Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Treatise on Saying No

I'm privy to a lot of (unsolicited) dating advice. Not usually directed right at me, just articles and blog posts I come across. Some of the advice has been worth pondering. Some has been smug, insensitive and/or just plain bad. News flash: Single people are not all exactly the same. We have different needs and desires, different histories, different phases of life. It's pretty absurd to counsel, say, a fresh-faced college student and a middle-aged divorced woman exactly the same way. But it happens all the time. People love to tell singles how they ought to feel and behave about relationships, and that if they're failing to get dates, it's because they aren't following certain steps.

I'm sure all singles have our own personal advice peeves. But the one that gets under my skin the most, by far, is this popular gem for women:

"You won't find a man unless you say yes to everyone who asks you out."

For women of a certain age or temperament, this could be good advice. But for me? NO. How do I loathe this statement? Let me count the ways.

1.   As Christian women, we're not supposed to "pursue" men we're interested in. (In some denominations, even friendly behavior toward a man can be viewed as pursuit and result in a panic moonwalk, but don't even get me started on that.) All we can do is wait to be noticed. Our only power at the start lies in our yes or no. Personally, I'm not about to hand over my only free agency.  

2.   The most common argument for this policy: it's sooo scary and difficult for men to ask women out, and they'll be more likely to do so if they know they won't be refused. How exciting and adventurous! If I were a man, I'd feel insulted. Listen, men, I acknowledge your guts. I know it's not easy to put yourself on the line. But if a mature woman feels the need to turn you down, she will do so as kindly as she can. If she's mean about it, you didn't need to be with her anyway. I truly hate to hurt anyone's feelings, but if I already know I'm not interested in a guy, it seems more considerate not to waste his time (more on this below). Also, I'd rather be asked out because a man genuinely likes me, not because I'm the only woman he knows who won't say no. It's meaningful to know that a man sees you and is willing to risk something for you.

3.   Second support point: if you look beyond "surface" attributes that would normally make you say no, you might find that the man is actually perfect for you. This is a valid point if all you care about is physical appearance, but I hope most of us have moved beyond that. Like most people, I have a general idea of the qualities I want in a mate. I'm also aware that the right guy for me might be different from what I imagined, and I'm open to that. But I'm also pretty intuitive. My intuition isn't infallible, but it's correct most of the time, even when I had no initial solid proof or backup for those feelings. I'm slowly learning to stop doubting my gut. I get a sense of people pretty quickly. Sometimes I even feel like my heart chooses people to love (all kinds of love) before my head has caught up. Therefore, I know the right sort of man when I meet him, even if he doesn't match up with my ideal wish list. If my initial negative impression of someone is really wrong, I trust God to make that clear to me over time.

More importantly, I'm a grownup, and I know myself and what I want and need. It's sad that knowing what you want in a relationship is frowned upon and seen as narrow-minded or even as a sin. Especially if you're a woman.

4.   I want to feel at least mostly excited about getting to know someone. There has to be some spark of interest that's not totally smothered by red flags. Anxiety, dread, and a sense of duty should not be anyone's primary dating emotions. Further, you're not doing anyone a favor by being with them begrudgingly or out of peer pressure. I speak from painful experience. If you know right away that you're not feeling it, leave the person free to find someone who's genuinely happy to be with them. Or to be alone, which is still better than being with someone who doesn't love you. Life is too short.

5.   At what point have you sufficiently given someone a chance? If you go on one date and really aren't into it, well, that was only one date. He could have had an off night. Better go out again to be sure. Still feel blah? Oh, he's a nice Christian guy, you're just making shallow judgments. Give him another chance. Before you know it, you're giving him a chance at the altar with no clue how you got there. I know that's hyperbole, but between my people-pleasing nature that I battle constantly and the intense persistence of some single men, it's a personal phobia. At my age and in my culture, even casual dating isn't 100% casual. If I lived in a less conservative part of the country, or ran in different circles, I think I'd be more relaxed about all this. But I don't want anyone mentally marrying me off to some guy whom I'm not even sure I like that way.

6.   In no other type of relationship are we so encouraged to throw our feelings or misgivings out the window. I don't see articles instructing us to be close, intimate friends with anyone who speaks to us. But when it comes to the most important relationship of your life, just give in to the first person who asks? It makes no sense.

Bottom line, I think we should all be allowed to have preferences and boundaries in dating, just like we do in everything else. Am I alone in my principles?



  1. People and their advice... I'm shaking my head for you. The only advice that should ever be given is advice that is explicitly requested.

  2. AMEN. Love this post so much! Thankfully this doesn't happen to me frequently, but so many friends go through this and it really throws them because there's an expectation that they feel guilty about if they don't fulfill it. Stupid People.

  3. I'm sure single woman everywhere are giving you a standing ovation for this post.

    I have a couple comments...1. ALWAYS trust your gut. Don't ever let anyone talk you out of that! Have you ever read "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker? (If not, I recommend it.) He talked about how your gut will keep you out of trouble and the science behind how it works (as well as why it isn't perfect, but it is pretty darn accurate.) Anyhoo...I know you are speaking about using your intuition in a different context, but I say all the same rules apply.

    I LOVE your line "It's meaningful to know that a man sees you and is willing to risk something for you." So true. Actually, you wrote a lot of stuff I could quote and follow with the comment "so true."

    I do have a question...your point 1...does this mean you think you cannot pursue men you are interested in? I don't mean literally chasing them or even necessarily asking them out...but it's not okay to be friendly and perhaps pursue a friendship with someone you are interested in? I don't understand a lot of the religious stuff so I might be missing something so obvious to everyone else...and if so, I apologize.

    1. I haven't read that book, but I'm adding it to my list now!

      Pursuing a friendship is fine! Or it SHOULD be. I find that a lot of the single men I meet can't handle it. :P That's been the rudest awakening of my single-again life. I got married at a time when men and women were friends and everyone mingled naturally. In fact, at the time, most of my friends were guys. But apparently at some point in my married years, the whole scene turned into a junior high dance in every sense. It's infuriating. I'm close with my dad and brother, but I would still love even a solid friendship with a man not related to me. Doesn't look like it's going to happen, though. This topic could really be its own post.

    2. That stinks. :( I feel like all this technology & social media has made our culture awful at communication and socialization in general. I know that seems like a weird tangent of what you are describing, but maybe it's a compound issue? I know it doesn't make it any easier...I'm sorry. I'd love to hear your thoughts on might just have to write that blog post after all. ;)

  4. Oooh I agree. But then again I've really never done any kind of dating much at all. But I know what I'm comfortable with and what I'm not and more often than not, I don't really know what I want so I just steer clear of the dating and hope and pray that when it's my time, God will make me comfortable with it, you know? But it's something I think about a lot :D

    1. Yeah, I can relate to that. It's not like I've done any actual dating in the past three years either. Just had a few near-misses. And it feels like the more time passes, the higher the stakes get and the less capable I am of being carefree about it all.