When my mother discovered that I had discovered boys, she told me a story about the first time a boy asked her out. He’d called her and asked her to a movie. She’d been so horrified she’d hung up on him. Her much older brother, who had listened in on the conversation, was also horrified – horrified that Mom had been so mean. He’d immediately found her and reamed her out for not considering the boy’s feelings, for being rude, and for not “letting him down gently.”
I gaped at her as I grappled with this notion. In 5th grade, I’d been the one to ask Mark to be my square dance partner. He ran away. I asked his twin brother, John. John yelled, “No way!” THEN ran away. I shrugged and asked Brandon, even though he was at least a foot shorter than me. (Brandon said yes, BTW.) Neither twin had cared about how they rejected me, and I’d been fine. Yet my mother was telling me I had to worry about how I told a boy “no.”
Boys, apparently, had delicate sensibilities when it came to rejection.
I used Mom’s advice when I was sixteen, while driving to work at a snobby women’s clothing store. I needed to make a left turn onto a main street. Thanks to construction, the main street was down to a single lane, and jammed. After 5 minutes, a construction worker saw my plight. He jogged over to my crappy car.
The car had no AC. It was summer in DC. My window was down, and I was dressed up for work. (Yes, snobby women’s clothing stores have a dress code. It forces their employees to buy their products.)
The construction worker smiled at me, said hello, and then asked, “Any chance you’re looking for a friend?”
Mr. Construction Lothario was in his twenties, and undoubtedly waaayyyy too advanced for a naïve high school nerd like me. He probably thought I was his age, thanks to my suit, height, and mature demeanor. (I always got a kick out of people guessing I was 5-10 years older than my actual age. Until I turned 25.)
I smiled nervously and said, “Well, a new ‘friend’ might upset the ‘friend’ I already have.”
He chuckled, said, “All right,” and walked to the middle of the main street. Mr. Construction Lothario help up his sign, made traffic stop, and allowed me to make a left turn.
He waved as I drove away.
I didn’t have a “friend.”
When I was twenty-six, a guy hit on me in the Burbank Public Library. His request took me by surprise, since I was in sweats and my glasses. Also, I was in a library, where the patrons are looking for action-packed books, not actual action.
“Seriously, can I have your number? You’re everything I’ve been looking for in a girl.”
Stunned that a man could have a type categorized as “slovenly,” I had no rejection line ready. I gave him my phone number, regretted it, and dodged his calls for a week.
When I finally bit the bullet and answered, Mr. Library Lothario angrily told me he’d been calling for weeks and said I was never home. I explained that I was busy. He was incredulous, and angrier, and then suddenly asked, “Wait. Are you seeing somebody?”
“Yes,” I lied.
Mr. Library Lothario’s anger disappeared. “Oh, okay, then.” He said good-bye quite civilly and never bothered me again.
I’ve got a least a dozen more stories about the best no muss, no fuss ways to reject men. To let them down easily, nicely, gently. To protect their feelings, because that’s what we’re taught when we’re girls. Do you know these “easy escapes” all have in common?
And even as I repeatedly congratulated myself for avoiding unwanted male attention without trouble or scenes, I wish I dared just say, “Not interested. Go away.”
Some readers are thinking, “Why didn’t you?”
Many female readers are thinking, “Yeah, sister, I know.”
For those who don’t know, it’s generally easier to convince a man to respect another man’s right to “female territory” than it is to convince them a woman has a right to be man-less.
Many men feel entitled to women. They’ll respect another man’s turf, but not a woman’s autonomy. Don’t you know a man has the right to harass a woman until he changes her mind? She really wants a man. And he deserves a woman.
Challenging that attitude is exhausting. It’s also dangerous. Men have shot women for refusing to give them their phones numbers. For refusing to go to prom with them. For rebuffing their advances.
One man went on a deadly rampage in Isla Vista in 2014. 6 people killed, 14 injured, because, in his own words, “I was desperate to have the life I know I deserve; a life of being wanted by attractive girls, a life of sex and love. Other men are able to have such a life … so why not me? I deserve it!”
Some people blame Hollywood for romanticizing the plot line of “boy won’t accept no for an answer, fights his way out of the dreaded friend zone. Instead of getting a restraining order, woman falls in love with him.”
These are undoubtedly part of the problem.
But I think back to that phone call decades ago, where a boy asked out my mom. When she told me how her brother reamed her out, I asked, “Well, who reamed out Uncle for invading your privacy, eavesdropping, and offering stupid, unsolicited advice?”
My mother, a self-proclaimed liberated woman, said, “That’s not the point of the story.”
Oh, Mom. It should have been.
My uncle should NEVER have felt entitled to listen in on her phone call.
He should NEVER have insisted that is more important that a woman lie kindly than that a man’s pride get bruised.
He should have realized that schoolyard, sugar-coated rejections in no way prepare men (especially white men) to cope with real rejection – from women and from life.
Maybe, instead of teaching women to dance around that frail, male ego, we should teach our girls to say “No way!” from day one. With no apology. Without the excuse that we’re already taken.
Maybe men would grow up used to girls without boys.
Maybe the boys would get used to rejection, instead of entitlement.
Then maybe, someday, boys would be as tough as girls.
Disclaimer: No, I’m not talking about ALL MEN. I know there are men who do not automatically feel entitled to women. (I married the best of them.) But, guys, if you expected a giant THANK YOU and effusive praise for not being an entitled narcissist psycho, you missed the point.
If you’re male and you’re not sure about your sense of entitlement, see this post with Andy’s flowchart.