For civilization to advance, it is of paramount importance that we move towards the elimination of sexism. A huge part of the onus for that sits with men who have a profound responsibility to educate, inform, and correct generations of tragic behavior. I tend to believe that what goes hand-in-hand with this is robust sex education and a generally reduced tolerance for tired and deeply damaging sexism. In life, and especially in dating, I like to ask myself one simple question—is the person I’m interacting with better, the same, or worse off after our interaction?
With this in mind, one of the areas I’ve grown increasingly concerned about in recent years is the hyper aggressive, deceitful, and destructive nature of a lot of what we’ve defined as acceptable flirting behavior. I’ve also come to realize recently that it also negatively impacts my dating behaviors and is one of the root sources of a lot of my frustrations.
In general, I’ve always taken a stricter than normal approach to romantic interactions. Yes, means yes. No means no. End of story. With rare exception, no doesn’t mean try harder try again later try tomorrow wait ten minutes and try again.
The same often applies to the conversations I have had in the lead-up to different types of relationships. Yes means yes, casual means casual, exclusive means exclusive, etc. and with that comes a strong expectation that the individual wants to be there and if, at any point they don’t, they leave. Respect and that level of commitment are fundamental, and it’s why I also have such strong objections and disgust about infidelity and attention/cheating power games caused by deception and ambiguity.
Time and time again I run into two issues: 1) Women assume I’m not interested because after my initial expression of interest I haven’t circled back and pressed more aggressively or repeatedly. There’s some nuance here, but speaking in general terms, it’s often the case. 2) Conversations and reflections on my relationships have demonstrated that often-times my partners assume that when we define or outline the context of a potential relationship, I’m not being completely transparent and stating my intentions. Rather, that I’m just feeding them a line, encouraging them to “win me” to “try harder” or that I’m just playing things cool.
And I get why they think that. Men regularly lie about their professions, about who they are, and about what they do when flirting at bars or parties. People lie about what country they’re from, attempt to fake accents, pretend to be in relationships when they’re not, or pretend to be single when they’re in relationships. At a certain level, the primitive brutality and impish chest-pounding and assertive forcefulness are hardwired into us. From walrus seals to chimpanzees—it’s part of our primal self.
Diving a bit deeper, this is why this matters and frustrates me and why the topic is an area where I want to see women take more responsibility. Particularly, I would love to see a pivot where women acknowledge their responsibility to approach relationships in an open and equitable manner. While it’s flattering to be chased and there’s nothing wrong with flirtation and playful banter, far too often across all cultures, but especially within many romance cultures, yes means yes and no…well….no means no sometimes, try harder other times, and yes but not now others. Which, quite frankly, is absolute bullshit and needs to change.
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Why? Because it fosters and facilitates mixed signals, deception, and enables an abuse and rape culture.
When I raise this frustration, women often jump to justify it. Either highlighting that it’s wonderful and flattering to be chased/a part of the game or that it’s just ingrained in some of the cultures. To the first, tough shit, I don’t care if you run down main street naked and pass out on a park bench, you should be safe from assault, and the simple onus is on men not to assault, rape or abuse.
But, at the same time, yes needs to mean yes and no needs to mean no. This isn’t to say that yes means complete surrender or commitment to the full range of sexual and relational aspects, but it should be discussed that yes means yes, with a caveat of conversation about where things stop and when they continue. I’m not saying yes means yes forever. Not at all. No, also doesn’t have to be permanent, but once you’ve communicated that no? The onus falls on you to explicitly communicate the change.
As far as the second, cultural defense—tough shit. Having sexually predatory or rape-ish behavior as an ingrained part of your culture doesn’t make it any more acceptable than stoning people to death for eloping or premarital contact. The consequences and emotional/physical damage are no less real. The risk is no less significant. The fact that there are cultural norms in place that accept and perpetuate that behavior is tragic and should anger you to the point of wanting to take action, not cause you to jump to its defense.
Why does it matter? The issue with the lack of clear and open consent encourages ambiguity and it makes one of the most basic and fundamental aspects of the relational/sexual dynamic unclear. It’s dangerous, for all parties involved.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen women complain about a guy, then later in the evening kiss him in response to his constant advances. When questioned about the disparity it was often, “Just to make him go away.” In other cases, the banter unfolds with an attempt of some sort. Then the usual cycle ensues. He presses. She says no. He doubles down with a why, or attempts to negotiate. She says no but remains. Fast forward twenty minutes and his persistence has paid off, they’ve left together, and he’s just had all of those bad behaviors confirmed and re-affirmed.
This is, of course, reinforced by social norms. In the U.S. the pressure not to come across as ‘too easy’ and things like the ‘third date rule’ indoctrinate both genders from an early age to adhere to these approaches. But FFS, the world has changed, and it’s time we do too.
Men and women alike can put as much pressure as we want on men to act with respect, but at the end of the day what many of those young men see is actions, and those actions speak far louder than words. The result? The result is that when that no actually means a hard, definitive no—I am not interested, do not touch me—then the two people are no longer speaking the same language. And if that no meant maybe, and that maybe can be twisted or forced into a yes if the consistent advances and poor behavior pan out? The behavior is reinforced and rewarded which is exactly the opposite intention.
Or perhaps that no, intentionally meant maybe, and that maybe led to a yes, which could lead to a relationship. Then you’ve built the entire relationship on deception and dishonesty with your partner. There may be arguments here about uncertainty, but at the end of the day, both men and women need to own their decisions and take responsibility for communicating clearly. If someone isn’t willing to do that, is that someone you really want to be involved with?
So, beyond the general issue with it endangering women at large and fundamentally undermining efforts to reduce and aggressively persecute sexual assault, it also has frustrating implications for those of us who are committed to avoiding as much of that harmful ambiguity, deception and shady bullshit as possible. It makes actually finding, facilitating and initiating a respectful relationship that little bit more difficult and it simultaneously makes women distrustful of definitive statements by men.
My challenge for the women reading this who aren’t already married is simple. Take ownership of the behavioral aspects you can control and work to evaluate and if need be, change your behaviors. The call to men is the same. Make no mistake, women definitely face more obstacles and social pressures in doing so, but it is essential to make yes mean yes, make no mean no, and flirt within the confines of those simple boundaries.