Baumgartner: Don’t hesitate to ask

Post-Modern Love
No caption.
No caption. Photo by A. L. Baumgartner.


It went something like this: we met, we dated, we broke up.

I said why don’t we be friends? That summer, he visited me in New Hampshire and spent the night on the extra bed in my room, like any other friend. But in the morning, when the alarm went off, he slid under the covers of my bed in his underwear and his too-big socks, the kind that soccer-players use to cover their shin-guards and kissed me.

We kept kissing, from time to time: outside the post office, in the parking lot behind the School of Music, in his first-floor apartment, in the headlights of the passing cars. It was not like me. I do not return to restaurants that serve bad food or watch reruns of films I hated in theaters. I do not carry on with ex-boyfriends.

It might have been loneliness, if there had not been other men who took me out to dinner, remembered my birthday and called on nights other than Saturday. It might have been understandable, if it made me happy.

But it didn’t.

Evidently, there was something about him. He wore jeans, whitened by the wear, mended with squares cut from an old bandana. When he pulled off his sweatshirt, he removed the layer beneath it in the process, sometimes on purpose. He fastened the cummerbund of his tuxedo with a rubber band.

I did not notice those details in anyone else. Not in the odd acquaintance. Not in the man I danced with at Toad’s, who lowered his head — I thought, to ask my name — and instead pressed his mouth against mine.

I did not like them. I liked him. I did not want to just kiss him, on occasion. I wanted him to be my boyfriend — again. But I did not ask him to date me, please. I knew how that conversation went. I glared. I pleaded. I delivered three-point ultimatums.

I sounded like a lunatic.

But that happened every time I tried to explain what I wanted. I had never learned how to ask.

It was not nice, not polite and certainly not feminine. In kindergarten, I remember asking Jake if I could use his scissors. He was making a dinosaur. I was making an envelope. Jake told me, “My dinosaur’s gonna eat you!” Mrs. Wilson told me to wait my turn. I did not like being reprimanded, so I waited. I never got the scissors.

We women never learn. As a society, we do not take kindly to women burning their bras and asserting their economic worth. Perhaps that is why so many women do not like to negotiate — not with bosses and certainly not with boyfriends. Ask for what you want, and you’re pushy. Demand that you get it, and you’re Hilary Clinton.

Men, on the other hand, ask all the time. Can we have sex? Can I take you to dinner? Why don’t I deserve a raise? No wonder men negotiate four times as often as women, according to a survey by Carnegie Mellon economist Linda Babcock.

Men compared negotiations to a ballgame. Women likened it to a dentist appointment. But we suffer by shying away from negotiation. A study by Cox School of Business’s Robin Pinkley and Gregory Northcraft, associate dean of faculty at the College of Business at the University of Illinois, calculates that some women who negotiate their pay raises earn at least $1 million more by the time they retire than women in similar circumstances who do not.

It’s bad for women, and it’s bad for business. Employee turnover costs U.S. businesses $11 billion each year. The first reason women give for leaving a job, according to Babcock’s study, is that “their skills are not being used.”

Like the women who quit instead of negotiate, I decided to end things with the ex-boyfriend.

“I have to …” I said. “I just … So, um, maybe you should go.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “You’re going to have to speak English.”

So I did.

I asked.

A.L. Baumgartner is a senior in Berkeley College.



  • y10

    come on — spencer s — totally worth hanging out as a non-boyfriend.

  • ??

    This was incredibly incoherent.

  • here, here

    If you like this article, you should read the one that just came out in Women’s Health…

  • advice to alice

    you still seem very confused about your decision, but relax: maybe the terms you are using to talk about it have grown bankrupt.

  • BR 10

    #1 inadvertently brings up a good point. Did this ex of yours know you were going to write about him? Because Yale is a smaller community than you might think, and I was easily able to recognize who you were talking about, without knowing you two had a history, just from having had class with him soph. year. We’d feel less like accidental voyeurs if we knew that he was cool with your writing about this personal experience.

    Also, I’m not sure what we’re supposed to get out of the article other than that, “Hey, sometimes if you’re assertive, you can make good things happen!” Because that’s sort of a tired line, and far too much of the article is taken up by the fairly boring details of your relationship/fling with your ex. It never quite becomes clear why you think reading about this experience is going to leave us with anything new, worth pondering, etc.

  • Steve S

    I loved your article about empowering the self to communicate effectively. If only more people were willing to talk these things over!

  • Kathryn O

    As always, Baumgartner pulls off an ace. Well done.

  • Yale 08

    Great–and coherent–article. Especially the dinosaur anecdote.

  • great!

    Sterling piece of writing! The transition part needed some attention, but the architecture of the piece is classic. Great opening salvo.

  • indignant man

    its inappropriate to use someone like this for an op-ed. publishing intimate details for the sake of YDN popularity is a new low

  • Hieronymus

    What I find great about this article is its honesty. No, not about the author’s love life (I could scarce care less), but about a significant–and manageable–issue faced by women.

    Men, for example, are castigated by proxy for the so-called “Gender Wage Gap.” Why are not women held more accountable? Want “mo’ money?” Ask!

    Don’t like the way a date is going? Take…. take… hmm… what’s that word? Oh, oh yeah: take

    (I can hear it now: “HAAAAATE Speech!”)

    Soooo…. lemme get this straight: you RECOGNIZE the problem but just can’t implement the obvious solution (in this case: “just ask”)?

    Um… the problem is not with the other party…

  • Hieronymus

    Who said it and when? And how does it apply here?

    “The free market, by enabling people to compete openly, is the most effective device that has ever been invented for making people pay for their prejudices [ed. note, or their relative weaknesses, as in, say, silence or accommodation], and thus for making it costly for them to exercise it. What you do when you impose equal pay for equal work law, is that you make the expression of prejudice costless, and as a result you harm the people you intend to help.”

    Anyone? Anyone?

    Milton…? Milton…? Friedman.

    Nineteen… Nineteen…


    Nineteen seventy-eight.

  • Egalitarian

    I agree with most of what Hieronymous said. There are certainly cases in which pay discrimination does occur, and to achieve justice in those cases we need legislation like the Fair Pay Restoration Act (a.k.a. the Ledbetter Act). However, it’s absurd to think that every case in which a woman is paid less than she thinks she deserves is a case of pay discrimination or to think that anyone born male must bear responsibility for pay discrimination.

    Also, one of my colleagues is getting a five-figure scholarship that I’m not even allowed to apply for because I’m male. I don’t get a penny beyond what I earn from part-time jobs. How isn’t that pay discrimination? Yet somehow no one would dare question whether such a scholarship program is ethical.

    Also, with regard to the statistic that the author cites with regard to how much men vs. women negotiate, all that says is that the average man negotiates more than the average woman. It says nothing about how much any particular person of either gender negotiates. If it is in fact true that this is the cause of the gender gap in pay, then a man who happens to be a bad negotiator will be penalized just as much as a woman who is a bad negotiator. Part of the problem with affirmative action and the attitude of the liberal elite in general is that they assume that one’s life experiences can be measured precisely through demographic classifications. In reality, it’s not quite so simple.

  • Presca


  • hm

    i feel bad for your ex boyfriend. he’s probably cringing after reading way too much about himself in the ydn.

  • Y’11

    I loved the article, Alice. Simple point, but one that needs to be made from time to time.

  • Yale Man

    I don’t think that negotiating higher pay falls into the same line of argument as negotiating through a romantic relationship. The logical disconnect here is blatant.

  • Ask and Tell


    Um… why not?

    Silence = Death, right?

    Not asking a boy to stop kissing you leaves on disempowered and perhaps experiencing regret.

    Finding out a male colleague has negotiated (by asking) a better raise than YOU did can lead to… a feeling of disempowerment and regret. It’s all pieces of the same whole.

  • BM at Yale

    Congrats to Alice! Great article and great guy. The men have not mentioned to Alice that at least in affairs of the heart, it isn’t always so easy to ask, even if they seem to be able to do it with more frequency.
    Alice is right about women in the business world. Times are changing, albeit slowly. Stories like this one help move the ‘speak up’ process along.

  • FailBoat

    Everything in life is “pieces of the same whole”.

    It’s still a logical disconnect.

  • Y’06

    Well, did you get up the courage to ask… if you could air intimate details of your ex’s private life publicly?

  • Yale 2010

    To all those who commented regarding the privacy of said boy. Do you all really think that Alice did not ask his permission before writing this article. FYI She did.

  • Remember Capote

    To Yale 2010 @#22:

    All this anonymity in the comments!

    For YOUR information, yes, we did think she wrote it w/o asking his permission. That’s what writers do. That’s why they’re constantly losing friends. I know. I’m a writer.

    And who are you? Her spokesperson?

    What, she can’t speak for herself?