Gonzalez: Just say no, kindly

Post-Modern Love
No caption.
No caption. Photo by Elisa Gonzalez.

For over a week, one of my friends agonized about asking a cute guy in “Human Emotion” out on a date. She had noticed him at the beginning of the semester, but never spoke to him. Then he got a new haircut, which framed his ice-blue eyes instead of masking them, and she couldn’t resist introducing herself. Yet when she got to the point in the conversation where she could have asked him to coffee or drinks or dining-hall dinner, she choked up. “I tried to be flirtatious yet casual — and I failed,” she told me. “I was so awkward. I just kept thinking, ‘What if he says no?’” Usually a paragon of calmness and practicality, she had been reduced to compulsively weighing the possibility of rejection against the desire for a date. And at least for now, the fear of “no” is winning.

Getting turned down for a date might be even worse than not getting into a particular college, internship program or seminar. Instead of judging your SAT scores or cover letters, your prospects are judging you. We identify with the rejected — when we hear “he’s just not that into you,” we wince in sympathy.

But it’s also difficult to be “just not that into you.” Although I cringe at the idea of announcing to my friends, “Oh, it’s so hard for me to say no to people who like me,” this complicated negotiation between tact and truth is one of the most challenging social exchanges we encounter. And if there’s a perfect way to say no, I’ve never been able to find it.

Once someone with whom I had a sushi date sent me an angry e-mail after I begged off a second one. I tried to be subtle in my discouragement and ended up citing my busy schedule and exhaustion as excuses. I had hoped that he would get the hint without feeling rejection. He responded quickly, in an e-mail with “Honesty” in the subject line: “We live in the middle of thousands of people who are brilliant at coming up with great reasons for not being able to do something, and if I want another set of excuses for why something didn’t work out I certainly don’t have to put the time and energy into getting those excuses from you. (This is where you pause, and take a deep breath. It’s important for the next section. Believe me.)” The rest of the e-mail described how we could have had “something real, something worthwhile, something (if you’ll pardon the romanticism) beautiful”; I needed lots of deep breaths.

I am hesitant to offer rules for social conduct in the Yale bubble, where most of the time we are making it up as we go along. But I am certain that generosity is a virtue in relationships. When we offer people real consideration as individuals with undeniable and discoverable value, rather than dismissing them outright for having annoying friends or the wrong political affiliation or because we’ve “heard” about them, we open up a world of possibilities for new friends and lovers. Yet, giving someone a chance doesn’t necessarily lead to happily ever after. Sometimes after one conversation or one night together, we recognize that whatever was initially compelling now leaves us unmoved. The excitement is gone.

If that happens, then my erstwhile lover is right: There’s no time for excuses. This isn’t just because almost everyone is busy preparing to lead a Reach Out trip or operating an NGO in the developing world. It’s because the same generosity that we prize at the beginning of a relationship should extend to its ending — which does not mean avoiding text messages or repeatedly postponing, telling someone you’re interested in someone else. Even though we all know the punched-in-the-throat feeling of rejection and dislike awkwardness, we owe the people who like us the respect that comes with telling the truth. Maybe not the whole truth (if the reason really is “his best friend” or “her laugh”), but a softer version of it. In other words: Be kind. Be honest. Say no when it’s no.

I replied to my “honest” suitor’s diatribe with as much kindness and sincerity as I could. He replied a few days later with more grace and less resentment than I expected. We now greet each other when we pass and promise to catch up sometime. It wasn’t the perfect no, but it gave another girl the chance to say, “Yes.”

Elisa Gonzalez is a junior in Pierson College.

Comments

  • Reverse Diamonding

    Sexism will really be abolished not when women ask guys out on a date but when women make the first move in the BIG ARENA and accompany it, on bended knee, with a diamond engagement ring for HIM.

    PK

  • saybrook997

    Wow. I took a junior/woman to explain to me the hookup and dating scene in just a short article.

    You went on a traditional “date.” Your guy invested far more time, emotion, and even money in it than you did–starting with when do I ask her, what do I say, what to do, she’ll probably say no, repeat process, then you said OK. At first, you responded to a second date that he really wanted (which is better than the usual no response at all), but you treated him like crap. At college, still not the end of the world, lots of possibilities. But your girlfriend in first paragraph could not even handle the thought of rejection and being treated like crap; she was in agony over it, and just dropped out. Guys have enough sex drive to do a bit better than her, or the human species would have ended long before Yale started.

    What does your last guy do next time: invest as little (or less) time, emotion, and money as possible in a partner or sex “object”: YOU JUST CREATED THE HOOKUP, or something close to it.

    Women, then, complain about a man who is emotionally detached, uncommited, and seems to have no time for them. And, here’s the best part, some other woman has done you the favor of preparing a guy to be just like that for your next date or relationship. [I’ve always thought of relationships/breakups as preparing someone for someone else, for better or worse–it gives failure meaning.]

    Of course, a hookup has to do with sex, but so did your date. I now completely understand the “Have fun, guys” attitude toward hookups. A few hours, or few minutes, of fun is better than what your guy first got from you. Your second response made all the difference.

    Still, I don’t understand what women get out of a hookup or something like one, or out of the second or third one. No or little sexual pleasure, no emotional involvement, no relationship, maybe he paid for drinks, or getting the alcohol, and then “sobfest?” at brunch.

    WOMEN CREATED THE HOOKUP, and perpetuate it. Men want what you did “generously” after what you did first; they don’t really want a hookup, unless drunk. They will give up many women for one–Tiger Woods is an exception. An affair usually is a substitute for a marriage without romance. (Guys know that sex mostly ends shortly after marriage or children, but still most make that adaptation for other reasons.) Maybe smart, professional, independent, career women want hookups or nothing. Don’t tell me women did not figure this out before I did.

  • PK, your comment, as usual, had nothing to do with the article. Don’t you have something better to do than comment on anything and everything written in the YDN? If not, go find it. It’s out there.

  • Sargent Fan

    Amelia Sargent is the best illustrator/cartoonist working at Yale.

  • yale ’10

    Jesus, the email guy sounds like a jerk. Keep trucking, Gonzalez.

  • Sexist cartoon

    # 3 By:

    I dunno—seems to me it had a lot to do with Amelia Sargent’s sexist cartoon which accompanied the article.

    PK

  • Goring a Pinata

    PS #3 By:

    “Go find it.”

    Why would I switch hobbies? This is more fun than goring a pinata.

    PK

  • If you wanted to comment on the cartoon, then go to the comment page for the cartoon…

  • First Order Logic Anyone?

    @PK

    Hmm…the illustration depicts one scenario–one similar, in fact, to that described in the column.

    You may as well label the illustration racist because the figures have light skin or homophobic because the figures are different sexes–both equally unsupported charges designed to inflame rather than inform.

  • ARCHETYPE

    #9

    Did you miss the entire feminsit movement? Or were you perhaps born AFTER it hammered its messages and images home in the 1970’s and 80’s?

    A man on bended-knee beseeching a woman’s consent (for anything) is the ARCHETYPAL sexist setereotype. Just put a diamond ring in his hand and the woman on a pedestal.

    PK

  • Not stuck in the 70’s

    #10

    Ah, now the problem is clear! I’m pretty sure I’m older than you, but some of us have moved BEYOND the 70’s. We’re ok with men beseeching women or women beseeching men. Also ok with curvy women, btw, in case you want to slam that element of the image.

    And, fyi, this is one women who did make “the first move in the BIG ARENA.” (Sorry, no diamonds on either part.)

  • Agreed

    #11 FTW!

  • Proud to be stuck inthe 70’s

    I’m proud to be stuck in the 70’s where all of the egalitarioan inroads in sexism, racism and homophobia were made with shoe leather and bashed-in heads.

    And BTW—as far as “on bended knee” goes: I am a Protestant —– Protestants pray on their backs not on their knees. I wouldn’t bend my knees for a queen, a pope or a deity. Protestants are not, caught up in the medieval obeisance choreographies of fealty.

    PK

  • Yale 08

    I love PK.

    He is like an old WWII vet stuck on an isolated island in the Pacific, unaware that the war is over, still cleaning his rifle for the next battle.

    Guess what? The 60s and 70s are over. No one in Generation Y is interested in fighting those tired, pathetic battles.

  • Yalonesia

    #14:
    The war is OVER? Tell that to Hillary as she picks the glass shards out of her hair from smashing against the male ceiling of presidential politics; tell that to Californians whose same gender marriage rights were repealed; tell that to the 80% racial minorities who inhabit death rows in American prisons?

    What desert island are you living on?

    Yalonesia?

  • Yale 12

    #2 – so you’re saying that women should agree to dates they don’t want to go on so as not to make men less interested in dating women in general?

    What?

  • Jeez

    PK, you’re making it sound like you think it sexist for men to propose to women. Which is just as silly and unegalitarian as saying that women shouldn’t propose to men.

    As for the diamond and bended knee, I say, to each his own. Sure, there was a time when an engagement ring marked a woman as someone’s property. But I think when a diamond is given now, it usually means love, respect and commitment, and marks the important turn in the relationship where the mutual decision was made to become not just a couple, but a family. A bended knee and a diamond are tradition, and there are plenty of women who have assumed the pose and made the gesture. We like traditions–they make us happy, they signify the milestones we dreamed of passing when we went through the process of enculturation as children.

    If you can’t see the tenderness and respect that most men who go down on one knee feel, then you are stuck in the 70’s in a bad way. If the gay community can reclaim the word queer, can’t egalitarian couples reclaim the bended knee as well as a symbol of respect?

    What matters in such personal affairs is that the proposal is meaningful and makes the couple happy. For you to criticize how some choose to do it is unfair and unnecessary.

  • Touchy Fealty

    Bended knee is so fealty.

    I prefer the Soda Fountain scene in Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”. George and Emily sit side-by-side (equal as equal can be) on soda fountain stools in Mr. Morgan’s drug store, Grovers Corners, New Hampshire as they discover their love.

    “I love you” is different than “I worship you.” Bended knee is for those who need (for whatever psychological reason to feel BENEATH the object (or subject) of their attention.

    And diamonds? C’mon. Men deserve them just as much a women.

    The whole game is based on this VERY SEXIST pre-modern-medicine, pre-pill reality: I honor you for being willing to risk your life in pregancy and childbirth so that MY MALE NAME can be carried on in the genes of MY heirs.

    Fee, fie, foe fum, I smell the blood of a generation which wants to ignore history.

    PK

  • Yale 08

    @#15,

    If you think the 60s and 70s were about fighting for legitimate justice…I have some magic beans to sell you.

    That generation was a spoiled child of the Greatest Generation.

    (BTW, Hillary Clinton and gay “marriage” are NOT 2 things worth fighting for)

  • Spoiled

    #19

    Yeah—-we were spoiled alright.

    So spoiled we refused to believe the lies of Johnson and McNamara and the Tonkin Gulf Resolution that Viet Nam was a war worth getting killed for and killing others for.

    So spoiled that our stomachs were turned by butchery at Mi Lai and
    Kent State.

    So spoiled that we thought Negroes were human beings and ought to be treated with dignity.

    So spoiled that we took our mothers off pedestals and honored their wishes to be treated like full human beings.

    So spoiled that we refused to participate in the centuries old humiliation and degradation of homosexuals.

    So spoiled that we protected space for people like you to use free speech to mock others.

    Eat your magic beans. They might cure your cerebral flatulence.

    Hrrrrmmmmphhhhh.

    PK

  • y09

    For once, PK, I agree with you.

  • Yale 08

    All you did was get a bunch of hippies together to smoke pot and smell bad.

    Your pacifism was cowardly, not principled.

    Your contribution to civil rights was at best patronizing and at worst thinly veiled racism.

    Your feminism was a funhouse of lies built around abortion.

    Your homosexual rights activists are nothing more than Brownshirts with rainbows.

    Your free speech protections are hidden attempts to silence dissent.

    Your economics was stagnating.

    You took the enemy’s side in the Cold War.

    Now we have to clean up your mess.

    You failed us. We are done with you.

  • saybrook997

    @16

    No, women should not go on a second or any date they don’t want. They should do just as the article shows: act kindly, (somewhat) honestly and generously in declining a date or ending a relationship. “It wasn’t a perfect no, but it gave another girl the chance to say Yes.” I think her point was that men ask for a date/relationship kindly, (mostly) honestly and generously, and women should end it the same way.

    @14

    In case of generational war, this is the Millennial Genenation, not Gen Y. Millennials, not Gen Yers. Gen Y sounds like something that just happens to follow Gen X. (There won’t be a Gen Z.)Gen X was named that because they were sort of a drifting, nomad group that no one could put a name on. This generation (born about 1982-2002) is something distinct and different–and, you’re right, rebels against Gen X, baby boomers, and the WWII generation”.

  • saybrook997

    @22 Yale08

    You got it. But you are talking about your parents, well, maybe most parents, Yale’s current prof. and adm., and Yale’s two boomer Presidents (Clinton, Law and Bush, Davenport). I think you know that.

    Clinton is still everyone’s likeable favorite, despite cutting the military by half (balanced the budget) while 9/11 was being planned here, after! the 1993 attempt to blow the World Trade Center failed. Not to mention the world’s most embarassing sex scandal–using a 21-year-old woman to wet a Cuban cigar before he smoked it. Castro sent him a box of Cuba’s best cigars for that feminist trick. Bush hated boomers, and wanted to be the anti-boomer, but 9/11 and wars (of deterrence?) got in the way. Obama is a boomer, barely, but he still has the same boomer old establishment principles, campaign promises notwithstanding. “Now we have to clean up your mess. You failed us. We are done with you.”

    You leave out only the “sexual revolution/free love.” I like the free, unembarassed talk now, but there still is clean up there, too. Good and bad, hookups, gender neutral (cohabitation) in colleges, Dean’s sex stories on yale.edu, condoms in entryways (well, with herpes–none before boomers–and all, what to do, but it says have you used yours today?) And college women now 56% to men, 44%, nationwide. 12% of women won’t have a college-educated boyfried or husband, ever. College guys are going to have fun (or is too much fun possible?).

  • The Anti-PK

    PK-

    Maybe if you weren’t so infatuated with your own “revolutionary” ideas and the glory of your generation you could actually accomplish something worthwhile, instead of vandalizing a college newspaper website with huffy rants that everyone rolls their eyes at.

    I kinda hate to post this knowing that it will only feed your narcissism and give you the attention that you so crave, but hey, somebody had to say it. You think you’re Holden Caulfield calling out the phonies in our society, but surely you realize that vomiting intellectual cliches is not actually “revolutionary” in any way, and that most of your “original” ideas are not only incredibly unoriginal, but completely irrelevant to the way things are? I don’t just mean that nobody cares, but they actually, literally, have nothing to do with current society. To grudgingly address your “female worship” rant: since when does doling out 70% of men’s salary for the same work equate to worshiping women? I think you’re a little misinformed about gender inequality.

    If you wanted to have an actual, stimulating, productive intellectual discussion, any of the students (and alums) here would gladly engage in it, and all of us would probably learn something from it. But instead you’re happy to just start flame wars, so pardon us if we stoop to your level to deal with it.

    Actually, keep posting. Everyone loves to hate a hater.

    PS: Seriously? Men WANT to wear a diamond rings? I guess if my future husband wants one I’ll buy him one, I just didn’t think many guys were into that…

  • Cryonic Suspension

    Dear Ant-Pk (and other poster whose pseudonym I forgot):

    Sorry to bust your stereotype. I never smoked pot. I never said “my” ideas were “revlutionary”. Certainly never said they were “original” (You are lucky if you have ONE truly original idea in your entire lifetime).

    “Worshipping” women is the entire “on a pedestal” phenomenon (opening doors, standing when a woman enters a room, declining to speak in a vulgar manner in the presence of a woman, etc.etc) which feminists successfully demolished before you were born.

    Hyperbole is my manner of communication. No one forces you to read what I say.

    Vandalizing a college newspaper? No one forces the YDN to print my stuff. If they wanted to they could censor whatever I say (in a couple of cases they have done so, I believe).

    However, to their credit, the YDN is BIGGER than that. They are part of not only the First Amendment, but of Academic Freedom too.

    Just ignore what I post and move on without reading it. I wouldn’t trouble my psyche or my blood pressure for one second if I were you. I’m serious.

    PK

    PS—I will gladly wear a diamond offered by a woman as a sign that I am her property and that she is more powerful than I am and more capable of protecting my frail weakness in a cruel world with her chivalry–an money– than am I( so that I won’t have to face the world alone). I’ll be a “kept man” if you will.

    C’mon. Chivalry is in cryonic suspension.

  • Spoiled again

    P.S. to #19

    In my list (#20) I left out a BIG one:

    So spoiled that we forever took the guilt and shame out of sex.

    PK

  • Yale 08

    @#27,

    You took sex and threw it right into the gutter and back alleys.

    Modesty over filth FTW.

  • Not Exactly

    # 27
    Not exactly. What has happened is that with the absence of shame and guilt (cloaked in modesty), sex has turned into a kind of public calisthenics.
    The body parts and manipulations I hear discussed from smiling faces on the Oprah Show in afternoon (after-school hours) TV astonishes me.

    Not that I think guilt and shame are preferable, but I do think that clisthenics which can produce STD’s need to be cautiously advanced.

    PK

  • to Yale 08

    You’re right, the 60s and 70s civil rights movement was no accomplishment whatsoever. You can’t possibly think that; if so, you could always try opening a book.

    …and what exactly have you done? You are calling the generation from that era spoiled? The generation of instant gratification is throwing stones again in glass houses. You’re what, 23? The only mess you’ve cleaned up is what you left on the bathroom floor from a night a binge drinking…But wait, I’m sure you can thank someone born of that generation for cleaning that too.

    You can also thank those same people you’re mocking for not being drafted in those two wars that your spoled generation is making a small minority fight…but since you’re so couragous, you must be enlisted already. Good luck.

  • Yale10

    Everyone get lives now please.

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