When a woman says,“It’s getting late,“ why do some men interpret that as a sign to speed things up and cut to the chase?
A recent UCD study explains that college men often misinterpretindirect messages from women due to faulty male introspection.
Introspection is whenpeople hearan indirect message and then think about what they would have meant given those circumstances, said Michael Motley, professor of communication who conducted the research.
The take-home message from Motley’s study:Just say stop when you want to stop.
“The way that women say ‘Stop‘ indirectly,men tend not to interpret as stop,“ Motley said.
In a previous research,up to85percent of women have had at least one experience where menattempt physical intimacy beyond the point where women have communicated that they would like to stop.
Motley’s researchis not about rape or situations where a man understands a woman’s intention to stop but ignores it,nor is it about long-term relationships.
“It’s about couples who have justbegun dating,not about people who have been together for a while and tonight’s not the night,“ he said.
One example of miscommunication between a dating couple is when they are makingout and the woman indicates that she’s gone as far as she wants to go,Motley said.
There are some ways that women say“stop“ where the direct literal translation is stop – and men seem to understand those messages,he said.But when she says something like,“It’s getting late,“ it doesn’t mean stop literally and could be interpreted into something else.
“The most common male interpretation is to skip the preliminaries and get to the heavy stuff,“ he said.
In a study conducted at UC Davis,Motley asked30female and60male undergraduate studentsabout their interpretations of“female resistant messages.“ One question,for example,gave one direct or indirect message and a choice of four different interpretations.Some messages were as direct as“stop,“ whereas others such as“I’m seeing someone else“ were considered indirect messages.
Thefemale studentswere askedto recall when they’ve used similar messages and what they meant when they said it.Half of the male students were asked to recall when a person they dated used that message,and what they thought it meant.The other30men were asked what they would have meant if they had said those messages themselves.
It may not be a surprise that the study showed men were accurate in interpreting direct messages,but had different interpretations of whatwomen meant when it came to indirect messages.Few men actually would have meant“stop“ had they said the messages themselves.
“Girls are complicated,“ said Brian Vo,senior biological sciences major.“It’sreallya case-by-case scenario.It depends on what point of the relationship you’re at physically and emotionally.“
However,when it comes to persistent people who don’t know when to quit,girls should be more aggressive and voice what they want,Vo said.
Motley said his research does not imply that there aren’t any jerks out there.
“There are times that the guy knows darn well that she wants to stop,“ he said.“Of course that happens – but there are many cases where a man goes further and doesn’t know when to stop because they’re not communicating.“
There are a few ways in which men and women can avoid these situations,said Liz Boyer,CAPS psychologist.
“The important recommendations are men should clarify the meaning of women‘s vague or indirect messages and women should learn to communicate assertively,“ Boyer said in an e-mail interview.
Motley’s researchbeganfive years agoand his findings haverecently been published in a new book titledStudies in Applied Interpersonal Communication.
Motley said hisresearch is not suggesting that the miscommunication between college men and women is anyone’s fault,butitisabout fixing the problem sothat there are fewersuchincidences.
“It’s not about blame.The point is that women need to know that they have more freedom to be direct than they realize.Women are reluctant to be direct because they’re afraid to offend the guy,but research shows that that’s not the case,“ he said.
THUY TRAN can be reached at email@example.com.