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Sexual Tension: The Vivacious and Vexatious Things the Other Gender Does

Harbus LogoIn February, the month of love, I set out to investigate what men and women had to say about the annoying things they have observed and experienced from the opposite gender. Knowing love isn’t always about moonlit dinners and walks on the beach, I was motivated by the belief that annoying behavior should not be avoided, but addressed head-on. To support my investigation, I conducted 15 in-depth interviews with a diverse set of men and women in their mid-20s to mid-30s, mostly from business schools. I spoke with people in domestic and long-distance relationships, people who had recently broken up, and single people. To get an even broader understanding, I conducted an online survey, which received 59 responses from heterosexual individuals.

My hope is to shed light on common themes and to inspire honest communications between men and women. Likely, there will be some opinions you will nod along with, and others you’ll be like, “Really?! That’s BS!” Whilst interviewing, I found some instances where interviewees from the same gender completely disagreed with each other. Ultimately, it turns out, men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. Every individual seems to be from a different planet entirely. So, with an understanding that every individual is, in fact, an individual, here’s what people had to say about the opposite gender.

Men on women: What annoys you the most in dating and relationships?

  1. Putting quantity over quality of communication

Several men told me they felt their girlfriends or ex-girlfriends called or texted too often, sometimes without much substance.

“It shouldn’t feel like an obligation to call every day,” said one guy. “There are many days when I have nothing to say,” said another HBS guy (apparently cases and job-hunting aren’t enthralling conversation topics).

This problem was particularly exacerbated in long-distance relationships. My own take on this is that women must be feeling pressure to keep in touch, keep a bond, and keep the guy interested despite miles of separation.

When asked how annoying “Putting quantity over quality of communication, e.g. sending unnecessary texts/having unnecessary conversations for the sake of conversation”, 42 percent of men reported this trait as moderately to very annoying, versus 28percent of women.

  1. When women feel entitled or want special treatment just because they are women

The broad issues here are the patchy application of women’s liberation and feminism, which was a real bug-bear among many guys I spoke HUECU Spring Home Buying Ad-1 (2)to.

“We like the idea of women’s lib, we just don’t think they’re doing it” — HBS guy.

Whilst the women’s liberation movement posits equality of sexes, it seems it’s still too common for women to expect to be pursued rather than to pursue, to expect to be paid for, or, worst of all, to have the dreaded ‘Princess complex’, where girls’ expectations are simply too high and their gratitude for kind gestures  simply too low or non-existent.

A common reported manifestation of entitlement was expecting to be paid for on dates. “She just kept talking when the check arrived as if nothing had happened,” said one guy. “At least fumble for your purse,” lamented another. Offering to pay was suggested as a good signal by many guys. “You want to send a partnership signal, not a prostitution signal,” said one guy candidly.

Forty-two percent of men in the survey said that “Feeling entitled to special treatment because of their gender” was moderately to very annoying vs just 8 percent of women saying the same about men.

  1. When women are ‘insecure’

Forty-two percent of men surveyed reported insecurity in the opposite gender as a moderately annoying to very annoying trait, compared with 31percent of women. Men in interviews also brought this up. They mentioned behaviors like changing outfit five times, complaining about breast size, and wearing a lot of make-up as turn-offs.

“My favorite photo of me and her is this one where we were just hanging out in my room, lying next to each other and she had no make-up on. I actually prefer that photo to all the dolled-up photos of her at parties. I want to see the girl I’m dating,” remarked one interviewee. Another guy commented that, “too much make-up makes most girls look the same, they just look like clones of each other”.

Jealousy was another common reported annoyance. “She would get upset if I ran an errand for a female friend when she was around,” reported one guy. Another noted that jealousy was only an issue if allowed to fester or turn into anger straightaway, “just say it at the start and I’ll adjust my behavior accordingly”.

A few men reported that they found it frustrating when women’s self-worth was largely based on the strength of the relationship, and when women compared their relationship to those of others.

“She was playing the ‘Who has a better relationship game?’ with her friends, which I felt was completely pointless,” said one guy.

Another guy commented that his girlfriend would tell him what other couples were doing, such as exchanging and discussing news articles, and suggest they do the same, which he found annoying.

  1. When women are obsessed with social media

Several men told me that it was annoying when women spent too much time and effort on brand-building their social media image. Fifty percent of men reported this as moderately to very annoying vs 22 percent of women.  It was even more annoying when women tried to get guys to care more about social media if they didn’t already. “Why are you not posting photos of us on Facebook?” asked one girl to her boyfriend. Another guy reported that one of his ex-girlfriends had tried to get him to put a profile picture of the two of them up, which “just wasn’t my thing”.

“They spent more time getting the perfect photo and hashtag for Instagram than actually enjoying the moment” — Guy about a trip with a bunch of girls.

  1. When women confer with other women about relationships

The complaints from guys go from the light-hearted, “It just makes you look like an asshole,” to the more serious concerns: Are you really getting good advice from your friends?  Does external advice sometimes cloud your thinking? A truism from Sex and the City that I hold very dear is Carrie’s observation that no one on the outside can really ever understand what goes on between two people. “Just talk to the guy” said one interviewee.

There’s also the concern on compounding baggage when you receive advice. “Sometimes girls can give each other very pessimistic advice,” noted one guy. And we all know, starting or maintaining a relationship takes a healthy dose of optimism.

  1. Miscellaneous pet peeves:
  • Having to police what you say in case it offends women. One guy noted that he had to change his language and vocabulary when around women. “It changes how you give feedback, what jokes you can make,” he said.
  • When women don’t make an effort to mix with their boyfriend’s friends.
  • When women are ‘hangry’. Two guys even reported they carried around snacks to feed their girlfriends for when they felt their glucose levels were running low!
  • Decision-making annoyances: asking for input on little decisions, looking to the guy to make major decisions, being indecisive.
  • Taking too long to get ready and then being consistently late for events. In support of women, a few guys commented, “that comes with the territory, you just budget for it”. Though other guys also mentioned that women should budget for it and just start getting ready earlier, as being consistently late for events was not cool.
  • Fancy bedcovers and fluffy pillows. “Why does the bed need 20 pillows,” asked one guy.


Women on men: What annoys you the most in dating & relationships?

  1. Men sometimes do not want to communicate enough, especially not about their feelings

In my survey, 53 percent of women said that ‘not wanting to communicate enough’ was a moderately to very annoying trait in the men they had dated, vs 29 percent of men who said the same for women (except no guy said it was very annoying).

With regards to current or longest past relationships, 33 percent of women felt they were talking less frequently than they’d like to talk.  The good news is that most of us have it ‘about right’ (noting this has some selection bias as you wouldn’t interact with someone for too long if they weren’t getting this right).

Question: If you are/were in a relationship, how frequently do you talk with your partner versus how much you’d ideally like to talk?

However, the quality of communication is as important as frequency. Even if we’re talking, are we communicating? About 42 percent of men and women both said that conversations are often ‘hit and miss’.

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Some women reported deeper frustrations:

“I cry sometimes and he just doesn’t understand why,” said one girl about her long-distance relationship. “I don’t think we share our feelings when things get tough,” reported a survey respondent.

So how can we really talk when we talk? As one anonymous survey respondent put it, she would like, “anything beyond the typical ‘how’s your day?’ and ‘can you pick up Kleenex on the way home’. Real conversation would be nice.”

  1. Having a big ego which manifests itself as:

a) Overconfidence and lack of awareness of real capabilities

Even the guys I interviewed confessed to having experienced this in other menOne girl dated a guy who claimed earnestly to be in excellent physical shape, proudly telling her tales of biking many miles to work on their first date. On their second date, as he stood there with his beer-belly, asking her to carry his back-pack on their 5km walk whilst he looked for a bench to rest, she was struck by his lack of self-awareness.

b) Not wanting feedback

One girl dated an ‘entrepreneurial type’. He was convinced he was a stellar entrepreneur and didn’t accept feedback on any of his business ideas, even the ones she claimed were “obviously stupid”.

3. When men don’t know what they want

Forty-seven percent of women reported ‘not knowing what they want at a start of relationship’ as moderately to very annoying in men, vs 33 percent of men reporting the same for women. But this still wasn’t quite as frustrating as…

4. When men mislead women

A few women reported it annoying that guys often use misleading language when they were dating. Guys would often indicate they were considering a long-term relationship when they were really just looking for fun. Several men confirmed to me that this does happen intentionally, and not just due to not knowing what they want.  One girl noted, “The lack of transparency bugs me. You find out what they really wanted when they don’t text back after the first or second dates just because you didn’t have sex”. This begs the question: Would it work if these men just made their intentions clear up-front?

Another annoying trait, especially prevalent in online dating, was when men played games by texting back and forth but not actually asking the girl out.

5. When they show off to other men on sexual conquests

Even more annoying is when these sexual conquests are completely made-up! A girl told me the story of her undergraduate dance, “I went with this cute guy and we danced for many hours. I liked him, but then heard him showing off the next day to other guys that he’d had a ‘great workout last night’ in a suggestive way. That was the end of that”. Sadly, I did get confirmation from a few guys that this happens across men of all ethnicities and, surprisingly, in the late 20s to early 30s demographic too, even at business school. To the few guys who do this, please grow up.

6. When men don’t want to commit and are insensitive to women’s biological realities

“Many men just don’t want to commit until they’re 30. They just want to play around because they don’t have that time bomb” — Single female

This type of preference particularly disadvantages women in their late 20s or 30s, because too many guys are still looking for younger girls who give them a long lead time to make up their mind or to explore. I’ve heard several guys rejecting girls based on the idea that they would have to decide or move too fast. This begs the moral question: Is it reasonable to expect someone with a biological advantage (men) to share the burden of someone with a (relative) biological disadvantage (women)? Isn’t compromise and shouldering the burden of others to some degree a key component of our societies? So should we expect more of the men who avoid ‘older’ women in this regard?

7. Then there were the many miscellaneous annoyances:

  • Men can be slobs: The “I-just-stepped-out-of-my-pants-and-didn’t-look-back” look especially is not good décor for any room!
  • Cliched compliments like, “Your eyes are like stars”. One girl recounted the story of a guy who said to her, “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen”. She replied, “Just open up any magazine on any page and there’s a woman more beautiful than me there.” The message for men: provide genuine compliments, and it doesn’t have to be on looks!
  • Sometimes men were, “not willing to include me in things he does with his friends”
  • Interestingly, a female noted that although some men saythey want women to not be obsessed with social media, to not wear make-up, and to not spend ages getting ready, the type of women men glorify, talk about, and look at, are women with polished social media and polished exteriors. There seems to be an inconsistency between what men want and what they say they want. There also seems to be a lack of appreciation of the fact that women don’t just wake up natural goddesses and that there are real trade-offs to looking good.

Overall, we all do at least a few things that drive each other crazy. Honest conversations, feedback, and just being conscious goes a long way. And ultimately, despite some general trends, many exceptions remain: the battle of sexes is more of a dance and discussion between distinct individuals. The good news is these dances and discussions often get better with time and effort.


Aparna Singh (HBS ’16) is a curious observer of social issues and a passionate environmentalist. She blogs on environmental issues on barefootmuse.wordpress.com and on dating on stilettomuse.wordpress.com. Before school, she was a consultant in London, and worked at a climate change policy think tank.

March 8, 2016
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