My co-worker\’s not my type but, I guess, is cute in a navy-blue golf shirt kind of way. He\’s nice and smart, so I often talk and joke with him. Lately, though, he seems to think I want to be more than just co-workers (eeuw). He goes out of his way to avoid me and talks loudly about his girlfriend when I\’m in earshot — his way of rejecting my \”advances\” (like saying \”bless you\” when he sneezes). This has happened twice before at other jobs and makes me feel awkward and dumb. Why are some guys like this while others get that I\’m just a very friendly person?

— Sending the Wrong Signals?

A man can get \”signals\” from a woman across the room with her back to him, confiding to her friend, \”By age 8, I knew I was a lesbian\”; which, of course, is her way of telling the man, \”Just for you, big guy, I\’m wearing the purple pasties with the propellers.\”

Studies by psychologist Antonia Abbey, evolutionary psychologist Martie Haselton and others, show that men actually have a tendency to perceive friendly overtures as overly friendly overtures — inferring sexual interest from a woman where there is none. The most likely explanation is Haselton and David Buss\’ \”Error Management Theory\”: Humans are evolutionarily hard-wired to make errors in judgment on the side of their least \”costly\” option. Women, for example, are prone to underestimate men\’s commitment, since, back in the Pleistocene era when human psychology was formed, being easily charmed into believing a cad would stick around to dad probably meant starving their furry little children to death. Likewise, in the great hairy singles bar that was the cave, it would have been less costly for a schlub to make a fool of himself chasing a girl who wasn\’t interested than to miss an opportunity to pass on his schlub genes.

Be aware that there is a certain kind of guy who\’s more likely to get freaked by friendly. He\’s the guy who goes decades without a girl giving him a second look; well, save for a steel-piercing glare that says \”Hello, rapist!\” when he randomly pulls into the parking space next to hers and accidentally makes eye contact. He\’s the guy who always had a stuffed-up nose in junior high, who might have a girlfriend now, but only because she clubbed him over the head and dragged him on dates. Or, at his worst, he\’s the guy who wrote me about the co-worker who \”broke (his) little heart.\” For over a year, he had it all planned: \”I figured she\’d marry me and have my babies.\” And then, she got engaged — for the second time since he\’d known her. Oops … it seems he\’d never gotten around to asking her out!

So, is your problem merely being overly sunny to the overly pathetic? If you can honestly say you’re just being friendly, not “Can you help me find the file cabinet key I lost down my cleavage?\” friendly, you\’ll have to decide what\’s more important, being true to yourself or never being mistaken for the office nympho. If it\’s the latter, wear dark glasses and a smock, keep your head down in the hall, and speak only when spoken to. The alternative? Deciding it\’s their problem if they get squirmy when you wear those Ann Taylor separates that scream \”Line up here for a lapdance,\” and say sexually charged things like \”Hey, how was your weekend?\”

The good, the bad and the snuggly

Sunday morning, I was in bed at my girlfriend\’s when \”Robert,\” her obnoxious ex, started knocking persistently on her front door. She excused herself, I thought, to confront him, but instead just locked all the doors. She said she won\’t interact with him because he \”makes her feel bad about herself.\” My question: What should I have done, and if he returns, and she still won\’t deal with him, should I?

— Just Lying There

I guess you never saw the Clint Eastwood movie where he stays in bed guarding his girlfriend\’s fuzzy slippers from gangs of dust bunnies while she marches down to deal with the intruder. Sorry, but this was a job for Dirty Harriet. The ex only becomes your problem if he returns with a gun. Then, yes, you should \”draw\” — a telephone, and promptly dial 911. In the meantime, worry about why he \”makes her feel bad about herself.\” Does she just feel dumb for getting involved with him? Or, did she already feel bad about herself, which is WHY she got involved with him? If so, be glad you didn\’t go bust him one, as relationships with girls with low self-esteem tend to be miserable and short-lived, and somebody\’s got to get the beer when it\’s you and \”Robert\” on the other side of the door.