Feminism

Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”

girls-drinking

I enjoy “going out.” I like dancing, I like music, I like drinking, I like spending time with friends. And I like meeting new people, chatting with them, making friends. I also understand that many people (men and women) go to bars and clubs in hopes of meeting a romantic/sexual partner, and of course, there is nothing wrong with this, in theory.

That’s why, if someone attempts conversation with me, I try not to immediately write them off as a “creep.” I welcome conversation and believe that the more people in my life with whom I can converse, the better off I’ll be. However (as most women know) there sometimes comes a point in a conversation with a man where it becomes necessary to draw the line and indicate that you are in no way, by any means, at all interested in pursuing anything further. There are also times when it is clear that friendly conversation is not in the cards (i.e., those men who substitute grabbing your hips and attempting to “dance” with you for a polite introduction). This is about those times.

If you do a Google search for “how to avoid being hit on at a bar,” you’ll get several articles with “helpful” tips on skirting conversation with men you are not interested in. The majority of these list pretending to have (or actually having) a boyfriend/fiance/husband as the number one method for avoiding creeps (second to “pretending to be a lesbian” or “pretending to be crazy,” a la Jenna Marbles). In response to my complaints about men creeping on me at dance clubs in college, an ex-boyfriend of mine used to get cranky that I refused to whip out this cure-all excuse (one of many reasons he is an ex).

Yes, this may be the easiest and quickest way to get someone to leave you alone, but the problems associated with using this excuse far outweigh the benefits. There is a quotation that I’ve seen floating around Tumblr recently (reblogged by many of my amazing feminist Tumblr-friends) that goes as follows:

Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.

This amazingly puts into one sentence what I have been attempting to explain to ex-boyfriends and friends (male and female) for years, mostly unsuccessfully. The idea that a woman should only be left alone if she is “taken” or “spoken for” (terms that make my brain twitch) completely removes the level of respect that should be expected toward that woman. It completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends. It is basically a real-life example of feminist theory at work–women (along with women’s choices, desires, etc.) being considered supplemental to or secondary to men, be it the man with whom she is interacting or the man to whom she “belongs” (see the theory of Simone de Beauvoir, the story of Adam and Eve, etc.). And the worst part of the whole situation is that we’re doing this to ourselves.

This tactic also brings up the question of the alternative. If the woman in question was boyfriend-free, would she automatically be swooning in the arms of the creep harassing her? Unlikely. So why do we keep using these excuses? We’re not teaching men anything about the consequences of their behavior (i.e. polite, real conversation warrants a response while unwanted come-ons do not). We’re merely taking the easy exit, and, simultaneously, indicating to men that we agree, single girls are “fair game” for harassment.

So what can we do? I think the solution is simple–we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you (and you are not interested–if you are, go for it, girl!), respond with something like this: “I’m not interested.” Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist–”No, I said I’m not interested.”

“Oh, so you have a boyfriend?”

“I said, I’m not interested.”

“So you’re a lesbian, then?”

“Actually, I’m not interested.”

“You seem crazy.”

“Nope, just not interested.”

Et cetera. You could even, if you were feeling particularly outspoken, engage in a bit of debate with the man in question. “Why is it that you think that just because I’m not interested, there must be an excuse? Why is it not an option that I’m simply not looking for a sexual encounter and/or something about the way that you approached me indicated to me that you have very little respect for women and therefore I would never be interested in having a sexual encounter with you regardless of my sexuality or relationship status?” (Or, ya know, switch it up as you see fit.) Questioning them back (if you have the energy) puts you back on an even playing field.

I’m not saying this is easy. I’ve gotten into my fair share of arguments with men during what were supposed to be fun nights out with friends over whether or not I have the “right” to tell them to buzz off, boyfriend notwithstanding. However, there are a few reasons I continue: 1. So that maybe, possibly, the man I’m speaking to, or other men observing the encounter, may learn something about the agency of women, 2. So that maybe, possibly I might be inspiring other women observing to do the same so that one day, we can be a huge kickass collective of ladies standing up for our right to go crazy on the dance floor without being hassled, and 3. So that I can go home that night, sweaty and tired and happy, and know that I gave myself all the respect that I deserve.

Alecia is a logophile and a library bandit wanted in several states. In addition to feminist rants, she also writes essays, short stories, bad poetry, recipes and very detailed to-do lists. She currently resides in a little blue cabin in Woodstock with one fiance, one Dachshund and one pleasantly plump cat. Find her tweeting @alecialynn.

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321 thoughts on “Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”

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  2. I think it’s interesting that so many of the comments here are focused on protecting a man’s feelings and not hurting his ego so that he can confidently go and hit on more women in the future. First of all, I rarely hear arguments about how men should protect women’s feelings at all costs, even if it means lying. Also, this perpetuates the idea that a good respectable woman will be a ‘polite’ and ‘pleasant’ woman, which is a really problematic pressure put on women. If a woman simply wants to state her mind the way men do, then she’s seen as “frigid” or a “bitch.” I think it’s high time that a woman be able to say no and not have to worry about being seen as polite about it if she doesn’t want to be. Finally, the most problematic thing about telling a woman to say “I have a boyfriend” rather than “no” is that it encourages our culture to continue thinking that a woman saying no actually means yes. And if she says no, you should keep pursuing her because she doesn’t mean it. I think it’s high time we start practicing saying it and making people recognize that we mean it, rather than cushioning it or making polite excuses for being uninterested in unwanted sexual advances. I say no firmly to plenty of men in public, and I often find that I’m in a situation that is threatening and even a bit scary. I don’t think I should have to be cushioning someone’s feelings who’s making me feel that uncomfortable in the first place.

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  5. Hey Alecia! you make so much sense! I completely agree with you. Using a “boyfriend” as a shield is not only lame, it is also sending the wrong message to everyone. Saying you have a boyfriend/husband is not the only way to be polite to others. We need to start being assertive.

  6. If a woman isn’t interested in a man, a line like ‘I have a boyfriend’ cushions the blow a little bit, or giving out a phone number but never answering it. While I’m not in favor of dishonesty, there is something to be said to about not crushing a guy as he is out on a limb.
    Nice write up though.

  7. One reason women use that excuse is they believe it will be perceived as less of a rejection, therefor less likely to result in unwanted persistence on the part of the suitor. Implicitly, the woman is saying “I’m not rejecting you individually, I’m rejecting all men I’m not already attached to, categorically.” Most of the essay seems right to me, but by assuming it’s always about man-code rather than de-personalization, I think you over-simplify and weaken your point by over-stating it.

    • correct with your assessment. this young woman needs to live a bit more and over-analyze a bit less. waaaay green in the real ways of the world after reading a few of her articles.

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  9. This is such an interesting topic. There are a couple of things that have stuck me when reading this discussion.

    Firstly, what actually is a ‘creep’? I find this a loaded and sexist term. Stereotyping males into a category undermines the author’s point about the fact she doesn’t want to be stereotyped as a sex object herself.

    Secondly, I think the ‘club/bar context’ is important too. There is an amazing gender dynamic in this type of environment, of which the issue of men approaching women is just one part of. For example the culture of men buying drinks- is this a debt that must be repaid in other ways? I have a friend who categorically refuses to accept drinks of men because it goes against her principles. I don’t think ‘equality’ means that men and women necessarily have to have the same role, as Lindsay said; men and women are different. I think the key point here is that the roles are respected: Difference doesn’t equate to inequality. I don’t think you can umbrella what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior for either sex, it’s an individual’s interpretation. And as seen from the vast array of comments on this blog it’s up for negotiation. I think the most important thing is to behave in the way that allows you to respect yourself. I don’t think this is a one-fits-all kind of model.

  10. Just an additional point: if a lesbian woman gets hit on and tells someone she’s “taken”, there’s no sexism/connotation there, obviously. I don’t think it’s fair to label a heterosexual relationship as sexism when this “excuse” can be used in every relationship. To me, it’s a matter of respecting your partnership (by acknowledging that you’re in a relationship/have a partner). I’d be a little offended if my partner said they weren’t interested in someone, instead of saying that they already had someone (me). However, I would still respect their reasons for doing so (in the author’s example, upholding her beliefs so that she can keep respecting herself).

  11. I’m on the fence about this one too. If a guy hits on me and I actually do have a boyfriend, I’ll tell him because like many commenters pointed out, it prevents it from getting personal or from the guy’s confidence getting literally shot down: it’s hard to ask someone out (I know because I’ve done it). It can also be a safety/fun factor: not every guy will handle blatant rejection well and as the author pointed out, getting into an unnecessary debate (or worse) can ruin your evening.

    That being said, if I don’t have a boyfriend I won’t tell someone I do: I will do exactly as the author said and say I’m not interested.

    I prefer to be decent and honest: sexism hardly comes into play for me. I don’t really buy into the whole feminism thing anyway: we are different and not equal in every way. Rather than looking for and fighting against sexism everywhere, I prefer tit for tat (pun-intentional): you take some and lose some.

    • When you say you don’t “really buy into the whole feminism thing anyway” and that we are “different and not equal in every way,” I can’t help but say: you’re right in one way. We are different! However, Feminism isn’t asking you “buy” anything–nothing that isn’t as decent as the decency for which you are suggesting. Feminism’s most basic and honest description is: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Men and women are different (much of this is due to social conditioning, but for the sake of the argument, totally, yes), but are they inherently not equal? I’m pretty sure that is as bad as saying one race isn’t equal to another. They are. They are equal. Wanting equality isn’t “buying into” anything. It’s being a decent human being–because at the end of the day, we are human beings with different body parts. We breath, eat and need the same things. We deserve the same things. Anything that tells you otherwise is a broken, archaic and indecent code of living that has been learned and approved-of by fear, misunderstanding and control. Those aren’t good human behaviors. You don’t want to live like that. Feminism is the word we use when we say “we want to be equal.” The reason the word exists is because right now we need it. It does not require much more understanding that that. So, maybe you do “buy into” being decent. I can’t imagine you would not. On purpose. As you are, what seems to be, a smart, open-minded person who likes to take part in dialogue. No?

      • I was trying to write a long well written response but i’m going to do an experiment instead.

        What Linsay is trying to say is that Feminists are known to stand strongly by their values and have a very black and white view of people who don’t agree with them. She doesn’t see herself as one but she still thinks that everyone should be treated equally. This “Black and White” attitude is what propels the stereotype of feminists being aggressive and Men hating. See where i’m coming from at all?

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  18. I agree with the sentiment, but I don’t understand at all why you’re addressing this to women at all, as far as what THEY need to do. You’re putting the onus on the woman to change the behavior, when she isn’t the problem to begin with… and women have only adapted this behavior in the first place because so many men take “no” as an invitation to persistence. Instead of telling women to change their behavior, why aren’t we teaching men (and everyone, really) to respect other people’s boundaries and accept a “no” as a complete answer no matter what the circumstances? There seems to be a misconception in the comments that women say “I have a boyfriend” because they DO actually have a boyfriend or they want to spare men’s feelings. That’s often not what it’s about at all. Women say that because it’s the one thing they can say to reliably get the guy to back off; any other rejection is often taken as an invitation to try harder or use a different tactic or get more insistent. This just really bothers me because once again this is being approached as something the woman should be solving.

  19. I look at it this way now, I have had my kids, did the marriage thing, been divorced, and so for me it is not worth it. Not having the procreation issue at hand anymore makes all the BS and hoops to jump through in dating and relationships not worth it. Why put one’s self out there when there is no NEED to? The cost benefit analysis just does not pan out now.

  20. Nice post.

    One of the romantic rejections that I most appreciated was when a woman said, immediately in response to an overture: “I pass”. I said “Got it”. It was actually all pretty light in tone.

    But I will echo what other men have said in other forums: the word “creep” does not mean a whole lot more (as far as I can tell) than “a man that I am not interested in”. Two men make an identical approach: one is hot/interesting/cool, the other is not. The first is not a creep, but the second maybe is? Is that what the word means?

    –T

    • The cool dude is just that, a cool guy. If the second guy is a creep, it’s the, not leaving you alone, hitting on you, pressuring you, just being an all around annoyance and not taking obvious “I’m not interested in you” talk.

  21. A guy weighing in here – I don’t so much see it as a woman not being able to speak for herself as simply a way of letting a guy know he’s wasting his time without hurting his feelings. Saying you have a boyfriend let’s the guy you’re talking to keep the confidence he needs to then go talk to other women (ok, so there’s some guys who are so obnoxious they need to be taken down a notch, but you know what I mean).
    Also, I’m not going to deny that there is a lot of latent sexism in the world, but there are also women out there who look for it in every possible place and this seems to me a case of someone looking too hard for a problem where there isn’t one.

    • Bob, you missed a very key part of her article:
      “There are also times when it is clear that friendly conversation is not in the cards (i.e., those men who substitute grabbing your hips and attempting to “dance” with you for a polite introduction). ”
      She is talking about creeps that are not interested in friendly conversation, but obnoxious grab a$$-ery. She’s not out to hurt anyone’s feelings, but to empower women who are sick of being treated like chattel in bars, by jerks that treat women like chattel. Not the nice guys that engage in friendly conversation.

      • “Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.”

        I’m sorry, but as a man who tries to respect both genders, I find this statement incredibly maddening, and honestly, more than a little sexist. The reason this is “the only thing that can stop someone from hitting on you” is NOT because men only respect another man, but because it’s a statement that lets both people off the hook with no personal implications. Tell the approaching guy (or girl) that you’re spoken for, and you don’t have to make him feel rejected, or like he has to keep swinging for the bleachers.

        It’s the same reason I will tell a charity caller that I only give on-line. Or some people will tell a homeless man asking them for change that they “don’t have any.” Of course they do, but there’s no argument after that. The conversation is over. You could have the long debate about why you won’t give cash to a stranger in the street, or that you think he’ll probably only spend it on alcohol, or you can use the white lie and get on with your life. It’s not perfect, it may not be honorable, but it’s understandable.

        I get that women generally have to deal with unwanted advances more than men do. I also understand the inherent awkward compromise of a social lie, and I admire a commitment to total honesty, but it’s not a problem unique to women, and it’s frustrating to see it presented as such.

        Hell, I’ve played the “girlfriend” card, myself.

  22. As a guy I’m in two minds about this. I can see where you’re coming from but at the same time, you’ve framed the situation in a very specific way and ignored everything that lead up to it. The problem is the social construct that generated this whole “I’m not interested” response in the first place: Guys are expected to make the first move. Until that fact is changed, the scenario of “guy hits on girl, girl decides whether she’s interested” is what we’re stuck with… yet that’s “male privilege”? Guys have to take the risk of rejection all the girl has to do is say yes/no.

    What girls who say “I have a boyfriend” are acknowledging is that it’s actually not easy for a guy to go up and “hit on” (as much as I hate the phrase, it’s become the term for it) a girl. Socially savvy girls realise this, and if the girl says “I’m not interested” the guy will go away thinking “why?”, “am I ugly?”, “am I too fat?”, “is it my hair?”, “was it something I said?”. Believe it or not, we have feelings too! If the guy finally plucks up the courage to go over and talk to a girl he finds attractive and then is dismissed and left wondering why is only going to hurt the guy’s feelings.

    When you said “I’m not interested” the guy hears: “You’re ugly”, “You’re boring”, “You’re a terrible person”, “Nobody would ever be interested in you, why would you even think you had a chance with me?”

    When you say “I have a boyfriend” the guy can go away thinking that the reason he didn’t have a chance was totally beyond his control.

    While some guys are indeed horrible, most of us aren’t. Why would you want to hurt some stranger’s feelings if you don’t have to?

    Which of these is better? You’re chatting to a guy you find attractive but he’s not interested… he can either say “Sorry, I can do better than you” or he tell you he has a girlfriend. Which one would leave you feeling happier? Either way he has to reject you. He can choose to hurt your self-esteem or he can politely infer that you can’t be romantic partners without making you worry about what you did wrong and your own self-worth.

    Of course, most of the time that will *never* happen because the guy initiated the conversation (because he was expected to) and the girl has to assume he’s interested from the start.

    Fix the gender bias earlier in the encounter so the guy isn’t expected to make the first move and the whole “I have a boyfriend” vs “I’m not interested” thing becomes irrelevant.

    The author of this article is deplorable because in her world every guy gets escalated to “creep” status the second he expresses some romantic interest in the girl. (Unless she’s interested in him, then he’s not a creep even if he did/said the exact same thing)

    • Very valid points but I agree with some of her points. A girl shouldnt have to lie to get a guy to stop hitting on her. A simple no or I am not interested should suffice and you should be respectful of her decision (not even going to go into the guys that keep trying once you tell them you have a boyfriend). If you’re self worth is dependent on every stranger you feel an attraction to reciprocating that attraction then you’re in lala land or very insecure. Its reality that not everyone you’re into will be into you. Sometimes the rejection is really not about you lol Something doesnt necessarily need to be wrong with you for someone not to be interested… It could simple be she isnt looking for a hook up and has no interest in a relationship (still have never understood why you have to either want sex or a relationship in some peoples minds… often times it is neither). If you really have confidence you walk away saying to yourself “she doesn’t know what she is missing” and hope your mojo swoons the next one.

      Being interested and expressing that interest is not what makes you a creep. Not listening when a girl is being straight forward and honest and then deciding “she doesn’t know what she wants and I am going to keep trying” is what makes a guy a creep.

      Enabling a persons confidence by lying to them is never the answer and prevents them from dealing with whatever is going on for them to really be confident. Confidence is more so the action of knowing you’re awesome without anyone else’s confirmation. Those that are insecure with an ego to feed are the only ones who “need” this lie.

    • You raised very valuable points in regard to the gender role of men. You’re right, it is unfair that the men are required to take the initiative. As I understand it, what you’re saying is that girls should resign themselves to accepting “male privilege” in order to spare a nice guy’s feelings. You are also stating that this would not be the case if women were equally responsible for “hitting on” the parties that they are interested in. This is not true. We are talking about centuries of gender biases that aren’t going to disappear quickly.

      As a girl, I have gone up to guys and started chatting to them. In turn they have been very put-off by my being forward. The few who have appreciated it have become my friends and have confessed that it is intimidating. Sometimes, I’ve even spoken to guys just cause I’m bored as DD and even then they feel like I’m a creeper. That’s okay, I most likely am a creeper.

      I have a plethora of self-esteem issues, but still most appreciate an honest answer as opposed to an excuse that supposedly sets boundaries. How in the world am I supposed to become socially savvy is if don’t get honest responses.

      Now here’s the other shoe. I have also “hit on” women in a very frank manner to much better success than when I approach guys. The women are much more inclined to make conversation and look past the extra poundage I carry and the social awkwardness with which I conduct myself. I find my rejection with women to be much more honest and much less painful than any rejection from a guy. Most guys try to spare my feelings and end up hurting them more.

      The truth is just this: rejection hurts. I don’t think any guy or girl should have to lie and say that it’s because they are in a relationship. You’re right, it shouldn’t be “male privilege,” but simply “ownership.” The problem is that people are more inclined to back off when the other is unavailable. Sadly, when I say people, it is mostly guys who do so because that is the male mentality (biologically speaking). What the author is trying to say is that it should be enough to say when you’re not interested. I’ve seen a lot of pretty girls accosted and not left alone when they want to be because–I don’t know (I really don’t)–men like the challenge or they can’t handle the rejection. The girls I know who do hit on guys tend to beat feet as quick as they can if the guy’s not interested.

      Nowhere in the article does the author say that all guys who are romantically interested are creeps. The creeps are the ones who persist even after a girl says, “I’m sorry, I’m not interested.”

      What I find deplorable is inability to handle truth and rejection. This article may be biased towards women (and feminism), but still has valid points that are thought through from her own experience. She is not making judgements about all men, but about specific men in her life. You have judged her based on your interpretation of what she’s said. Hmm…

    • Another guy here: man up! I have been rejected several times (and several times scored, beside the point)
      But why should I care about what that INDIVIDUAL thinks about me? Just because she is a woman I should try and analyze why she wasn’t interested, like she speaks for all women?

      Most guys probably would not do that if it was a man. As you can see you may as well see this as something liberating for men. (BTW I do not call myself a feminist in anyway, but for once I agree with a feminist author.)

      Perhaps she wasn’t interested because she is a lesbian. Or because she is not in the mood. Or because some subliminal glance that I gave her. Or because I was too fat? Too skinny? Too buff? Perhaps she was just about to throw up because of all the alcohol she had consumed that night?
      It does not really matter. Why deflate your self worth because of someone you do not even know. In someone who is probably intoxicated anyway.

      And yes, I do understand why women (and men) would find a persistent individual creepy. Some people are turned on by the whole “creep”/dominant thing, but many are not.

    • I have to agree with TZ. Society is full of white lies some parties tell other parties simply to smooth over awkward situations. I can understand the frustration women have getting unwanted attention at bars, but to frame this as an issue of “male privilege” seems disingenuous.

      Is this inherently different from telling a homeless man that you don’t have any change, as opposed to being honest and saying, “I have change, but I’m not giving any to you?” Do you want to open up that conversation, or do you want to just get on with your life?

      Or should we phrase this in terms of “Homeless Privilege?”

  23. What’s with the explanation that men are driven that way because women don’t honestly want to experience the weight of childbirth and all men are that way in order for mankind to continue? The sperm banks look full enough ladies. We can go on with out them. Clear. (And what would they do without us?)

  24. Interesting article that’s has gotten me thinking. Thank you. Here’s a couple of thoughts and personal experience on the subject from a guy’s point of view….

    Tyler, I believe we can at least get a good idea how it might feel in a bar for women, if not the whole twisted relationships and effects of patriarchy…. Personally what I did was go to some outdoor show at a gay festival in Montreal, by myself. After 20 minutes dancing I could spot a good 4-5-6 guys slowly circling towards me, one grabbed my ass and at some point I had a feeling that another was using the crowd as an excuse to get closer to me. (very-very close, japanese subway style!) It definitely changed my perspective on it all. I recommend trying it! (can be a gay bar too obviously)

    As for the main subject of the article, I would tend to believe most girls who told me they had a boyfriend did it just to avoid hurting my feelings, like most commenters I’ve read here, whether they have one or not. That despite the fact that it most probably does come from this idea that a woman is her father’s property until she marries. Still I would also advise against using this “easy way out” Here are a couple of reasons why, I don’t think I’m unique in these.

    1 : Honestly, I find it offensive. I do understand most of them just want to be nice but I mean do I look like I’m that weak emotionally? Or do you think you’re some mythical nymph that’s making guys go nuts and kill themselves or something? (F#%? you)

    2 : It’s not really a reason anymore, for many people at least. Last girl who told me she had a boyfriend did so because we had already slept together and she just wanted to make sure I did not expect to spend the week with her at a festival since her polyamorous boyfriend would be there the next day. OK! Then there are swingers, impotent boyfriends… even revenge?

    3 With that in mind, it can even be counter productive. First of all unless said boyfriend’s in the room or a friend of ours, we don’t give a shit. Also I’ve had some of the best sex in my life with girls who had boyfriends and I know at least a couple of my friends who could say the same… So if in any way a guy feels that this truly is the only reason why there won’t be anything happening. He’ll just take a step back and be less aggressive, but he won’t let go unless he’s actually looking for a girlfriend.. Met one one day at a party, she told me she had a boyfriend but I could feel she wanted me right that moment. She later admitted having said that only so her good friend in the room would not disapprove of her… when said friend left she basically jumped on me. So yeah potentially counter productive.

    I can remember one time where it felt really appropriate to me. The girl was attracted to me and she said so but that she would not act on it despite the “temptation” and my very clear invitation. She then explained she had just started a potentially serious relationship and did not want to risk fucking it up for momentary lust… Fair enough and an actual compliment.

  25. I don’t think I completly agree with that quote. I think a lot of guys will stop hiting on a girl when they say, ”I have a bf,” because they think it’s a wast of time to keep going. Also, especialy if your talking to a nice guy that you actualy would like to pursue, but don’t because you have a bf, then it’s not really that your not intrested in him.

    I totaly agree with the point that if a girl says she’s not intrested (and visa versa) then that should be enough. There is the argument of what if a guy makes bad first impression, and if he keeps pursuing, then she may say yes. But I think that most girls, what ever they are looking for, can usally tell what the guy wants or what he’s genraly like. Either ways, woman can make that decision for themselves.

    • I definitely agree with you Rose, saying ‘I have a boyfriend’ is less about ‘being spoken for’ and more about boundaries. I would expect anyone who is interested in another person (regardless of gender or sexuality) would back off (preferably resorting instead to just friendly discussion etc) due to respect for the relationship and the people involved rather than because they ‘belong’ to someone.

      I also agree that saying ‘I’m not interested’ should be enough for anyone to take the hint.

  26. I understand where you are coming from, but I think its missing the point. When I tell a guy I have a bf rather than “I’m not interested” (which I DO say, especially if a guy is a creep), its to be kind and not hurt his feeling by personally rejecting him. Seriously, that’s why I say it. So its not a case of, sorry, I am not interested in you, personally, I’m rejecting you. Rather its a case of, sorry I am not available (not because I belong to a man, but because you are proposing something I already have, thus I do not want another). To me its like “Can I make you a coffee” “No thanks, I have just had one” – Obviously you could have as many coffees as you want but I have 1 a day so the example works for me. its not that the 1st coffee owns me, but I’ve had 1, Im not interested in another right now. But saying “I’ve had one” makes sense.
    HOWEVER, if a guy is creepy & all over me & doesn’t get the hints, saying “Im not interested” is, I find, the best way to get rid of them. Honestly I find “I have a bf” sometimes does not ward off really creepy guys, when “Im not interested” does.
    Really, I think you have given this WAY too much thought. Generally, in our society, men pursue women (not always, but its kind of the way it goes). This is for many reasons, some cultural and some simply down to biology and how we have evolved (basic instinctual sexual strategies) and, while all women are free to go after the men they want, I think most of us prefer that men are the pursuers (its easier). Given this, its always going to be the case that we have to let men know that we are not interested. How you do that depends on the guy and the situation. I have been involved since I was 18 for almost 10 years, I have had to do it allot and if I meet a very nice guy and the conversation turns to him trying to make a move (usually because he hasn’t picked up all the subtle hints already) I choose to tell him I have a bf (or rather just mention him in a story, which eliminates his humiliation), as a kindness. Because “I’m sorry I am not romantically interested in you” sounds pretty harsh in some cases (imagine he is a friend of a friend and you have to see him again?! Awkward!).

  27. I like to say “Gee, I’m tired. Working out as a black belt in karate and then spending an hour at the shooting range with my trusty Glock has tired me out.”

  28. Tyler please don’t be embarrassed for your gender! I agree with almost all of the points so far but none of the women here are talking about all men, just a grand portion of the ones we happen upon on our nights out. no one deserves to be treated in this way, and with women being coerced into believing they should be more like men to gain their equality and not be themselves in their own right, women are ‘playing the bastards’ as said earlier. but my form of feminism is one that believes that patriarchy is the root from which the oppression of both genders stems. maybe to move forward from the past of women’s oppression and the idea that men, too, have suffered along the way with their own gender roles, we all must understand and listen to each other and respect each other as people. before intimacy we should consider boundaries and friendship, opinions must be respected and listened to, and we should never be afraid to be who we are or feel the way we feel just because someone is ‘let down’ or angry. we don’t have to be aggressive or hurtful in sticking up for ourselves and assertiveness can also be kind! maybe now that we understand what privilege is we can all, as you seem to have done, recognise the privileges we all have in our own diversities and move forward in making up for the past. learning from our oppression, no matter who we are, makes us better people to those we might accidentally be oppressing without even realising, self awareness goes a long way in the philosophy of gender. x

  29. oh i thought we did that because women don’t say they are not interested… that will get someone to leave yo alone fast.. but they dont want to hurt their feeling, or perhaps dont wan the male to not like them….. it called growing up

  30. I like to just tell them I’m a lesbian… Although in experience this can sometimes fuel them further… So this makes it a human privilege although I totes agree with the sentiments of the author.

  31. “Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.”

    To make this statement is both misjudged and irresponsible. From experience, the real reason behind the ‘I have a boyfriend card’ working is that the guy then knows his chances with this girl are negligible. It’s not that he respects men more than women, he just realizes that chatting someone up who is already in a relationship is a waste of time. In the same way, sometimes conversations I have with girls get too heated and I have to tell them I have a girlfriend and that always sorts the issue out. It’s not a sense of respect or disrespect it’s just a declaration of the boundaries. I agree with the principle issue though that if a girl isn’t in a relationship it can be hard for her to get a guy to stop trying if he doesn’t get the hints.

    • The problem is, for some men, this still does not indicate a boundary. I recently was hit on and used the “I have a boyfriend” line, because I do, and the man continued to pursue me and asked if I was happy in my relationship. Clearly just stating you are taken is not enough for some people. Even though I told him I was happy, he told me he knew I wasn’t and could tell and that I deserve to be happy. If I didn’t walk away, I am sure that would go on and on. It is a lack of respect.

    • Exactly! I totally agree… I think its just a mind trip to take that to meaning men respect other men more. Its like, Ok she’s not available, let me not waste my time, I’ll look for someone I like who is- Duh!
      I think its a case of thinking about something WAY too much. Sometimes things really just mean what they do on the surface.

    • Actually, I agree with the quote mostly. Not always true, like anything there are exceptions but from my experience it is. I am genuinely gay and when men have hit on me I have said so in a number of different ways and it has never worked, and has never worked for any of my gay friends. I have tried saying “I’m gay” I’ve tried saying “I have a girlfriend” I’ve tried subtly mentioning my girlfriend in conversation and this is either ignored or actually spurs them on. It is generally met by “I’d love to watch you two together” “I fucking love gay girls” “that’s hot”, invitation to threesome etc. yet when a male friend has pretended to be my boyfriend (and no it doesn’t work any better when my girlfriend is present so it’s not an unfair comparison) or I have tried saying the more gender neutral “i’m with someone/my partner” to see if that works cos quite frankly, I’m sick of having my sexuality sexualised by creeps, they back off right away. So it seems to me, that this is not respect for a relationship but as the author said, respect for men. Because when they back off they always refer to my partner as “he” unless corrected. And if corrected, resume creeping.
      I have used excuses before to avoid hurting feelings but I think if done nicely it is better to just be honest. Good article :)

  32. I completely agree that men should respect your lack of interest, and I *hate* saying “I have a boyfriend” to get men to leave me alone (especially as I’m single, and on more than one occasion have had to invent an imaginary person to talk about in their follow-up questions!) However, it’s not as easy as that. I’ve been in many situations where I felt like my safety was potentially at risk as no matter how many times I said no, the man was insistent. Sometimes “I have a boyfriend” is all you can say when you’re leaving work alone at 4am and groups of men are trying to get you to come to parties with them. I work as a bartender, and my job is a lot easier if the customers think I’m not single. That’s sad and frustrating, but I don’t always feel it’s something I can challenge in situ.

    The starkest example I can think of from my own life is when I once had to spend the night in an airport by myself and found myself approached by a man, more than once, who wanted sex from me. I was frightened and he wouldn’t listen to he fact I wasn’t interested, so I made up a boyfriend and he backed off a bit (not as much as you’d like, but some!) It’s depressing, but sometimes your safety comes first, and if lying about having a boyfriend is what gets rid of a creepy guy who’s making me feel unsafe, that’s what I’ll do.

    • Yeah I hear you! Maybe in some of these cases its more because the really creepy F*#!ers are more deterred by the threat of another man ‘protecting’ you, because when it comes to some of these really slimy guys, I don’t think they care or even can understand lack of interest (As she says above) BUT I don’t think its that they respect your BF (real of not), if they are so creepy. They are just scared of retribution (and maybe the airport guy figured he wouldn’t turn up so didn’t go far?). Either way most men are genuine and have a good heart, its not fair to treat them all like creeps.
      In your case as in many others I recon its just easier to say you have a BF.

    • yes, I hate that. That happends to me too. I had a guy last week that said the “Well where is he now? He’s not here!” I pointed over to where he was and he’s like “well why don’t you go out with all 3 of u (refuring to his friend there also) and then you can chose”. I prob would have been insulted if it wasn’t such as stupid thing to say.
      (his friend who actually seemed lovely looked quite embarased).

  33. Yeah, saying “I have a boyfriend” does sort of put forward this idea that it’s OK for a man to persist in unwanted advances as long as the woman doesn’t have a man who might be a threat to him, but mostly, I think women are just trying to be nice. I mean, we’re attempting to say, “It’s not that you’re a bad person, it’s just that I’m not interested” in a way that won’t hurt his feelings. I know I’d feel less stung if I hit on a man and instead of him saying, “I’m sorry, I’m just not interested in you,” he said, “I’m sorry, I have a girlfriend.” In a way, little lies like this are only being civilized and compassionate. Still, I see what you’re getting at and maybe we can come up with another sensitive way to express disinterest that doesn’t also promote an idea of monogamous proprietorship.

  34. There is no such thing as male privilege, and it does cut both ways. When I was married, there were women who could not get their mind around that this guy pushing heavy, heavy iron, at the Y, was not doing it to impress them, but to be healthy and look good for his wife. I would sometimes get females trying to flirt with me even after I informed them I was another woman’s husband. It would piss me off because I took it as disrespect to my wife. Or else I would get the ones who would say “were not impressed”, response: “I don’t give a damn if you are or not. I am not here to impress you, show off for you, be ogled by you, entertain you, or inflate your ego that you are the center of this male’s universe.” “I do it for three children and ONE woman, and you are NOT that one.” Why do women in general assume that a strait guy universe revolves around their reproductive system?

    • Male privilege is a real thing, I cba to write an essay for you here, but in respect to the gym issue, you could have just said something like ‘uh huh; ok’ etc instead of getting so mad and defensive. Aggressive responses usually indicate that you’re trying to hide something.

      • This was with in my own head, the response that left my mouth was: “So”, but I would take offence after I had made it clear that I was a married man, and it did not faze her. That crosses a line into a slight and flagrant disrespect for my then wife. Male privilege (in this case) is something is something that we will just have to disagree on, but there are areas where women have the privilege: case in point family law. All other things being equal the woman will get primary custody of the kids without the judge even stopping to pause. For the man to get the kids off the bat, the mom would have a crank addict or something on that order. THAT is female privilege. When study after study, from places like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, ect. show that single men (single dads) are just as effective as women at raising children. Back to the issue at hand: why is it expected of the man to approach the woman? Why in the era of female empowerment is the old way still hold of the man having to be the one to make the first move? Go to any strait bar, and it is still the same. You can see guys by themselves; rarely will the woman approach the man if she is even partly sober. It is the man’s job to approach her. Why? Male privilege, in that situation described in the article is a myth, because a guy, like the one described, will not give a damn if she is taken or not. If there is an opening he WILL jump on it like a starving dog on a stake.

      • The disadvantages men face that you have described are the direct result of millennia of female oppression. The reason men are discriminated against in family law is because of this ingrained notion that women are made solely to breed children then stay home and raise them. Feminism believes that a man and woman should be considered equally as potential primary caregivers, and this should extend to the (currently very broken) courtroom.

        As for men *having* to approach women. Again this is down to a stereotype of women that is hard ingrained: we should be delicate flowers who daren’t express any sexuality or even autonomy. A woman who does will often be called a “slut” and invite negative attention (from other women or from men who believe she’s universally “up for it”). There is another factor in this one, and it’s the danger factor. Women are hammered with the risks of rape and assault when they go to bars and there is an established problem with blaming the victims of such attacks – to the point where a victim will be told that she asked for it by even approaching or flirting with a man. Please do bear all of this mind. Obviously it should not be this way, and both men and women should feel free to approach the other respectfully without all these factors running through their heads.

  35. For the awful respondents who don’t seem to see WHY women need to make excuses like “I have a boyfriend”, two personal experiences come to mind immediately (out of at least a dozen, mind you). One involved being followed from the supermarket to my home by a man who did not want to hear “no”, “I’m not interested” and “leave me alone”. The second involved having to RUN full force through the streets of Paris to get away from a man who had followed me onto the métro and who also would not take “no” for an answer.

    Long story short – rejecting a man’s advances can be a dangerous risk. Women cannot predict which men are simply annoying bastards who don’t respect your answer, and which men will do something like smash a bottle into your face – which just happened to someone here in the UK. If, as a man, you want to stop the need for women to use excuses in a rejection situation you can help by a) being as clear as possible that you will respect a woman’s answer either way, and b) calling out other men when you see them behaving as above whenever you feel safe to.

    • Can the women here write down what approaches are good? What should the guy say to ask you out in a decent manner, what kind of body language, distance to stay away so they don’t feel threatening, etc? I see many saying what not to do with continued persistance after no, but what SHOULD they do? Genuinely curious on what women prefer for a guy approaching them, I think it would be quite helpful for men to know what women feel is a safer method that’s less likely to get the woman in fear, and more chance of success I guess.

      • I usually wear a t-shirt with a band, comic book hero or movie when I’m out so a guy starting a conversation about that would be cool. Or asking how I’m doing. I guess most girls would agree. And if the girl or guy is responding with short answers that probably means they’re not interested but conversing is a good sign. Starting a conversation for some time is always good, then maybe gentle body contact on arms and stuff, it’s important to try and catch how they respond to that.

  36. 2 remarks:
    1 – most guys back off when told by a girl she has a boyfriend out of respect for two ppl in a relationship and not out of fear or respect or disrespect for anyone.
    2 – a girl pretending she has a boyfriend after long flirting with a guy conveys one of the following:
    a – she might indeed have a boyfriend, but she is probably under certain circumstances going to cheat on him
    b – she is desperately and obviously using it as an excuse. Any guy out there would recognize this. It is rather a sign of stupidity. Why just not say she is not interested?

    • “Any guy out there would recognize this. It is rather a sign of stupidity. Why just not say she is not interested?”
      I think the point is that the “not interested” part is being ignored. Although if the women are relying on body language alone to convey that then they need to verbalize it since not everyone has the same ideas on body language.

  37. I agree with the feminist idea behind this, but I think feminism, while supporting gender equality, often comes from the perspective of “the equality doesn’t exist and so I am challenging that”. Yes, that approach is often necessary, but I always try to begin in these situations with the assumption that the man I am speaking to does believe in gender quality, and go from there. For me, the boyfriend card is a way of laying boundaries without having to tell someone that you do not consider them attractive (physically, emotionally, what have you) because when you reject someone after first meeting them and you have no other emotional commitments, that is the message they receive (yes, some people are single and find someone attractive yet do not want sex/a relationship, but that’s something that can feel a bit personal to explain to someone you don’t know).

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with telling someone you are not interested in them as a person, but nobody likes hearing it (that goes for women as well). While a lot of women would say “I wish he would be honest and tell me he is just not interested”, at the end of the day, majority of those women could not help but take it at least a little personally if it were to happen to them. Because it is a personal remark, and there is no getting around that.

    I think it’s fine for women to tell someone they are not interested, but when I say I have a boyfriend, it is mainly for the benefit of the other person. Man or woman, I feel bad telling someone I am not interested in them based on their appearance and the couple of minutes of conversation we have had (because no matter how little I feel like dating, if the right person came along I would at least consider them). Keep in mind, some guys aren’t all that confident, and it might have taken a lot for them to summon the courage to approach you (if it was them who approached you). They will take that rejection as a bit of a blow to their self esteem.

    The other benefit to playing the boyfriend card is that it tells you a lot about the person and if they are worth continuing the conversation with. If they leave you alone, fair enough, they were interested in you sexually and that is not something you want to offer them. If they continue the conversation in a pleasant and platonic way, awesome, you have made a new friend. But IF (and this is often the case, unfortunately) they continue to hit on you and ask questions like “well where is your boyfriend then?”, then I can happily tell them to get lost because they have lost my respect. I know you might argue that if someone keeps pursuing you after you say you’re not interested, unfortunately it is a fact that some women do try to play hard to get and make guys work for it. It makes it harder for the rest of us who are more upfront when we are interested in someone, but I don’t blame a guy for respectfully pursuing a girl if his experience has shown that some women like to turn down a guy to begin even if they are interested.

    On one last note, this situation doesn’t just get played out in this way. I have witnessed plenty of times women hitting on men who try to politely reject them, before resorting to the “I have a girlfriend card” and still not being left alone. I have seen straight men try to turn gay women and straight women try to turn gay men. Yes, we live in a society where women are treated as the object, but it’s getting better, and women can play the bastard just as easily as men can.

  38. We’re sorry. Our brians are wired funny. We do think about sex all the time and with nearly every woman we see. Its not entirely our fault and is a mechanism that has evolved so that our species continues on. Its the societal privlidge we get that is the problem. And we can’t see it from a womanss perspective, so stop trying. Humility and compassion will get you a lot further than demanding your privilege be honered. Read the writing on wall so to speak. Because most of the commenters are actually telling you how they would like to be approached and romanced, but instead you dudes decide to be so dense and agressive and fucking embarrassments to my gender. The only thing that breeds that kind of ignorance and confidence is priviledge.

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