To all proudly persistent men:
On behalf of overburdened women everywhere, I would like to ask you to please start taking no for an answer. The first time you hear it.
This isn’t a piece about sexual assault. If you don’t know how to accept a “no” in a sexual encounter, then you need more help than I can give you. Although, while we’re on the topic, do not make a woman say “NO” more than once in a sexual encounter. EVER. One “no,” and you STOP whatever you’re doing and apologize immediately. Ask if she’s okay. Get her a glass of water. Offer to leave, even if you’re at your place. I’m serious.
But again, this isn’t about sexual assault. No, I’m talking to the guys out there who ask a woman out, get a polite “no”…and then ask again on another day. And again the following week. And again a month later.
Stop. Doing. That. We hate saying no to you. Don’t make us say it more than once. I guarantee if we change our minds, we will let you know.
Look, I’m not saying I don’t get where you’re coming from. I watched all the same rom-com and ’80s movies as you did growing up. I thought it was wildly romantic when the lovable goofball wouldn’t give up on trying to get the attention of the impossibly-hot-but-usually-insecure fantasy dream girl. It took me years of mental and emotional reprogramming to stop viewing toxic, obsessive behavior as romantic.
In our society, you can’t help but be affected by this perpetually reinforced idea that if you wear a woman down with persistent attempts, you will eventually succeed at scoring a date. Pair all that pro-stalker messaging with our fake-it-till-you-make-it, never-say-die cultural mentality, and you’re left with scores of women gazing despondently at a minefield of constant, uncomfortable encounters with men who won’t take no for an answer.
I am so sick of being forced to say no more than once. If you are a man, please, for the love of little baby Jesus, do not make me say any more than once. Persistence, in this case, is not a path to success. It’s disrespectful of simple boundaries, and it’s annoying as hell. Not to mention stressful and emotionally fraught.
I’m not trying to make you feel bad about yourselves. I’m fairly certain that a lot of you hyper-persistent dudes don’t even realize how difficult it is for us to refuse you in the first place, and how our stress level increases every time we have to say no again. You probably think rejecting you is easy for us, but try to understand: Women are programmed from birth to please people. At least I was. It sucks letting you down. We sincerely dislike disappointing you. It can induce strong feelings of guilt, anxiety, and fear.
This allergy to saying no to the requests of others isn’t limited to women. In a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain, the host, Shankar Vedantam, speaks with Cornell professor Vanessa Bohns about the powerful influence we don’t realize we have over other people. It’s fantastic to listen to anyone who wants to be considerate and mindful of the feelings of others.
Most people find it so difficult to say no to another person, even a total stranger, that they’ll often agree to do things they don’t actually want to do just to avoid the awkwardness of refusing and potentially letting someone down. This is fantastic for fund-raising volunteers surprising people with unsolicited home visits. Not so great for the woman who would like to get through the week without feeling constant pressure to say yes to men she’s not attracted to.
As a younger, less confident woman, I regularly had full sexual intercourse with men I wasn’t actually interested in, purely because I didn’t want to face the awkwardness of disappointing them. It was emotionally easier for me to deal with the shame of having sex I didn’t want than to face the fear and anxiety of disappointing or possibly angering a man.
I’m not alone in this. I’ve commiserated with countless female friends about this issue, conversations that usually end with everyone vowing to show new strength when it comes to setting boundaries and saying no to sex we don’t want, without guilt. Which, of course, is the hardest part for people programmed to please.
Feeling anxious about disappointing a man is just the tip of this shitberg. There is also the real, extremely justified fear many women feel at the idea of angering a man by turning him down. Women have been bullied, assaulted, and murdered for less.
“Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”
— Margaret Atwood
You think you’re not asking for much. It’s just a date, right? I get it, I really do. On the surface, it seems like a small request.
I’m asking you to see it from our point of view and realize that you are causing us stress and anxiety when you refuse to give up after we’ve already said no. You are making us uncomfortable, putting us on the spot, and violating our set boundaries.
So please, persistent men, stop trying to “wear us down” with repeated requests for our time and attention. Yes, it’s possible you might succeed in finally getting that “yes” you’re after, but it’ll be a coerced yes. That’s not sexy. Or cool. Don’t be that guy. I believe you can do better.
The next time you ask a woman out and she turns you down, pat yourself on the back for your bravery in asking. Then, thank her for being honest with you, tell her you to respect her answer — and never ask again.
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