Ask Jono: What Does "Intimidating" Mean?
So I think your articles are the best thing since hamster-sized pandas (okay not yet, but one day soon), and I only wish you would write more.
Haha no, I lied, I would also like you to answer my question.
Recently, as I was reflecting on my boy-repellant nature, I realized I've been given the same sort of excuse/explanation for this phenomenon a number of different times. At camp a few weeks ago, this explanation came up again, so I've decided to consult you and your wisdom. I don't remember exactly what our conversation was, but I think I had probably made a joking remark about my perpetual single status (Riding solo!!! yeah!!!). One of the guys said it was probably because I am "intimidating". Having encountered this response before, I demanded a translation but another male friend assured me that I "wouldn't want to know". I assumed this was meant to protect my virgin ears but in hindsight that wouldn't make much sense.
In the past friends of both genders have described me as "intimidating" to the opposite sex, but I honestly can't imagine what this means. I swear to you, I don't wield heavy blades and I don't know martial arts. It doesn't seem like I would be very intimidating to anyone, I'm horrible at all sorts of athletics and I'm quite awkward and my brains are never really a factor in any of this. It may be relevant to note that in my natural state I am very friendly, out-going, humorous, and possibly obnoxious.
So here's my question. Is "intimidating" some sort of guy code, or is it just a nice way of saying nobody likes you?
Thanks for being awesome!
For starters, "intimidating" is not any form of code that I'm aware of—neither guy code, nor a polite way of saying that you are extra terrible. There are lots of things it could mean, but I think we can rule most of them out, because you wouldn't need me to identify them for you. For example, if you are seven feet tall, well, there's your answer; guys are intimidated by your seven feet of tallness. If the way you hit on a boy is to stomp on his calculator until he bursts into tears, then this is intimidating him, and you should cease doing it. But if you have no idea what you're doing, we can narrow it down to two things: your "possibly" obnoxious nature is being misinterpreted, or you're doing some body language thing that translates into, "Take a hike, smelly." I'm going to cover a bunch of unconscious behaviors here, and hopefully we'll hit on your issue.
Joking Obnoxiousness. You said that this may be something you do. Well, I've mentioned before that I was so terrible at expressiveness in high school that I once tried to joke around with this guy and he responded like I was standing there licking a bowie knife. What I meant as, "Ha ha, I'm gonna kill you! Smiley face!" instead came out as "I am literally going to kill you, insane person face." So it's entirely possible that your good-hearted, well-intentioned silliness is being misunderstood as actual meanness.
Strong Opinions. Let me get this out of the way right now: women can and should have strong opinions about things. I'm the last person who's going to tell you that you can only meet boys if you twirl around in a sundress and parasol with question marks floating above your stupid head, and fainting the moment a boy starts to talk about geopolitics. You are entitled to have and express opinions. But if you're so opinionated that you never leave room for anyone else to express opinions, that's just being a (gender-neutral) jerk.
Obvious Disinterest. This is the flipside of the same coin. If you respond to people's stories or opinions with yawning indifference, always trying to steer the conversation back to what's actually important (you), that can be intimidating too. In fact, here's a study about how this kind of behavior communicates that you're a high-status person. When you behave like everyone else is just a flabby obstacle to your greatness, it makes other people go "Wow, maybe I do suck, and she is super-important." It does not, however, make them go "I would like to kiss her mouth with my mouth, as a sign of romantic affection."
Physical Behavior (Body Language)
Personal Space. Lots of cultures have different standards for personal space, but generally, if your nose is touching someone's eyeball and he's holding up his hands plaintively and saying "Please don't hurt me," you are taking it too far. Invading personal space is generally taken as insistent, confrontational, or merely annoying.
Frowning/Glowering. I've used this graphic before to point out that even if your mouth is smiling, the rest of your face might be all mad and frumpy. Maybe your thoughtful frowns come out merely as frownful frowns. Put on a polite smile (not the genuine kind, from feeling actual hilarity; the kind you use in normal conversation), look in a mirror, and see how you look. As I've said before, I don't want anybody to obsess over this, because 1.) that will just make your smiles more fake and also 2.) it is stupid. Just try to be aware of what your face is actually communicating.
Eye Contact. We're constantly telling you guys to make more eye contact, so the last thing I want to do is make you more self-conscious about it, but prolonged eye contact can definitely be misconstrued as a confrontational gesture. This is why they tell you not to stare at angry bears, although if you're the kind of person who attempts to stare down angry bears you should probably expect to be eaten.
Gestures. Forceful body language can cover a whole lot of gestures, but I'd summarize the whole category as anything that appears to reject or objectify other people: waving dismissively in a dude's face, pointing at people, crossing your arms like you hate the stupid dumb world, shoving a boy down a manhole and going "PTTBHTBT" as he goes "nooooo!" The opposite of this stuff is open body language—appearing welcoming, unconcerned, and friendly.
From what you've told me, my guess is that you have a forceful personality and are doing some confrontational body language stuff. Taken together, these two things leave boys unsure if you intend to kiss them or just punch them in the head. I don't think you should try to change, exactly, but if people keep making this observation about you, just attempt to... soften? Smile a lot, listen instead of talking, and use laid-back body language, and if people still think you're intimidating, I have no idea, you're just going to have to shrink eight inches or something.