A man asked me for my number at an event, saying he wanted to take me to dinner. I told him I’d just ended a relationship and wasn’t ready to date. Of course, he then said it’d be a business dinner, and I consented and wrote my number down. I feel that I had bad boundaries and wish (A) he hadn’t been so forward and (B) I hadn’t given my number. How could I handle this better in the future? I’m a pretty assertive woman, so my collapsing under pressure was disturbing.
This is like your telling somebody who wants you to dog-sit “Sorry, I’m allergic to dogs” and having them come back with “Actually, he identifies as a parrot.”
To understand why you —“a pretty assertive woman” — basically defaulted to smileyface emoji mode when the poo emoji better fit the bill, it helps to know a few things about the psychology of personality. There are five major domains of personality that drive how a person acts, and they tend to be fairly stable across time and situations. These include conscientiousness, which reflects a person’s level of self-control and sense of responsibility to others. Another is extroversion, reflecting where a person falls on a spectrum from outgoingness to seeing social events as a form of torture that should have been banned by the Geneva Conventions.
Researchers find that women across cultures, whether rating their own personality or being rated by others, consistently come out higher than men in one of these personality domains: “agreeableness.” This is a “nice girl/nice guy” personality trait that plays out in kindness, generosity, warmth and a strong motivation to have positive interactions with others.
It makes sense that women — on average, physically smaller and weaker than men — would be higher in agreeableness. Psychologist Joyce Benenson, who researches sex differences from infancy on, believes that women’s tendency to default to polite acquiescence in the face of conflict is an evolved tactic to reduce their chances of being physically harmed.
As a woman, it’s likely you’re a high scorer in the agreeableness department. However, as anthropologist Jerome Barkow points out, “biology is destiny only if we ignore it.”
Recognizing your propensity to be “nice” allows you to preplan to act in your best interest — have prepared answers for creative pursuers like this guy. For example: 1. You’re not ready to date. 2. You’re happy to take a phone call to see whether there might be a business opportunity. This should help you separate potentially lucrative business propositions from tarted-up versions of “There’s a very important meeting you simply must attend … in my pants.”