Amid the buzz about that NYC street harassment video, a small chorus of voices has gone up proclaiming that young women today just don’t know how to graciously turn a man down.
This is a story about turning down a man. Graciously.
Once upon a time, I lived in Brooklyn and occasionally went on dates with guys I found on OKCupid. In a depressed and likely alcohol-motivated attempt at getting over a minor sexual rejection, I accepted a date with a fellow I didn’t find especially interesting. He hadn’t written much about himself up on his profile and wasn’t attractive by my own weird tastes. (Ponytails are a turnoff, as are Duck Dynasty beards.)
Still, I appreciated his straight forward approach (“Hey, wanna go on a date?”) and optimistically thought that in person, he might actually turn out to be funny or smart or charming or a good conversationalist.
Plus, I didn’t have anything else to do that Friday night besides maybe work on my thesis paper and likely drink too much. (Always with the drinking too much, I know.)
I met him at some craft beer bar in Williamsburg, a venue he chose even though he soon revealed he didn’t really even like beer. His name was Lear, he studied patent law, and he actually still had that ponytail. I made the mistake of giving him my phone number early into the date. Before he made some unfunny jokes about patent law, before he declined a second or third round, and before he pulled me across the table to kiss me.
More beer will never make a man more interesting, but eternal optimist that I am, I refused to give up hope.
At some point in the evening, he looked me in the eye and said, “I like your character. You’re a real no-bullshit type” and then invited me back to his place. And being that it was Friday night and I had nothing better to do, I initially accepted.
But as the alcohol wore off on our five-minute walk to the L train, I learned a few important things: His “place” was actually his parents’ basement in Sheepshead Bay, and getting there was going to mean a minimum hour-and-a-half commute that included two bus connections.
I was already sobering up and fast realizing I was repulsed less by the thought of actually fucking him than I was by the prospect of having to talk to him on the ride home. I had to pull the trigger soon.
As we descended the stairs to the L train platform, I looked at him and said, “You know, I think this actually isn’t such a good idea for me, emotionally speaking. I’m in kind of a weird place and just… Well, I’ll call you in a couple weeks if I want another date. Best of luck to you.”
He seemed to understand. We hugged and he pecked me on the cheek and both L trains pulled up simultaneously, and we floated off in separate directions.
I’d almost forgotten entirely about Lear when he texted me a couple weeks later. I was at my parents’ house in Connecticut, working on a film project for school, and while my cameraman and I were dumping footage onto a hard drive, he was writing me an opus of a text message.
“Hi Frances I hope you’ve been good* these days. I wanted to follow up with you because I hadn’t heard from you in a few weeks. I hope everything is okay. Anyway, I know we had an emotional roller coaster of a ride that night, but I was hoping I could see you again for another date. I miss your smile, I miss your character. You don’t have to do anything, and I don’t want to pressure you into doing anything, but I just want to see you again, okay? Let me know.”
Clearly he’d put some thought into this, so I reasoned that I should, too. As I began composing my reply, I received another text from Lear: “An answer would be nice.” I double-checked the time stamp on his first message: 20 minutes ago.
A little annoyed, I nevertheless continued along the high road.
“Hi Lear! It’s good to hear from you! I hope you’ve been well. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner! I’ve been in Connecticut working on my thesis, and I left my phone in the other room. Anyway, I appreciate your offer, but I think I’m going to decline a second date. It’s really not anything you did or said, but I’m just not feeling a connection and I don’t want to lead you on. Best of luck to you!”
I ticked off the boxes in my head: Polite, articulate, honest. Who would have a problem with that?
Lear immediately texted me back: “Go to hell.”
I decided to let him have the last word, since I imagine hell to be something akin to a 3 transfer ride to Sheepshead Bay.
*Turnoffs also include incorrect usage of “good” versus “well.”