When Turned Down Turns Ugly (#136)

When "stop" and "no" must be wreathed in roses...
Why do “stop” and “no” have to be wreathed in roses?

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.)

At my high school, the boys we rejected sought revenge by "rolling" our house in toilet paper.
At my high school, the boys we rejected sought revenge by “rolling” our house in toilet paper.

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?

Other men.

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.

Some men figure out that they deserve nothing.

Others don’t.

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.”

Some people blame parents for overpraising their children, telling them they can succeed at anything, giving them trophies for nothing.

Some blame a culture where boys aren’t told no.

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.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

56 thoughts on “When Turned Down Turns Ugly (#136)”

    1. I know some of my friends would wear a cheap wedding ring when they go on holiday (even though they are not married or have bf), just so they don’t get unwanted chat up. Doesn’t work so well in China I was told.

      1. I always wore a fake one in Japan! At least it worked there. Although a callboy offered me a “special price” cause he wanted to try it with a white chick… When I asked him if I looked like I had to pay for it, he felt offended lol

  1. I was always surprised at how angry they got when you said no you didn’t want to go out with them. I found out that lies worked best. I told one guy I was leaving for graduate school in Europe the next week (that was a whopper). (It was unlikely I would every bump into him again as I was out of my area.) Sheesh! They never worry about my feelings with their catcalls or is that supposed to make me feel good?

    1. RE: Catcalls, for some reason they think we think we like that. And if you don’t smile or appreciate that sort of objectification, they get nasty.

      RE: Yeah, I am certain most women, sensing male instability, have used the “another country” excuse at least once.

  2. This isn’t totally on-topic, but you’re reminded me of a story I’ve been wanting to rant about.

    I was recently at a safari lodge and a random South African man, who I had just met, asked me what I think about Donald Trump. (One of the worst things about being an American in South Africa this year is that every person I meet asks me what I think about Donald Trump.) I told the guy that I expect Donald Trump to get his ass beaten by Hillary Clinton. And he said:

    “Maybe it’s a gender thing. But I just don’t like Hillary Clinton.”

    Really? In what century are we living in that a man finds it acceptable to say something like that to a woman? It’s a like a white person saying to black person, “Maybe it’s a race thing, but I just don’t like Barak Obama.” Sometimes it’s hard to believe how alive and well blatant sexism still is.

    1. I know what you mean. I know more than a few Bernie Bros that hate Hilary, and can’t stand voting her to the extent that they won’t vote or will pick TRUMP!

      More white male entitlement: “I’d rather RUIN AN ENTIRE COUNTRY than put a woman in charge.”

  3. I think that all this “say no in a nice way to someone asking you out” comes from a culture where males are regarded as superior. Sadly, there are still a loooot of people thinking like this…

    And yes, the movie industry is to blame for promoting the bad guy turned good cliche too.
    Funny thing, on Wattpad, I’ve seen so many stories promoting the same thing that at some point I gave up on reading anything there. The sad part is that they’re mostly written by underaged girls (most of them are around 12-15 years old, I think) who really do hope that whatever they’re writing there would happen to them. (I’m not generalizing, because there are also those who simply write this kind of stories because they want popularity.)
    And then, there are guys who follow this model in hopes that they would get more girls or something. I once talked to a guy, over the internet, who shared some of his “experiences”, one of which involved kissing a girl against her will; I thought he was around 17 or older, but surprise: he was 12. ._.

    I agree with you on the rejection means. Girls should be saying no directly… though, then again, when there are clingy men, and/or there is danger in saying “no”, some other excuse could come in handy. (Though there are also those who overstep another dude’s territory.)

    I really don’t get why guys become violent when they get rejected. ._. And why they’re considered to be more sensitive than girls…

    There are so many things I could say on this topic, but I have no idea how to word everything.

    1. Ah, but men aren’t generally considered to be more sensitive than girls. Or more emotional. It’s always about how women are too sensitive and too emotional. Which is why I call bullshit. 🙂

      Yeah, it’s a huge topic, with many layers and many different scenarios. This is just a tiny one.

      12, geez. At that age, I’d’ve been able to seriously harm any boy who tried that. Actually, I think I did…

      1. Yeah, but I meant in this case, so… rejection-wise. (I must’ve forgotten to mention.)

        True. There are so many stupid stereotypes and stuff…

        I know right? I was so shocked when I read that message.

          1. Hah I doubt that it is just American swimmers. I must say many things I heard from others about all this crazyness never happened in my life. Perhaps that is the reason why I am punished now with my mother-in-law 😉
            Stanford is that bad? I always wanted to enroll there as their team is usually pretty good but all kind of stupid things always got in the way. I was even offered scholarships at few Universities for example at Louisiana or Bakersfield but well the Finnish Army drafted me and only later they told me I could have gone to study first -_-

            1. Nope, it’s also U.S. college football players, lacrosse players, basketball players…it’s crazy. (But the football players are the worst.)

              Stanford is a fantastic school, known for it’s fantastic swim team. Only now it’s known for it’s swimming rapist. 🙁

              1. Oh i didn’t know that the guy was at Stanford! Yeah that is really a sick thing and at least the USA swimming team banned him after that ridiculous half year prison term….
                Perhaps it is even good that I never went to the states to study =\

                    1. Oh well let’s see then why the future will bring. A very good friend of mine (best friend) is living in L.A.
                      U.K. Wouldn’t be bad anyways as it is just twenty minutes away by plane 🙂

  4. Preach!
    The sense of entitlement is psychotic. I can’t think of any other word for it. Because it’s so out of touch with reality (that other people are individuals with their own rights, and feelings that are most often quite different from yours). it’s enough to make some resort to violence. Psychotic.

  5. I suspect one of the most common reasons for rejecting a man is not because the woman is taken or because she wants to be alone, but because, for one reason or another, she doesn’t like the man who is asking for her attention. If the man were a little more observant, he might notice that she hasn’t shown any sign of being interested in him.

    In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, there are several studies showing that men are often more confident than circumstances warrant. If, as they think, they’re so smart and hot and funny, how could a woman turn them down?

  6. Excellent topic. Rejection is rejection. I suppose some of us encourage the other person to go lightly on saying “no” because well, who likes getting hurt. Sometimes being hurt leads to a feeling of shame and embarrassment. But I am with you on this one, that men shouldn’t feel they are entitled to woman and honesty is the best policy.

    One time I was at the beach by myself enjoying the summer sunshine. This guy in a singlet and shorts rocks up and says he is a fitness instructor and asked if I was alone. I was, and said yes. I was probably about twenty at that time. I wasn’t interested at all and wasn’t seeing someone. He tried to chat met up, asking what I studied and so on. I walked away to the tram stop, not saying much. He followed me on the tram and rode with me for half an hour back into the city. When he handed me his phone, I punched in a random number.

      1. Mr Singlet even had the nerve to get a few inches from my face. Ugh. He even suggested his place wasn’t too far off and we could go and have “some fun” there – within five minutes of introducing himself. Mind you, I was dressed very conservatively hoodie and long shorts at the beach.

  7. Need a LOVE button for this one. And not to get political…well, OK to get political, this is how it feels for we Hillary supporters with Bernie Sanders. He has to be let down easy, made to feel OK that he didn’t win. Meet with the President and other leaders to make sure his little feelings aren’t hurt. Ready to overturn the votes of over 3 million people (many, many women I suspect) because he knows what’s best for us. Thanks dad.

    And…good for you for recognizing this subtlety. We are not post-feminism the same way we are not post-racism. We’re not post-anything. Vigilance for these engrained behaviors that we routinely overlook. You go!!

    1. That is an insightful correlation, Jill. I never thought of Bernie’s refusal to retire from the race that way, but you make a good point.

      As someone who has been a borderline socialist since studying the history of the industrial revolution, I liked Bernie’s domestic agenda (though more of a focus on gun control WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE). But he doesn’t have Hilary’s foreign policy chops, and he’s just not passionate about global affairs, which is probably why he’s a reactionary isolationist.

      He’s dead on in his current rants about DC lacking representation, though. 🙂

  8. Yes, good point. Could be the main reason that so many men become violent when faced with rejection. Didn’t learn how to deal with those emotions when young before hitting puberty, when they need those skills the most.

    1. Thanks, Splashy! You’re right — would probably help if society was a little more accepting of men’s tears, too — too bad rage appears to be more acceptable (or masculine?) than sorrow.

      1. You think so? I feel like a read/ hear all kinds of stories about social “playdates” and more kids are in daycare/preschool. You’d think we’d be better at social skills, since we’re more social than we’ve ever been!

        1. I don’t know if Millennial kids were more social than we GenXers were as kids (probably not), but I believer there was more societal emphasis on good manners and for parents to role model/educate kids on the “social graces”. Regarding my childhood at least, a kid with bad manners was a reflection of the parents, and parents in turn risked being ostracized by other parents. And no parent wanted that.

          I don’t think it works this way anymore. I think nowadays people feels that it is ok to act out or behave like an ass because they can get away with it.

          1. Hmmm. Maybe a byproduct of a lesser sense of community? Less peer pressure on parents to make kids behave? More parents working longer hours, less time to make sure kids are behaving?

                1. IMO, I think it’s partly due to this push for individuality without a concomitant discussion of a persons ‘s place/obligation in/to society. Individuality turned into cynicism to disaffection to selfishness and narcissism.

                  And the digital revolution just made it easier for people to isolate themselves online and associate with people only on their terms.

  9. Great post Autumn, especially after the Orlando shooting. People really need to learn to get along with each other, and regarding your post, to take rejection well.

    FYI: catcalling was considered harassment back in the ’80s and ’90s. Guys would never do that if they expected a response from a woman. Worst case scenario, the catcaller risked getting beat up by the woman’s bf, brother, or whatever.

    I’m not sure if it’s more common nowadays or if women are just more vocal about it.

    1. I think I only got catcalled in Italy. Never in New York or LA or DC. But in LA catcalling is tougher because we’re all in cars! Although even when rollerblading/ walking on the Strand, I don’t remember any catcalling.

      Could be because my Amazonian physique made them fear I would beat them up personally (forget boyfriend, husband, etc).

  10. Thoughtful post. I liked how you handled every situation. So funny though, because I can’t relate at all. I’m usually the one getting rejected and doing the asking. It’s okay. I know how to pull up my big girl pants. 😉 xxoo

  11. I once overheard something like that on the train.

    Man: are you free tonight?
    Woman: as free as North Korea.

    Man walked away…

    I nearly couldn’t hold back my laughter.

  12. I really do think that girls are taught to think about other people’s feeling a lot more than boys – whether it’s saying no to someone, competing in the professional world or many other things throughout life. Interesting post Autumn.

    1. That’s a great point. When a boy is rude, parents tend to shrug and say helplessly, “Boys will be boys.” Whereas girls are more likely to be told, “That wasn’t nice, you hurt her feelings…”

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