In high school I became friends, almost accidentally, with a guy named Matt who was severely, passive-aggressively depressed. Having felt depressed myself, I tried my best to empathize with him and be his friend. It was a one-way relationship if I ever saw one, because he only ever seemed concerned about himself. I tried to offer him solutions to his many complaints (“My parents just don’t understand me!” “My girlfriend thinks I’m too controlling!” “I want to move to another country with my friend so her parents will stop abusing her!”) but he didn’t complain to me to get solutions–just to get someone else to feel sorry for him. This was okay for the first few year. But…three years later? Okay dude. Grow up.
It wasn’t my kind of friendship–the ideal kind where each person cares about the other’s interests, and values what the other person has to say. From this situation I’ve also come to understand that I don’t prefer the company of people who find themselves in unhappy situations who simply refuse–for years, even–to implement any sort of solution. My friendship with Matt was more of a pity-ship that I felt unable to get out of without seeming rude or heartless, or like I was purposefully abandoning him to his own lonely devices. Looking back, I know I got myself into this situation mainly by feeling that I was unable to say no.
“Well, that’s really an unfortunate situation. But I mean…oh well?” It’s not as simple as all that. You can’t just “oh well” a needy guy out of your life.
Matt’s girlfriend’s dad had cancer, and he eventually passed away, leaving her lost and angry. Matt tried to “be there” for her, but wound up trying to fill the role her father had played rather than the role she needed him to play as her boyfriend, her friend, and her advocate. She broke up with him after he began telling her what she could and couldn’t do “in the name of her safety”, and he came crying back to me. Not only that however–he also asked me to temporarily engage in Friends with Benefits with him in a charitable effort to help him get over his Ex.
Yeah. He did.
I was insulted and hurt beyond anything I could’ve expected; it was then that I was finally pushed to the point where I had to draw my line and say “no.” Amazingly, I found myself at first trying to “understand” and empathize with his disgusting desire to take advantage of me, his loyal–apparently sexually appealing–friend. I had to stop and ask myself, “Wait, what are you doing? What are you saying? You DON’T understand this! This is wrong!” I was nauseated because he was one of my only church friends, and he knew full well that I was in a long-term relationship with Jake. I told him I didn’t want to hear from him again.
Unfortunately, this is hardly the only story I have as a result of my inexperience at telling men the n-word.
There was Mitchell, a desperate boy from my childhood who found me on Facebook and took advantage of my kindness by pouring his problems onto my cyber-lap. He sought fulfillment in my bewildered “there-there”‘s and awkwardly therapist-esque “and how does that make you feel?”‘s, while I once again found myself hurriedly trying to resolve and move on from what seemed a frustratingly unsolvable basket-case. He frightened me out of my high school wits when he all but asked for my hand in marriage, but what was more frightening was how willing he was to wait for me when I told him I wasn’t allowed to date yet (a desperate, overused excuse). That little yet messed both of us up. When he found out I was dating Jake, you can imagine how led on he must have felt due to my inability to express my lack of interest.
I was horrible at setting boundaries, because the only boundaries my parents had ever taught me to set with guys was literally, “Don’t be friends with guys.” Sexist and unreasonable enough for a child, but impossible for any adult.
In college I made friends with a guy in my math group who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and who has no other friends because of his cluelessness toward social boundaries. He is incredibly smart–just loud and kind of obnoxious to listen to all the time; and by that I do mean all the time, since he managed to find me wherever I was on our college campus. I couldn’t keep that guy contained to math class! A semester later, not only was he in my math class, but he got into two other classes with me because I would be there, and I was nice to him. It’s a messy situation to be in–you feel bad for the special needs guy so you befriend him, but then there are no boundaries.
Another guy–man, I should say–in a different class, named Robert, who must have been in his forties–judging by his graying hairs and ever so slightly wrinkling skin–asked for my email address after inviting me to join his history project group. I had to refuse his offer, since I was already in another group, but had no idea how to tell him “no, it’s weird that you’re asking for my email address, and also, you’re way too old for me.” So I gave him my address, hoping to God he only wanted me as an emergency classmate contact.
He began emailing silly emails with jokes and questions like what I wanted my career to look like, and whether I had any particular interest in match-making, of all things. It pushed me to a weird point of overall impatient. I felt I’d snap if I didn’t send him a frank email back expressing my lack of interest and apologies over the fact that we’d both misunderstood the other’s intentions. Even as I sent the email, I felt guilt and horror filling the empty cracks in my heart as though I were the one out of line in the situation. However, he never emailed me again.
Stories like this don’t just end so perfectly right there. As of last week, my class group disintegrated before my eyes and another friend in the class said he had room in his group for me to join. When I told him I’d really like to, he said he just had to ask a member if that was okay. Imagine my horror as he turned to Robert, who was sitting next to me, and said, “Hey, Susan wants to join our group, is that alright?” to which Robert ecstatically agreed. He even offered to tell the professor himself that I’d changed groups, something I didn’t have the emotional stamina to process–much less respond to–at all. So there you have it: I was in Robert’s group, after asking him never to contact me outside of class again. Awkward City.
And then there’s Francis.
Ohhh Francis. Once upon a time, in the first week of the semester, there was a boy who hardly seemed like he belonged in college at all. 16-looking, short, and unusually tan, with shorts of equal shortness and unusual-ness, Francis was an awkward, slightly special-needs seeming teenager who either didn’t know how to flirt or didn’t know how to socialize without seeming like he was doing a terrible job at flirting. In the library on that first week, I was studying alone when he approached me and began with, “Hey, I’ve seen you around and you look–uh–like my girlfriend, and, and I want you to meet her.”
I was like: “Um…okay…”
“So will you be in the library tomorrow?”
I shrugged, saying with a great deal of confusion, “Yeah, I’m here most days…?”
“Okay,” Francis said with an odd shake in his voice, “great.” And he walked away.
From this strange situation I thought it was reasonable to assume that he didn’t actually have a girlfriend, and instead was pulling the elbow-nudging pick-up line, “Hey, you look like my girlfriend because I want you to be my girlfriend! Hahaha!”
Things got more interesting that night when he followed me into the lobby after waiting outside of my PE class because he “didn’t get my name.” He told me his was “Frankie,” but that it was “kind of my special nickname, and you don’t have to call me that if you don’t want to,” and to my question of “well, what IS your name?” responded with shy emphasis, “It’s Francis“.
“Oh,” he added, “and sorry if I was weird earlier…” to which I only laughed, because what else do you do when someone creeps you out and then apologizes for it without changing the fact that they’re being creepy?
The next day, I actually did meet his girlfriend–who looked literally nothing like me, something she even acknowledged. It was a horribly awkward conversation that I made no effort to make nice about–I was having kind of a bad day already–and I expected it to scare Francis off. It didn’t, however. He continued to make advances as the weeks went on, trying to talk to me, finding me in the parking lot (to ask me if I street-raced?) and giving my shoulder uncomfortable fist-bumps in the hallways. It came to a point where I felt stalked and taken advantage of. My willingness to let things go was wearing thin, and with all of these other boy situations going on simultaneously, I was ready to crack down on the next boy who walked within ten feet of me.
These situations have forced me to question why it’s socially acceptable for men to flirt with women so openly, to the point where women are clearly expressing discomfort and annoyance, and yet somehow feel unable to set boundaries. It’s become socially acceptable for women to tolerate catcalling, unwanted flirtation, and repeated social harassment without protesting. Why, I’m not really sure.
I believe the patriarchy movement present in many religions including Christianity, and cultures such as in the middle-east, play a large role in the encouragement of the dominance of men and in the lack of preparedness women feel in the face of uncomfortable male pursuit. As a meek home-schooled Christian girl, I was never briefed on how to reject a guy. Rather, I was taught that I was to respect my brothers and father, and someday also my husband, and that I was to stay away from boys until then. I’m not the only unprepared one, either.
It feels so deeply embedded in American culture today that, until women are able to set boundaries, I don’t see men changing their attitudes toward women. Persistence seems to be a trend in their actions, as if a girl who avoids a man pursuing her is only playing hard-to-get and wants to be further chased, instead of left alone. It’s a very frustrating, complicated situation, and men are not 100% to blame, because hard-to-get playing women DO exist in our culture. Furthermore, because we women have learned that standing up for ourselves and setting boundaries with men who are harassing us is not socially accepted, or at least common, our passive silence has been interpreted as permission. Men have embraced the power that has come hand-in-hand with our unwillingness to object, and many probably don’t realize that our agonizing silence is the result of social tape over our mouths instead of thoughts like, “Awww, he’s so cute, I wonder how he’ll flirt with me next!”
Recently, I’ve taken action to put the men still bothering me in their places. Saying “no” and telling people how they’re making me feel when they do something–while tactfully avoiding any accusations–is helpful and seems to be working fairly well.
Ladies, it’s NOT rude to tell a guy you’re not interested. It’s doing you both a favor, by telling him as early as possible that it’s best for his to move on, and by getting him simultaneously off your back. For the more clueless guys, this is honestly really helpful.
We as women deserve to be respected. Demanding respect is not wrong and it does not emasculate men. If that’s how they feel, their definitions of masculinity are messed up anyway. In the first place, we should not be basing our life decisions on how they make other people–instead of ourselves–feel!
Value yourself and your feelings. Respect your time and boundaries. Take advantage of the fact that you have a voice and deserve to be heard by the people who are bothering you. Say “no” without guilt, and don’t apologize for it. In the long run, we are teaching men that we are worth respecting by us first respecting ourselves.
Say “no” to boys. They can get over it.