So it's not our fault. In fact - it's practically genetic. From the first time that Neanderthal man strutted around his cave boasting about the size of his club, man has engaged in the ritual humiliation of his fellow man. And over the years, an unwritten set of rules has developed, passed down from father to son through the mists of time, indicating what things are fair game, which lines cannot be crossed, and which subjects are taboo.
Nowadays, when it comes to the car we drive, the shirt we're wearing, the team we support, even our haircut - guys can spend hours debating their respective merits. In fact, almost anything goes.
But not quite anything. While mates will happily talk about their choices, when it comes to discussing their choice of 'mate', it's a different story entirely. We just don't talk to each other that way about that kind of thing. And while we might be desperate to let our friends know how fantastic we think you are, if we try and bring up the subject directly, at the very least, that's a hanging offence - and not necessarily by the neck. Instead, we make reference to what we think about you in much more subtle ways.
So, if you're out with him and his friends, or even just 'accidentally' overhear him as he chats to a pal on the phone, here's how you can tell if he really thinks you're great - by what he says about you to his mates.
Your Looks: You've just had your hair cut, and it looks fab, and (assuming he's actually noticed) he's told you he loves it. But whilst he might happily say this to your face, he won't dare say those words in front of his mates. Instead, he'll probably compare you to someone who all blokes universally recognise as being a hottie - that way, he's still describing you as being gorgeous, but by association. "Don't you think she looks just like that Sienna Whatserface?" he'll say, not wanting to admit to his pals that he knows exactly who these celebs are. His mates will all pretend to look blank for a few seconds until he adds "Jude Whatsisname's ex", at which point they'll all nod appreciatively before getting back to discussing the previous night's footie results. "But it's important to be sure we're comparing you to the right celebrity" says my friend Will. "After all, how would we feel if we overheard you describing us to your friends as looking like Russell Grant, when you actually meant Russell Crowe?" Oh yes - we're not flicking through 'Hello' for nothing while we're waiting our turn at the dentist's, you know.
Your Job: Although no guy likes to be seen to be outdone in the professional stakes by his 'better' half, secretly we're all incredibly proud of how well you're doing at work. So when he boasts to his mates about your recent promotion, or tells them you've just got a great pay-rise, what he's actually saying is "look how hard-working, clever and well-respected my girlfriend is - and it's not just me who rates her, so does her boss." Plus, we love the sight of you in those sexy, short-skirted power suits - especially the higher up the corporate ladder you climb. And it's nothing to do with the fact that bigger pay packets for you equals bigger presents for us - as modern-thinking twenty-first century males, we're more than happy for you to be so career-focused; after all, it works for Justin and Cameron. Just as long as our dinner's on the table when we get home, that is...
Your Personality: One thing you'll never hear your boyfriend say about you to his mates is "she's got a great personality". That's not because he thinks you're boring - of course he doesn't - but we've all glanced through the personal ads at one time or another, and we know the other, 'gravitationally-challenged' connotation of that phrase. Instead, if he really thinks you're funny and smart, what he will do is tell amusing stories and anecdotes about you; when my best mate Dave started letting me know about all the 'hilarious' things his girlfriend Alison was getting up to, I knew they'd be out choosing a ring before long. And why? Because as soon as any guy starts seeing those daft things you do as totally adorable, and worthy enough to risk embarrassment by telling his mates all about them with you at the centre of the joke rather than the butt of it, you can be sure he thinks you're much more than just a pretty face. Or butt, for that matter.
The Way You Dress: "Contrary to popular belief" explains my friend Chris, "guys don't actually want their girlfriends to wear anything too revealing - unless it's just for our benefit." And he's right - nothing you wore that attracted us when we originally met will we ever want you to wear again, particularly if you're going out without us, as there's no way we want you to be stared at by other men like we did when we first saw you. The bottom line, if you excuse the phrase, is this: Men don't notice what a woman is wearing - just how little. Besides, us guys discussing how their girlfriends dress is a real no-no - and one short step away from swapping recipes or knitting patterns. But we do love it (and do notice) when you look nice, and whilst an offhand "she scrubs up well" about you to our mates may not sound like the most flattering of compliments, trust me - it is.
Your Behaviour: "Forget about our mothers" says my friend Patrick, "it's our mates you really need to get along with." Don't forget, before you came along he was free to spend his Saturdays at the pub with them, instead of trawling round IKEA with you. But hearing him tell his friends that you can be "one of the lads" shouldn't get your back up - quite the opposite, in fact, as it doesn't mean he thinks you're built like a prop-forward, and can down a pint with the best of them. Instead, he's using it as a term of real affection, meaning that while you're all girly and gorgeous when you're with him, you're also adaptable enough to get along with his mates; laughing at their un-funny jokes, even offering to buy the next round, and they don't feel inhibited when you're around. And this means you've gone a long way towards understanding the complicated male psyche. If not the offside rule.
Your Relationship: "She knows who wears the trousers." It's a common boast, but in reality all blokes know who wears the trousers in any relationship - and it's not them. Because while women can sometimes use sex to get what they want, sex is what we want, and therefore we're always dependent upon whether you decide to take those trousers off once in a while. And believe it or not, telling our friends that "she knows who wears the trousers" is one of the biggest compliments we can pay you. And why? Because we're admitting to them that you're in charge, and despite your position of power, you realise we occasionally want to go out without you and behave like the beer-and-footie-obsessed Sugarbabes-fancying caveman that, underneath this surface veneer of man-about-town sophistication, we blokes all are. "Put in another way" explains my mate Ed, "it means you accept us for all our faults. And we love you for that."
Your Sex Life: This is the one thing you'll never hear us talk about - ever. Guys just don't discuss their sex lives, unless they're talking about an ex. "We don't want our friends to know how good you are in bed" says my pal Tony, "mainly because the last thing we want is them picturing you in any position apart from that of our girlfriend." So while we may love that trick you do with an ice-cube, we certainly don't want to share it with our friends. Instead, we might refer to how great we think you are between the sheets a bit more ambiguously - perhaps by yawning exaggeratedly when we meet up for our usual Sunday morning 5-a-side, or just responding to our mates' comments about how tired we're looking by grinning, rolling our eyes and uttering just one thing. Your name.