html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: This is why you should call to say "no".

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

This is why you should call to say "no".

About this time last year I was bemoaning the fact that I never date, never meet men. That is no longer the case. In the last year, I’ve met lots of men; I liked a couple a lot, some not at all, and many in the middle. Flukey things intervened, but I’m moderately confident that if I keep meeting men at this rate, at some point I’ll find one whose ex-girlfriends are all married. I have attained (I think) dating skillz. I can smile and thank him graciously for paying for my meal, even though I still don’t understand why the boy pays and a free meal is about the least thing I want out of a date. But I can let it pass now. I have learned that every date should be intrinsically interesting entirely apart from the boy, so that even if you go home wondering how a person can conduct an entire conversation in clichés, you can still be glad you got to see the botanical garden. I do not get coffee anymore; coffee is fine if the company is interesting, but life is too short for a non-activity with stilted conversation. I have never gotten the impression that my weight, which is not thin and not fat and not really the noticeable thing about me, is influencing men’s decisions about me (which confirms my generally high opinion of men, which is the same as my generally high opinion of people). I have learned that if the conversation turns meta and you discuss the personal ad or service itself, you have nothing to say to each other; give up on that date. I have also learned, to my detriment, to never, never hope that you’ll hear from a boy again.

I wanted to write this up while I wasn’t referring to any one boy, or sad that someone didn’t call. Right now, I am in good shape; there will be no consoling in the comments. I used to be baffled, but now I am not even baffled. Now I have a decision rule: Nothing, no matter how direct or favorable, can happen during a date that will mean that he will not vanish. Every date is stand-alone; if you hear from him again, that is a happy coincidence.

Here is a partial list of things that do not mean you will ever hear from him again:

Him saying ‘I had a great time and I will definitely call you.”
Him saying that he wants to get the check this time, but he’ll let you get it next time, and discussing which restaurant that would be at.
Him crossing the room to kiss you, holding your hand the whole party, and saying as you leave with your friends that he’ll come by your house in an hour.
Making and confirming plans for three days later.
Him wooing you for a month by email, taking you out for dinner and kissing you until 3:30 in the morning.
Him initiating all contact, asking you out, telling you that you’re amazing and beautiful and he can’t believe he has a chance with such an incredible girl.

All of those boys vanished with no word, and those are just the conspicuous examples. At this point, there is no amount of courting or enthusiasm that would make me hope for a follow up phone call; the most ardent behavior I can imagine would still be like one of those boys who acted smitten and vanished. I don’t mind anymore, because I don’t hope anymore. Incredible date, fun enthusiasm, googly eyes, declarations of interest? Great. I’m glad for a fun date, but I won’t think he’ll call. He might; some of them do. But that will be completely independent of my wishing on a phone call. Thunderstorms might happen too.

Staying cheerful by refusing to hope works. I don’t get hurt when men don’t make a phone call I never expect; I’m willing to go on dates with new people if the date itself is interesting; I never clear my schedule for the promise of a date and so far I haven’t had a conflict. So it works. But it has two costs and those make me sad.

The first cost is a rising bewilderment. I know, know for sure that I can not count on a follow-up. I know this. But knowing this conflicts with other things I think I know, like the meaning of the English words “I will call you tomorrow.” or “Yes. Let’s play catch on Thursday.” There are subtler things I think I know, like what it means when a boy holds your face to kiss you, rests his forehead on yours and smiles into your eyes. Or what it means when you guys were perfectly mirrored all evening and cracked each other up and then stopped talking to gaze for long periods. You think that if you are a socialized person who attends to other people you can interpret things like this. But those are not actually things that mean that you will ever see the guy again. So you were wrong, and the no-hoping rule would have served you better. You do not know what humans mean by things they say or do. That is confusing.

The second cost is more vague, but I still think I detect it. You can decide not to hope for more with any boy, despite all evidence. You just decide, and when hope rises you reject it. You remind yourself and distract yourself and work out extra hard so your body is too tired to tell you again that you need touch so much your skin hurts and oh please god where are my babies. If you can’t handle wanting that, you can ignore the want. But I don’t think you can pick and choose which want you clamp down on. I haven’t felt ambitious in years, and I don’t think that is coincidence. I’d be hard pressed to tell you a detailed vision of something I want, besides to stay in my pleasant life here, because I can’t let my wants off the leash enough to inform my imagination. I think I’m paying an energetic cost in holding down the want, and a lack of drive from not wanting anything. I don’t think it is overwhelming my personality, but I think it is there. The alternative would be feeling all that disappointment, so I’ll keep doing it my way. But I wish I didn’t have to.

42 Comments:

Blogger Lora said...

Goodness, don't I know where you're coming from-- though, I'm still a little too young to be as *adamant* about holding off hope as this.

I'm just wondering about the issue of trust... because to banish hope is also to refuse trust in him, is it not? And as he's bound to pick up on this, won't your lack of faith in his words create tension, and possibly cause him to disappear?

When I say "you," by the way, I do kind of mean it in the general sense. This comment is only half-speculation and half-hoping-for-advice... I've recently started seeing someone who has so far proven nothing but genuine, but I just can't let go of this anxiety, that at any given moment, for no reason at all, he could just change his mind and leave and there's nothing I can do to change this fact.

(I'm rambling, sorry.)

6:18 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I don't know how far in you have to get to be willing to trust again. It is certainly unfair to withhold that from the next guy. But since guys have vanished after all levels of intensity and sweetness, there is simply no saying that "this is different, this time he'll stick around." The last guy was just as sincere and he vanished too.

It is a crappy lesson.

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

I have learned that if the conversation turns meta and you discuss the personal ad or service itself, you have nothing to say to each other; give up on that date.

Things were different when I did some personals-ad and online dating in the 1994-1996 period. Online dating was in its infancy and regular personals-ads dating was less common than it is today. As a result, it was okay to talk on this "meta" scale during a date, as you'd be talking about something new and novel.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Great post! I really need to stop being so cynical...

Although... *grin* I do think sometimes the guys who are hoping for a one-night-stand will try to be incredibly romantic and act smitten, so the girl will feel almost as if a relationship has already started, and give it a go. One guy took me on a midnight stroll to the site where his brother proposed to his sister-in-law. (After mentioning, twice, that he had a blanket in the car). I doubt you're meeting many that calculating though. It's just something I've noticed around (and it's a strategy in those on-line How to Be a Player guides).

And referring to the previous comment, I dont' think it's necessary to demonstrate trust with a stranger. I figure, hey, he probably won't steal my purse (although I've wondered, on occasion) but we dont' have any sort of relationship yet. It would be like worrying the coffee barista doesn't think I have confidence in him. Or, more accurately, that a casual acquaintance I may want to befriend thinks I'm holding back.

When he says something romantic, though, that is hard. I have so wanted to say, "Really? Because that sounds like such a line..." And I have also been sorry I didnt' pop out with it...

10:39 PM  
Blogger Lora said...

I dont' think it's necessary to demonstrate trust with a stranger.

With a stranger, no. But what about someone you've been seeing for weeks or months? When he's made good on every word he's said, when he's given you more than enough reason to believe he's sincere-- shouldn't you?

The problem is, as Megan pointed out in her response, that history contains plenty of examples of men who "have vanished after all levels of intensity and sweetness... The last guy was just as sincere and he vanished too." Thus, an unwillingness to believe that this time, it'll be different-- thus, a withholding of trust.

At what point *do* you decide to take that risk and start trusting that this time, it's real? And is there really anything he can do to expedite the process?

In any case, the title of this post is dead-on. If they would just *call* to say no, there wouldn't be this problem of guesswork and doubt to begin with. "No" stings, sure, but at least then I know.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Dizzy:

If it were someone I wanted to sleep with, I would hate to be manipulated into a one-night-stand when I would be JUST AS HAPPY to enjoy one with someone who asked all friendly-like. Bring a blanket in your car, mister. Just ask me straight.

I don't know. I don't get smarmy faux-romantic lines. They would probably crack me up and I would make fun of him right then. Maybe guys can sense that.

Lora:

Don't know when it happens, but I guess at some point you decide you want to feel everything you've got with him and open yourself up to feeling all the hurt too. Very scary, but I don't think you get the best parts if you don't. Anyway, he sounds awesome. I hope he's completely into you.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pfft, women do the exact same thing. Women won't tell you they're not interested, they'll play games, like screen phone calls, and whatnot. They will seem to be interested, then just disappear.

Justin

11:54 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:59 PM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Well, Justin's certainly right that women sometimes do this, but I think men do it more. For both men and women, rejection is hardest when you *sort of* like the person, definitely like them better than being alone, but you also know that in the long run you don't like them *enough*. I think that as the more, ummm, naturally polygamous gender men are more likely to be in that uncomfortable middle ground than women are.

That last paragraph in the post...all I can say is that I've always experienced you as an intensely emotional and passionate person. That's pretty evident just in your writing. I always thought the single most useful concept for understanding people (ones self included) is defense mechanisms -- the blind spots we cultivate, the ways we fend off our own emotions and self-judgements. They are always a double edged sword, both protecting us and concealing us from ourselves.

12:26 AM  
Anonymous James said...

I was going to say that these past few posts have been divine, but then I worked my way back to the ex-pat comment, and that made me sad, even though I know that ex-pat is a shorthand for a few very specific people which have nothing to do with me. Anyway, I really enjoyed the last few posts, but now it's time for another break.

3:03 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Justin:

Women do it too. But no one should.

Marcus:

You know, people tell me that I am relatively intense or emotional or enthusiastic, but it is the only way I've ever been. And I always feel like I am not intense or emotional or enthusiastic enough, or I wouldn't have these slacker downtimes. And all my friends are way more incredible and fun and doers. So I don't understand who the contrast is. Who are these affect-less slacker people that make me look expressive and passionate?

James:

We'll be here if you come back, hon.

8:48 AM  
Blogger Dubin said...

I would hate to be manipulated into a one-night-stand when I would be JUST AS HAPPY to enjoy one with someone who asked all friendly-like. Bring a blanket in your car, mister. Just ask me straight.

Ok, but isn't this a wee bit oversimplified? If someone actually did that, like brought a blanket and said, "Hey baby, after we finish walking around this Matisse exhibit, let's go find somewhere to do it," you might be, like, "ew, you're weird." Althought I guess there are some rare cases where you might not, depending on all the nuances.

I once had one date once with a guy who brought me some candles he had made and then gave me a Japanese ink drawing he had painted and then was trying to be all physically all over me the rest of the date. It was actually borderline scary because I felt like he had some kind of social disorder - he was way TOO straightforward.

People should be a little bit coy, no? Anyway, I shoudl have known that wasn't going to work out anyway because May read my tarot cards before the date and warned me of the impending disappointment. Oh, well.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

eDubin:

A little simplified. It is in the case of a boy I would sleep with anyway.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Uh, yeah, of course, whether you would sleep with him anyway is always the question. And with someone like that, you wouldn't be happy doing it only once and then getting dumped, so you still wouldn't want just a one night stand.

Anybody remember that scene in Tootsie when Jessica Lange tells Dustin Hoffman (in drag disguise) that she wishes men would just ask straightforwardly for sex, and then Dustin Hoffman (later, not in drag) actually tries it, and gets clobbered?

11:33 AM  
Anonymous mattpfeff said...

Ha, now that is quite a list -- those things guys have done before up and disappearing. There should be a word for persistence of sincerity. Whatever it is that those people who tell you something, in utter seriousness and conviction, and then some moment later, don't believe or feel the same thing at all.

I think lots of guys get worked up by a particular situation and whatever hormonal stew their brains are baking in at the moment. At those times, you have a certain kind of desire, which gets locked on to a particular person, and translates into certain behaviors you've learned as mechanisms for communicating and possibly achieving that desire.

Then, you sober up, or go home, or sleep it off, or whatever -- it's different for everyone -- and you're just not driven toward that person the same way anymore.

I'm still learning what kinds of connections (romantic-type connections, I mean) mean something to me, beyond momentary desire. And try not to lead anyone on, even when I kindah really want to just have fun and flirt and play in that moment -- which I really would enjoy, even though I know it's misleading -- but it's actually difficult and weird and sometimes I wonder if it isn't dumb, if maybe just going with it wouldn't actually be, what's the right word, wiser. (I don't think so, in the end, but how can you know?)

I totally agree, about not blaming them for not calling afterward; it doesn't do you any good. It is pretty lame, though.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous mattpfeff said...

Whatever it is that those people who tell you something, in utter seriousness and conviction, and then some moment later, don't believe or feel the same thing at all.

Hey, this sentence is missing its verb phrase. Stupid sentence.

Anyway, yeah. Whatever it is that those people don't have.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I don't even mind that they change their minds; dating me is not an indentured servitude. People's minds change, like mine has changed before. In fact, I think accepting someone's changed mind with grace and understanding gives me the freedom to change my mind without guilt on other occasions. Sometimes you're on the receiving end of the bad news; sometimes you're on the giving end. Grown-ups have to handle both kindly.

I just wish I could predict better.

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Ennis said...

Maybe they would call you and tell you, but they're afraid you'd be all judgmental.

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

As I see it, the reason why some men (and women too) give false hopes in this manner is because they sincerely but incorrectly believe it's the polite thing to do. They think that telling the date "I want to see you again" when they really don't, and then simply failing to call or return calls, is nicer and kinder than coming right out and saying they're not interested.

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"oh please god where are my babies"

Maybe they sense this desperation and that's why you scare them off.

5:16 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I will deal with this when I get back. If you are very lucky, Conditioning Night will calm me down. I will come home spent and endorphined-up, and I will find a civil tone.

It is more likely, though, that I will get done taking this out on everyone at Conditioning Night and I'll come home and let you know what I think of that comment.

Either way, we'll be doing extra windsprints. Sucks to show up to Conditioning Night tonight.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I assume you're talking about the anonymous comment about desperation. Like it or not, it's probably true.

I know plenty of guys who turn and run when women start talking about kids too early.

And, the reason people say they'll call then don't: it's easier. I don't know why there's a mystery here. They get to avoid any confrontation or scene. It's much easaier than telling someone you're not interested.

Justin

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

And, the reason people say they'll call then don't: it's easier. I don't know why there's a mystery here. They get to avoid any confrontation or scene. It's much easaier than telling someone you're not interested.

That's part of it, but as I noted above some people also think it's kinder than a simple "not interested" though of course it really isn't.

I have to admit I did that sort of thing a couple of times in the past. Though I also was on the receiving end more than once.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Why, exactly, would that comment be "probably true?" Because from what I saw, it came out of nowhere. Related to nothing that has been said before. And could only be accepted without question by one who has some rather backward assumptions about women and their place in the world. So, just wondering...

(And sorry I couldn't be at Conditioning Night - bet the conversation was awesome ;)

7:35 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Why, exactly, would that comment be "probably true?" Because from what I saw, it came out of nowhere. Related to nothing that has been said before.

It's a popular stereotype - the baby-hungry woman doing anything to snag a man. That's probably why "anonymous" said it.

Like all stereotypes, it surely has some basis in truth but invariably gets all blown out of proportion.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Yeah I know. But it's always weird when I hear that stereotype - probably like if you were saying your wife always wants more time with you and someone jumped in with, "Well if you weren't always on the couch with a beer watching foot-ball!" You hate football. And I don't know anyone who's desperate for a baby.

So I think Anonymous was just targeting us because we're women, using popular male misconceptions about us. And I'm not sure why Justin decided that should be supported.

Are y'all saying it's ok to say that here, to women who obviously aren't the stereotype, just because, somewhere, out there, there HAS to be a woman who wants a baby so badly she'll take a sperm donation from anything? Would it be ok if I jumped on your blog and said, 'Ha - you nerds play too many videogames and that is the source of all your problems?" Because somewhere, out there, a 43-year-old is living in his mother's basement and working on a raging case of carpal tunnel? So bringing him up as an accusation would be a productive addition to EVERY conversation you guys have about your lives?

8:17 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Hey y'all,

Anonymouse (who isn't anonymouse to me, but whatever) specifically said that because she knows that *I* am, in fact, nearly desperate to have children. So I do manifest parts of that stereotype. But I got longer thoughts about that, which I'll write up when I'm settled with some food and drink. You'll see it soon, so can I ask you to hold off on speculating until I post more about my situation?

8:24 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

Ok, I guess. But I just want to say this about that: I didn't think the post in question was written with malice. The person was just speculating that maybe desperation was showing. I assumed the person didn't know you, and therefore didn't know that you don't really give off a desperate vibe in real life. It's just here on the blog that you actually speak candidly about things like that, which is the beauty of this whole thing. But people who know you know that you don't go running around telling strange dudes you want to have babies ASAP.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

She knows you in real life? And she got on your blog and used your words against you, to make you look bad? On a topic she knows is sensitive? Wow.

If you are reading, Anonymouse, I don't know what made you think that would be ok. But it is not. Megan has never been anything but kind on here. And targeting her in this way is completely inappropriate. I don't know what about you makes you act this way. But I really think it would be a good idea to figure out what your motives were here. Good luck.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Come on, Diz. Affirmative kindness here, even when it isn't your impulse and even when you are defending me. (See, I told y'all it isn't some easy cop-out.) She has some pretty strong stuff motivating her.

Besides, eventually she'll check back and say something even more provocative and this thread will go up in flames. Affirmative kindness from you too, anonymouse.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

I don't know if Megan comes off desperate on a date or not. That's not what I said, I was responding to what Megan and the other Anonymous had written.

But, I do know men will turn and run if it sounds like the woman is desperate.

I know women who do the same.

I've heard it from both sides. Just into a new relationship and the person their seeing starts talking kids and whatnot.

So, it's not hard for me to imagine that if you just come across as wanting a lot more very early on that it could scare someone off.

Definitely something to be aware of.

Justin

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Are y'all saying it's ok to say that here, to women who obviously aren't the stereotype, just because, somewhere, out there, there HAS to be a woman who wants a baby so badly she'll take a sperm donation from anything? Would it be ok if I jumped on your blog and said, 'Ha - you nerds play too many videogames and that is the source of all your problems?" Because somewhere, out there, a 43-year-old is living in his mother's basement and working on a raging case of carpal tunnel? So bringing him up as an accusation would be a productive addition to EVERY conversation you guys have about your lives?

I'm not quite sure of your point, but as far as stereotypes are concerned there are some people who fit into them perfectly: the baby-obsessed woman who'll chase after anyone with a tallywhacker just to get his sperm, the pathologically introverted nerd living in Mom's basement, and so on. The important point, however, is that most people don't fall into such neat categories. Humans are complex things with all sorts of quirks and except in rare cases cannot be reduced to such simplistic terms.

6:10 AM  
Anonymous sealioni said...

I guess Kierkegaard would say you've learned "resignation" in dating, and now you need to learn "faith".

If you want dating advice from Kierkegaard, anyway. :P

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no idea how attitudes towards desperation play out in practice, so let me instead toss out a model:

Imagine a world where one gender contains two kinds of people. Group 1 wants to date in significant part because of an agenda which is largely not partner specific and group 2 wants to date only for reasons which vary from potential partner to potential partner.

Someone heterosexual from the other gender considering dating (without a non-partner specific agenda of his/her own) has good reasons to prefer a member of group 2. The relationship with such a person is likely to be more stable over time. This is because partner specific links are less likely to go away with the passage of time, and because the partner was chosen (more fully) because of compatibility there is likely to be a larger difference between that particular partner and the next best available alternative.

Those reasons for likely future stability also imply more willingness to invest effort in making the relationship stronger, so there will also be a self fulfilling prophesy element to the initial expectations.

If you believe in this model, then the key thing to convey is not that you aren't desperate to have a baby, but that your desperation won't make you inclined to have a baby with someone that you wouldn't expect to be happy to be with 30 years later.

Telnar

7:42 AM  
Blogger Dizzy said...

Oh - ok. I hope you have a good day, person who was mean to Megan. Sorry for being unkind.

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Matthew C. said...

Hi Megan.

My wife met me when she was your age. I am ten years younger. We had our firstborn the next year and our second a couple years later.

Marriage isn't always easy, but we love each other and celebrated our 12th anniversary last year.

I'd recommend you look at younger men, who are more likely to be marriage and dad material than unattached 30 and 40-somethings. . .

Best to you,

Matthew

4:48 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Diz:

Actually, she and I had a really nice exchange yesterday; she was far more contrite than I thought was necessary. She sent me a lovely email, and a gift!, which was way out of proportion to the amount it bothered me. Anyway, she and I are good, and I wouldn't say she was mean to me, but we can both wish her a good day.

Matt C:
Hmmmm. I usually assume younger men have a few years to go before they get interested in having kids. I like your perspective, though.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hiya,

my dad just pointed me to your blog (how about that?) and i wanted to point out that it's provably optimal to be the dating "aggressor". i learned this (nerdily enough) while TAing for a computer science class. apparently if women wait for men to make the moves, and everyone hooks up with the "best possible offer", men get the best woman possible in any stable pairing, and women get the worst man possible in any stable pairing. depressing, ennit? so my advice is to make like me (worked for two boyfriends in a row, and one is a husband now, and quite a catch, if i do say so myself!) and do the asking. pay for dinner if you like, too. don't settle for waiting for the "no" call, or the lack thereof. if you like him, CALL him. it's a little scarier cos you take the risk yourself---of being told no to your face, of being avoided, what-have-you. but you're a heck of a lot more likely to get the guys you want than if you just sit in the corner sipping your margarita. (not that that's what you do, i mean WTF do i know about your dating habits?? lol!).

go get 'em, glamazon!

elly

8:44 AM  
Anonymous Matt said...

I have never 'dated' and am in a country where it is still a new concept - so what I say may not make any sense in your situation. Dating, for me, is too artificial a romantic situation for genuine feelings or true understanding. Hang out, spend time with each other, and you will see the trust growing with the right person. True feelings of romance and love rise out of unromantic hanging out. Worked for me, and got quite a catch too, with my wife.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,

Trust me, you have met the wrong guys.

Just be yourself, you will get the man of the dreams.

I was in a similar situation till i met the girl of my dreams. Someone i had written abt.

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

It's been over a month since you made this post, and I still come back to that last paragraph, like a lodestone, to try to evoke again the electricity of the first time I read it. It is the most honest thing I've ever read. I've been thinking lately about "the groanings of the soul" and how to live honestly with myself and God, and honey, you have figured that out. Thank you for sharing it with us.

June-6-07

9:35 PM  
Blogger KingM said...

Nice writing. I feel sorry and hopeful for you in turns.

You might be running into players, but more likely you are enjoying/suffering repeated encounters with that type of person who is simultaneously utterly sincere and completely unreliable. Chances are these guys are totally into you when they're in your presence and then they leave and the they see the next person and, well, out of sight, out of mind.

12:43 PM  

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