What he really means…
By Jonathan Small
Do you understand “guy-talk?” Can you comprehend all the subtle — and not-so-subtle — nuances of his secret language? If you’re a woman, chances are the answer is: sort of, kind of, er, not really. “Men don’t always say what they mean,” says Scott Haltzman, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men. “And sometimes we say what we mean but women understand it completely differently.” All in all, that means that cracking the code can be difficult — but not impossible. To give you a head start, we talked to relationship experts and real guys to shed some light on some of a guy’s most common lines — and what in the world he really means by them.
What he says: “We should hang out some time.”
What he means: “I don’t want to flat-out ask you on a date and risk rejection, so first I’m going to gauge your interest.”
Why he says it: “This is the safest way to go,” says Ron Karmel. “If she says ‘yeah’ and gives you her number, you know you’re in, but if she just says ‘yeah’ and does nothing — you know it’s a no-go.” And with the male ego the way it is, this is the preferred way for him to find out. Says Haltzman, “It hurts to be rejected, so asking a woman out this way gives her a chance to pull away without the guy being embarrassingly turned down.”
What he says: “I really like your shoes.”
What he means: “I really like you.”
Why he says it: Granted, he could genuinely like your shoes. But if he says this during the early stages of dating, it also likely means he’s physically attracted to you — but doesn’t want to come right out and say it and seem like a dog. Ty Marciniak claims that this is one of the first things he says when he’s into a girl. “It boosts her confidence, but it also shows her I’m fashionable and sweet,” he says. “She’ll notice that I didn’t come right out and compliment her legs or something.” Which is, of course, what he really was complimenting in the first place. Get it?
What he says: “Maybe we should take some time off from each other — you know, take a break.”
What he means: “Maybe I’m better off keeping my options open.”
Why he says it: Seems harsh, but it’s common: “This kind of statement is driven by the man’s fear of hurting the woman or by wanting to have it both ways — having her without committing,” explains Alon Gratch, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of If Men Could Talk. Problem is, women often take “the break” at face value. Trust me, if a guy is crazy about you, he’ll want to spend as much time with you as possible, period.
What he says: “I am listening!”
What he means: “I’m listening, but I really don’t want to get into a long, emotional discussion right now.”
Why he says it: When a guy zones out, women generally interpret that to mean he’s shut her off. More likely he’s just overwhelmed. “Men process verbal information better when it’s direct and to the point,” says Haltzman. Scott Borchert agrees. “When I say this, it usually means I just wish she’d get to the point sooner,” he says. One way around this is to ask him for his advice — guys love to fix problems — or to make sure he’s primed for a marathon talk session. So rather than launching right in, say, “This story’s kind of involved — can you listen now or should we talk later?”
What he says: “You’re just too good for me.”
What he means: “I need out of this relationship.”
Why he says it: “I’ve said that many times, but not once have I meant it,” admits Ron. “What I meant was I needed an out in the relationship, but I wanted to make her feel good about it.” Another popular alternative to this is the, “You deserve someone better than me” line. So why can’t guys just come out and tell you the truth? Unless you’re new to the planet Earth, you may have noticed men aren’t big on having talks — particularly breakup talks. In fact, they’ll say anything to avoid them, such as buttering you up so you don’t chew them out. “Men don’t go to places they’re afraid of,” says Gratch. “We don’t like to go where we might have to open up about feelings.” Did he just say feelings? Blech!
What he says: “I think I’m falling in love with you.”
What he means: “I am this close to saying the L-word, but I can’t bring myself to say it just yet and when I do say it, I want to be sure you’ll say it back.”
Why he says it: Ron calls this an “in-between line” — it’s a warm-up act to “I love you,” and it tests the waters to see if she’s feeling the same way. For women, talking about your emotions and exposing your vulnerabilities is a way to bond with another person, “but men don’t view exposing your vulnerabilities as a positive,” says Haltzman. “They don’t want to appear weak.” That’s why words like “thinking” and “falling” come in very handy — they give him an out. But they also allow him to express something meaningful in a way only he understands. Hopefully, now you will, too.
Jonathan Small is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles and coauthor of the book Best Places to Kiss in Southern California.
Want the other side of this story? Read A guide to girl talk.