There is a stereotype about women that they don't say what they really mean. In some cases, this is an exaggerated trope: women are certainly capable of being straightforward and direct, just as men can sometimes be waffly and imprecise. What's more, sometimes the idea that women don't say what they mean is a convenient excuse to ignore what they're actually saying, and can result in men being condescending and dismissive to women when they're speaking their minds.
However, there is a sliver of truth to the idea that women communicate less directly, but it's not because they're trying to be difficult or obscure – it's because women are socialized to be more pleasant and conciliatory, and, bearing that in mind, there are a number of scenarios where indirect communication makes perfect sense.
So, in the interests of clearing up why women sometimes don't say what they mean, here are some situations where women might not say exactly what they mean, why that is, and what you can do about it:
1. The Boyfriend Excuse
What she says: "I have a boyfriend, sorry."
What she means: Either she really has a boyfriend, or she wants you to stop hitting on her.
Why she says this: Unfortunately, many men don't react well to straightforward romantic rejection from women they're asking out, and occasionally even get aggressive or hostile in the face of responses like "Not interested, thanks!" or "I'm not here to be picked up." In the worst cases, straightforward rejection can result in harassment and taunts such as, "Fine, you stuck-up b*tch." It follows naturally, then, that women will protect themselves from unnecessary aggression by being less direct and framing their rejection in more conciliatory terms.
The boyfriend excuse also gets around another hurdle, which is that men can be persistent in the face of other forms of rejection. Sometimes when women say "I'm not looking to meet men right now" or "I'm just trying to have fun with my friends tonight" certain men won't let go, saying things like, "Awww, why not?" or "Surely you can make an exception for me? ;)" Shutting things down with a simple, "Sorry, I have a boyfriend!" is often the safest way to end the conversation with some degree of finality.
What you should do: Move on, and leave her alone for the night. Whether or not the object of your affection actually has a boyfriend is beside the point, and isn't really your business, so you shouldn't make further enquiries to try to "prove" that she isn't actually taken. Just take the cue that she's not interested and walk away — there are plenty more fish in the sea.
2. The Fake Number
What she says: "Sure, I'll give you my number. It's [inset fake phone number here]."
What she means: I don't want you to be able to contact me, but you're giving me bad vibes that make me feel I can't say that directly.
Why she says this: As above, this is a self-preservation mechanism and a way to avoid overt hostility. In the face of a man who seems like he will be persistent or even a little creepy, giving a fake number is a way of diffusing the situation and giving the promise of further contact down the line — while, of course, actually obviating the possibility of such contact.
Of course, to a reasonable man like you, this might seem like incomprehensible overkill: Why on earth wouldn't she just say, "I'd rather not give out my number, sorry!" After all, you'd be perfectly chill about that! Well, sure, but how is she to know that? How can she differentiate you from all the guys who wouldn't take rejection quite so kindly? Unfortunately, it's often safer for her to err on the side of assuming you're one of the bad guys.
What you should do: Shrug your shoulders and move on. Of course it's a bit insulting, but try not to take it too personally – her right to feel safe trumps your right to score her number.
RELATED: Why Asking For Her Number Is Pretty Much Obsolete
P.S. Do not "test" a woman by calling her on the spot when she gives you her number! This is an overbearing display of control, and is likely to make her feel very, very uncomfortable — whether or not she's given you a fake number.
3. Enter The Friendzone
What she says: "You're such a good friend"/"It's so nice having you as a friend!"
What she means: Your relationship is purely platonic, and she doesn't see that changing.
Why she says this: Sometimes men will harbour longings for their female friends without actually saying so, and this puts said women in an uncomfortable situation. Your friend might sense that you want the relationship to be more than platonic, but you won't actually say so, so she can't reject you outright. Instead, she makes little comments here and there to firmly establish the nature of your friendship and to avoid giving you false hope that the relationship could be romantic.
What you should do: Take her at her word, and give up on the idea that you're going to be more than friends at some point in the future. If you really value her and like her as a person, continue to be her friend – it's pretty shitty to throw out a good relationship because you're sensitive about rejection, but if a friendship is too much to handle for your hurt feelings, you're allowed to cut contact completely.
4. The Fake Orgasm
What she says: "I'm coming!"/"Mmmmhrrrrhhhhh!"/"Oh my god, yes!"
What she means: I'm faking an orgasm right now.
Why she says this: The fact that women occasionally fake orgasms can be confounding to men, and to women who would never bother to fake it. What's the point? All it seems to do is mislead men on what gives women actual, genuine pleasure, and make them think what they're doing is working when it clearly isn't.
However, as writer Charlotte Shane points out, this isn't an exclusively female phenomenon, and there are some circumstances where faking an orgasm makes sense – to cut short a tedious encounter, for example, or to reward a man who is doing everything right, even though an orgasm remains elusive for reasons he can't fix.
What you should do: A lot of the time, you won't actually know this has happened. If you suspect a woman has faked an orgasm with you, rather than accusing her or focusing on the faking, try asking her more questions about what she likes — "Is there anything else you'd like me to do?" "Are there other ways you prefer to be touched?" — that will encourage her to open up about what gives her genuine pleasure.
5. The Brush-Off
What she says: "I'm really busy this week, I'll get in touch" [then she never gets in touch]
What she means: I'm not interested in seeing you again.
Why she says this: You might be detecting a common theme at this point: Women often find rejecting men to be a very fraught scenario (and for good reason), and will do almost anything to soften the blow or avoid outright confrontation. Saying that she's busy is a lot easier than saying, "I don't actually want to see you again, at all, period."
What you should do: Leave the ball in her court. Assume she doesn't want to see you again, and if you're wrong and she has genuinely been busy, she can get in touch. In the meantime, move on to people who have demonstrated genuine interest in spending time with you – you deserve that.
6. The Cold Shoulder
What she says: "I'm fine."
What she means: I'm not fine, but I can't be bothered explaining the obvious to you.
Why she says this: This is a tricky one, because it can be unfair and immature for a woman to pretend that everything is okay when it isn't, especially if you've reached out to check in on how she's feeling. In her defense, though, the "I'm fine" response may mean that you've failed to miss an obvious sign or hurt her in a way that should be apparent without her having to spell it out.
What you should do: It's worth gently pushing back on this one. Say something like, "I really don't think you're fine, but I'm not a mind reader, and I honestly don't know what's wrong. I genuinely want to know if I've done something wrong, so please let me know, either now or when you're feeling more up to talking about it." Now the onus is on her to communicate honestly and openly in return.
7. Taking A Break
What she says: "Maybe we should take a break."
What she means: I'm having serious doubts about our relationship.
Why she says this: The idea of breaking up completely is too frightening for her to contemplate right now, but she's got serious issues with how the relationship is progressing. She wants to take a break to bring some space to the situation and see how she really feels, but she doesn't want the finality of breaking up for good.
What you should do: How you should respond depends on how you are feeling. Have you also been sensing that the relationship is struggling, or is this news coming out of left field for you? The best move is to have a deeper discussion about what's really gone wrong in the relationship and whether it's fixable, because a break is a temporary measure that won't actually resolve the deeper issues at hand.
8. Excuses To Get Out Of Sex
What she says: "Ouch"/"I have a headache"/"That's hurting!"/"Can we take a break?"/"Not tonight"/"I'm tired"
What she means: I do not want to have sex with you right now.
Why she says this: Because she doesn't want to have sex with you right now, and "no" can take many different forms.
What you should do: STOP. Seriously, though: This one is important. Err on the side of assuming any protests or signs of doubt in the bedroom mean you should give it a rest and do something else, and if you're receiving anything less than enthusiastic consent to sex, you need to stop immediately.
So, it's true: Sometimes women — like all humans — don't say exactly what they mean. However, the overall pattern in the examples above reveals a deeper truth: the reason women are indirect is that some men make them feel uncomfortable and unsafe when they say things more straightforwardly.
If you want women to say exactly what they mean around you, that means you need to be chill about rejection, mature about criticism and respectful of their needs and wants. Once you've got those things sorted, women will no doubt open up to you much more freely.