Bill and Jane are starting to make out on the couch. Bill wants the action to continue, but Jane is feeling resistant to the escalation of sexual intimacy. She wants to say “no”or “stop” but fears hurting Bill’s feelings or making him angry. Instead of making a clear statement, she delivers a vague indication of her reluctance: “It’s getting late.” This is fertile ground for misinterpretation and trouble.
University of California at Davis Professor Michael Motley has edited the book Studies In Applied Interpersonal Communication (Sage Publications; paperback/$42.95), an exploration of this type of miscommunication. He points out that a statement such as “It’s getting late” could indicate to Bill that he should skip the schmecken and speed things up. This, of course, is exactly the opposite of what Jane meant to imply.
Motley offers another example of a misstatement. When someone says, “I’m seeing someone else,” an individual could hear it as, “I don’t want to get involved with you.” Yet this comment is also subject to various interpretations: “Go ahead but be discrete so that the other guy doesn’t find out,” or “Go ahead but don’t expect me to be exclusive with you.”
Motley’s writing did not involve rape or situations where “no” was understood but ignored. Although some may find it unexpected, he believes that most men can accept a direct “no” without negative reactions.
Interpersonal Communication suggests that men need to remember that they often misunderstand and ascribe their own meaning to what the woman has verbalized. In other words, they tend to hear what they want to hear. When in doubt, men should ask for clarification: “Are you telling me to stop or go on?”
On the other hand, women should realize men do not hear messages very clearly, especially when sexually aroused. The female’s statement needs to be direct: “It’s getting late” is best followed with “and I would like us to stop now.” Even though it may require some courage to just say no, it may help to avoid the escalation of a difficult and uncomfortable situation.