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The art of “no.”

Over at SexyTypewriter, there is a discussion about the best way to tell someone that you don’t want a second date.  “See you soon” is probably not that way. “I could stop thinking about you” has the advantage of being honest, and the writer describes that awkward end-of-date feeling of “oh god…so many expectations and ways this could go wrong….oh god.”

I’ve done a lot of internet dating, and early on I was very optimistic about people.  I looked for the good in everyone, I thought of ways to make things work, I talked myself into being attracted (hey, why not?), and I enjoyed the act of meeting new people for its own sake. Most people were not The Man Who Would Not Break Eye Contact or Gropey McTicklefight, most people were just disheveled nerds like me, and while I didn’t make many lasting connections I did have a lot of fun nights out of the house and discovered a lot of cool pockets of Chicago when I was new in town.

While I was very willing to go on first dates and meet people, I was pretty picky about who I spent further time with.  I’m an introvert at heart and while I love friends and a good time and conversation sometimes often I find myself asking the question “Will this be a better time than screenwriting/finishing this novel I’m reading/playing CIV/being in a completely silent room full of silence?”

I also had numbers and our sexist dating culture going for me.  I was a woman with a nice smile and huge…tracts of land… and an ability to be entertaining and keep a conversation going, so I just had to sit and look pretty and wait for people to write to me and then accept or reject them.  I didn’t have to work at finding people to date, they came to me.  So there was an unbalance in some of those interactions from the start – I might think “Hey, this guy seems nice and I’m free tonight, why not?” while the guy might be overjoyed at finally getting a response after weeks of getting no response and think “She must really like me to write back at all, this is so on!”

What I’m saying is that there were a lot of perfectly fine first dates that did not lead to a second date.  At 25, did I handle this in a straightforward, cool, honest, mannerly way?  No.

What would happen is that at the end of the first date the guy would ask me out for a second date and in the moment, under pressure, I’d agree.  He’d say “We should do this again sometime” and instead of saying “Nah, I don’t think so” I’d say “Sure, that sounds great” and he’d say “Howabout Saturday?” and I’d say “I don’t think I have anything planned that day.”

Then Saturday would get closer and I’d start dreading the date.  Not because the guy was a bad person, just, there was no actual connection there and now I was committed.  Sometimes I’d be too chicken to say anything and find myself on that second date, walking through some neighborhood summer music and food fest, speaking in monosyllables.  Sometimes I would just cancel.  “I’m sorry, I forgot that I have other plans this weekend, catch you later.”

Most times the guy would understand.  “Hey, it’s okay, though I’m obviously bummed out.  Can we reschedule?” And then, when pushed to it by a direct question, I would finally muster the ability to be direct. “Um, I don’t think so.  You are nice but I’m just not feeling it,” and the guy would be (understandably) frustrated and say “Okay, but why didn’t you just say so in the first place?”

This is a legitimate question.  I was not behaving well by agreeing to dates and then cancelling them, but there was a reason I didn’t just say no in the first place.  I didn’t know how.  Also, I was afraid of Angry Guy.

Angry Guy responds to a cancelled date like this:  “But you SAID you were FREE and you AGREED and PROMISED now you are just being a FLAKE like ALL OTHER WOMEN.”  In which case, bullet dodged – you don’t want to spend more time with Angry Guy – but what happens when you turn Angry Guy down in person?  Angry Guy is pretty scary.

I’m relying on the work of Gavin de Becker here, his book The Gift of Fear is an incredible read and one of the most useful books about human psychology that I’ve ever come across.

Women are socialized to make men feel good.  We’re socialized to “let you down easy.”  We’re not socialized to say a clear and direct “no.”  We’re socialized to speak in hints and boost egos and let people save face. People who don’t respect the social contract (rapists, predators, assholes, pickup artists) are good at taking advantage of this.

“No” is something we have to learn.  “No” is something we have to earn.  In fact, I’d argue that the ability to just say “no” to something, without further comment, apology, explanation, guilt, or thinking about it is one of the great rites of passage in growing up, and when you start saying it and saying it regularly the world often pushes back.  And calls you names.

Creepy guy near eL station: “Those groceries look heavy, can I carry them home for you?”

You: “No thanks.”

Creepy guy near eL station: “Well, you don’t have to be such a bitch about it. I was just OFFERING to HELP.”

25-year-old me would stew all the way home, worried about hurting the feelings of the creepy guy near the eL station and wondering if I should have done something differently.  37-year-old me knows that you don’t have to worry about hurting the feelings of sketchy people on a dark street who offer you “help” you don’t want and then call you names when you turn it down.

Let’s pause briefly for some Basic Important Safety Stuff:  “No” is a complete sentence.  If you say “no,” and the other person keeps talking and trying to convince you to go along with whatever it is they want, do what you can to extract yourself from the situation. This person is trying to manipulate you, and you don’t have to let yourself be manipulated.  And if you hear a “no” from someone, the correct response is to back off immediately.  No insults, no whining, no pressure.  Just say “Okay, sorry to hear it” and move away.

25-year-old me was so afraid to say no that she’d agree to dates she didn’t want to go on just to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or provoking an encounter with Angry Guy.  37-year-old me (and hopefully you, at whatever age you are) would handle it differently.

If you’re just not sure, buy yourself time.  “Hey, thanks for asking.  I had fun tonight, but do you mind if I think about it and call you in a day or so?”

If you are sure, and you’re sure that the person won’t turn into Angry Guy (or Girl – she is also scary) you can just say so.  “Oh man, thanks for asking.  This is really awkward, because I had a good time tonight, but I’m not feeling that pull with you and I’d rather not.

Ideally this is not an exchange you are having in person.  I mean, the best case scenario is that you say your goodbyes after a date and then go home and think it over, and everyone leaves the door open for either further contact or a graceful end.

That’s why one of the best responses in the SexyTypewriter threads, from poster Monsterzero, is this one:

My interpretation of online dating etiquette is that at the end of the first date, I don’t ask for a second date commitment, because I don’t want to force an immediate decision. I do commit to further communication, and that’s how we set up the second date. Partly because I’m chicken and would rather not be rejected to my face, and partly because I’m kind of a big scary-looking guy and I don’t want a yes-let’s if she doesn’t mean it.

I really like that part where he is thinking about the safety and the feelings-of-safety of the woman and making sure he’s No Pressure Guy.  I want No Pressure Guy to have all the dates with all the direct, honest, sexy No Pressure Ladies!

If you’re both feeling it, it will happen.  You managed to go on one date, so presumably you know how to set up another one if you need to, and email is kinder if we have to take a detour to Rejectionland.

Readers, what’s your best/worst rejection story?  Has anyone else let themselves get roped into going on unwanted second dates because you’re too chicken to say “no”?

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107 comments
  1. JAT said:

    I’ve been in a whole relationship because it was okay, he was a nice guy, did nice things for me in bed and elsewhere, and I wanted to be nice back but. Just. Not. Feeling. It. Finally, because I really didn’t want to get into the details that also weren’t as relevant as the NOT FEELING IT part, I said I was getting back with an ex that he knew when we met I was not over, and so he only tries to contact me once in a while.

    I’m not happy with myself about any of it.

    • Veronica said:

      I was in the exact same situation when I was nineteen. It also ended the worst way it possibly could have – when he abruptly tried to ask me to marry him and then I HAD to say no. After that fiasco, I forced myself to back away from relationships from awhile and really work on me and figure out what I wanted. (As a side note, he had just gone through some serious losses in his life, so looking back, I suspect the marriage proposal was more out of desperation than a pure and genuine desire to spend his life with me. Not that there weren’t serious mistakes on my part since I was very young and, to be blunt, sexually confused, but now that I’m older, I realize that sort of commitment would’ve involved a more mutually expressive approach toward a subject that serious. Even knowing this, I still feel bad about it looking back.)

      That’s the other important part of learning no – you could really hurt someone if you don’t.

      • anon said:

        Whereas, when I was 19 I was dating a guy I actually liked, and he abruptly asked me to marry him. I felt I couldn’t say no, in part because I didn’t want to break up, in part because I was visiting him in another province and would have had nowhere to go and no way to get home if he’d broken up with me. Then once I got home, I felt like I couldn’t change my mind. Took me two f*cking years to call it off.
        I agree -I would have hurt us both a lot less if I had said ‘no’ in the first place. But it took me a long time to realize I *could* say no.

  2. B said:

    As a person who went on lots of dates in the past year, I learned I am not a good live-action automatic date decider. I was never on a date where anybody did anything terrible enough for me to reject them immediately. Sometimes I had fun on a date because I saw a cool play or ate at my favorite restaurant. Or, maybe there was a pretty moment of movie script romance that was kinda fun to savor a bit.

    Mostly, I knew I didn’t want to go on another date with a person when I was home, drinking tea, and finding myself shopping for new boys on OKCupid. Then, it was time to get out the email script of polite rejection.

    • JenniferP said:

      Right – the date itself can be fun, and you can be flattered to be asked, even – but that doesn’t mean it’s a real connection and you don’t owe anyone anything other than honesty and good manners.

  3. Deedy said:

    love the post
    a friend of mind curated an entire show of women’s art (including some of her work) around the theme of “no”

    was awesome and you’d love it.

    hope you are well!

    • JenniferP said:

      Sounds like a great show!

  4. Sid said:

    Perhaps my distance from my Online Dating Experience has cast a rosier glow on my behavior and that of my dates, but I don’t recall any difficulty in saying no.

    My stand-by sign off was “I’ll talk to you soon!” And then I would, by email. I didn’t take “see you soon” seriously, because I viewed it as an automatic thing. Like when you accidentally say “Love you” when ending a phone call with a co-worker because you only ever talk on the phone with your mom, and that’s how you roll. (Hilarity will indeed ensue.)

    I can say that I never pulled a post-date fade-out. I ALWAYS thanked the guy via dating-service email (REAL email addresses are for second dates!), told him that I didn’t feel like we clicked, and (crucially to my mind) wished him well in dating and finding his lady (and/or dude. There were a couple of bi guys and the one poly guy).

    I WAS guilty of a few email-conversation fade-outs, but don’t hold onto that guilt. There were plenty of dudes who both piqued my interest AND were willing to actually plan a damn date.

    But basically, right on! “No” is EXTREMELY useful in all kinds of places.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ha!

      “I love you….in that sweater!”

      Always awkward.

    • B said:

      Email fade-outs totally don’t count. I did that so many times.

      Fade-outs after a first date sort of are, but I had one that was rather charming.

      Second date is totally ambiguous territory, but for third dates and beyond, I do think rejection should happen and happen live. Pick up the phone.

      • SG said:

        I understand why you’d feel that a phone call is the way to go – but (in my case), while my anxiety usually isn’t that bad, that sort of thing can intensify it to the point where I can’t even make the words come out. And if they do get pushy or passive-aggressive, sometimes I’ll end up agreeing to things I don’t want to do just to lessen the pressure of the anxious feelings flooding my system.

        I don’t really feel good about handling things that way, but I’ve just had to accept that it hurts me a LOT more to try to push the issue then it hurts them to get turned down in writing.

        (Also, I may be the exception – but I prefer written rejections? Because then I don’t have an awkward paused moment where I have to think about how to immediately respond… when in writing I can let myself have a little time to process and think through how I want to phase my reply.)

        • JenniferP said:

          Do what works for you. Especially if you are dealing with someone who tries to talk you into things.

  5. I am so proud of Monsterzero!

    • JenniferP said:

      Sadly none of us are single enough to give Monsterzero the love and approval he deserves.

      • monsterzero said:

        No worries, I met my Sweetie on Match and we’ve been living together for four years now!

        I read The Gift Of Fear a couple of years ago and strongly recommend it.

        • Juliet said:

          The Gift of Fear is one of the most useful books about behaviour I’ve ever read! Everyone should read it but especially women. You will know why that creepy person is creepy. In my experience if someone isn’t going to read between the lines then they aren’t open to hearing no.

  6. Caito said:

    Man dude, this whole dating thing is poop. But if I were completely unable to say “no,” it would be even more poop, so at least there’s that. I’m still working on that, though. Thanks for the permission to do it over the phone or in e-mail rather than face-to-face. I mean, I didn’t actually need permission, but sometimes I feel like a jerk doing it that way even though I really shouldn’t. I do have a much harder time rejecting someone to their face, no matter how well-planned and gentle that rejection may be.

  7. Intern Paul said:

    Good advice, blah blah, Gavin DeBecker, blah blah. I just keep thinking “OH NO, THAT POOR HOT DOG! He has nowhere to go! They were made for each other. Now he’s just going to end up wasting his life chopped up in mac ‘n cheese.”

    • Kathleen said:

      OMG ME TOO

    • Sid said:

      How is a life in mac’n’cheese a waste? That dog would be literally swimming in cheese! With appropriate use of literally and everything!

  8. Lis said:

    I needed this article! I was sitting around at 3am reading blogs when some guy knocked on my window, since mine was the only light on in the street–he’d locked his keys in his car, and wanted to borrow my phone. Then when he couldn’t reach the person he called, he wanted money for a cab ride to his mother’s. It was creepy, but he had puppy dog eyes and a plausible story, and I ended up walking to a nearby ATM and giving him the money. (Before I left, I gave a friend his full description and orders to raise hell if I didn’t come back in a timely fashion.) Then he asked if I wanted to get together for drinks when he returned the money. I made an awkward comment that I didn’t drink… but I’m going to come up with something stronger if he comes back, because my desire to spend time with a guy with boundary issues is pretty low. (Oh, and now I’m worried because he lives next door, and what if I have Angry Guy living next door and knowing where I live and seeing my car every day…)

    • JenniferP said:

      You did need this article! There is a lot in this that makes me concerned about your safety and interactions with this guy going forward, so this gets its own post.

  9. Marion Poliquin said:

    At a friend’s party, I meet this girl (I’ll call her Isabelle) that I have an instant liking to. We hit it off and have a great conversation. By the end of the evening, I’m thinking that I’d really like to ask her out.

    A few days later, I ask my friend for Isabelle’s number and nervously call her.

    «Huh, what did you have in mind?» She doesn’t sound too enthusiastic. I tell her that I’d like to go out for coffee or beer so we can get better acquainted.

    «Is this going to be a date?» Oops, now I think that my goose is cooked, but she hasn’t said “no”. I tell her I thought we could see how things go. She accepts, but with no great enthusiasm, which kind of bugs me, but I don’t let it show.

    «Hey, listen, I’m a big guy, I’ll understand if you’re not interested, just say so and don’t worry about it.» And I’m being sincere, I have zero interest in going out with a girl who doesn’t want to be there. But Isabelle assures me that she’s fine with the idea and we set a date.

    The date goes ok, but the conversation isn’t as fun as the one we had that night we met. We do end up having fun and telling each other some pretty intimate things, but the comfort isn’t there. She’s the one who calls it a night and, as I drive her back to her appartment, I’m pretty convinced that there won’t be a repeat. And at that point I’m fine with it.

    When we arrive, Isabelle has that face you have when you’re making a decision, then she shakes her head, smiles at me and says that we should do this again. I’m cautiously pleased to hear this, because I really do like her. We kiss goodnight and I take my leave.

    When I call her back, Isabelle tells me that she’s too busy to see me that week. And she has that thing next week, so that won’t do. «Yeah, can you call me back the week after that?» I tell her “sure”, then we hang up. Of course, I never called back.

    I was disapointed, but I wasn’t angry at Isabelle for not being straightforward with me and never felt like she led me on, because I have the useful skill of knowing when a woman is Just Not That Into Me. And I did get a nice evening with an attractive woman out of it, so yay me. But I do wish she had taken me at my word when I said that I would be fine with it if she turned me down, because I feel she could have saved herself some useless worry.

    • JenniferP said:

      It sounds like you have the right attitude, in general, but isn’t it possible that Isabelle hadn’t quite made up her mind either way and was just giving it an honest shot?

      I am a geek and don’t know how to respond straightforwardly to overtly romantic behavior, so when I get some I might come across as aloof when really I’m just confused – “Is this person flirting with me? Why?”

      • Marion Poliquin said:

        You’re right to point that out. And I do try to think these things through before I stop pursuing a relationship. As it turns out, in this case I know I made the right call. I met Isabelle again at another party and there wasn’t any friction or tension at all.

        I do tend to have a pretty short cut-off point. In my youth, I was Desperate Clingy Guy, on his way to become Creepy Desperate Clingy Guy. I lost friends over it. But fortunately for me, they took the time to give me a wake-up call that pierced through the teflon fog that Desperate Clingy Guy surrounds himself with.

        I managed to get rid of Desperate Clingy Guy, but I still carry him on my back. Whenever I have to push things in a relationship, it raises images in me of the person I was and the person I could have become and I don’t like that person.

  10. Vol-E said:

    Gavin deBecker, YES. Thank you for including his very sage advice.

    Having divorced and then remarried a few years later, I had a brief dating window in between, and the opportunity to use some grown-woman insights to turn down a second date:

    [after getting the "But why not?" interrogation that wouldn't go away]
    Well, I’m simply not feeling any chemistry. And you know what? I could ignore this and go out with you again, just to avoid hurting your feelings, as my mom was always telling me to do. And then the second date would lead to a third, and I’d continue in the pattern of saying yes to everything you wanted just to avoid hurting your feelings, and then we’d end up married and it wouldn’t work, and we’d both be miserable and sooner or later, we’d get divorced, like the marriage I was just in for 13 years, child included. Now, tell me, do you really want to push me to go out with you again?

    Yes, I really did say all that to the guy — I did say it with an ironic little smile, and to his credit, he accepted it and all was well. I think his answer (also with a smile) was something like “Well, when you put it that way, I suppose not.”

    That encounter is still in my Top 10 Best Moments.

    • JenniferP said:

      “But why not?”

      Because you asked me that question, dude. Because you asked me that question.

  11. Jackie said:

    I just came across the blog — you’re a fantastic writer.

    It’s harder not being interested when they are and letting them down gently. Saying “no” is merited, but I don’t want to come off as a jerk. I know it’s hard to put yourself on the line. True or not I tend to put it on chemistry. I don’t even know exactly what that means. We don’t have chemistry… my test tube and your Erlenmeyer flask just weren’t meant to be together. Goodnight, Erle.

    The worst is somewhere in the middle — liking the person enough to casually date, but not enough to commit to long-term. The other person’s expectations almost always grow with time, and if I’m not feeling the romance and being forthright about where I’m at in the relationship isn’t getting across, it feels like the only ethical thing to do is end it before they get more invested. Relationships aren’t really static things, even when my feelings in the relationship are. Sometimes the nicest thing to do is see it coming and nip it in the bud, even as early as date one.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the compliment! I love your little story of the test tube and the flask who could never make it work.

      I dislike the part of (heterosexual) dating culture that casts men as the pursuers and women as the objects – it’s fucked up for both parties, and I do recognize that it’s hard to psych yourself up to make a move and then get rejected, so my tendency is to start gently and politely – “Oh man, thank you for asking! But I’m not feeling dating feelings about you, and would prefer not to.”

      And then, if you want to be super-classy and help someone save face, change the subject back to something you know interests them. So really it’s “Oh man, you are so nice to say so. I wish I returned those feelings, but sadly I don’t. Before it gets too awkward in here, how is (that thing you’re working on?)”

  12. Dominique Millette said:

    I love the “no is a complete sentence” quote.

    Since you asked for our thoughts on saying no, here is my torrent, taken from extracts of my blog:

    Posts connected to “no”

    Whose body is it anyway? Boundary violations and assumed status

    http://thedelphiad.wordpress.com/2010/05/12/whose-body-is-it-anyway-boundary-violations-and-assumed-status/

    “a lot of behaviour we as women find irritating when it’s directed at us is exactly the kind of behaviour people direct at those they assume are of lower status, or less-than. Because the less-than do not object when others do things to them without their consent. The consent is assumed, because a less-than does not have the “right” to withdraw or deny it. This is the basis of every single violation of another human being, whether we are talking about some guy hovering over us at work, some stranger (man or woman) touching our new hairdo, or a brutal rape at the hands of the enemy.

    Boundary violations are acts of dominance, of control. With or without conscious intention, they broadcast that we must accept our assumed and assigned place in the social hierarchy. Where the violation is explained as a “compliment”, here’s the usually unspoken message: a higher-status person has decided to acknowledge your existence and such attention has lifted you up from your otherwise-intractable invisibility. You can now express your thanks for graduating into full humanity.”

    Those who must smile and those who may have “attitude”

    http://thedelphiad.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/those-who-must-smile-and-those-who-may-have-attitude/

    “The exhortation to “smile” and “get along with others” is a command to remember your low status and stay there. People with the proverbially desirable sense of humour are those who must be prepared to play court jester and smile when kicked in the teeth. This is what passes for being a good sport. It’s awfully convenient to those who have power and that’s the whole idea.

    Many studies have correlated the right to express anger with higher status. Important people are serious. They’re allowed not to smile and laugh at everything they hear. If their pants are not ironed exactly right, or some woman dares to not be available and pleasant at all times for them, society forgives and understands them for seeing this as the equivalent of some poor person losing everything in a flood. Priorities change when you have others at your beck and call, or when society tells you that this should happen.”

    Women, anger and status: taking the long view

    http://thedelphiad.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/women-anger-and-status-taking-the-long-view/

    ” the expression of anger is directly related to status, regardless of gender: “Expressions of anger are often prohibited toward those of higher status, as they may constitute a challenge to the social hierarchy. One of the social nuances children must learn is that of deference, and who is considered an appropriate target for anger. This is particularly relevant for children from families explicitly marked as low status, such as those found in slave or caste societies, but it also applies to children from peasant or working-class backgrounds. … Although expressions of anger toward those of higher status may be limited, stereotypes of the working class (for example, in the United States) have often assumed that they are less in control of base emotions, including anger.” Thus, the “out-of-control” interpretation of women expressing their anger.”

    The Man Who Didn’t Mean It

    http://thedelphiad.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/to-the-man-who-didnt-mean-it/

    Because we are women, the world expects us to be soft, kind and compassionate. Forgiveness is advertised as our very salvation. If you don’t forgive, the world tells us, you will only poison yourself. Anger is a luxury that you cannot afford.

    That last sentence is quite telling. The idea of being able to afford anger illustrates exactly what’s going on: justice is a luxury. It only exists for the privileged. You won’t get any, so stop upsetting yourself.

    • JenniferP said:

      This is awesome stuff, and good if I need to pull actual academic research out to back my broad claims. Thanks so much for sharing!

  13. apricoco said:

    Found your blog via feministe and love it! This post hit home in so many ways. I read Gavin de Becker’s book over 10 years ago and it has probably saved my ass a bunch of times. It taught me more about dealing with people than 5 years of dating prior to that. I learned how to say No, a real No and not a ‘maybe no’. It is a useful skill indeed. And you are right, probably a marker of adulthood.

  14. Amanda said:

    Yep, this had definitely happened to me.

    I went on a first day with someone I met online after talking through email for almost a month. We met for dinner and ended up talking for many hours. We had a lot of the same interests, which was cool – but after awhile, I started feeling this strange, nagging feeling that something was off.

    He would make an occasional weird comment like “With online dating, I’m afraid the pretty pictures are really fat girls in real life” or when I mentioned I was allergic to cats he said, “Oh no, that’ll be a problem if you come to my apartment, I have cats!” (not something you should really say to a person you just met…).

    Despite the weirdness I was feeling, I let the date keep going because I felt bad. I tried talking myself into thinking it wasn’t a big deal. The most awkward part of the night was when we were parting. He kissed me on the forehead. That was…weird.

    And STILL I agreed to a second date because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I talked myself into thinking the red flags I found were not that big of a deal. But as the second date approached, my anxiety and dread went way up. When he called to confirm, he began the conversation by telling me that he saw his family over the weekend and told them all about me. After one date. After just meeting.

    Finally, I could take it anymore and VERY awkwardly said, I think I’m going to have to decline. When he asked why, I said “Well, you are a really nice guy, but I just don’t think I’m feeling a connection”. He was nice enough about it and we ended the conversation.

    2 days later, the “Angry Guy” you mentioned came out. He send me a raging, insulting email about what a horrible bitch I was for leading him on like that.

    Moral of the story? I should have followed my instincts from the beginning and just said no right away. I’m not proud of the way I handled it, but at least I made the decision before the second date happened. Scary!

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m sorry he turned into Angry Guy – he had obviously made up a relationship with you in his head and had invested quite thoroughly in that – his angry reaction was not about you, it was that fictional person he’d made up.

      It was enough that you didn’t like him enough to want to go out again, and now you know!

  15. Emeryn said:

    Right after I got out of a relationship, one of my best friends mentioned that one of his friends really liked me. It was a guy that I’d talked to at a few parties and didn’t know all that well. Apparently, Dude thought I had a great sense of humor and was pretty and smart. I gave my friend permission to give Dude my phone number.

    Dude called me and we went out to dinner a few nights later. We joked around and the date seemed to be going really well. Until I asked The Question.

    “If you don’t mind me asking, what made you like me so much?”

    Dude made some vague comments about how funny I am, how smart I am… and then looked deeply into my eyes and gave the actual answer.

    “I know you’re eighteen… but it’s really sexy that you can pass for twelve. I’ve heard that you… aren’t exactly innocent, either. It’s kind of hot.”

    Dude then smiled at me in a completely proprietary, creepy fashion and reached across the table and grasped my hand in his.

    I just stared at him. My first impulse was to pull free run like hell. But there were a few problems with this plan:

    1. Dude loomed over me. I am 5’0″. He was 6’4″. I knew he had been on the track team at his school and was athletic. If I ran, he could catch me. And break me.

    2. He made a comment about how he’d heard I wasn’t innocent. The only sexual act that I’d “participated” in at this point in my life was the time I was raped. My friend did not know I was raped, so couldn’t have told him. I asked Dude point-blank where he heard that about me and he named my rapist. I asked him how he knew Rapist. They were cousins, apparently.

    3. I lived in a small town near a big city. He’d picked me up at my house and driven the two of us into the city. I was a 45 minute drive away from my house. There was no public transportation that could convey me home.

    What I should have done is call my family/friends/anyone and asked them to come pick me up, regardless of the drive.

    Instead, I gave an artful little laugh and told him that I’d never “do THAT” on a first date and that I barely knew him. He got an angry look on his face, so before it could escalate, I gave him a kinda flirtacious look and told him that we’d need to date a few times for me to get to know him before I’d really “feel comfortable enough to…” and trailed off suggestively.

    He took my words at face value, that I’d eventually screw him after a few dates. He drove me home. I endured a few moments of adolescent groping and dashed inside my house.

    I then called my friend and told him what happened. My friend was really protective of me, almost like a brother. He said he’d handle the rejection for me, because he could see how beyond freaked out I was.

    I never heard from Dude again.

    I am very lucky I wasn’t raped that night.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m so, so sorry. I’m trying to wrap my head around the idea of a rapist who recommends his victims to other rapists, but I can’t, BECAUSE IT JUST EXPLODED.

      You handled this BEAUTIFULLY, and with every piece of wit and subterfuge and survival skill you had.

      You shouldn’t have had to handle it that way. You should have just been able to say “Really? That’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard, also, your cousin knows that about me because he raped me – is that your plan, too, because we can call 911 now and save us all some trouble.”

      I’m so, so sorry, thanks for sharing.

      • Emeryn said:

        You know… I’ve never before categorized his groping and slobbering (I can’t call it kissing) as sexual assault before. It’s not like I don’t know what sexual assault is- I’ve been raped once and assaulted two other times.

        But it clicked in my head when I was typing that up earlier… I never consented. I never even participated. He sure as hell never asked. It was assault, even if I was too stunned to classify it as assault at the time.

        Huh.

    • JenniferP said:

      Replying to your comment below (WordPress will only let us nest so much)…
      :-(

      I hope you have a good therapist, because that is a giant load of crap you shouldn’t have to deal with right there, and you deserve the support of a friendly pro in sorting it out and helping yourself feel safe again.

      • Emeryn said:

        I’ve since left that area and moved, which helps a great deal. I don’t regularly see a therapist, I’ve had a lot of trouble finding one that I can work with.

        I have, however, met a wonderful feminist man and gotten married.

        I still get asked out on dates. I was naive enough originally to think that a wedding ring would deter potential predators, but I still get asked out… I wonder what that says about their perception of me, if they think my vows meant that little? Anyhow, most usually go away after I tell them I’m married and/or show them my wedding ring. When they don’t… well, that’s what me having grown a spine and a bitch stare are for.

    • ginmar said:

      He was the cousin of your rapist, who recommended you to him, like….a menu item? Like….like….My head! Exploding!

      • JenniferP said:

        HED ASPLODED

        PLZ LOOK AT CUTE KITTEN UNTIL HED IS BETTER

      • Emeryn said:

        I’ve honestly never been sure if he was bragging or recommending.

        Though I suppose in the end, it all boils down to the same thing.

    • Sid said:

      Just chiming in with the Captain:
      1 – WOW. Wow. Add my head to the list of exploded ones, because that guy… and his cousin… WOW.

      2 – BRAVO. You handled yourself AMAZINGLY.

      • Emeryn said:

        I really need to stop exploding heads. Brains are really hard to scrape off the ceiling.

        And thank you.

    • Emily WK said:

      Oh god. I’m so so sorry. You did such a wonderful job and I wish like hell that you had never had to know what you were capable of in a situation like that. I hope you never do again.

      • Emeryn said:

        I have since bought a small can of pepper spray that hangs from my keys. I have never needed to use it, but the knowledge I have it with me is comforting.

        I’ve also gotten a lot more in tune with my inner bitch and have learned to stand up for myself. I’ve discovered making a scene isn’t necessarily a bad thing- it can be a useful tool. If someone is bothering me or creeping me out, suddenly losing my volume control (“I said I wasn’t interested. Please stop harassing me before I call the police”) tends to make bystanders pay attention. No predator wants a bystander to step in or attain the ability to help pick him out of a line-up.

  16. enyouse said:

    “‘No’ is a complete sentence” – I love that.

    I left an awful relationship about two years ago. The defining of that relationship was him explaining to me that my “no” was irrational, unreasonable, etc.

    To celebrate my freedom I got a tattoo on my right hip, under where my pocket would be. The tattoo says ” No. ”

    Even with the tattoo I still have trouble with no, though.

    • JenniferP said:

      If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to say “Stop pretending that your emotions are better than mine, because you pretend that they are based on ‘logic’, you entitled ass” I’d eat a nice steak dinner tonight in a place with white tablecloths and a wine list.

  17. Goodknit said:

    Wow, what a wonderful, thought-provoking post! I just discovered your blog, thanks to a wise recommendation, and am looking forward to reading more.

    Two quick thoughts on “no:”
    One, in learning about consent and respect for their partners, men rarely hear anything beyond “No Means No.” While this is certainly important, it doesn’t go nearly far enough! Never in any of my reading, or any of the sex-ed I got in school, or the workshops on my college campus, had anyone mentioned the societal pressure that encourage women to say ‘yes’ even when heart and body are saying ‘no’… or anything about the hurt feelings that can come when someone says ‘no,’ or advice on how to deal with those feelings responsibly… or that consent exists on a continuum, with bright, eager green lights on one end, and flashing red lights on the other, and that there’s plenty LOTS of emotional territory in between. I think it’s terribly important that men (and women) be better educated on the finer points of consent… I mean, it’s anti-violence work that puts the burden of fighting rape on men, which we need waaaaay more of, and also just good information for anyone who wants to have a good, communicative relationship.

    And second, that ‘no’ is complicated for men, too! Patriarchal culture tells me, as a cis, het guy, that I must always want sex, at any time, with anyone. It wasn’t until this year, at age 26, that I realized how much unenthusiastic consent I’d given, how much sex I’d had before I was ready, in the context of good relationships. I love sex, and I love women, and I loved THOSE women specifically, but it turns out that it takes a lot of time and emotional intimacy before I’m comfortable making that leap with someone… yet when my partners asked me if I wanted to have sex, I silenced those voices, because, ‘what guy doesn’t want to have sex, right?’ Wrong. Live and learn.

    Yeesh. I don’t know what’s more amazing about Monsterzero’s comment: how insightful he is, or that we live in a world where such sensitivity is so rare. I mean, I’m a cis, straight guy who ALWAYS takes a no and honors it (Your language is brilliant: “no is a complete sentence”), and it would NEVER have occurred to me to hold off on asking about a second date to spare a woman the social pressure of saying no to a biggish man! So glad I read this here, and so glad to have had my eyes opened to yet another way that my behavior can support patriarchy if I don’t keep my eyes open.

    Thanks again for a great post! Hope I articulated my idea alright… a lot of this lingo is new to me.

    • JenniferP said:

      You did great at articulating your idea. Thanks for your comments.

  18. Ashley said:

    Best rejection-gone-wrong story? Here’s one! I was at an open ballroom dance, and I danced a couple times with guy. He asks me for my number. I say no. (This was the first time somebody EVER asked for my number, so I was excited that I had had the guts to say no.) So he says, “Well, then can I give you my number?” I figure, “Heck, why not. I’ll just never call him.” So I go, “Okay.” So he HANDS ME HIS CELL PHONE and says, “Type your number in so I can call your cell phone, and then you’ll have my number.”
    I was completely flabbergasted. I mean, what do you SAY to something like that? “THAT’S CHEATING, YOU ASSHOLE!”?? Having been caught completely off guard, I stupidly did what he suggested. He called my phone. And I put his number in my address list and set the phone to automatically reject his calls and send them to voicemail. There was further drama with this guy at later dances which I won’t go into here, but I think I learned a valuable lesson: next time they ask if you want their number, just say no.

    Several months later I was at another open dance, and ended up paired with a random guy during the lesson. I tried to be friendly and helpful (I knew the dance better than he did), and he later asked me for my number. I said “No.” He went, “Oh. Sorry.” Well, I don’t want him to be sorry for ASKING, so I shrugged and went, “It’s okay.” He replies, “Can I have your home address?”
    !!!!?????!!!!
    You can bet the answer to that one was another plain no. I’m getting better at this. :P

    • I can’t even fathom how that first dude had the audacity or how the second guy made that leap of logic. Cannot.

  19. I was followed home in the middle of the afternoon by a drunken guy telling me I was beautiful, eventually yelling at him to “leave me alone!”. I then went to my boyfriend’s, upset, and told him what happened. He had no reaction whatsoever. We are no longer together (for this and other reasons). There is a real need for male feminists out there! And female for that matter…

    • That’s not a lack of feminism. That’s a lack of being concerned that you could’ve been raped or killed.

  20. liyyspoon said:

    So needed this post.

    On my first ever internet date (before y’all say anything I KNOW) I went back to the guy’s apartment, let him kiss me, and TIE MY WRISTS TOGETHER, all to avoid rejecting him and hurting his feelings.

    Sometimes, now, when I look back on it…I just…what the fuck?!

    I’m really working on that ‘no’.

    • JenniferP said:

      Uh, no one is going to judge internet dating here. Internet dating is awesome. But yeah,”no” is pretty useful stuff. Be safe out there!

      • liyyspoon said:

        Oh, no, I didn’t mean you’d judge the ‘internet’ part of the date, but the ‘incredibly stupid and dangerous not-saying-no’ part.

        • JenniferP said:

          I don’t judge you for that – that’s what Dear Fucking Prudence is for. But I’m really glad you are ok. Forgive yourself and be safe.

          • xenu01 said:

            Dear Dear Fucking Prudence,

            I am pretty sure I was raped by some guy on the internets.

            Help!
            Confused or Something

            Dear Confused,

            You weren’t. And why are you meeting guys on the internets? You’re asking for trouble!

            Sincerely,
            Dear Fucking Prudence

          • liyyspoon said:

            Thanks lovely Captain – I’m LOVING your blog/advice/ways of being/poems :)

  21. Datdamwuf said:

    Saying no to crazy guys is scary. First time out alone after breakup of a 12 year relationship, had a conversation with a couple at the bar, nice people. Guy sat down next to me, asked if he can buy me a drink, I say no thank you. He keeps talking to me, while I ignore him, buys me a drink anyway, I didn’t touch it. He’s saying crap like, come on baby give me a chance, totally creeping me out so I leave the bar, as I start the engine he is getting in his car, he followed me! I am freaking out. If I had it to do over I’d have driven to the police station, I was much younger then and all I could think of is my dog would protect me. So when I realize I cannot loose him I got my house key ready, took my car from zero to 50, zoomed in the driveway. Got my front door open just as he pulls in my driveway. I had a 180 pound black Great Dane who didn’t like strangers, I let my baby dog out and he went crazy barking and lunging, guy ran back in his car and I never saw him again. I was laughing like a loon and calling the guy many nasty things.

    • That is so terrifying! I’d call 911 on my cell while driving. (Or at least I hope I’d have the presence of mind to.) Good on you for protecting yourself!

  22. I discovered your blog a few months ago and have been working my way through the archives. So much wonderful stuff, I love it. I had to chime in to say that I finally was able to put an end to the harassment from a guy that I hooked up with a few times last year a couple of weeks ago. I wish I had seen your blog much earlier, because especially “no is a complete sentence” would have helped me a lot. I got involved with another guy a few weeks after seeing the persistent one, but he proceeded to spend many months trying to convince me to “hang out” with him again. It took me threatening to go to the police before he finally gave up. My favorite line? “Babe, ive slept with over 40 ladies and u were the best ive ever had” Cause oh yeah, that makes me want to cheat on my boyfriend with you.

    • I think sometimes threatening to go to the police (or, in more extreme cases, actually getting a restraining order) can be a worthwhile thing to do. I also think it sends a clear message that a guy is no longer in the “annoying” zone and is solidly in the “wrong” zone.

      I don’t believe that most guys really want to be as disrespectful as they do…but they receive such negative social conditioning. A lot of guys are explicitly told, by peers, by advice sites on the internet, by television and culture, that it’s okay to be pushy, even necessary to be pushy. And it’s tricky, in some cases, being persistent can pay off. A lot of guys don’t really know how to distinguish between someone who is genuinely busy and someone who is not interested. I’ve often erred in BOTH ways, thinking someone wasn’t interested just because they were busy or hard to get hold of, and then, in other cases, not picking up clues when other people weren’t interested. It’s hard, because it’s so normal for people to just lie and say they’re not interested.

      But when you tell a guy no explicitly, and you explicitly tell him to stop contacting you, and he keeps bugging you, that’s what I’d call the “wrong” zone because he’s no longer contacting you with your consent…and that’s illegal and grounds for a restraining order.

      • oops clarify, i mean “lie and say they’re just busy when they’re not interested”

        • Here’s the thing you don’t seem to be getting, in this or your other comments: telling a guy no explicitly can be dangerous. Whether we’re talking about “social disapproval from others for being a bitch” danger or actual literal physical danger depends on the situation, and women can’t always tell which one it’s going to be. Most women I know have at least one experience of a man suddenly switching from “C’mon, baby” to either “Don’t flatter yourself, bitch, I was just being friendly” or something even more aggressive and hostile. These days, the wedding ring works pretty well as creep repellent, but in former times, I would very seldom give a straightforward “no”. Not because I was playing games or being manipulative, but because the guys who will accept a “no” at face value and not keep pushing or make a scene are visually indistinguishable from the guys who will pose a threat to my safety. Neither type wears a sign announcing which they are.

          If you’re getting “Sorry, I can’t,” or “Sorry, I’m busy,” without any suggestions of alternatives, then back off. Maybe offer her your number in case she changes her mind, but don’t persist. Yes, it’s possible that you might miss connecting with someone who is shy or depressed or into playing the “you must pursue me” game. So the hell what? The alternative is that you are guaranteed to creep some women out and make them feel unsafe. The occasional woman who really does mean “Try harder” when she puts you off is a) ruining it for the rest of us (men and women both), and b) unlikely to be your One True Destined Love, the Only Person With Whom You Can Ever Be Happy.

          So listen to the Captain. Interpret those signals conservatively. Make the world a slightly less creepy and hostile place.

          • The reasoning that I am hearing here is that women are more likely to become victims of violence if they are direct and assertive when turning a guy down, and therefore, they can protect themselves by being indirect.

            I don’t agree with this; it doesn’t fit with my own experience.

            Violence against women in a dating context is a real problem, and something I care about a great deal, as I’ve had numerous friends who have been the victims of rape, sexual assault and harassment in dating contexts. And I myself have been harassed and stalked twice by women. One of them became quite irate…fortunately for me, over the phone, but it could have been in person. Of all the people I know who have been raped and sexually assaulted, none of those situations have been a direct result of them assertively saying no. Some of them might have been prevented had the person been more assertive. And in harassment, the pattern that I see play out over and over again is that a guy (or girl) who is usually socially very awkward and poor at reading signals will harass someone because he (or she) believes, for whatever reasons, that he(or she) “has a chance”. And, to take responsibility, in the two situations where I was harassed, I was not fully direct and assertive, and in both cases (one of which involved threatening to call the police), when I was sufficiently assertive, the harassment stopped permanently.

            In all my understandings of human interactions, I have seen one key pattern, which is that people tend to respond with greater respect when they are treated with greater respect, and they tend to respond with greater disrespect when they are treated with disrespect. Some people may be disrespectful or even violent no matter what…but it does not make the violence any more likely when you treat them with respect.

            Indirectness can be highly disrespectful, especially when it is in the form of dishonesty…and yes, some people do this, both men and women, they will say they want to hang out again when in reality, they know they don’t. This is disrespectful…and it can lead people to feel hurt and angry. Not saying that violence is ever okay, I’m just saying, I would see indirectness as having a greater capacity to cause violence or harassment than directness.

          • JenniferP said:

            “The reasoning that I am hearing here is that women are more likely to become victims of violence if they are direct and assertive when turning a guy down, and therefore, they can protect themselves by being indirect.

            That’s not what you’re seeing. You’re seeing that women are afraid that they might be assaulted (or just have to deal with an angry unpleasant interaction) no matter how they react, so sometimes they go with indirect refusal for fear of escalating a situation or because it’s how they’ve been socialized and breaking out of “compliance mode” takes some practice and isn’t suddenly more likely to happen in a crisis situation.

            I don’t agree with this; it doesn’t fit with my own experience.

            Your experience isn’t the only experience, fortunately. You can’t come to a feminist space and tell us that we’re having our own experiences wrong. Actually, don’t do that anywhere for any reason.

            “Indirectness can be highly disrespectful, especially when it is in the form of dishonesty…and yes, some people do this, both men and women, they will say they want to hang out again when in reality, they know they don’t. This is disrespectful…and it can lead people to feel hurt and angry. Not saying that violence is ever okay, I’m just saying, I would see indirectness as having a greater capacity to cause violence or harassment than directness.”

            PROBLEMATIC. This assumes that someone who is giving unwanted attention is entitled to a certain kind of response (or any response – silence can be its own answer). I admit in the OP that I was not dealing fairly with my suitors by agreeing to dates and then cancelling. The post is an attempt to explain some of the fallacies and social conditioning I was fighting and how I had to learn how to be more direct. Any given person can be at any point on that continuum at any given time. If I say “sure, let’s hang out again” and then later say “Eh, you know what, I find I’d rather not” and you get scarily angry at me because you feel lied to, you are part of the problem. If you’ll react like that via email or on the phone, how am I to know that it wouldn’t have been worse if I’d said no earlier, in person?

            I definitely want women to feel more comfortable being assertive sooner, but the fact is: People change their minds. What sounded like a good idea week ago might not sound like a good idea later after more thought, especially as you are just getting to know a person. Men change their minds about dating women all the time, so why can’t we change our minds without being lying liars who lie? Answer: Male privilege and entitlement. A pleasant first date isn’t a fucking contract. A “sure, sounds good, maybe” isn’t a contract. Hell, even a contract that says “I will go on a second date with you” isn’t any kind of enforceable contract, because people change their minds. We can encourage women to be more assertive and direct. I spend a lot of my time doing that on this site. But if you use women’s assertiveness or lack thereof to blame them for another person’s anger (sometimes threatening, scary anger), you’re pretending there’s a perfect way they could have responded to not make that anger come out. It’s a fallacy. Any training on women’s assertiveness must also coincide with training men to see a rejection – direct, indirect, prompt, belated – through the lens of “Bummer, obviously, but she doesn’t really owe me anything and she gets to change her mind.”

            “Indirect answers” (by women) don’t “cause violence or harassment.” Violent harassers cause violence and harassment. It’s a total fallacy that you can control whether you are raped or assaulted or somehow make your rape less rapey by saying “no” differently or better or more assertively or more nicely. What we talk about in the post and in the comment thread are strategies for being more assertive and direct and less ambiguous, but I totally understand why people have trouble with that (and again, are less likely to be able to do it when they’ve been put on the spot or are feeling afraid. In times of stress you go with patterns that you know.

            Men are perfectly capable of understanding indirect refusals from people they respect without accusations of dishonesty and equivocation.

            Alex, I do not think your posts are adding to this discussion and I’d like you to stop posting in either of the “art of no” threads please. I am sorry you’ve dealt with harassment and glad that you were personally able to make it stop by being more assertive. But you cannot see the hundreds of behind-the-scenes comments I get in moderation where total strangers offer to “show me what real violence looks like.” Trust me when I say that women and men live in a different landscape where safety, fear, and social conditioning are involved.

  23. Such a terrific post; I love the way you talked so pragmatically about how women’s and men’s experiences are tangled together. I commented on it at length over at my blog.

  24. Oh man…how I wish women would just say no. It is much more frustrating to make plans and have someone flake out. It’s also not pleasant to have someone say they want to hang out, and then not respond to texts.

    I will say though, I think internet dating sets up a bad situation. I’ve tried a few different dating sites, and, with a few exceptions, I usually just get inundated with women that I have little to no interest in, and I find women I’m interested in rarely write back to me. In real life, by contrast, I am constantly meeting women, women that I am very attracted to, women who are intelligent, engaging. Sometimes I find myself having to fend off multiple women who are interested in me. My girlfriend now, I met in person, through dancing.

    I think internet dating creates insecurity in men. I would feel more insecure the more time I’d spend on dating sites. The environment there sent me the message that there are few attractive women out there and that the ones there are are usually not interested in me. And furthermore, the ones that wanted to meet, often wanted to meet in this one-on-one environment where I was treated essentially like an object, disposable after one date.

    On the other hand, going to, say, a dance, sent the message, wow, there are so many attractive women out there. And they want to talk to me, and they want to hang out with me outside a dating context–where people are respected and allowed to come into each other’s social circles in a natural way. This is so much more of a healthy environment in which to start dating…you see how you interact with other people, and I think it creates a base-line of respect too. Is a guy going to act disrespectfully towards you if you have friends in common? Some guys might, but it’s much less likely.

    So I’d say (1) just say no assertively. and (2) stay away from internet dating and other isolated “pick-up” environments (i.e. bars), and (3) try to meet people in contexts where you see each other interacting with other people, and ideally, have at least some common acquaintances. Social dance is a great way to meet people. Other activity-centered or interest-centered ways of meeting people can also be great…or at group gatherings like potlucks, house parties, games nights, sports and outdoor activities, other group social activities, etc.

    • JenniferP said:

      You can also help by interpreting “Sorry, I’m busy…” signals EXTREMELY conservatively. If you ask, and she can’t go or cancels, let her be the one to reach out and make plans the next time. Don’t chase!

      • Hmm…I’d be cautious about giving anyone (man or woman) the advice to interpret signals extremely conservatively in the way you’re describing. As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, when I am depressed, I will tend to interpret things in the most negative way possible for myself, and I don’t think that this approach is necessarily constructive or healthy. I also have seen women do this, and I don’t think it’s healthy. In extreme cases, it will lead to a person who is well-liked feeling like they have no friends or no people value or care about them, just because their friends are busy. I’ve been there and it’s no good.

        It’s also been my experience that in our society, a large portion (I’d say a majority) of women still expect men to do more initiating and reaching out. Giving the advice to men to expect women to reciprocate equally, will often tend to lead to men either getting nowhere in relationships (because many women expect the man to be more assertive than them), or, ending up with women who are so far on the assertive side that they actually get into the creepy / pushy / disrespectful zone themselves.

        I think that what is really necessary here is to become better at actually reading people. I do think that people usually make clear through body language. Perhaps one piece of advice that I’d offer to people, especially to men, is that if you are having trouble reading a woman’s body language, then she is probably not the best match for you. But even this advice is limited…there have been a few people in my life that I’ve felt very awkward around for a few weeks, until I figured out how they communicate, and then we ended up later becoming very close and comfortable with each other. I think it’s best to reserve judgment and keep an open mind. Some people are slow to open up, but may have great potential to connect with you in the long-run.

        I think the one key piece of advice I’d give to men is to be as respectful and positive as possible in their communications, and to avoid from any sort of negative reaction, judgment, or insults, in the case that someone turns you down. I think if a woman turns a man down, and the man feels sad or hurt about it, this is fine, but he doesn’t need to contact her at all about this, and it is probably best for him not to. I don’t think it can hurt to send a sweet and respectful follow-up text or email or call to someone who seemed like they might not be interested, but who you really like and want to communicate that you’re open to. I think it becomes problematic if you try contacting someone repeatedly and they don’t reply, or if you call someone often in a short period of time, or if you send a nasty message or leave a nasty voicemail, or express to them that they’ve hurt your feelings when they’re still barely an acquaintance, before you have even established any sort of friendship with them.

        • Bev said:

          Dude, why must you ask us to let you be creepy?

          Just limit yourself to two texts/calls with no reply and then you’ve “chased” but not harrassed. Although I’ve never met a girl who wants to be chased, myself.

          • I don’t think that simple rules or generalizations are a constructive or healthy way to approach dating, or any form of human communication. It’s possible to harass with a single phone or text, or be respectful with three. It depends on the context, and on what you say, and how you say it. I think it depends hugely on your intentions / purpose in the contact too.

            In my experience, people, both men and women, are unlikely to describe a behavior as harassment just because someone contacted them three times. The issue is whether or not someone contacted them in a way that states or implies something negative about them, for not being interested in them. In some cases, this phenomenon, which is usually enough to send up the “creepy” red flag, happens before the first contact–like on a dating site, a remark someone puts in their profile. And it can happen in the first conversation someone has, like the example of the shopping bags above, where the guy gets all offended and insults the woman because she did not accept his offer of help.

            That’s why I emphasize respect, rather than following specific rules. I think it’s always more constructive to look at the deeper issues rather than just trying to follow a formula.

        • JenniferP said:

          “As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, when I am depressed, I will tend to interpret things in the most negative way possible for myself, and I don’t think that this approach is necessarily constructive or healthy.”

          I am really sorry you struggle with that. However, your personal struggles with depression and the messages playing in your jerkbrain are yours to deal with, and not something a woman you’re just trying to get to know has to take into account.

          If someone is avoiding you, being vague, flaking out, take those as signs of indirect refusal. Send one more “Hey, I hope we can get together, please reach out if you’re free” and then back off totally. Trust that they’ll reach out if they want to. Trust that they’ll do it even if social conditioning makes that the traditional “man’s job.”

          You say below that it depends largely on your intent. No. Intent is not magic. For a woman on the receiving end of unwanted attention, what matters is how she feels and whether she wants the interaction to continue. She has no obligation to try to suss out your intent and give you the benefit of the doubt.

          I think your last paragraph is dead on – look for reciprocity, treat people with respect.

          But I wanted to address this:

          Giving the advice to men to expect women to reciprocate equally, will often tend to lead to men either getting nowhere in relationships (because many women expect the man to be more assertive than them)

          To which I say as unequivocally as possible: I’m totally willing to live with a whole lot of “men getting nowhere with women” as a side risk of resetting the social expectations that men should chase and women should be worthy of being chased. People (shy, awkward, not-perfect-looking, issue-laden, depressed people) who like each other manage to date and mate all the fucking time, it’s not that big a mystery. If you contact someone a few times, and they evade you it could be because they’re expecting to be chased or because they don’t like you. Assuming they don’t like you might be a small blow to the ego, but it’s a survivable one and not one that it’s women’s job to “fix” at the micro or macro level by being more chaseable. Move on to the person who returns your affections and shows it openly.

          • Sheelzebub said:

            Jeez, yes, THIS. As someone who’s dealt with pretty goddamn serious clinical depression, it can suck when you feel rejected. It ALSO sucks–in fact, it sucks far WORSE–to feel like your wishes and desires to be left alone simply do not matter, that declining an offer is seen as the opening to a negotiation, and that your boundaries do not count. It is not ever okay to pull that shit.

            If you’re chasing me, it means I’M RUNNING AWAY FROM YOU. And if I have to chase someone because I have to prove how interested I am, it means I WILL BE DOING ALL OF THE WORK in the relationship. No thanks to either!

            And yes, I’ve been on the receiving end of rejection/perceived rejection during a bad bout of depression. It doesn’t suck any less when someone says “No, I do not ever want to have lunch with you,” or “No, I am not interested in you.” And when someone is very busy, I figure that they are either being honest and just very busy or they are not interested in spending time with me and don’t want to hurt my feelings or feel awkward about saying so directly. Either way, my actions are the same. I say, “OK, well, if some time frees up for you and you’re up for hanging out, let me know.” And then I leave them alone.

          • Hmm…to be more specific, when I’ve been depressed, I’ve been in situations where I genuinely believed everyone disliked me. But when I realized, when I got my wits together again, that I was actually quite well-liked. And I’ve repeatedly mis-read people being busy as a lack of interest. Another thing I’ve done is interpreted people’s lack of agreement to do things that I suggested as them not liking me, when in reality, they just didn’t like the activity I proposed. And no, people are not always assertive enough to say that they don’t like that activity. A lot of people can be really shy.

            You say “If someone is avoiding you…” but the problem is, in the case of indirectness, and when people are not being assertive, it is difficult to distinguish avoiding from being genuinely busy. I brought up depression because in my case, it caused me to interpret people who really liked me, but were just busy, as avoiding me when they were not, and when they actually wanted to spend more time with me but just found it difficult given their schedule/life. Life is complex–I’ve mis-read people both ways (lack of interest when in reality they’re interseted, and thinking they’re interested when in reality they aren’t), numerous times.

            That’s why I find generalizations about always interpreting vague signals conservatively to be potentially dangerous when given as advice.

            I also think that you can just as effectively encouraging people, men or women, to back off in situations where their pursuit is unwelcome, by emphasizing things like reading people, respecting people, always being comfortable with accepting a “no” answer, and focusing on the people in your life that you are getting back the most signals of. I think these sorts of advice do not have the potential to fuel negative thought patterns. They’re also more characteristic of healthy thinking–which focuses on specifics and avoids overgeneralizations.

            A man (or woman) who is depressed (or even anyone without depression, who is just having a bad day), including someone who is usually good at reading social cues, will often struggle to accurately read a single situation in which someone gives an indirect, vague, or noncommittal cue (whether the person intended it positively or negatively, or, as is common, the person was themselves unsure). Just telling a man to “interpret cues conservatively” doesn’t help, this just causes them to lump everything blindly into one category.

            If, instead, you emphasize something that is more characteristic of healthy thinking, like encouraging people to becoming content with a “no” answer, this helps them to be in a more healthy mindset. This makes it more likely that they will actually read cues accurately. They will then say–“hmm, I’m getting mixed signals. Maybe this person isn’t worth my time…” — I think that’s a healthier place to be in than just assuming someone is not interested whenever you perceive them as sending vague, noncommittal, or mixed signals. And also, like I said before, sending a brief, respectful note or voice mail once or twice more than the person would ideally like, doesn’t really do much damage. It is the disrespectful, hostile contacts that do. That’s why I think it’s not constructive to give absolute recommendations about people permanently backing off after only one contact. Rather, I’d advise them to get comfortable with a “no” answer, and then contact the person in a respectful way.

          • Esti said:

            Being harassing or making people uncomfortable is not limited to situations when you say negative things about someone for not wanting to date you. I don’t know why you think that, but it’s not true. And the problem with “it’s okay to contact them a couple more times as long as you’re respectful” is that most people don’t realize they’re being disrespectful or badgering or harassing or just unpleasant. Sure, there are some guys who yell at or threaten or insult women for saying no. But more often, women are dealing with a guy who is a little creepy or a little too pushy or who makes her uncomfortable in ways that do not involve calling her a bitch. Is it generally better to be direct and say “no, I don’t want to go out with you, please stop contacting me”? Sure. But that can be a hard thing to do when you’re not sure if a guy you know is asking you out vs. just wants to hang out sometime, or when you have a bunch of mutual friends and are trying to keep things non-awkward, or when you’ve had experiences with men getting rude or aggressive at an outright “no” in the past, or when you’re dealing with a bunch of bad shit in your life and don’t have the energy to deal with one more thing.

            It would be nice if everyone always said exactly what they meant to everyone else and you didn’t have to try to interpret social cues. But that’s not how life works all of the time. If you have contacted a woman twice and gotten no answer, then your answer is no. Are there situations where that’s not true because actually her email account was hacked or she was out of town or she was way too busy or whatever else? Yeah, probably. But that doesn’t mean that people should go around assuming that the people ignoring them are probably just stuck in Siberia without email access (especially since, in those situations, the woman can just get in touch with you when she has time). The default should not be “continue contacting this person as many times as you like until they tell you to stop.” The default should be “if this person is not indicating they want me to contact them, I should stop doing so.” Because actually, sending two more emails or texts or calls (after the first two she ignored or politely declined) can be pretty upsetting to a woman you may not realize you’re making uncomfortable but who is not interested in hearing from you.

            And quite frankly, I think this has zero to do with whether the person doing the contacting is depressed or not. No one is saying “assume no one likes you and no one wants to hear from you.” The Captain is saying “if you’re not getting any response when you try to contact someone, you should assume that person isn’t interested. If that’s not true, or if that changes in the future, let them be the one to initiate contact.”

        • JenniferP said:

          Alex, you may have missed it, but I asked you upthread to please stop posting in this thread. Thanks.

          You making the same points again and again is not productive. We understood the first time. I don’t want to engage with you anymore and don’t have time to keep dealing with your posts point-by-point.

          If you post again I will delete it. If you post again after that, I will ban you.

          Other commenters, do not respond to Alex anymore. His part in this discussion is over.

          • Esti said:

            Gah, sorry, I missed this post when I posted my reply to Alex. Please feel free to delete.

    • Vol-E said:

      Alex (and any other guy who would like to get in on this discussion) — I’m genuinely curious. Did your mother ever talk to you about dating, from the woman’s perspective? Because I have a son who’s almost 23, and I HAVE talked to him about it. I gave him a copy of the DeBecker book and made sure he understood the part about how “men are nice when they pursue and women are nice when they reject.” I told him that life is not a Meg Ryan movie and that when a girl turns you down or breaks a date more than once and shows zero interest in contacting you, that means NO, end of sentence, even if she didn’t say “I don’t want to go out with you.” And that it’s all well and good to “wish women would just come out and say no,” but that there are too many guys who will play any card in the deck, from pity to anger, to lying (“I have six months to live,” etc. — yes, I once knew a guy who gave me that line), and that most women figure this out by the time they’re twelve, and most women can outlast a persistent man — until “persistence” changes over to stalking. I finished up with “I don’t want people pointing to me and saying ‘there goes that asshole’s mother,’ so you’d better learn how to accept rejection and wait till you find someone who’s receptive.” Or words to that effect.

      • I’ve talked to a ton of people about dating, including both my parents, a few other older people, and countless people in my generation (I’m currently 31) and younger.

        The one thing that I really object to in dating is making black-and-white generalizations, or assumptions, about how people “should” act or “should” interpret things. Culture is incredibly diverse, especially in a country like the U.S. and one-size-fits-all recommendations often can lead to bad outcomes.

        I think in the end, the most important thing to do is to treat everyone with respect at all times. And, for me, I can spell out what that looks like: it means listening to them genuinely, and if things go wrong, refraining from placing the blame on them in my own internal dialogue (or in conversations with my friends), and seeing them as a whole person (rather than characterizing them as a bitch/jerk/asshole/etc.) no matter how they act, being fully honest with them. That’s all I can do, and I’ve honestly never had anything bad come of treating someone with respect.

        • KL said:

          But there are some “shoulds”; you even include one — we should treat people with respect. And what the women here are telling you is that making someone explain or defend their “no” is disrespectful, as is being deliberately obtuse to cues that lead to any answer that isn’t what you want to hear.

  25. Actorman said:

    Semi-related; I got straight-up fired off a movie set for talking to a girl. I’ll stress that I was not hitting on her; I was not even asking personal questions, just professional ones. (Have you been working much? Do you only do this kind of work, or do you have other jobs?) I had also met her previously, on another job (very briefly, among other people).

    Note at the time she was not busy or separated from us in any way. She was talking to a girl, and while I knew she and I had different positions on the set, for all I knew this other girl was one of my peers.

    Now, on the one hand, I stand by the fact that she (or someone she talked to) overreacted to nothing and were way out of line in treating me like that (she could have just said, “sorry, I don’t want to talk a) to people in your job, because other people might think it’s okay b) right now, I need to keep my head clear c) to you, because you smell” and I would have gotten the message, and gone back to my job and the literally 200 other people to talk to).

    But, I can see that she might have gotten the wrong idea (when I met her on the previous gig, I was talking to some guys she worked/hung out with who had approached me on set and included me in their circle, but she wasn’t around for that – when I introduced myself to her while the three of them were together, she might have thought I was just some guy who rolled up on them and inserted myself where I wasn’t wanted). Also, she was quite small, and while that makes no difference to me, she might be extra defensive because of it. (I am not particularly large or scary but to her, maybe.)

    Sadly, I am not very observant and not too good at picking up cues, but I am friendly and outgoing (in the right circumstances, i.e. 14 hour days with nothing to do but talk). After talking to a dozen or so people I’d met on the first gig who were at the second (all of whom liked me and were shocked I’d gotten fired), they almost to a person said, “Yeah, she didn’t seem really approachable/she seemed mean or scary/she doesn’t talk to anyone” and I was like, “d’oh!”

    • JenniferP said:

      Cool story, bro. Do you want us to feel sorry for you and think this was unfair? I ask because on professional sets, the people who are allowed to talk to actors without being spoken to first are:

      a) The director
      b) Designated members of the AD unit – “They are ready for you in makeup, Ms. Jolie-Pitt.”
      c) The actor’s personal staff, if any – manager, personal assistant, significant other.
      d) While working: make-up artists, wardrobe, and members of camera crew, sound, or art department who are in the process of setting marks & props, especially anytime safety is a concern. “Watch your step, Ms. Jolie-Pitt, the dolly tracks start right behind you.” “Could you open up a little bit more toward camera?” “Does that chair feel sturdy to you?” “Here’s the prop gun you’ll be using; let’s test it out.” “Let me get this lav on you. Is that comfortable?”
      e) PAs or catering staff when specifically designated by an AD: “Please bring Ms. Jolie-Pitt a bottle of water.”
      f) NOBODY ELSE.

      If you were a PA or a grip on the set, and the AD saw you, they fired you because you committed a major faux pas. If the actor was uncomfortable in some way and said something to someone on the production, they fired you because her happiness and comfort were more important than anything you were adding to the production.

      This is how serious I am about this: My boyfriend is an actor, and if he and I were both working on a big show here (sometimes I script sup. or am the on-set editor who backs up footage), I would not walk up to him and start a conversation on the set even if we’d just made out a little bit in his trailer 5 minutes ago. Even if it was a break and other people were chatting.

      Now you know.

      • CPALady said:

        Also, that isn’t some stuck up “actors are too good to talk to the peons” thing!

        When actors get distracted by polite chit-chat and have trouble getting back into character it’s EXPENSIVE. And so must be avoided.

        Obviously if an actor initiates a conversation then they are not concerned about being distracted and/or could use the distraction (e.g. Captain & BF’s makeout session)

        • JenniferP said:

          Truth. Some actors are gregarious and want a lot of interaction with crew – they will be chatty and friendly to psych themselves up and have no trouble switching into character when needed. Some are not – they need to be able to stay in the mind palace until it’s time to come out. And someone who was the gregarious type for the morning scene might need silence for the afternoon.

          Since film sets are not a democracy (FOR A REASON) and any given random crew member cannot know the ups and downs of an actors’ personality or creative process, follow the protocols of “silent except for specific work situations.”

      • Actorman said:

        Hi. Thanks for a) assuming lots of things and b) trying to bring me down in front of everyone. Good job.

        Actually, I told that story because, despite how I feel wronged, I can step back and consider her possible reasons & perspective and how she might have gotten the wrong impression. That’s what I thought was relevant to the discussion. That, and a simple “thanks, but I’d rather be alone” would have saved us both.

        To clarify some details for you:

        She wasn’t an actor, any more than I was. (Why would you assume I was a PA or grip if my name is “actorman?) We were working the same shots, in the same spaces, and taking breaks in the same areas. The only effective difference between us at that moment was pay grades, and as I mentioned, we had previously met.

        Beyond that, you’re not telling me anything I don’t know (which is what makes your comment hilarious to me, and what made my experience frustrating.)

        I worked with Chris Evans – I listened as he talked briefly, we never really introduced ourselves. I even was used as a stand for his co-star, but I never approached him. I worked with Dave Foley – he told stories, I listened. Never introduced myself. I worked with Jesse L. Martin – he introduced himself, I politely returned the favor, later on we talked for a full hour, and when I saw him on set the next day he gave me a big hug. Ken Jeong congratulated me on set and introduced himself, I spoke to him briefly a couple times and met some of his less-famous co-stars.

        I don’t write this to brag, but to clarify that I get people are different and that they have different boundaries, and I err on the side of caution.

        I know how she got me fired – I just can’t appreciate why. She offered more to the set than I did so she had power over me, and I feel she abused it. (You’re welcome to differ on that point.)

        If you’re willing to discuss it nicely, how would you suggest handling this situation? Famous actor & 2 nobody co-start approach me and talk to me. I talk to them again later & someone else is there I haven’t met. Do I ignore them or introduce myself?

        I imagine your answer would be “walk away and don’t talk to any of them again on set,” based on your comment, but I could be wrong.

        I’m all about respecting the hierarchy and separation of various groups, but when people are placed in the same holding areas between shots, and we’re not all wearing nametags, who are you supposed to talk to? Just assume everyone else is over your pay grade?

        • JenniferP said:

          Sorry, I was an ass to you. I was dealing with many, many “let me manpslain how I am different and special in this year-old thread as if you’ve all been waiting for my magical insights” dude comments and emails….long, long tedious emails… yesterday and you got caught through that lens.

          Extremely sorry. EXTREMELY sorry. Re-reading it today without the FUCK, STOP IT ALL OF YOU lenses on I can see that’s exactly what you were trying to say.

          Leaving this up as evidence re: I was a total ass. Sorry for the Jensplaining.

          • actorman said:

            Thank you. I’m sorry my reply back was a little snarky. A friend re-blogged this and so I came in to read the whole thing after discussing one quote from it with her. I posted this story because it seemed to fit and I haven’t told many people about it because it was so embarrassing. I hold myself up as a professional, so to be fired, even (as I see it) unfairly, is not something I’m comfortable relating to many people.

  26. Courtney said:

    I remember having sex with a guy all because I feared ‘angry guy’. He was a friend who I believed was friend zoning me, and I could tell her was super sweet on me but I most certainly didn’t feel the same way back. So I tried avoiding him at all costs, just to save his feelings and the pressure of possibly saying yes if he did try and ask me out. It wasn’t until I ran into him at a house party and had drank wayy to much and tried it on me did I get super frightened. Because I abruptly walked away from him started with the “What’s wrong?! I thought you fucking liked me?!”. His demeanor became evil! Especially when he stalked me all the way home!

    Stupidly I buckeled a gave into ‘angry,pressure,creeper guy’ for fear of being violently raped on the way home in the dark. I was god awfully ashamed of myself and I hated myself for it! It also left me wide open for other predators although that sounds strange, but it’s like I was so petrified of it happening again that I didn’t want to reject anyone so it wouldn’t happen again. I got rape crisis counselling for a year a later becoming a victim of date rape over the net. It’s so strange to say but I had absolutely no idea it was ok to say no! In my case I should’ve screamed it at the top of my lungs with pepper spray in hand. But I won’t ever hold out on saying it ever again, and I’ll be teaching my 2 girls it’s more then ok to say no.

    This should be at the top of the sex ed list in schools!

  27. Angela said:

    I think I have an alright rejection story. I had run into a friend I hadn’t seen since high school. We’ve known each other since elementary school, but I can’t say I really ever felt more than a school mate friendship with him.
    He’d gone out with a couple of my friends through high school (I later found out he’d been putting on unwanted pressure with them, which caused them to end the relationships). This did put me off to him ever being a potential partner, because I was not confident in how I’d want to work out anything sexual in a relationship, which might have made me act more strongly than was necessary, but I feel no regrets.

    Anyway! Ran into him after work one day, and we walked around our downtown and talked, caught up and I was having a pretty good time. Until he offered going to McDonalds and since it was close to my dinner time I said “why not!” That’s not really the bad part. It got a little awkward after I was chatting with him online within a few days after this meeting.
    He asked if I’d like to go out to dinner sometime. I told him straight out “if it were just the two of us it’d feel too much like a date, and I’m not really comfortable with that.” So he offered that maybe we could go out for lunch or something. I thought that wouldn’t be too bad, until he said he’d make us a picnic. I inwardly groaned and repeated myself. “That’s really nice of you, but you making food for us, and having it just be you and it really does just feel like a date. If it were with a group of friends I’d be alright with it, but honestly everything you’re offering sounds too close to a date to me, and I’m really uncomfortable with this.” I forget what he said, I’m sure he apologized, but I ended up not getting in contact with him again.

    BACKSTORY: WAY before he’d dated any of my friends (aka 4-5 years before the story above), he had actually asked me if I’d like to be his girlfriend one night. But after thinking about it for the rest of the night, and through the morning I approached him, and said “I’m really sorry, but I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m not ready to do this.”

    He got rejected by me…twice. I feel… a little bad, but honestly I wasn’t ready for anything he was offering. I’m just glad he was an actual nice guy and didn’t persist, or do anything that would make me think he was threatening my safety.

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