I always feel bad when I reject guys. I worry that I’m hurting their feelings or committing some sort of Cardinal sin that only applies to women. Men give attention to women, women respond with affection and sex and sandwiches and stuff; that’s the way of the world.
I was taught this growing up. No one explicitly said, “Hey, every time a man asks for your number you must offer him your hand in marriage and bear his children,” but it was implied. The conservative evangelical tradition that I was raised in taught women to look at themselves like pieces of fruit on a tree, hanging and ripening while men strolled by, trying to choose the purest and sweetest specimens. The most eligible, most holy dudes were, like, climbing to the top of the tree trying to get the best apples and pears. I was definitely low-hanging fruit.
As a lady/piece-of-fruit, you really don’t do much. You just sit there and wait to see who picks you. Unlike an actual apple, you don’t have to let whoever picks you up just chomp right in. You can tell them, “Hey, I’m not really into you,” or, “Hey, you’re not holy enough.” But, the people around you question why the match didn’t work out. You’re a man and a woman, and you’re both members of the same church and/or youth group? Why aren’t you binding yourselves together in matrimony and procreating!? In conservative Christian circles (or I guess the conservative circles of any religion) this problem is particularly pronounced, because your dating pool is restricted to the Christians in your immediate vicinity, and you don’t count as a Christian if you just go to church with your grandma on Christmas and Easter.
So, my role in the world was to wait until I received attention and then decide whether I would reciprocate or not. That was hard, because I had no control over who would give me attention. While I hung on my tree, I spied men who were handsome, men who were funny, men who were talented, but none of them spied me. They were gravitating towards women who were: pretty, fashionable, well-adjusted, and confident. I was, and still am; unattractive, awkward, anxious, and sad.
Aggravating my craziness and unattractiveness is the fact that I also don’t try very hard at meeting potential romantic/sexual partners. I try hard at: getting good grades in school, nurturing and educating children, reading books, writing essays, getting to therapy on time, not overdrawing my bank account, showering regularly. I don’t try hard at: cooking, responding to voicemails in a timely manner, answering emails in a timely manner, applying to grad school, practicing piano, learning guitar, actually attending exercise classes that I have enrolled in and paid for. I want to slam dunk all of these things, but because I suck, I run out of energy halfway through the list.
So, I have to put the most urgent things at the front of the list and pray that I accomplish enough stuff before my brain and body shut down for the day, and I collapse into bed and numbly plumb YouTube for some easy to process comfort and entertainment as I nibble on sea salt pita chips. I’m constantly berating myself to be more awesome and achieve all the things all the time, but, for now, I remain a suboptimal loser.
I try not to complain about my lack of a love life, because I’d be a jerk if I just expected satisfying relationships to fall into my lap with little to no effort. Even sane, beautiful, white people with full-time jobs and great salaries find it difficult to navigate the dating pool, or so I hear. So I just keep my mouth shut, my desires buried, and my head down. I find some soft-core porn and erotic reading, toss it into the yawning hole inside me, and keep right on rollin’.
Problems arise when this pitiful routine is interrupted by some dude trying to bark up my tree. The mantra of the ugly awkward girl has been drilled into my head: beggars can’t be choosers. So my first instinct is always to reciprocate in kind. I don’t want to turn away my potential future soulmate.
Maybe that guy calling me “shawty” in Aldi is really kind and loyal underneath his douchey exterior. Maybe the guy who only wants me for a quick fuck will change his mind and decide to enter into a loving relationship with me. Maybe if I do it enough times, kissing a guy who I’m not physically attracted to will magically make him physically attractive.
In the past, my self-esteem was so abysmally low that I actually would respond favorably to anyone who displayed even the tiniest amount of interest no matter sketchy they seemed.
While I was waiting tables in high school, a dude asked for my number. I eagerly gave it to him, and began wondering if he could be my Prince Charming. Yeah, this complete stranger approached you at your diner job, after 10pm and asked for your number with absolutely no precursor, but yeah, you’re totally on the path to a happily ever after, you silly goose.
Then when this eligible young bachelor called me, I spent an awkward five minutes on the phone with this dude, hoping that he actually wanted to know about my personality, believing that the inner light of my kindness and purity had shone out to him at 11pm in a Steak ‘n Shake right off the highway. You poor deluded girl.
I once gave my number to some rando who approached me in a Barnes & Noble. He rewarded my hopefulness with some shirtless selfies taken in the mirror of a restroom that I think was public. Thirst traps they were not.
I even went on a date where the guy showed up in sweatpants-the 90s gym class kind. I actually voluntarily accompanied this man to his apartment, was genuinely surprised when I realized that all he wanted was to make out on his futon, and was a little shocked and hurt when he never called me again. It’s pathetic, I know.
Finally, after this parade of utter failures, I realized that I had to have some level of standards. I stopped giving out my phone number to every random guy who asked. I started rebuffing attention that I didn’t want. I felt like I was breaking some sort of rule. I felt like I was doing the wrong thing. Who was I to reject people, especially when I had absolutely nothing going on in the romance department? Didn’t that make me mean? Wasn’t I hurting people’s feelings?
The building I live in now has a basement apartment. I live on the first floor and have observed a few tenants come and go. We’re close to a university, so it’s usually med students who need a short lease during a particular rotation. The last guy who lived there was, unlike me, attractive, but, like me, brown. A handsome, brown doctor, who’s right down the stairs? Yes, please!
We exchanged initial greetings in the hallway, and it seemed to go well. He had smiled. I had smiled. We had both laughed. I figured I had nothing to lose, so after a couple of days I left a note on his door with my number, inviting him to call or text if he ever wanted to hang out. I got absolutely nothing, radio silence. He rejected me. I only saw him one more time before he moved out, and it was awkward and short. In my mind, he was avoiding me, because he was worried I was obsessed with him. I got rejected.
A few months ago, I called a Lyft to take me to a babysitting job. My driver was funny and attractive. We had a pleasant conversation during the ride, and in the ride feedback (which I usually don’t even fill out) I left him my number. Again, radio silence. He didn’t even text to tell me that he’s spoken for already. I just threw my desires and hopes out into space, and they were sucked into a black hole. I got rejected.
I’ve been rejected in other situations, too: on dance floors at college frat parties, at a grocery store where I used to work, over email. Each time it sucked. Each time it hurt. Each time it told me that I’m undesirable. And, each time I survived. It’s going to happen again, and I will survive again. I will move on, and read some more erotica until I rebuild my self-confidence enough to try again.
I expect myself to know that just because I feel and express attraction towards another person, they are not at all obligated to reciprocate my feelings. It is their absolute right to reject me for any reason, and move on with their lives without providing any explanation. So, if I expect myself to obey these rules, why don’t I expect the men who invade my space to obey them? That makes no kind of sense at all.
This past Spring I wasn’t working, and I signed myself up for a midday aqua aerobics class. The instructor and I were definitely the only people in that pool under the age of fifty. One day after class, the instructor approached me, and started chatting me up in a way that suggested he wouldn’t mind seeing me without the bikini top. For some reason, though, I just wasn’t feeling it. He wasn’t unattractive, but he wasn’t attractive. He was maybe a bit boring, but it’s hard to judge someone’s personality when the most you hear them say is, “Do another rep!”
That old, familiar voice said, “Give him a chance. What have you got to lose? Maybe he’s secretly hilarious!” I just didn’t want to, though, and I’m done convincing myself to do shit I don’t want to do, unless I’m being paid, and sometimes even if I’m being paid. I abruptly ended the conversation and walked off, and that was the end of it. I rejected him. He didn’t try to talk to me after class again, and I was glad. I don’t owe him anything, and he’ll get over it.
I was taught that I’m not worth very much, and that I need to accept whatever is tossed my way, because good things aren’t meant for me. Maybe really good things aren’t for me. I don’t have much to show for myself right now. But, even though I’m a loser, I don’t have to be a loser in a shitty relationship with someone I’m not attracted to. I’m doing bad all by myself, and I have the right to keep it that way.
You are allowed to say no to things, to reject. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Even if you’re low on the totem pole, you don’t have to take a raw deal. No matter who you are, you’re allowed to set standards, and you’re allowed to want. You’re allowed to say, “This is not what I want, and I would rather go without than accept it.” Even though I’m still ugly, still poor, and still bad at emotions, I’ve discovered this power that I’ve had all along, and, among all of the meh that is life, it feels pretty good.