One lesson young women know, but can never quite learn, is how many young men misunderstand kindness from a woman as affection. The difference between kindness and affection are bright and clear. Kindness is what you should extend to every person. Affection is reserved for intimate reciprocal relationships where the affection expressed is given and not demanded. Young men are anxious to connect to young women.

They do not care what they have to say or do in order to pull reciprocal affection, not kindness, from a woman. Young women do not understand these men are not interested in “being friends” or being friendly or kind. The men want intimate affection. When a young woman gives her attention to a young man in conversation or via passing eye contact that behavior is often interpreted by the young man as an expression of affection and not simple human kindness. The young man then acts on a misunderstood communication and begins to hunt and gather more perceived affection from the young woman.

This cycle of a one-sided mating ritual places the young woman in some social and emotional jeopardy if she is not careful. Often the only way for the young woman to extricate herself from this misunderstanding is cruelty in completely severing the young man from her kind attention. That forced cruelty by circumstance goes against her natural instinct to be kind and it rivets his attention even more because his perceived affection from her has been shorn from his hopeful nights. Hurt feelings then simmer on both sides. Young women are concerned when they learn how some men misunderstand kindness for affection and they wonder how to stop that illegitimate connection from happening in the first place.

The first piece of advice I give them is to understand young men are not interested in “being friends” if they are attracted in any way and if they are not attracted they will never be around looking for affection. The clever men will go along with the “just friends” ploy but their intent behind that bonding is to penetrate deeper than the young woman expects. The second thing I tell the women to do is to accept no favors from a young man.

Do not allow him to buy you lunch or carry your books or walk you home from school — unless he is a young man you wish to know better — because those are all methods to gain control of the interaction. The young man can then say, “You owe me!” and the uninterested young woman is immediately put in a defensive position by entering a social contract for behavioral reciprocation she did not sign! Many young women, in order to placate and go along and be kind will give in to this premeditated “you owe me” ploy and that sinks her even farther into the larger tar pit of misunderstood affection.

Finally, I warn young women to be neutral and to “turn themselves off” when they are out in the world. Young women on the East Coast fast understand this concept because they usually walk everywhere they go or are stuck on public transportation and the effectiveness of “turning yourself off” is learned at an early age in order to protect yourself from strangers in close social contact. Midwesterners and Southerners have a harder time neutralizing themselves to stop any affection misunderstandings dead in their tracks. There are always young women who do not understand the concept of “turning off” and if there are young men within ear shot of this conversation they always have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to making yourself “neutral” because they are taught from an early age to always have their game on at all times.

One young woman was so talented at turning herself on and off I often used her as an example for other women — when she was “on” her face was bright and her eyes became friendly and her face was fresh and warm and you wanted to be her best friend and when she turned herself “off” her face and eyes became dead and her facial elasticity disappeared and she looked like a really ugly old man — and she could make that change as easy as flipping a light switch on and off.

Young women should not be afraid of young men — but they should be wary of not randomly giving away their kindness. Be careful. Temper the need to be liked and accepted by the opposite sex. Young women must claim and then understand the magic and power they wield over men of all ages with their kindness and that energy should be meted out with an affectionate hand that protects both the giver and the receiver.


  1. If we look at primate relatioships we can see the same basic phenomena. Males form relationships centered around mating, they are driven by the desire to mate multiple times if possible, thus they want a limited relationship that accomplishes that goal with the minimum of resources. Male hierarchy is based on mating rights, the right to inject your genetic material into the gene pool. Females are interested in forming a social networks to support them and their current or eventual offspring. As they have the potential to mate and bear offspring fewer times in a lifespan, its in their best interest to sample the male population, to identify the genetic alpha.
    Now, Im not arguing that humans are equivalent to primates;however, the underlying instinctual behavior and biological drive is present. On top of this is a complex web of social norms and roles that are both fed by and try to subvert or supress biological drive. As a young-male myself, I can say that it is difficult to not push a relationship down a path toward a more intimate, physical one. There are time when I have better control over this than others. Usually, as Dave M. mentioned, I come to my sense and am able to rescue the budding relationship from an otherwise disastrous path.

  2. Thanks for the scientific background, Jonathan!
    I think that explains a lot.
    The key is young women need to be educated about this drive men have to conquer and spread their genes in other people’s pools!
    Too often I still see smart, but naïve, young women at the collegiate level who are completely unaware of the miscommunications going on in their lives with the men in their lives.

  3. What a brilliant article David!
    May be the ”media-hype” is also responsible for this! I have seen so many trash on this, like ”1000 successful/effective tips/advice or God knows what…to attract/seduce/flirt with men/women/E.T/alien….”whatever idiotic crap!
    As a part of my Indian culture I am very polite, modest and humble by nature (not that its something very noble) – that was the way I was raised……its hard for me to change. But I have faced many awkward situations and some unwanted attention because of that and later realized that its my behavior that was confusing and the cause of my own embarrassment. Interesting!

  4. Katha!
    It is wonderful to have your opinion on this matter.
    You make excellent points. Men are conditioned by our culture to go after women and “get them” even if we are previously tethered. Many men are always seeking the fanciful better future than the reality that surrounds them in the instant.
    Indian women, in my experience, are always kind and make wonderful eye contact. That sort of direct attention is rare in America and that may be why so many Indian women are overwhelmed by the attention they get from men raised in an American “go-get-em” culture.
    It is unfortunate that your kind behavior gets misinterpreted so you feel like you are the one who is behaving improperly. The reverse is actually true.
    I feel for you and the danger is women like you can lose some of your innate kindness in exchange for a necessary cruelty against men hunting you and that is a sad change for all of us.

  5. Dave!
    Harr! I am not allowed into my wife’s purse! You are pretty slick there!
    Katha is wonderful. She’ll give you her background if you can be trusted with her kindness.

  6. David, you are absolutely right! I forgot to mention – Indians are by nature warm and friendly too! The typical ”no nonsense business like attitude” or ”cut throat professionalism” is yet to be ingrained there. Why on earth just wanting to share food with my classmate (just because we are in the same class and I am snacking in front of him – its a common courtesy back home)would imply that I am planning to share my bed? I have no clue! 😀
    Dave – yep! I am very much single till today! Don’t know about tomorrow though! (Is my answer supposed to be this according to the God knows what….tips?) 🙂

  7. Glad to know that some endangered species like you are still out there…be the way you are…Dave! Always!

  8. Katha —
    I had a class with a wonderful Indian woman who respected my Vegan diet and she was trying so hard to create for me an Indian diet that would avoid cow’s milk.
    She was so openly loving as she worked to accommodate me I knew that another man would have interpreted her effort as a signal of attraction, but I knew she was taken as I was taken and she was jus trying her best to figure me out.
    She was able to get around the “no milk” mandate but my “not spicy” preference gave her a much harder time! She was disappointed to get rid of a condensed sort of milk popular in Indian cuisine to provide lots of protein, but she gave it up and added more peas and potatoes.

  9. Its great to know that she was not misinterpreted…..but I am too cautious now! Forget about Indian food, I won’t even dare to share American food with anybody these days.
    Extending hospitality is a very usual custom for Indians and feeding someone tops the list. Just so you know, I can make very tasty ”non spicy and non dairy” Indian cuisine!!!

  10. Katha!
    I think it is good to be cautious now! Then you cannot be misinterpreted. You are smart not to share — who needs the headache?!
    I am thrilled to hear your recommendations for “non-spicy, non-dairy” Indian food!

  11. I agree with this post and find it very sad. The fact that we must play a game in our interactions with the opposite sex, and that these interactions must be so complex and ambiguous, is very disheartening. I believe that part of the reason our society is so isolated and leaves people feeling so lonely is because being genuinely nice has become such a complicated thing. While I don’t blame men for their biological makeup and the subtle ways in which it dictates their behavior, I find it frustrating that an innocent smile on the street could be misconstrued as less-than-innocent interest.
    Part of the problem is that talking freely about sex is still so taboo in our society. If we could all be more forthcoming and honest about our feelings towards others, perhaps we could avoid the misunderstandings and hurt that can result from male-female relationships.
    The idea that we must behave in a certain way so as not to send the wrong signals doesn’t end with interactions between the sexes either. Because so many people in modern society live in a bubble, being nice to random strangers is often construed as “weird”. Many times, I have smiled or said hello to strangers only to get a suspicious look in return. We are so conditioned to be protective and cautious that we miss out on many innocent positive interactions with other people.
    Back to the interaction between the sexes, though: I suppose it could be worse. In some countries (Egypt comes immediately to mind), even making eye contact with a man is seen as a sexual advance. At least us girls don’t have to walk around staring at the ground all the time.

  12. Great post.
    I remember seeing this happen time after time when I was in college. It fueled many late night sob stories over beer at the bar with friends who couldn’t “figure out women.” (I have to admit when I was young I misinterpreted niceness as wanting to form some sort of romantic entanglement). Any hint of niceness was taken the wrong way too many times and the inevitable cessation of any relationship occurred. The “love of their life” usually was a creation of their own imagination fueled by common decency.
    It’s tough for the women also. I’ve never met a woman who wanted to be mean, but sometimes that’s the only way to get the message to sink in to a love-struck boy’s head.
    It’s too bad that there isn’t an interpersonal communications class taught to all high school freshmen explaining this phenomenon. It would spare so many people so much heartache.
    It’s sad that people have to “shut themselves down.” I’ve seen it before and it’s never a pretty sight. But, like walking confidently and with a purpose in an urban area, it’s a necessary skill to invoke for personal safety.
    It’s interesting to note that “playas” always pull back from a woman they want to know better. They’ll make contact and an impression, then leave the immediate area to show they are confident in themselves and to not scare the woman away. The woman will eventually come to the guy, if she’s interested. If she’s not interested, it doesn’t matter to the “playa” because there are more women to “meet and greet.”

  13. Dear Ms. Flannery —
    I am delighted to have you with us and I hope you will become a regular alongside our beloved Jonathan even though you are your own independent spirit.
    I am with you on the misunderstanding of kindness. In Nebraska I was raised to always be complimentary and attentive. On the East Coast that kind of attention to detail gets labeled as being phony and disingenuous and trite. It was a hurtful lesson that quickly got covered with sarcasm and a tough bluntness.
    I agree “sex talk” is a taboo in our society and that is unfortunate because it is that very taboo that influences us all.
    I also agree eye contact is a powerful means of communication today that has a rationale and a purpose far beyond our current Age.

  14. Chris!
    I am thrilled to hear from you on this matter!
    I admit I, too, misinterpreted the kindness of women when I was young and inexperienced and I grew to not appreciate those women as a mechanism of defense against hurt feelings.
    I agree mean and cruel and cutting are a necessary means for the women to use against those of us who refuse to go away in a quiet and confident manner.
    Based on my attempt at re-educating collegiate males as to the kindness/affection conundrum, I would wager the intellect of the conceit is forever overruled by the hormones at play: The men will not acquiesce their conceived “noble conquering” in order to see the reality at hand.
    Yes, the “turning off” of personality and being as a protective coating is always sad and unfortunate and the women who are able to turn it on and off is admirable to me on a human level of confidence and compassion.
    I appreciate your education the life of a “playa” — that is news to me and I appreciate knowing how that philosophy operates…

  15. David,
    I find it so sad that you were forced to replace your kindness and attentiveness to others with sarcasm and bluntness. It made me think of all the women I know who claim that they want men who will treat them like complete equals (which seems to mean being treated like “one of the guys”, even though men and women have many differences that should be celebrated, not actively ignored) and then complain that there aren’t any attentive and “chilvarous” men left. I don’t get it! And it’s not just men: so much of our society trains people to be distant, rude, and closed-off.
    When we visited Thailand last summer, everyone was so wonderful and friendly; people would smile on the street and offer help if we looked lost. Mexico was the same deal; in fact, Jonathan got into a long conversation with a stranger he met on the bus just because, hey, why not be nice and talk to someone new to pass the time? But in this country it’s the opposite experience. Really, the only people who talk to me on the bus in the Bay Area are either completely insane or want something from me.
    Never let people completely destroy your sense of kindness! I find that for every four people who look at me like I’ve grown a second head when I smile at them, one person will smile back (or even say hello) and it makes it worth it. There have to be a few people left who still appreciate it 🙂

  16. Ms. Flannery Blair —
    I ration out my kindness on the East Coast to those I know will receive it with the right energy.
    In the Midwest you are kind by default — you always smile at people, you always hold the door for others no matter their gender and you wave at the other car as you pass going opposite directions on the highway.
    That sort of expected community kindness does not exist in New York and New Jersey and to try to push it out here gets you derision and suspicion in return and it requires expert code-switching at its finest.

  17. Hey David! You are right! Who needs the headache??
    Dave – Hey! Thanks for the great idea! Right now I am almost buried under my job, assignment, class loads etc…. once I get a few seconds to breathe – I will surely start one!

  18. Hi David,
    I just came to know about it after reading Chris’ post. It speaks something about ”playa” don’t pay attention to the woman they want, they pull away from them…..
    This sounds like a mind game!

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