Have you ever been faced with that impossible question from a friend? She looks you in the eye and asks for the truth—for one moment of brutal honesty: “Why doesn’t he like me?”
You search your brain for some reason as to why this fool isn’t falling over himself for your incredible friend and come up with only one plausible answer. “He’s just intimidated by you,” you tell her. You both sigh and roll your eyes.
I don’t know about you, but when I tell my friends they are intimidating, what I mean is that they are just too awesome for the guy. I see my intimidating friends as strong, assertive women. These are things that I admire and wish I saw in myself. Honestly!
But sometimes I wonder if my quippy response is correct; is it really intimidation that keeps the men from my fabulous friends? And if they are intimidated, is that good intimidation (as I suspect), or is it more of a turn-off thing?
I asked many of my friends who often get the “he is just intimidated by you” line why they think they fit the mold of a hard-to-approach gal. Here’s what they told me:
Abby: "I am very independent, and I love autonomy. [My girlfriends] see this in a positive light...most of them wish they had more of a backbone and ask for my advice on how to emulate my demeanor."
Katie: "I'm very direct. I can say no easily."
Jennie: "My friends think I am intimidating because I work in a corporate business environment which would at times be associated with rigor/aggressive natured people. It’s an environment that breeds people to become coarse or cold emotionally in order to get to the next level. If you are strong willed, outspoken, maybe sometimes apathetic—you are intimidating."
But let’s face it, these words never really explain why that guy never asks us out. We women have our ideas about what men find intimidating, but what do men say they find intimidating and do they see that as a good thing? I asked six men what qualities they found intimidating in women and here is what they said.
When I asked men what they consider intimidating, the most common response from the guys, was that women who they perceived as dominating attention were intimidating…but not in a good way.
"Having lots of opinions is great, but sometimes it can come across as a know-it-all attitude," says Zach. Timothy agreed, saying that women who dominate conversation in a group setting can be a negative intimidation factor.
Nobody likes a “know-it-all,” and if you feel you or your friend might fit into this category in social situations you should be honest about it and try to check that behavior. But also remember that some guys might just feel threatened by an assertive woman—and that’s his problem, not yours.
“An assertive and powerful woman is against a gender tradition that many still hold onto, explains licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist, Stephen Betchen, Ph.D. “For example, some men have trouble tolerating a woman who is more successful than they are—but we’re seeing more and more of this. There are over 2 million more women in college today than men.”
I asked Dr. Betchen some of the things he has heard clients describe to him as the qualities they look for in a woman.
“While change continues in the gender arena, many men still use words like: pretty, sweet, affectionate, and sexy, along with the usual ‘bodily descriptions.’ It all sounds as if they’re describing a ‘feminine ideal.’ But beauty and attraction are subjective. Different men may define these characteristics differently,” he says.
He adds, “On the other hand, I’ve heard men brag about their female counterpart’s earning capacity and brilliance.”
To sum it up, if a guy is particularly intimidated by you because of your career, your looks, or the money you make it could be that you need to check your ego. Do you listen to others? Do you boast about your accomplishments a bit too much? But, your intimidation factor could also just be a serious a reflection of his lack of embracing societal changes for women. So don’t be too quick to beat yourself up over it.
She’s All That
Guys don't mince words when it comes to attributes they find intimidating, and what I learned from them is that intimidation isn’t always perceived as a bad thing. There is a wide range of opinion among the men I spoke to. Things like your good looks could be intimidating. When talking to the guys, things like height and perception of physical strength were listed as qualities men could be intimidated by, if they felt she was better or even equally endowed in these areas.
Mike says that he feels like women who are the “the total package” can be intimidating. “When girls are cool, smart, good looking, AND have a good personality” he says it’s much harder to go for it. Oh and, according to Mike, “Hot girls with hot friends are intimidating.”
Zach says: "If a woman is independent, she doesn't need you to support her but she allows you to. That's super intimidating."
Your dating past may even come to play: "Women who have dated successful men in the past are intimidating," Mike added. Even age can be a factor. Marc says, “Older women are 100% more intimidating than women my own age because they have more experience.”
Timothy explains, "if you find a girl intimidating, you have to match their confidence with more overconfidence to make you feel like you are on the same playing field."
Dr. Betchen links this common masculine mindset back to the days of cavemen. “In prehistoric times men needed to be bigger and stronger to protect their families," explains Dr. Betchen. "But even in modern days, when brain now dominates over brawn, many women still feel more safe and secure with a taller man (and men more secure with a shorter woman).”
But here is the clincher: while the guys had their opinions, when asked if any of the things they listed would ever prevent them from asking a woman out, they all answered with a resounding no.
So if you identify with these traits, it doesn’t mean men see them as a negative thing, and it likely won’t be the reason he doesn’t ask you out.
So, what’s a gal to make of all this?
Awesome women can make men feel insecure. We have known this for a long time. Whether you're tall or short, reserved or animated, each guy is going to have different opinions on what they find attractive. Just like women do with men.
But perhaps the old “he is just intimidated by you” line isn’t as helpful as we might think. It seems to me it would be more helpful to remind our friend that she is awesome and she is going to meet a guy who is the right match. If we are trying to communicate to our friend that she is, in fact, intimidating, do it in a tangible way.
“A friend can best reassure a female friend by helping her accept and learn from the shame she feels so she does not give up on herself. Putting down all the ‘weak’ guys who can’t deal with an 'intimidating' female is not going to help her,” says clinical psychologist, Mary Lamia, Ph.D,. “Notice what she does with feelings of rejection (which is the emotion of shame): Does she attack herself? Attack men? Withdraw? Or does she use avoidance (like have too many drinks after a failed date)?”
Rather than criticizing yourself or all men, Dr. Lamia suggests that “A good friend will connect with you and help you accept that it feels humiliating when a date fails or a man isn’t interested.” Dr. Betchen adds hopefully, “It may take you longer to find a man that can appreciate your attributes, but there is a pot for every lid.”
Photo Credit: Rachel Haslam Photography