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How the Boyfriend Excuse Undermines You

This comes from a quirky tumblr called "My Daguerrotype Boyfriend" Click to view all of its weirdness.

This comes from a quirky tumblr called “My Daguerrotype Boyfriend” Click to view all of its weirdness.

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.)

Listen instead!

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?

Don’t Cry For Me: How Emotional Bait Failed to Save a Second Date

Watching drama movieI cried like a bitch at the end of The Sessions. This was not a single tear or two. This was full-on heaving, both hands to your head and give it up in a snobby, snotty fit.

If you saw the movie, you know why. Because it’s incredibly fucking moving. Because you fall in love the main character, Mark O’Brien, a real person who spent his life in an iron lung. You fall in love with this man, who makes himself vulnerable in ways that few of us can imagine. He shows us you can love, even if you breathe through a straw and dial a phone with a pencil between your teeth.

I sat there sniffling through the credits while my date looked at me puzzled and secretly alarmed.

Where the date went awry

I should preface this by saying that this date, our second, had some awkward false starts. He picked the time, the movie (Silver Linings Playlist), and said he’d get the tickets. I mistakenly assumed he meant “in advance.” Nope.

It was, by the way, Thanksgiving weekend when everyone is dying to get away from their families or at least get them to shut the fuck up for a few hours. And he meets me at the theater five minutes before showtime and of course it’s sold out. So we go to another theater, an independent one, and he says he doesn’t know any of these movies. So I picked the movie, and even ended up buying the tickets (“Cash only please.”). (Addendum: he did pay me back in cash afterwards, which also felt weird and lame.)

“So many obstacles!” he said, sighing. I didn’t point out to him that ordering tickets online and stopping by an ATM on your way to a date was pretty standard, and that it wasn’t as if the world was conspiring against him. I felt a ripple of irritation that he was playing the victim, failing to own up to his simple fuck up. When I politely asked if he had the handy Fandango app on his phone, he said, “Oh, no. I never buy tickets in advance.” Really?

By the time I took my seat I was frustrated yet trying to be on my best behavior. The source of it was simply this: that this date was his idea, and rather than enjoy it, I was producing it.

During the movie, he reached over and took my hand–a gesture that felt oddly out of place, like a line of romantic dialogue in the midst of a car chase scene. Wha? Where was this coming from? It certainly didn’t feel “earned.” And that’s when, somewhere in the judgy parts of my brain, I realized I believed he should have to.

OK, back to the crying…

Cut to me, one hour and 38 minutes later, sobbing through the credits. I let go, gave in to what felt like a pure sensual pleasure, to cry that hard. It felt good, like scratching an itch. That cry made the whole night worthwhile.

But I was also aware of the fact that I was getting emotionally undressed with a man I didn’t know. Granted, I would have cried no matter who I was with. And yet, it was a last-ditch effort, a test of sorts–what would he do? How would he act?

“Oh my God. You’re so cute,” he said. “Do you need a hug?” I nodded wordlessly, and let him squeeze me, which he did, in a way that made me feel I was being constricted rather than connected with. Then I pulled my shit together and we walked out into the biting cold. I’d just had an emotional orgasm, and now I wanted to talk. I tried to engage him in conversation, almost as a way of explaining why I’d been so moved. Thud. I brought up the issue of sexual surrogacy and even why I thought prostitution should be legal. “I never really thought about it,” he said. Thud.

Then he asked me what my plans were for tomorrow, and he said he was going to the gym. Then he stopped off at an ATM and handed me $30 for the tickets. Then he asked if I wanted him to walk me home. It was freezing and he had on a light jacket and no hat. “Nah, I’m good,” I said. “It’s really cold.” He didn’t insist. We said good night.

Emotional bait: the man test

When you’re new to someone, every action, every decision, is emblematic. It all matters, because, really, it’s all you have to go on. I’d given him every chance to be the man–even pulled the damsel-in-distress act where I melt into a puddle of chickness–as real as that puddle was–and he’d fallen short. He was a man who didn’t think ahead, didn’t come prepared, didn’t dress for the cold, and was easily deterred from going out of his way. He called it “laid back.” I call it weak, ineffectual. He found my weepy act endearing, but even there, failed to use it to his advantage.

And let me tell you: I failed, too. Hoping a man will connect with you because you show him some emotional bait doesn’t work. At least, not with a man who shows you he’s unable to do this from the getgo.

A friend of mine couldn’t believe I’d taken the date that far. “The minute that movie was sold out and he didn’t have tickets? I would have said, ‘Maybe next time,’ and left.” I was aghast–and then, envious. Why couldn’t I do that? Because I felt the need to take care of things and make the night work–even when I didn’t want to–but my assumption of that role is part of the problem. It should have been his job, not mine.

Why? Because this is what women want, bottom line: We want a man who can take care of shit. Take care of us–even tough-talking, attitude-wielding bitches like me.

Lest this raise your feminist hackles (“I don’t need a man to take care of me! Blabbity blah!”), let me say this: I’d rather cry in a theater alone than be with a date who doesn’t get me. Any day of the week. But wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to have someone step up to take the reins, to make you feel cared for? I mean, what else do you need men for? I might not have admitted that ten years ago, but I am now. Not because I can’t take care of myself, but precisely because I can.

Part of rethinking my role as a woman in relation to (and not in competition with) the opposite sex is allowing a man to be a man, rather than undermining those efforts as a way to show strength. (Case in point: women who get annoyed if a man holds the door for them. Scratch the cold surface of a woman like that and you’ll find hot, seething rage.)

But that’s also why dating is the challenge that it is–because you must put yourself in situations and find out the hard way (there’s only one way, after all) whether you can get what you need from this person, and vice versa. And sometimes you can’t, and that’s ok. If I could go back to that night, I would have let the date end where he dropped it, and said goodbye. Then I’d scurry around the corner and buy one ticket to The Sessions and cry that deep delicious cry alone.