families from intruders at all costs or because they’re a little less confident than they’d like to let on, the fact remains that many a spat has been had over men and their (however innocently) wandering eyes. Should you find yourself on the wrong end of one of these arguments, try to remember that she’s probably just having a gut reaction (and that a few well-timed compliments will go a long, long way). If she jumps every girl you talk to, though, then you might want to avoid coed situations altogether.

Your move: Falling asleep during sex

Her interpretation: She’s a dowdy old hag who isn’t bringing it in the sack

Falling asleep while engaged in ye olde deed is pretty much a gender-neutral offense, but if you’re the one pulling the narcoleptic act, then you might forget that it can wreak havoc on your partner’s sexual self-esteem. Sure, you know it has nothing to do with her – perhaps you’re coming off of a string of sleepless nights or drowning in a sea of stress at the office – but she doesn’t (yet) have the luxury of being inside your head and understanding that your Rip Van Winkle is in no way indicative of her skill with your Rip Van Wankle. It’s important to remain sensitive to the fact that, like many men, a lot of women are only as confident in their pleasure-giving abilities as the reactions of their partners allow them to be. If you zonk out at an inopportune moment, then you’re probably in for a tongue-lashing as soon as you wake up (the bad, argumentative kind, unfortunately). My advice: first, return the favor of whatever she was doing to you tenfold as soon as she lets you back in the bed. Second, be prepared to offer her a free pass if and when she nods off during some sexytime in the future. Third, try to get more sleep, and really try not to pull this stunt again.

Your move: Holding the door, pulling out her chair, offering her your jacket, or engaging in any other chivalrous deed

Her interpretation: You’re a good man who will probably treat her well

Recently, I’ve heard a number of men lamenting the fact that women don’t want doors held for them because of ‘feminism’, or some such nonsense. Let’s dispel that myth here and now. Holding doors and pulling out chairs and offering to pay on a first date (if you initiated it) are par for the course, Dating 101, and just plain courteous. Your manners say a lot about you – they speak louder than words, especially in the beginning stages of a relationship – so acting the gentleman will earn you an excessive number of points in the “worth her time” category. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve known many women who’ve based their decision to sleep with someone based almost entirely on whether or not he’s well-mannered and polite on the first few dates. Feminism preaches ‘equality,’ whatever that means, but don’t mistake “equal pay for equal work” for a free ticket to act like an inconsiderate buffoon. You’d be hard-pressed to find a woman who wants a door slammed in her face, but quite successful in finding one who will cut you off for doing just that. Even if you’re not Prince Charming, you will get far on chivalry alone. Trust me on this.

Your move: Taking her literally when she says that isn’t upset about something, doesn’t want to talk about it or doesn’t want to hear from you again

Her interpretation:  You don’t care about her enough to fight for her

Oh, my. This one embarrasses me a little, but despite its ragingly clichéd status, it is also, for the most part, ragingly true, so I feel I have to include it. ‘Relationships thrive on truth’ is, in fact, a true statement, and ‘games just get in the way’ is also definitely factual. But there are times when women say things that basically express the exact opposite of what they actually mean (is that you nodding your head vigorously in agreement? I thought so), and in these moments, it is vital that you infer the truth from something that is, for lack of a better term, a bald-faced lie. Luckily, or hopefully, there are only a few instances when this is universally true, and they usually accompany a bad fight. Let’s say, for example, you and your lady are arguing over the phone when she suddenly hangs up on you. Her actions may be saying that she doesn’t want to talk anymore, but she’s actually waiting for you to pick up the phone and call her right back. Why? Well, even I don’t know the origin of this anomaly, but I think it has something to do with the fact that women are often afraid to come right out and say what they’re thinking for fear of forcing you into a conversation you don’t want to actually have. Whether or not you want to have it is irrelevant – I’m guessing you usually don’t, because, really, who does? – but acting like you want to have it is the ticket to opening the lines of communication and getting her to spill whatever’s on her mind. So if you’ve been told there’s nothing wrong, or that she doesn’t want to talk to you, the odds are good that something is wrong and she really wants to talk to you about it. She just wants you to be the one to make the effort, since she’s the one having to deal with the feelings.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s fair to place all of the blame on the females of our species: communicating effectively is like the holy grail of relationship achievements, and few of us (if any) ever get it completely right. Just beware the pitfalls of taking at face value what women say in the midst of angry tirades; hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but men hath no business trying to understand furious women. Sometimes proving you’re in it to win it means putting logic aside, getting in the ring, and fighting like you actually know what’s going on. Or conceding, of course. That one almost always works. 

Remember, though, it goes both ways.