Why Can’t Men Learn To Read Women’s Minds?

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Ladies, have you ever complained about the insensitive boyfriend who couldn’t pick up on the fact that you were having a bad day, even though you told him you were fine?

Gentlemen, have you ever been called a conceited ass for thinking a girl was going to sleep with you, when she came over with only platonic intentions in mind?

One of the (decidedly few) merits of being a married, 28-year-old waitress with a college degree is that it brings me in contact with people who would otherwise fall well outside my social sphere. From the “regulars”–the middle-aged men who sit on the same bar stool night after night and literally wither away lonely hours via Jim, Jack or Crown–to the slurring, unsteady newbie drinkers who haven’t yet learned their limits, this place is a veritable variety pack of personalities and life experience.

The bar employs an exceptionally popular young bartender I’ll call Jack. Picture a 23-year-old with the confidence and charm of a Wall Street banker, combined with the interest and curiosity of a world-traveling nomad. Plus, he’s adorable. If Kurt Cobain’s ghost had a love child with Justin Bieber, the irresistible little nymph would undoubtedly resemble Jack.

Although I find myself immune to his trademark charisma (probably because he’s wisely never pointed it in my direction), women of all ages are simply elated when they find themselves attached to Jack’s arm for an evening. Over the months, I’ve become desensitized to the false-smile introductions of the various women he escorts into the bar on his nights off, knowing the poor girl whose limp-noodle hand I was shaking would likely be sitting by her phone all day tomorrow, waiting for a text that would never leave Jack’s fingertips.

Surprisingly, a bedraggled Jack arrived unaccompanied one night, plopping himself down on one of the lonely-man bar stools and mumbling about a girl.

Finally, I thought. Someone actually got to him.

Image by Edgar Dacosta via Flickr

Unfortunately, that was not the case. He’d been looking for an after-hours booty call the night before, and he’d convinced this girl to show up at his house. However, much to his mystification, she wouldn’t let him “do anything.” With the genuineness of a nun at confession, he lamented, “I seriously felt like I was misled.”


I had to ask why he automatically assumed the girl wanted to have sex with him just because she showed up at his house. So, Jack explained his theory to me: When a girl leaves the comfort of her own home to drive to a guy’s house post-midnight, she obviously wants to have sex with him. And, if she tells the guy before she shows up that she’s not going to have sex with him, then he can interpret that as a surefire message that he is definitely about to get laid.

Therefore, after she’d flawlessly followed his theory’s entire protocol, Jack was flabbergasted at her subsequent refusal for sex.

“Are you seriously saying that even though she flat-out told you she did not want to hook up, you still asked her over with the assumption that she was coming to hook up?” Clearly, I was still confused.

“Katie, think about it. Back when you were single, didn’t you ever flirtatiously tell a guy you weren’t going to have sex with him with the full intention of nailing him as long as he tried hard enough?”


“So then, if he did everything he was supposed to–complimented your smile, bought you a drink, asked you about your career and your family–even though you told him he wouldn’t be getting any, you could have no-strings-attached sex with him without feeling like a slut.”


I had done that before.

Did Jack seriously know women better than I knew women? I mean, I’m the one with the lacy bras and vanity full of feminine products, yet he had just exposed some of the deepest workings of my mostly over-analytical, but often far-too-judgmental female mind. A mind turning out to be more devious than even I’d realized.

Wracking my brain for possible reasons (other than sex) the girl might have had for showing up at Jack’s house after midnight, I thought:

Maybe she was going through a period of low self-esteem and needed an ego boost.

Maybe she really did just want to talk.

Maybe she forgot to wash her dirty sex sheets from the night before and was hoping to crash on his couch.

They were all possible.

But Jack, in all of his hurt-puppy bewilderment, made me realize that his “sexpectations” about the evening were actually understandable.

Let’s face it, ladies. Most of us send mixed messages, and we often expect men to read our minds based on our tone of voice or actions alone. We try so hard to train them to read between the lines that we get flustered when they don’t. But–here’s the kicker–we also get angry when they do.

Sometimes we want the thrill of playing games, and other times we really do just want a shoulder to cry on. Either way, it’s difficult to convey a clear message when we so often say one thing and mean another.

Image by Striatic via Flickr

I’ve misled men myself. Plenty of times. And, thanks to Jack, it finally hit me: How are men supposed to know any of this if we don’t tell them?

The truth is, they can’t.

So could it be? The reason for our anger and confusion might not always be them, but sometimes (I-can’t-believe-I’m-about-to-say-this)… it’s us?

I passed Jack another beer, and I wondered if he really was right to feel upset. After all, he was only trying to do what women so desperately act like we want men to do: listen to what we’re saying, listen to what we’re not saying, and then take a wild, yet pinpoint-perfect guess at what it all actually means.

It made me question whether this girl really was partially to blame for Jack’s virgin feelings of inadequacy.

And, you know what?

A little, unexpected part of me thinks that maybe she was.

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  • SO True! Have you ever done the ‘mirroring’ couples exercise where you have to repeat back what the other person said? I’d say it took about 5 go-rounds before it was right the first time! Crazy.

    Or maybe Mnsr. Jack should take girls at face value and then be pleasantly surprised? He sounds a bit manipulative to me! Which I guess is the point. But yes, the girls before this girl did affirm his assumptions. Grrr to them too 😉

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  • I would have to completely agree with Jacky Boy there. Given the circumstances as they were explained I can definitely understand his bewilderment regarding this “night of the lacking lay.”

    That time of night. Last minute invite over. What does she possibly expect is on his mind? A game of Yatzee?

    This reminds me of 2 different episodes of ‘How I Met Your Mother’. First, the every popular ‘Nothing Good Happens After 2am’. A guy. A girl. Late hours. Invite over for “juice”. Something is gonna go down.

    The other is an explaination by Barney (our old friend Doogie Howser) that the later it gets the less effort he needs to put into requesting a booty call. Starts off with a call. Moves to a text with complete sentences. At one point, late in the night, he simply sends a ‘?’ where the girl responds with a ‘!’.

    I think it all really comes down to being able to read clearly between the lines. We are all guilty of it one way or another. It all just really comes down to seeing that-which-is-there-but-is-not-intended-to-be-seen and realizing what you see is not always what you get.

    Good and bad can come from mind reading but I see it as learning any other type of skill, it takes practice.

    And I’ll admit as much as I would enjoy being able to read the minds of the female counterparts…there is a thrill factor to being put on the spot to try and figure things out and look for that hidden meaning.

  • I hate to say it, but I agree with Jack. No girl goes to a guy’s house past midnight without believing it’s a booty call. Unless the trip fits one of these scenarios:
    1. Guy calls and says he just took a bottle of pills. She calls 911 and heads over. Not a booty call.
    2. Guy fell down the basement stairs, tore apart his knee and broke his leg. Needs help. Not a booty call.
    3. Girl was raised as a shut-in or in an Amish community and has only recently entered the world at large.
    4. Guy is her brother. Not a booty call.

    Any other scenario. Booty Call.

    We do it all the time. We say things with our mouths then say things with our eyes, and get pissed when they don’t hear what our eyes were saying. We all need to do a better job of just saying things, and then there’ll be fewer misunderstandings when someone actually just says what she’s thinking.

  • Scientifically speaking, the average man has about 1/2 to 1/3 of the brain “areas” for interpreting non-verbal communication. We are not wired for it, like women. If you want something, be up front about it. You would probably be amazed at how well a man will respond, if you talk our language.

    • Hmmm. I smell another article idea…

      I also think it’s safe to say that while women often try to interpret non-verbal communication, we frequently get it wrong – especially when it comes to interpreting men.

    • I can understand how frustrating it is when we misinterpret messages from the opposite sex because they weren’t more up front or direct. It’s definitely messed me up a few times. I think it would do both genders a lot more good for individuals to put effort into better understanding the way we communicate with each other instead of complaining or trying to change the way we communicate. The human race has been developing for a few years now and we’ve had no problem with procreation yet.

  • What a great and insightful article!
    (Well, I’m a guy, so considering the article’s conclusion, what else would you expect me to say? ;P )
    But seriously, I did enjoy it, and I even found two points to add:

    a. From my experience, men DO tend to interpret a little too easy that a woman wants to sleep with them, though I don’t know how much of it is wrongly understanding her signals and how much is wishful thinking – and, in case of talking with someone else, bragging (“she’s totally into me” – yeah, right…*sigh*). Many times I find even myself somewhat hoping that, when an attractive women is being friendly to me, she actually has a sexually interest, even if I’m not interested in her… But the situation mentioned in the article seems pretty clear, and it’s my suspicion that “Jack” just didn’t “play” that girl hard enough – sometimes, the women want us to really work for it, and put a serious effort into actually seducing them.

    b. I’ve met many men who were quite empathic, and a lot of women who were clueless/uncaring about the feelings of their dialogue partner(s). I don’t know what’s the ratio of insensitivity between men and women, but I do know that women tend to be more extroverted and men more introverted, at least when it comes to showing emotion – so ladies, when he seems that he actually believes you when you say that you’re fine even if you obviously aren’t, it may be not because he’s clueless, but because he regards your answer as a request to not intrude.
    C’mon people, women and men are quite obviously different, so why should we interpret the other gender according to the standards of our own?!!

  • I was at a training where I learned that only about 7-percent of communication is verbal. That’s not a whole lot. Other aspects of communication are tone of voice, eye contact, body language, etc. In other words, it’s how you act (and this is also why text can be so poor at communicating emotions). You can say one thing and communicate something completely different – which is what seems like happened in Jacky-boy’s case. As they say, actions speak louder than words.

    That being said, I never liked making a man guess what my intentions are. I tell hubby what I want for my birthday (give him suggestions at any rate). I don’t like jerking people around any more than I like being jerked around.

  • Coming from “Jack” himself most women are a mess of contradiction. They want to do what they are biologically and evolutionarily inclined to do but feel bad about doing it because of societal constraints they are brought up to subscribe too. This girl in particular wanted to have sex but refrained from doing so in trying not to feel like a “slut” or a “whore.” It is very sad that women are subjected to these feeling and labels because of their highly sexual nature. I am sure that the women that have been posting on this know what I am talking about deep down inside. Women should be free to embrace their sexuality and do the things they are naturally inclined and want to do as opposed to repressing these feelings because people tell them not too.

    • Sounds like you’re about to start the next sexual revolution!

    • You know, I’ve actually been thinking about this response quite a bit. And the thing is, you’re mostly right: Women are incredibly sexual – many to the point where it makes them uncomfortable because of the labels people give them if they act on those feelings.

      BUT, it’s also important for you to know that many women are still looking for something more than just the physical connection that comes from sex. We want to feel respected on all levels, you know? So while it’s fair to say that she wanted to have sex with you but restrained herself because she was afraid of feeling like a slut, it could also just be because she knew you wanted ONLY sex from her.

      What I’m trying to say is, even if we also feel like we just want sex and nothing else, we know we’ll lose our power (aka. your lust for us) after we give in. And that’s no good because while the sex could be awesome, we still want you to want us for more.

      You know, it’s that whole “I want you to want me” vibe. HEY, maybe Cheap Trick really knew what they were talking about!

  • Oh yeah…..It was definately a bootie call. I have been married for close to 20 years and I still recognize a booty call when I hear it….

  • It’s kind of a “girl who cried wolf” situation. Jack (or men in general) experience a few girls who say they’re not going to sleep with them, and then do, and then he gets upset when a girl—gasp—actually means what she says. I can’t get angry at Jack for drawing conclusions from his own experiences, and from past actions of women he’s dated, but part of me still gets pissed when a guy assumes that “I’m not going to sleep with you” means “I WANT SEX NOW PLEASE”.

    How about this: people don’t play games when they want or do not want something from someone. That way, no one jumps to conclusions or gets their feelings hurt when something they assume—which is, in fact, the exact opposite of what the person says—doesn’t happen. There! Problems of male-female relations, solved!

    • That’s a great idea, Allison! While you’re at it, I think you should grab a bullhorn, fly down to the Israel/Palestine border, and tell everyone, “how y’all be nice to each other, ya hear?”

    • While we’re at it, I’d also like you to come up with a viable method of stabilizing and containing a nuclear fusion power source… We’ll start with the sun. Baby steps.

    • Don’t listen to these guys. I am a girl who tells it exactly like it is. If I say we aren’t having sex — guess what? We aren’t having sex. I don’t see the point in saying things you don’t mean. Just don’t say anything at all. But I do know a lot of girls tease and play these games, which is ridiculous. And it’s annoying to me that women play these games, and then men think something is going to happen that isn’t. Add to that, the agressive and disgusting men out there that feel like they are owed something…so if you say no, they think you should say yes…and unfortunately, this is the reason behind a lot of date rape. Not trying to get too serious in the comments of this post, but there are some serious implications for this behavior, especially for unbalanced men.

    • That’s a really good point, Catherine. I thought about touching on that in the article, but that was a huge thing to address in less than 1,000 words. But you’re right – for unbalanced men and the women who date them, assumptions and expectations can certainly be very dangerous.

      Since I’ve “grown up,” so to speak, I’ve become a lot more adept at saying what I mean. But I have to say, if I were still single, I’m not sure I could – or would even want to – avoid games entirely. If I remember correctly, sometimes that build-up… that will we/won’t we? banter… is half the fun of a night with a new interest.

    • Katie, I completely agree… there’s a reason they’re called games. I don’t know about everyone else, but as a kid I learned games are supposed to be fun 😉 even if they can be frustrating at times as well

  • Great article!
    Now, Jack, sometimes the reason we don’t sleep with someone upon first meeting is because we don’t want to wake up the next morning with regret. Personally, my rule was never on the first date… but the second date was another story!

  • I believe fully in, “I don’t want to have sex with you tonight,” meaning I don’t want to have sex with you tonight. To assume otherwise, as others have mentioned, puts you at risk of date rape. Speaking from my own experience, there are guys I’ve been interested in and attracted to, but who I wanted to like me and want to have sex with me for who I was, for the whole package. I have flirted like mad with them and made my attraction clear, but then when I realized that the only reason they were listening to me talk was as a means to a “happy ending,” and I could have been speaking in Albanian for all they cared, I got over my attraction. I can’t really feel sorry for a guy for being disappointed for not getting laid. If a guy wants a sure thing, he should call a hooker. It sounds to me like Jack was going through the motions and that the girl may have been genuinely trying to see if there was a connection. People tend to be more real late at night in comfortable settings, they tend to open up more. I have had some of my best conversations at 2 a.m. coming home after a night at the bar. You can say things in the dark that you can’t say during the day. As a single girl, I can pick up the phone on any given night and get laid, but what I would really love would be to pick up the phone and have an interesting, real conversation with a guy. My body isn’t the only part of me that requires stimulation. I’ve dated some people who were great and adventurous in bed, but after a month of dull conversation I couldn’t take it anymore. Now I have a rule, if you can’t carry on a conversation without the objective being sex, I’m not going to sleep with you. So no I don’t think poor Jack, I think poor girl who was actually looking for someone who could make her feel alive!

  • I see what you’re saying about date rape, but considering (at least in this essay) that it’s the guy who is assuming otherwise, he’s clearly not at risk for getting raped, and likewise he’s not a rapist (someone who would force the girl to have sex with him no matter what she says), so the point (as it applies here) is moot. I would also like to add that while I’m no expert, I’m fairly certain date rape isn’t caused by erroneous assumptions. Once she got to his house, Jack recognized that his assumption was wrong and the sex didn’t happen. A rapist knows what he’s doing is wrong, and if he says he assumed she wanted it even though she said she didn’t, he’s using it as an excuse – not a fact.

    You’re definitely right about the fact that Jack was just “going through the motions.” According to him, he never made (and never makes) and qualms about his intent. Therefore, he feels that the girl knew he was interested in sex and sex alone. They’d never dated, and he never gave her any inclination that he was asking her over for an interesting, real, and stimulating conversation. So if that’s what she was thinking, regardless of what he told her, then she was making assumptions as well, no?

    I never said I felt sorry for Jack. And Jack “types” will be the first to insist they don’t need our pity. I assure you he quickly recovered and moved on to the next. But I also don’t feel sorry for the girl in this situation. They were both at fault for the misunderstanding, and my intent with the essay was to show that men aren’t the only sex guilty of poor communication.

  • RE: Date rape comment…I mean the part where he assumes that if a girl says she doesn’t want to have sex, that means he just needs to try harder. “Back when you were single, didn’t you ever flirtatiously tell a guy you weren’t going to have sex with him with the full intention of nailing him as long as he tried hard enough?” That’s kind of a scary attitude for a man to have, that “no” really means “try harder.” I’m not saying those were his intentions, but the attitude behind it is pretty standard for a sexual predator. It’s a little weird. And as far as “It made me question whether this girl really was partially to blame for Jack’s virgin feelings of inadequacy,” I feel that by saying she wasn’t going to have sex with him, she was clear about her intentions and rather it was all of the other women who ever said “no” when they really meant “yes” who should take the blame for the mixed messages, not the girl who stood by her word. She was upfront, but I feel like you are saying she was being a tease. That kind of sucks.

  • But I like the article and I have to say, I feel a little triumphant for the girl who didn’t sleep with him. He sounds like a total player. I would never want to be described as yet another girl attached to some charmer’s arm for the night. Nothing like being an accessory to make you feel like an object.

  • I completely get what you’re saying and it makes sense. But the thing is, though she was clear about what she intended verbally, it’s hard to argue that her actions didn’t suggest otherwise. Either she’s incredibly naive, or the flirty subtext of their conversation (regardless of her saying she didn’t intend to have sex) still left open the possibility in both of their minds. Like I said before, Jack was also fairly clear about his own intentions. So, if you put all that together, then yes — she was still misleading (in a sense), and that resulted in him feeling inadequate. I get his confusion, but I certainly don’t feel sorry for him. 😉

    The sad fact is, “no” much of the time really does mean “try harder.” Not in a forceful physical way, but in a I-need-you-to-impress-me-more kind of way. It’s a hard stance to take, because you’re right – it seems like there’s a fine line between that and rape. But any decent guy (even a player, in Jack’s case), doesn’t get his kicks out of having sex with an unwilling partner. And I would never, ever blame a rape victim for getting raped. I just want to make it clear that’s not what the article is about.

    And you know? A little part of my devious mind likes to feel triumphant for the girl as well. Rather than think her naive, I’d like to hope she knew exactly what she was doing. 😉

  • One of my early flirtations arose between me and a girl I hardly knew at the time while going to a friend’s party. Admittedly, after a while of talking, while she did display clear signs that she wanted to be physical with me, she had very impulsive tendencies which, from my position at the time, seemed very hard to decipher. After a weekend of making out at some friends’ house and exchanging a few superficial conversations, she texted me one day saying it wouldn’t work between us – HOWEVER, that didn’t stop her from sending some suspicious texts with hearts later on, claiming that she missed me, and, after a short while, she started sending texts to me about wanting to get back together (most of which I eventually stopped reacting to). In retrospect, I realize that she was probably mostly doing all that to play around with me, and that she meant very little of what she wrote.

    A few months later I found myself having a similar thing going with one of her friends. This one was a lot more talkative, and while I gradually learned that she was probably not my type, we did exchange some meaningful conversations where she explained to me that many boys had a tendency to misunderstand her; especially regarding her sending signals that they would decipher as sexual, which they really weren’t. She was a lot more up front about her personality and her ambitions with me while we had this thing going, and even though we ultimately ended up drifting apart, I walked away from it with a bit more experience on women and their tendencies.

    Fast forward to today, a couple of months into my first semester at university, where I relatively quickly ended up in a relationship with a girl who’s in many ways a polar opposite of the first one I mentioned. She’s outgoing about her personality and shortcomings, verbal and never sends any ambiguous messages (lucky me). However, I have a feeling that if my only real close encounter with a girl had been with girl #1, my love life would have been vastly different from what it is now (or non existant) because of the bias towards women my previous acquaintance (plus a couple of others) had left me with.

    So even though I have a deep kind of hatred towards player types like Jack who goes all down just because he was turned down for sex, I still respect his insight into women’s tendencies, which marginally surpasses most other guys I know of; including myself, if I say so.

    Now, I’m smart enough to know that only some kinds of women tend to this kind of behavior, and even though I am in no position to complain, it’s been said before:
    Ladies, be careful when you make playful insinuations. Be up front. It makes life so much easier not only for socially awkward types like me, but even for Jack-types who are probably only used to promiscuous women, and it kills the contact shock some experience when they find out that some women behave differently than what they would expect.

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