“As Hinde (1974), in writing on the biological bases of human social behavior suggests, over-aggression in a male can frighten off prospective mates.”
This lesson is clear to us. Aggression is bad. You will scare her off.
It doesn’t take more than one bad approach, where a woman gets creeped out, for an introverted guy like myself to go into a downward spiral of self-debasement and self-questioning.
I’ve been taught this all my life. I was instructed over and over.
I actually remember the first time I learned this lesson. I was in an auditorium in grade school. It was an assembly where we were watching a movie. I don’t quite remember what the movie was, but the main idea was that some guy was mean to a woman and it made her feel bad. I could feel her pain. “I need to be a nice guy,” I thought to myself. “I don’t want to hurt people.”
Aggression is bad, I was taught. I am smart. I learned this lesson early and I learned it well. At every turn it was reinforced. Through television and movies, but also through my personal empathy with women. I am a sensitive guy. I truly felt for my sister when she related to me how violated she felt when she was catcalled on the street.
The lesson became a medal of honor when things didn’t work out for me with women. I took initiative to approach when I was in middle school. But a few hard rejections and I decided I didn’t want to be the bad guy any more. It was too painful and costly to take this kind of initiative. I felt shamed at my failure. I was a nice guy, I decided. This was my fate and everything would work out in the end.
My approach anxiety grew. Over the years I would occasionally take the initiative to approach a women, just out of pure attraction. But these interactions NEVER worked. They happened less and less. Years literally went by between approaches.
My approach anxiety grew to massive proportions. It turned into a brick wall. I was still inclined to approach. I was still massively attracted to women. And each time I didn’t take the initiative and act on my attraction, I felt a sense of relief. This rewarded and reinforced my behavior the same way a dog treat rewards a dog for rolling over.
I learned my lesson and I learned it well.
But then something happened. Or more so, I should say something didn’t happen. The years went by. And I continued to subscribe to the idea that I should just be a nice guy and things would work out for me in the end. But things weren’t working out for me in the end.
I was unhappy in the few scarce relationships that entered my life. I looked around me and saw that there were guys out there, happy and doing well. And they were aggressive! I would almost use the word “asshole.”
There is another side to this equation that was much more difficult to see. When you are too aggressive with a woman, the result is obvious. You creep her out. You get rejected. You get pushed away. We could easily test this hypothesis over and over.
But what about under-aggression? A lack of assertiveness is a slow-moving disease that creeps up on you with every step you don’t take.
If you move too slowly you are desexualized. If you lack aggressiveness you risk being stuck in friend zone for ever and ever. You lack the ability to create the necessary sexual tension that sparks interest from a woman.
There are ways to be aggressive without being harmful. Catcalling is not pickup. It’s street harassment.
When you banter with a woman, you are being aggressive. You are flirting with her and teasing her, pushing her away, creating conflict.
There is a strong tendency, primate behavior research shows, that alternating friendly and aggressive interactions stimulate the formation of social bonds more so than smooth affiliative interactions. The parting and reunion reaffirms the social bond.
Have you ever heard a Depeche Mode song called Strangelove? It’s always held a place in my heart for what it said: “Pain. Will you return it? I’ll say it again. Pain.”
Most of the women I’d been with haven’t been very good at returning pain. I’m not a masochist. I don’t enjoy physical pain, and have learned to see the danger in emotional pain. But it’s the pulling away that would bring out the emotion in me. Most of my girlfriends could not do it well. They did not know how to pull away and leave me longing. They always just covered me like a wet blanket.
These last few years I have spent trying to unlearn the idea that aggressiveness is wrong. When I began to become more assertive, my body fought me. It took a lot of practice to get past my own fearfulness.
Moving too fast creeps a woman out but moving too slow puts you in friend zone. These days I much prefer to err on the side of creeping a woman out. That way I’ve learned something.
One of my goals for a while was to initiate sexual escalation early on after I’ve approached a girl. When I begin talking to a woman, I move quickly from friendly non-sexual touch with the back of my hand to more aggressive sexual escalation: running my hands through her hair, scraping my nails up her jeans, or putting my hands in her pockets. All within a few minutes of meeting her.
I got rejected a few times. A few girls jumped back. I may have even creeped a few girls out. It’s okay. They weren’t harmed. A woman has boundaries and it’s her responsibility to tell me if it’s not working for her, whether it’s during the approach or other interactions I have with her.
Being aggressive and seeing what worked and what didn’t calibrated me to become a better lover. Without it, I would have been stuck in friend zone, or worse, stuck to the wall of the bar with a beer in my hand, watching the world go by.