What we say and what we mean are never going to be exactly the same. Good thing, too – imagine the chaos if everyone went around giving voice to every thought that passes through their head. Civilisation is built on secrets and diplomacy – and relationships are built on tact, little white lies and knowing when to shut up.
We’re all at it: men, women, singles and couples. But we’re not all at it in quite the same way, and you’ll fare much better with men if you understand the subtle differences between their hidden meanings and yours. Here’s a quick guide to understanding and speaking man-talk.
1. “I definitely know you from somewhere.”
He means: I definitely fancy you.
A guy who’s trying to impress you wouldn’t dream of risking a full “I fancy you” at this early stage, so he’s hedging his bets with a (glaringly unsubtle) flirty cliché. It works for a couple of reasons: first, it draws you into the idea that you and he are somehow connected (ah, it’s fate!). It’s also his way of signalling his interest, without making himself vulnerable to rejection. He fears rejection like a slug fears salt.
2. “It’s getting noisy in here. Do you want to go somewhere less crowded?”
He means: I like you, and I think you like me, so let’s find somewhere more romantic.
He still doesn’t want to risk rejection by laying his heart on the ground for you to stamp on, but when a man says this he clearly thinks that your date is going well. That, or his ex-girlfriend has just walked in.
Be warned, you haven’t got him in the bag yet. When you “go on somewhere” he’s still sussing you out. He hasn’t switched to a quieter venue so that he can rip your clothes off – it’s simply so that conversation is easier and he can find out more about you.
3. “Hey try this: it’s a whiskey sour. I first had one in New York. Careful, sip slowly…”
He means: You are intimidatingly cool. Must prove that I’m at least as cool as you are.
This is not about whiskey cocktails, it’s about his ego. If a man is impressed by your career or conversation, watch him try to rescue his intimidated ego by pulling out all his best alpha male tricks. He’ll brag, crack jokes, spend money on you, save you from muggers… this man will do anything for you. Because it makes him feel better about himself.
Word of warning: if you want your relationship to work in the long term, he’s got to get over his insecurities first.
4. “Hey everyone, this is my friend…”
He means: This is not my girlfriend. Just making sure that you know it and she knows it.
Or he may mean: This is my new girlfriend. But I’m playing it cool.
Only you (and he, I suppose) can decide the most likely of these two explanations for his description of you as his “friend” – even though you’ve been in a state of apparent mutual bliss for two months now.
Be honest. If your dates contain more awkward silences than words, you are not in a state of mutual bliss. He only called you his “friend” because you were in the room and he wanted to be polite. Get rid, immediately.
The “playing it cool” explanation is a little more complicated. A lot of the men say that they find it intensely embarrassing to declare their feelings for a new girlfriend in public (by, say, using the word “girlfriend”). He may be happy to call you his girlfriend in private, but not in front of his friends. If it’s any consolation, he’ll get over himself soon enough.
5. He says: “The time’s not right… I’d make a terrible boyfriend at the moment.”
He means: I’d make a terrible boyfriend because I don’t fancy you enough.
Give the guy credit for being honest with himself and letting you down gently, rather than hanging on and treating you like a doormat because he doesn’t have the gumption to end it. That may not make you feel better now, but it soon will.
6. He says: “I love New York. I’ll take you there one day.”
He means: I love the response I get when I say this to women.
Sometimes he may even mean it, for a minute or two. We all do it to an extent – we’re carried away by the excitement of meeting someone new, and we throw all sorts of pie-eyed plans into the air, without seriously intending to follow them through. No harm in that, provided you both know that it’s just one of those fun “what if?” conversations. The danger is when one of you takes it too seriously. Put down that visa application form and take a pinch of salt instead.
7. He says: A grunting sound (his code for “I’m going to the pub”)
He means: I can’t be bothered to talk to you any more.
You may recognise this scenario if you’ve been in a relationship for a while, and your once chatty boyfriend has turned into stranger who’ll do anything to avoid a conversation. It may surprise you to hear that he’s probably scared of you. The less he communicates with you, the more insecure you’ll get – and that’s when the trouble really starts.
This is a clear case of signal failure. If you want your relationship to work, you must fix your communication link. Be frank about your feelings and fears, and let him do the same. No judgemental interruptions. If you continue to be open and honest, your reward will be a level of trust and mutual understanding that seemed impossible not long ago.