“But, here's the thing, how do you say no to a second date?” Amelia asks, her bubbly voice lowering considerably.
“Gracefully and quickly,” I respond, which is, of course, easier said than done.
We're having sushi on the West Side, a three-hour affair that somehow Angelenos manage no matter what the economy looks like.
I find it increasingly disturbing that in such an anything goes culture where it's perfectly fine for a woman to go to bed with someone on a first date, or skip the dinner and movie altogether, we seem to have completely forgotten how to decline. It's tempting to say that the problem is that in a licentious post-Sex and the City culture, rife with porn and the ever-constant bombardment of sex in advertising, there is no such thing as no, but that would overlook the freedom we have to say yes if we so please.
I like to think there is a middle ground, one that enables us to exist in a world of yes without having to acquiesce if we don't wish to further engage a man.
It starts with some psychological upkeep. First and foremost, we have to stop thinking of this as a world of yes and view it as a world of choice. You can choose to date anyone you like, at whatever hour, sleep with him whenever you like if you so choose, and end things if they're not working out. With this freedom of choice, of course, comes responsibility.
Congratulations, you're in charge of your life and responsible for how you spend your time and how you feel the morning after. Not only that, but you're also partially responsible for how dates and potential dates feel, as well.
Of course, this works both ways. Your dates and potential dates are also partially responsible for how you feel and if it appears that they're giving you no consideration, it's your responsibility to take care of you and withdraw from that situation. This is what being in control is all about.
Before we get too deep into that, you should do a quick personal inventory of your boundaries. This needn't be thorough: If in the process of dating around, you encounter a boundary you didn't realize existed, your gut will let you know. What establishing a few boundaries in the beginning does is help guide your behavior so you can show by doing.
For example, I dislike receiving calls or text messages after 10:00 PM from anyone who is not a very, very dear friend. Having established this boundary, I never respond to text messages or pick up the phone if it's another party after 10. The next morning, when I do respond, I apologize for the delay and let the person know I don't take calls or answer texts after 10 o'clock. I don't explain why, I simply state that this is my preference.
People who cannot respect this boundary and continue to phone or text, or who demand explanations with which to argue, are not people with whom I continue communications. Respect is important, both in mates and acquaintances. Having control of your life means not allowing those who disrespect your boundaries to retain a position where they can do so.THE DATE THAT TAUGHT ME
There was a one-week period shortly after I was divorced during which I accepted dates indiscriminately. I thought I was being hyper-discriminating and was short-changing myself of opportunities to meet men who may be very well-suited simply because we'd gotten off on the wrong foot.
One of the three dates I accepted during this time came to me via Facebook. Now, I have no boundaries when it comes to what medium somebody uses when asking me out, though I do consider the wording used when the medium requires writing. I'm a writer. A well-crafted message is important to me.
But I was being egalitarian, so I accepted the man's (let's call him Rob) request to see me when he returned to Los Angeles that week. His response was immediate, which is essential, only, it wasn't at all what I expected.
He said he lived in Venice, and how about meeting at the Cabo Cantina?
With one message, he'd slammed into three boundaries. First, if he's requesting my company, he really ought to be asking where I live so I'm not inconvenienced by having to drive across town. Secondly -- though without knowing him well, I'd never like a man to know where I live -- he really ought to have asked whether he could pick me up. Lastly, any man who thinks a hole-in-the-wall, booze-by-the-bucket locale is a proper place to have a first date is … not someone I'd ever date.
But I was hell-bent on being an equal opportunity dater, so I playfully responded that his suggestion was deeply entertaining and I would see him that Wednesday at 9PM at the BondST Lounge in Beverly Hills.
We arrived at the same time. Unaware of his budget limitations (especially since I'd picked the location), I ordered a single coffee.
Rob was smart. But he seemed deeply preoccupied with the fact that I wrote about sex. Of course, it was clear he'd never actually read anything I had written. The conversation was endless, replete with awkwardly-employed SAT words. I gave him kudos for trying, but by the end of the second hour, I told him I had to go.
“I have a conference call,” I said, trying to spare his feelings.
“At 11:00 PM?” he asked.
“With Shanghai.” Thank God for my knowledge of time zones.
When the $21 tab arrived, he freaked out about how much he was paying for a single drink, prompting the waiter to look at a deeply mortified me, then inquire if my date didn't intend to pay for my coffee.
I almost paid the tab, but there's another boundary – if you invite, you should pay. If another suggestion is made after you bring up a place, you should check out the location before agreeing. If the place is above budget, offer a compromise!
In his defense, he did offer to drive me home, and when I declined, he walked me to my cab.
The entire thing could have been avoided if I had accepted that Rob was just not my type, which I knew from the get-go. But if I hadn't done my little experiment in egalitarian dating, I wouldn't know that this whole thing about “types” is actually a really good filter. Men aren't dresses to be “tried” on. They're people. Most of the time, our guts are pretty good at letting us know who has a chance and who doesn't. Leading people on is not fair to them. If the roles were inverted, and their behavior would prompt us and our girlfriends to call them all manner of horrible names over cocktails, don't do it. It's the golden rule, plus happy hour margaritas.THE AFTERMATH
I thought it was pretty clear to everyone involved that despite having an interesting conversation over a drink, that this would be my first and last date with Rob. The next morning, I was surprised to find that he'd sent me a thoughtful note, at the end of which he requested to see me again.
This is where most people opt to not respond and let silence speak for them. I love negative space myself, but if I've learned anything from dating after my divorce, it's that emotions have no design aesthetic. Besides, who hasn't been gripped in the anxiety-inducing cruelty of a fadeaway? There is nothing courteous about it. It's not about sparing feelings, it's cowardice. I refuse.
I wrote Rob back and told him that while I was immensely flattered, we didn't seem to have the same kind of transcendence (a phrase I stole from our conversation the previous night). It was brief, honest, and personalized.
He took it with grace. Granted, a few months later he asked – in the middle of a brunch among friends – whether I had my nails painted red so no one could see the blood after I castrated a man. I behaved with as much decorum as possible given the comment. He apologized some time later.
Such situations leave me nostalgic for eras long gone, when Jackie O would decline an invitation by purring, “I'm flattered, but that won't be possible,” without being pressed for an explanation. Or when Amy Vanderbilt took her napkin from her lap, placed it on the table, to the left of her plate, and her suitor instinctively knew she was ready to be taken home. Or when men didn't make any untoward comments to women – even offered a greeting! – unless they were addressed first.
I don't think it's hopeless. We may all be confronted with uncomfortable, awkward or outright rude responses after we decline a date, but if we're to do away with the dreaded fadeaway and begin imposing some kind of order, we need to start facing these reactions and frowning upon them openly.
Courtesy is the name of the game. Be as courteous as you can when turning someone down – but don't lie. And don't fade away. Be prompt, direct, concise and kind. If you're met with a discourteous response, let the person know the comment is inappropriate, and try to remind yourself that they're acting out of hurt. Rejection isn't easy. Anyone that has dated for any amount of time knows this.
So, how does one handle saying no?
“I’m incredibly flattered, but no, thank you.”
If the person asking takes this to mean that you're not happy with the place or time suggested and presses, “Maybe some other time?” be firm, not cruel: “You're really very thoughtful, but no, thank you.”
Watch those hidden promises – responding with a vague, “I'm busy this week,” or “I'm not dating right now,” may suggest that you may be available to accept at a later time. Save yourself and the guy the trouble and just say no then and there.
The whole friends thing – you know what I'm talking about, that thing about dating “ruining your friendship” – it's not true 99.9 percent of the time and you know it. Don't do it. First, it gives the impression there may still be a chance to date at some point. Secondly, friendship is a great privilege, not a consolation prize. No matter what Facebook may have told you, friendship is serious business. It’s a whole different set of commitments than a relationship – are you willing to take calls from this person in the middle of the night because they’re having a post-adolescent existential crisis? Help them move out of their apartment in a single afternoon? Let them crash at your place because they’re too drunk to get home? You couldn’t even say yes to dinner! Give me a break!
Some people say that concretes help us better deal with rejection, but I don’t find this is necessary with a relationship that has not yet formed. A girlfriend of mine told a man she wasn’t into that she didn’t date non-Catholics as a way of making her rejection more “logical” and was left in a very sticky situation when he replied that he was willing to convert. Awkward! In this case, the less you say, the less chance of a rebuttal a potential suitor has. Say it with me: “No, thank you!”
Remember that no one has the right to cross-examine you. If he needs reasons, it's perfectly acceptable to tell him – gently! – that you're not interested.
Last, but not least, be prompt. Checking your planner shouldn't take more than a few hours. If it's at home and you're at work or on the field (hey, some of us still have paper planners!), let the person know when they may expect your answer and give it at that time. If it's really a question of scheduling, that is. If you're not feeling it, just say no when he asks.
Consideration – it's a two-way path in life. Don't come crying to your girlfriends that a guy was late to pick you up when you took three days to respond to his request that you dine with him. You can't fault a guy for pulling a fadeaway on you when that's also your primary means of ending a relationship. Treat a man with the same respect and dignity that you expect from him.
After all, before you can enforce your boundaries and expectations, you have to make sure that you yourself can live by them.
AV Flox is the editor of Sex and the 405 -- what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.
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