Thursday, March 13, 2014

How to Say No to a Date

Leonard is about to lay down some of the best advice you're going to get.  But first, a small story to serve as an example.

Last semester, I was sitting in my office (with the door open) chatting with the one office mate I see regularly.  Said office mate left, so it was just me and my colleague across the hall.  His door was open, too; sometimes we chat across the hallway.

So my colleague says, sort of out of the blue, "Do you like to drink wine or beer?"
Me:  "Oh, I like wine.  I'm not really a beer-drinker."
Him:  "Would you like to drive me to get a drink some time?"

At least, that's what it sounded like he said.  I think he actually said, "would you like to join me for a drink sometime?"

And I was caught off-guard and rather nonplussed.  I was momentarily confused because I had first thought he was asking for a ride (to a bar??  Who does that??), so my brain was catching up.  I was taken aback because I realized I was just asked out on a date.

Don't you see this ring on my finger?  Haven't you heard me talk non-stop about my partner??

Granted, it doesn't look like a traditional engagement right, but still!
More than that, I was shocked because I had somehow thought that in a professional, collegiate environment, I'd be safe from being asked out by random men.  Especially men who do the same job I do.  And especially men, doing the same job, who are quite literally twice my age.

Words tumbled out of my mouth in response as I was on the spot.  "Umm, I dunno, maybe.  It depends.  I often have rehearsal."

I do often have rehearsal in evenings.  I also have a forty-five minute commute to school, so when I'm done teaching, I have no desire to hang out; I want to get started on the long drive home.  I also don't socialize too much with co-workers.  Perhaps if a group was going out for a drink, where we'd discuss work type things, maybe.  But work is work and my friends are my friends, and the two don't usually intersect.

My colleague soon left to teach his own class, and I was still dumbstruck by what had happened.  One of his office mates had come in during the tail end of our conversation, so I asked her if she overheard.  "Did he just ask me out?" I asked her.

And I hated asking her.  Because it sounds arrogant to "assume" someone has asked you out on a date, right?  Besides, what's the big deal, right?  Shouldn't I be flattered?  Besides, maybe it was completely innocent, right??  (I'll answer these questions at the end.)  The office mate said she hadn't heard, and added, "Besides, I think he's married anyway."
You and I both know that doesn't stop a lot of people, but I thanked her and wandered back into my own office, trying to keep my embarrassment and discomfort to myself.

Fast forward to this semester, just a week or so ago.  Our office doors are open, and my office mate and I are laughing about the awkwardness of student crushes (they do happen).  Then she leaves.  And older male colleague across the hall again speaks to me.

"Hey, Lenny, so would you like to have that beer this weekend?  Did I tell you about the microbrewery --"

"I'm sorry, I can't.  My partner is going out of town, and I have to take care of the dog.  We got a new dog who can't be left alone."

While it sounds about as plausible as "I have to wash my hair," my statement was absolutely true.  Our new forty-pound puppy cannot be left to her own devices, and my Unit was indeed going out of town for work.  When we're not home, Dogzilla has to be in her crate (which she HATES), and she can only be in there for a limited amount of time.

I was also irked because 1) he said my name wrong.  It was the equivalent of calling someone named "Caroline" -- someone who has "Caroline" printed on the sign on the office door, on the business cards, and everyone else calls "Caroline" -- the equivalent of calling her "Carol."
2)  I had already said I don't drink beer, which is true.  Wine?  Yes.  Hard liquor?  Yes.  Anything pretty with an umbrella in it?  Hell yes.  Beer?  No.

I was not unprepared this time, though he once again waited until I was alone to approach me.  And my reason was absolutely legitimate.  There was a brief pause, and then he said, "I didn't realize you had a partner."

Me (super bright-cheery-chipper):  "Yep, I do!"
End scene.

So here's the point (yes, there is a point).  I shouldn't have to have an excuse or reason to say "no."  Actually, I shouldn't have to worry about being asked out at my place of work (don't shit where you eat, people!), but that's another rant entirely.

Somewhere, somewhen, we women were taught that we must have some "reasonable excuse" for turning down a potential date.  I don't know when this happened.  I certainly don't remember anyone telling me this when I was younger.  But nonetheless, the thought is there.  And if we don't have an immediate, logical reason, we should "give the guy a chance."  It's the same logic behind trying new foods:  how do you know you don't like it until you try?

Here's how:  fuck you.

No, seriously, there does not need to be a reason or an excuse.  You can simply say "No thank you" to an offer for a date of any kind.  You, be you male or female, do not need a reason to turn someone (be they male or female) down.  Even if, like the above example, it is not explicitly stated that said outing is a date, you can simply say "No, thank you."  You are not required or obligated to hang out with people socially for any reason whatsoever.

And sometimes, we do have a reason.  Sometimes things just don't feel right.  Call it intuition, or your gut; I like to call it the "silent alarm."  It's that nagging feeling, sometimes almost a physical sensation, that for whatever reason this person does not jive with you.  For me, it's usually been because said person is psychotic, but that's another story.  Listen to that alarm.  It's there for a reason, no matter how tiny.  That alone is enough for you to say "no, thank you."

I repeat:  you do not need to give a reason or an excuse.  You do not have to be in a relationship or "have other plans" that night.  You can simply say no.

I am so tired and frustrated of hearing stories from my female friends about feeling bad for turning someone down or worrying about "hurting their feelings."  And I'm really angry over my own past examples, like the one above and many, many more.

1)  We all take a risk when we ask someone out.  Disappointment is one of the potential outcomes.
2)  You are not responsible for how someone else reacts to your answer.  That's on them.

And if you're polite (but firm), you've done nothing to really hurt their feelings.  Yes, they might be disappointed, but like I said, that's a risk we know going in.

While this is mostly directed to women, it applies to anyone and everyone.  We need to stop feeling obligated to other people for no good reason.  We need to stop feeling bad for saying no.

Now, I'll address the questions you might have about my anecdote:
  1. He was just being friendly.  Really?  Then why wait until I'm alone and cornered?
  2. He just meant it as a social thing.  That's entirely possible, but I'm still not obligated to go be social.  Also, see #1.
  3. He meant as a group with other colleagues.  Then he should have said so.  Also, see #2.
  4. You should be flattered.  Maybe and maybe not.  While I fail to see what's flattering about someone twice my age crossing work boundaries, maybe it would be flattering to you.  But the discomfort I felt about being cornered and put into an awkward position, plus getting my name wrong, etc. outweighs any potential flattery.
But none of the above really matter; I am allowed to simply say no.  And that does not make me a horrible person, a frigid bitch, or a cunt with a stick up her ass. 

I hope women -- people, really -- read this and take this advice to heart.  I wish I had learned it years ago; it would have saved me some trouble in the long run.  In fact, not listening to that silent alarm and simply saying no, will take us into our next topic:  Dealing with Stalkers.
And that's not hyperbole; I do mean stalkers.