Opinion: “You Must Learn To Accept ‘No’ as an Answer”

Carolyn Light

On trying to help a self-proclaimed “nice guy” learn how to date

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A friend of mine has been spending a lot of his time on Bumble.

He deals with the classic scenarios:

  1. He doesn’t get the matches he wants.
  2. He gets the match he wants, but the conversation is short and goes nowhere.
  3. He gets the match he wants, but the conversation is long and leads to nothing.
  4. He goes on a date with one of the matches he wanted, and it doesn’t lead to a second date.
  5. He goes on a second date, sometimes a third, but ultimately, she breaks it off with him after that.

These scenarios — particularly the latter two — lead to a lot of self-pity, and much bemoaning.

Common phrases for him include:

  • I know it’s a numbers game, but is it really supposed to be this hard?
  • See, now you understand why I’m frustrated, this always happens to me.
  • Why are all of these women here to play games?
  • It’s my own fault. I was too nice.

At this point I’d like to throw in — I know that dating is hard. I don’t think he’s wrong in feeling this. Anyone who has spent some time on the apps knows that ghosting is very real. Additionally, with so many options in your face, it almost feels like there are no real options.

However, he’s wrong in thinking that this is a “him” problem. I tried to point out to him (gently) the flaws in his thinking:

  • I think most people who date do find it to be this hard, unfortunately. I hear this a lot.
  • This happens a lot, one of my other friends was complaining about this the other day. It is frustrating.
  • The majority of these women are not here to “play games.” What you’re referencing is their inability to be direct when they’re no longer interested.
  • Never call yourself “too nice.” The pie chart of men who call themselves the “nice guy” and the men who actually are nice guys does not have any overlapping circles. This is also true in your case.

The latter one sounds harsh. I think it probably is harsh, but it is also necessary for him to hear. His biggest issue in dating isn’t that he’s “too nice” to the women he sees. His biggest issue is that he’s actually not nice at all.

The “nice guy” gets rejected — again.

Two mornings ago, he texted me, upset that the woman he’d gone on a few dates with had been slow to respond to his text messages over the weekend.

She said she was going out of town, he told me, but it’s Monday now and I’ve still not really heard from her.

Text her and ask her how her weekend was, I suggested.

I did that, and she said it was good. But there was no follow-up or anything. She didn’t ask me about my weekend.

This was obviously a bad sign.

I don’t think anyone is required to text someone they’ve been on a few dates with while away for the weekend — but if there’s excitement there, people usually want to send those texts.

Further, upon returning home, her disinterest in how he spent his weekend didn’t strike me as a person enamored or excited about this potential partnership. Knowing that he would stew over this all night, I suggested he cut to the chase.

Maybe now is a good time to check in, I told him. You could say something like, “We’ve been on a few dates now and I’ve had a really good time. I just wanted to see if you’re feeling similarly.”

What if she says she doesn’t want to see me again?! he asked.

Then, you know, I said. You don’t want to waste your time wondering about this person’s interest this early on.

Sure enough, he texted me an hour later. It’s bad news, :-(.

I’m sorry to hear that, I said. But at least now you know and can move on.

The next morning he texted me again.

I still want to hang out with her, he said. I’m going to tell her that. We can hang out as friends.

Did she give you a reason to believe she wants to hang out as friends? I asked.

Well, she was really vague about not being interested, he said. And besides, she wouldn’t have told me she wasn’t interested if I didn’t ask, so I think that means there is some interest there.

No, I told him bluntly. That’s not what it means. It means she didn’t want to hurt your feelings and by not asking how your weekend was, hoped the conversation would come to its natural end.

Then why didn’t she just say she wasn’t interested? he asked.

Because she didn’t want to hurt your feelings, I said. Also, she doesn’t know you well enough to know how you’re going to react.

I don’t know, he said. I think she’s still interested. Let me send you her response.

He forwarded me her text. It read:

I agree that we’ve been getting along. But honestly, I’m not feeling a romantic vibe. Also, I really prioritize spending time with my family and I get the impression you’re looking for someone who is willing to commit a bit more time. I hope you understand, but I wanted to be honest since you asked.

Okay, I said to him. She does not want to be friends. She does not want to hang out as friends.

Where does it say that? he asked.

Right where it says she prioritizes time with her family. If she’s not going to prioritize time with you as a partner, she’s not going to prioritize time with you at all. This is good though. You can move on now.

He did not move on.

He went rogue, and it went poorly. He texted her again later in the day, telling her he wanted to still be friends. She texted back that she’s a bit busy right now with all that’s going on in her life, but that when she’s ready to start dating again, she’ll keep him in mind.

He responded to that by saying that in the meantime they could just hang out as friends. She didn’t respond. He sent her a meme he thought was funny later, and she didn’t respond. He sent her a follow-up text that evening and she told him to stop texting her.

This always happens, he told me again.

How many times have you been in a replica of this situation?? I asked him.

It always happens exactly like this, he said. I have too much affection to give.

I felt horrified by the blatant lack of respect he’d shown this woman, and the self-pity he showed himself. Further, I was appalled that this was apparently a common scenario in his dating life.

You don’t have too much affection to give, I told him. You have trouble accepting “no” as an answer, and that’s a huge problem.

What do you mean? he asked me. She didn’t say “no.”

Yes, she did! I exclaimed. I grant you, she could have said “no, I’m not interested, no I don’t want to hang out as friends, no I don’t want to be friends,” but she did say that, in different words. She told you she didn’t feel a romantic vibe — which means you’re not going to be her next boyfriend. She told you she’s prioritizing her family — which means she’s not going to make time for you. Then, instead of taking this for what it is, you forced her to reject you again — not once, but twice — by telling her you could still hang out as friends, requiring her to tell you she’s busy — which she had already said. Then, you continue to text her despite her clear lack of interest and force her to tell you to stop. Finally, you pity yourself when you really should just be feeling sorry about your unwillingness to accept her boundaries.

That’s not what I meant to do, he said.

I understand that I responded. But that’s what you did. You must learn to accept “no” — and all its variations — as an answer. People are not always going to be direct. People get murdered for being direct — and your unwillingness to take her polite rejection as the “no” that it is is hugely problematic. It’s not nice. It’s rude, it’s selfish, it’s arrogant, and it’s power-hungry. This is not how “nice” people behave.

Rejection sucks.

I’ve been rejected plenty of times, and I know this to be a fact. Still, it’s part of life, and learning to accept it with grace is paramount.

The majority of us are guilty of dating faux-pas (or friendship mishaps or family selfishness, or whatever else). We’re not perfect people and we’re programmed to put our own needs in front of the needs of others. Still — we can reflect on these behaviors and see how they affect others. Sometimes, when we look at our behaviors through the lens of later-perspective, we’re horrified by what we see. I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing. Sure, it stinks to look back and be mortified by something we did — but it’s also an opportunity to grow.

Overall, very few of us are as “nice” as we claim to be — and I’d wager that the most introspective of us know that. Those who declare themselves to be “nice” probably have more need for self-reflection than those who don’t. We should all strive to be kind, and that will require that we accurately look at our place on the “niceness” spectrum.

My friend lacks self-confidence, and the dignity necessary to brush himself off and say “on to the next.” More than anything else, he wants a partner to go through this life with, and I get that.

I know that he doesn’t mean to abuse boundaries. But — he does. And by abusing those boundaries, he’s not only bothering the people who have set these parameters — he’s also telling them that they don’t have any business setting them in the first place.

He’s being pushy, and he’s telling them “no you’re wrong, you don’t need this boundary” despite the fact that they’ve determined that they want it. He is not respecting their needs; he’s thinking only of his own. There’s nothing nice about that.

Despite the fact that this all happened just a day ago now, he’s moved on. He’s back on Bumble and doing his swiping. Hopefully, he’ll be able to take the lessons from this last situation(s) with him, but if he doesn’t, and starts telling us all how it’s so hard to be a “nice” guy again, at least he’ll have his friends to bring him back down to earth.

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