I was at a party the other night and a very, very attractive girl was hitting on me. She was stroking my leg, she was holding my hand, she was muttering to me that I ‘don’t realise how sexy I am’, she was winking at me from across the room, and we kissed a bit. My response was laughably wooden: I obviously kissed her back but besides that I just laughed and had conversation with her. I know enough about this person’s character to know that she is fairly uninhibited about hooking up with people in that kind of situation and I think that if I’d returned the ball a bit things could have got more interesting, since she clearly wanted them to, but instead nothing at all happened. I think that on one level when she was saying and doing these things I suspected that she was somehow mocking me, but looking back I realise how ridiculous that sounds, or, if she was mocking me, then she was being incredibly subtle about it. Why am I so bad at picking up on and responding to these things? Am I a robot? To frame it in a way that is closer to how you tend to present most of your advice, what words can I use in the future to respond to this kind of situation??
You originally titled this question “What’s wrong with me?” in your email, which concerned me.
Nothing is wrong with you. I think that maybe you didn’t really want to mess around with that lady, so you responded to her (yes, very obvious) signals of attraction and seduction with deflection. I don’t think she was mocking you, but I think the fact that you thought “Wait, is she making fun of me?” is telling that you didn’t feel the trust and connection with her that would make you want to have even a casual hookup. When you have sex with people, you let your guard down, ergo, you should only do it with people who make you feel okay to let your guard down.
There are a few assumptions or downright fallacies in your letter that made me want to post it instead of just answering you privately, because I think you are not alone in sharing these and they get right at how gender expectations around (hetero)sexuality are messed up.
Fallacy #1: ”Young heterosexual dudes are up for sex all the time, and if a hot girl even smiles at them they are ready, willing, and able. If you’re not, something must be wrong with you. Are you sure you’re not gay, dude?”
Yeah, nothing is wrong with you if you don’t want to have sex with someone even if they maybe want to have sex with you. When you are young and not-so-experienced, it’s easy for every encounter or possible encounter to feel like a referendum on Masculinity or Prowess or Who You Are And Will Be Forever. When you are older and more experienced, you might still get that feeling sometimes and it’s usually a sign that something is off – when there is pressure to “perform” in a certain way everything is less fun for everyone. Relax. You’ll get a lot of chances at this.
Fallacy #2: “I know enough about this person’s character to know…”
In this case, what you knew about this woman (she likes to hook up at parties) and her behavior (she maybe wants to hook up with me) matched, but I would encourage you to pay WAY more attention to behavior/words than to “reputation.” The people I have had sex with know me as someone who is likely to have sex with them. The people I haven’t had sex with know jack shit about that, and would do well to assume nothing. In fact, “assume very little” isn’t a bad assumption to take forward with you into future dating/flirting/hooking up.
Right now it might feel like she had all the power and you awkwardly choked, but really, you had power and you used it. You weren’t sure about what you wanted, so you held back. If you find yourself in a situation again where a girl is flirting with you and you want to act on it, a good script might be “I’m really enjoying this. Would you like to go somewhere more quiet/private and hang out some more?” Imagine the shoe is on the other foot where you are making the first move with a girl you like at a party. What things do you most want to know? I’m thinking you want to know “Is she interested too?” So put yourself in her shoes and give her the reassurance you would want.
Now, you’re still thinking about this particular woman days later, right? Do you want to make something happen with her? You may feel like all is lost (and it may in fact be), but what about seeing her around school or work or Facebook and saying “Hey, Saturday was really fun. Can I buy you a drink sometime soon?” If she brings up your lack of going-home-with-her from that night in a way that’s designed to make you feel crappy for not “performing,” that’s a really good sign that you made the right choice the first time. But if she says “I figured you didn’t like me” you can say “I do and I did! It just wasn’t the right moment for me.“
I think you’ll do well to take this whole incident as an affirmation of your desirability (she was into you!) and your good judgment (you only act when the situation/person/moment feel really right to you). Those are good things. Really good things.
Now, everybody who has gotten to the good parts of sex and love has had to be brave and make themselves vulnerable to rejection at some time.Trust that when the situation is right, you’ll be so into the person (and she’ll be so into you) that you’ll both make it very easy to figure out what to do next, even if everyone is shy or reserved and awkward.