Matt Gemmell

My new book CHANGER is out now!

An action-adventure novel — book 1 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

I can tell you anything

Personal 5 min read

This seems to have been the year of relationship turmoil; I can easily list more than 10 couples I know who have split up since Easter alone, and I daresay I could come up with more if I thought about it. I was talking to a female friend about that the other day, and we again arrived at the strange fact that women seem more comfortable talking to me about their personal lives than to their own partners. You’d think that’d be a good thing, and indeed it is admittedly great that people feel they can trust me with such things. Hopefully I’d be justified in saying that I give decent advice too, which is another positive point. I really enjoy being able to help my female friends work through how they’re feeling, and trying to offer constructive advice to improve their situations. However, there’s a significant downside to being one of those “great guys”: it turns into a kind of torture if you’re unlucky enough to be interested in the girl.

See, I have a theory about all this (no surprises there). Obviously, women really want friends with whom they can discuss their lives, problems and general emotional landscape, and who can give them considered advice. I guess we all want that, to varying degrees, but women really require it. Now, women also particularly like male friends who can do this, as they provide a presumably valuable insight into the male perspective - and we all know that we men are at the root of many of women’s daily problems, and indeed vice versa.

Thus, when a woman encounters such a guy, she realises the rarity of the occasion, and resolves to have this man as a close friend. She then embarks on a process of encouraging the man to become close to her, and this is where it all goes south. There’s only really one guaranteed way to trigger and maintain the interest of a guy, and that’s the old chestnut of casual flirtation, being tactile, bubbly, and so forth. So that’s what happens.

The problem is that these signs usually tend to tend to indicate that the woman is interested in the guy; i.e. that she may be receptive to the idea of pursuing a relationship with him. So, the guy reads the signs in that way (perhaps after a period of understandable disbelief and a marked feeling of surreality). The guy is wrong, though; the woman is behaving in this way in order to keep him interested and receptive, so that she can continue to benefit from his friendship, empathy and perspective. The guy doesn’t realise he’s been pre-selected to be a friend, rather than anything else.

In the best available scenario, the guy makes a move on the girl, is soundly knocked back, then has the usual period of self-loathing, doubt, guilt and moderate depression before moving on with his life. The worst-case scenario is that the guy makes no move, and his delusion is perpetuated long enough for him to fall in love with the girl, leading eventually to an almighty crash and burn. Truly nasty.

When the best outcome is a knockback, it’s not difficult to see that the situation in general is one to be avoided. As I said before, just don’t get into friendships with women purely because you’re romantically interested in them; it’s going to get very messy indeed.

It’s possible to take Ladder Theory and such far too seriously, but there’s a significant grain of truth in there nonetheless. In particular, some valid danger signs that the girl you’re interested in actually thinks of you purely as a friend:

(If) a girl says any of the following to you:

  • "You're like a brother to me"
  • "You're like a big teddy bear"
  • "I feel like I can talk to you about anything"
  • "You're so nice"
  • "Can you help me with my homework?"

You are on the friends ladder. So Sorry.

Any guy who now has a pervasive fear that his “signs of female interest” detection machinery has somehow become crippled and unreliable can probably relate to at least some of those; and that category most definitely includes myself. The essence of the situation is that the signs are right, but their meaning is different due to the position the woman has already placed you in.

So, what’s the solution? Logically, it would seem to make sense to somehow try to be less of the kind of guy women want to be friends with: to be less empathic, less emotionally mature, less experienced in the intricacies of relationships, and so on. The irony of that is not lost on me. The problem, however, is that not only does that all sound extremely distasteful, but it’s also probably not something you can even achieve; you’re either a “great guy” or you’re not. You just have to deal with it, and try to maintain at least a notion of nobility and righteousness, however ridiculous and cartoonish its trappings may be.

Many guys will at this point say they don’t mind being in the “friend” position, since it allows them to really take an active role in helping ensure that the girl is happy, which is all they really wanted for her in the first place (I’ve said that very thing myself, in fact). That’s all fine and great; very noble. Just be aware that, in practice, being relegated to friend status by someone you’re interested in just doesn’t feel particularly great, and it becomes roughly a thousand times worse when the girl in question wants to discuss her current relationship with you. And she will, trust me.

It’s important to realise that, in the end, you just can’t be everyone’s friend. Second place in these situations also isn’t particularly great. By all means tough it out until you’re over her, at which point you can certainly be a friend to her without being damaged in the process; I occupy many such positions even at the moment. Just be sure to be really honest with yourself about whether you’re actually over her or not.

This new millennium, and the political messages accompanying it, would have us believe that there’s hope on the horizon: seemingly, it’s now the done thing for women to make the approach towards men just as often as the more established opposite way. Theoretically, such a state of affairs would do something to restore the balance of power, as it were. However, I think we can agree that, for the moment, that’s largely just a theory. Guys are still the ones who make the move, and thus the ones who take the emotional risk.

My own feeling at this point is that I have plenty to be getting on with in my life: the approaching 4th year of my degree, all of the social activities associated with it, my own coding projects, my music, and indeed continuing to be a reliable friend to the various relevant people in my life. I’ve been single for more than 2 months now, and recent events have actually made me realise I’m very comfortable with that. I’m at a point where the effort involved in trying to determine whether there’s any potential for a relationship with a given girl seems to be far too much to handle right now (and with far too much potential for negative outcomes), and I’m actually quite happy being single; I’m really getting used to it.

I’d have folk believe there’s always a small army of women waiting around the corner, competing for my attention and affection, but let’s face it: that’s mostly just utter fiction. On the off-chance that any such women do actually exist, then two points: (1) Where were you?, and (2) Apologies, ladies: the Mattness is off the market for the forseeable future.