I’m going to confess to you, right here and now, that I have done feminism a grave disservice.
And I’m a repeat offender.
I have used the “I have a boyfriend” excuse to duck, dodge, or deflect unwanted attention. On many occasions.
I said it when I was 100% single. And every time I’ve said those words to someone I know I just really wasn’t interested in, I’ve felt a hiccup of self-loathing, and had the unsettling sense that I was trying to hide behind my high school boyfriend’s Varsity jacket.
And that’s because telling a guy you aren’t interested in him because you’re “taken,” whether you really are or not, undermines your respect and self worth. Using an excuse (“I can’t”) in place of my opinion (“Not interested”) is triggered by a lousy premise: That “he” is the only thing keeping me from flying into the arms of any man who will take me. Every time you and I rely on this cultural crutch, we vote against ourselves, again and again.
The thing I hate most about the boyfriend line is that it works.
But at what price?
When you lie about having a partner to turn someone down, you’re basically saying that any man’s claim on you is more powerful than your own, even if the man does not exist.
(And no, it’s not quite the same as saying “I have a work thing” when you don’t want to go to another thing. White lies have their place and don’t get me started on that.)
By the way, it’s not that your boyfriend isn’t enough of a reason not to run off with someone else. Of course, if he exists and your commitment is real, you will show that bond respect—but that’s your business and your choice. Let’s not pretend that people haven’t fallen in love with other people regardless of their relationship status.
In fact, the only time it is ok to use your boyfriend as an excuse is when you literally WOULD love to get to know said guy better, but have to pass because you are in a committed thing. But even then it’s not blaming the boyfriend, but owning up to your decision to opt for your current relationship over this new potential. The difference is between honoring your commitment and apologizing for not being available. And there is a difference.
Look, I get it. You, like me, have been taught to adhere to that genderized Hippocratic Oath from a very young age: “First, do no harm.” And the second unwritten rule, which is “Always be liked.” That one’s got a bigger grip on you than you realize. Because even if you don’t want to date this guy, you don’t want him not to like you (admit it).
It’s worth adding that our collective memory is strong, and resisting men hasn’t really worked out so great for us, pretty much throughout all of human history. And there’s still plenty of reason to fear. (Do we need to revisit the horrendous stabbing of a Connecticut student when she turned down a prom invitation?)
But if you want to be taken seriously and want your choices to be respected, you need to start owning them, instead of excusing them. A rebuffed man may very well accuse you of being: a bitch, a lesbian, a bitter old spinster. And sometimes, in the case of a drunk old crazy guy, if a lie would save your life, ok fine. I’m just asking you to think twice before you blame (or credit) other people, man or woman, for your own choices. Because if you don’t own them, who will?