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Sex and the SafeRide

Ladder Theory

By Daniel Chai

“We’re just going as friends, right?”

Those are the dreaded words that a man asking a woman out does not want to hear. Why?

Well, because he doesn’t need another friend if he’s asking a girl out; he needs a girlfriend. This is nothing new. Something now familiarly known as “Ladder Theory” dictates that men cannot be friends with women that they find attractive.

The basic justification for Ladder Theory comes down to this: men and women cannot be friends because sex gets in the way, as Billy Crystal tells Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. Men have one “ladder” where they rank all women based on how much they want to have sex with them. A woman has two ladders: a “real ladder” for the guys with which she wants to have sex, and a “friend ladder” for the guys with which she doesn’t, but is comfortable enough to let them know she’s sleeping with other guys.

From there, you can see why men and women can’t be friends: the incompatibility of the friend ladder and a man’s ladder leave much to be desired on the man’s end. You can find the Ladder Theory in its entirety at

Of course, I don’t believe everything that the theory says. And I do believe that men and women can be friends as long as they aren’t attracted to each other. I have lots of female friends. They’re all just low enough on my ladder that the possibility of my sleeping with them is minimal. Hey, if I wanted to sleep with you, we wouldn’t be friends, right?

Theory is interesting and everything, but we’re MIT engineers who are interested in the practical aspects of things. Since I don’t have anyone else’s life to use as an example, I’ll use mine.

Take this relationship that I just ended. I’d like to be friends with my ex-girlfriend, but it’s really hard. I can’t be friends with her because every time I see her, I want to sleep with her. And since she’s thrown me from the real ladder to the friend ladder, it makes it that much worse. So unless she becomes grotesquely ugly and is a real jerk to me in the future, I don’t think that being friends is going to be the easiest route for us.

“Ladder Theory” has been affecting my dating life as well. It seems like women throw me on the friend ladder before I can do anything about it. I asked a girl out to dinner last week, and she asked me, “Oh, we’re just going as friends, right?”

She might as well have slapped me in the face. Of course, I can’t just tell her, “No, I want to sleep with you, though now it might be awkward.” So I went to dinner with her and now I’m trying to convince myself that I don’t want to sleep with her so that I can be her friend.

There’s nothing like when a girl drops the “friend” bomb (the other F bomb) on you. You build up these high hopes and then you discover either one of two things: she has a boyfriend, or she just isn’t attracted to you.

The worst situation is when she isn’t attracted to you, but she is attracted to your friend and she wants you to set them up. I can imagine how that conversation would go:

Girl: Hey, so your friend is pretty cute. Is he single?

Me: Actually, he’s a raving psychotic. You should date me instead.

Girl: Oh, but I thought we were just friends...

Me: No. We can’t be friends because I want to sleep with you.

Girl: So your friend isn’t single?

So how do you keep from getting stuck on the friend ladder? Honestly, I don’t have any idea. I think it involves not being a nice guy. Girls seem to want to keep nice guys around as friends and go after the assholes. However, that’s a discussion left for another day.

If you do get stuck on the friend ladder, though, there’s always the possibility of the “ladder jump,” or to put yourself into consideration for sex. I’d be wary of this because the results could be disastrous. You could fall off both ladders, and then it’s just awkward.

The best way to commit a successful ladder jump is to get to the top of the friend ladder and wait for her to break up with her boyfriend. I can see it now:

Girl: He broke up with me!

Me: Really? That’s too bad. You want to go out?

Girl: Hmmm ... why not? I need a rebound anyway.

I can’t imagine a better situation. Well, I could, but let’s face it; if you’re attempting a ladder jump, it’s not going to get any better than this. However, I suggest you avoid being friends with a girl that you want to sleep with if you can. You’ll save a lot of time and wasted energy that could be used to do problem sets (or other women). As always, good luck. Hopefully, some will come my way soon enough.

Daniel Chai is a pseudonymous male undergraduate student at MIT who writes a weekly column about sex and dating in college from a guy’s perspective.