Opinion: Why Women Say, “I Have a Boyfriend,” When They Don’t

Carolyn Light

We don’t like to lie, but sometimes it's a matter of safety

Photo by Lawless Capture on Unsplash

I recently read an article that annoyed me.

After reading the article, I closed my laptop with disgust, and I regret that I didn’t bookmark the page so I could share the link here.

But essentially, the author of the article stated that women can not be taken seriously because sometimes in bars, they tell men they are in a relationship when they aren’t.

The author wrote about a time that she went to a bar with a friend. The friend “claimed to be a feminist,” but when a random man in a bar wouldn’t leave her alone, she told the man that she had a boyfriend. This put him off, and he moved on.

The author stated that despite her friend’s claims of being a feminist, she wasn’t — because she lied to men to get them to leave her alone.

She said, “If you’re really a feminist, you can take care of this situation yourself, without invoking a fake man for protection. If women are equal supposed to be treated equally to men, they shouldn’t need men to save them. Especially not fake men.”

(The above quote is a paraphrase, not a direct verbatim).

I had a lot of thoughts float through my mind.

I wondered:

  • Where did the author learn her definition of “feminism”?
  • Has the author never felt unsafe in a public setting?
  • Why didn’t she help her friend fend off the unwanted advances of this random man?

Overall, I felt unimpressed by the article, unimpressed by the author, and annoyed that a woman was judging another woman — her own friend — for doing what was necessary to protect herself.

In the years in which I’ve frequented bars, I’ve invented many boyfriends.

Most of the women I know have. It’s not that we want to live in a fairytale in which we’re partnered. It’s not that we’re bored and feel like fabricating stories — we don’t tend to enjoy lying.

It’s simply because we’re on the receiving end of unwanted attention, and we want that attention to stop.

Once, I was out with some friends — at the bar ordering a drink, when a man came up and sat next to me. He began chatting with me and seemed nice enough. For a time. Eventually, though, he began to crowd my space, and no matter how frequently I inched away from him, he’d find a way to be touching me. At one point, I actually removed his hand from my leg. He laughed.

He started making crude jokes, which I did not laugh at. He started making suggestive comments, that I bluntly shut down with a “that’s gross,” or “don’t say that.”

When he finally suggested we leave the bar together, I flat-out said, “No thanks.”

He said, “Why not?”

I said, “Because I’m not interested.”

He said, “Why, you have a boyfriend or something?”

He finds himself so enticing that he thinks I’d need to have a boyfriend to not be interested? I thought to myself. Ridiculous.

Either way, I saw my out, and I took it.

“Yes, I have a boyfriend,” I told him. I did not, in fact, have a boyfriend.

“F*cking figures,” he said. “You flirt with me all night, but you’re f*cking taken. F*cking tease.”

He stormed off. I rolled my eyes. I dodged a bullet.

Let’s recap.

  1. A man approached me in a bar to chat, and I chatted back.
  2. He continued to invade my space despite my efforts to move away — the first sign of disinterest he ignored.
  3. He physically put his hand on my body, requiring me to remove it — the second sign of disinterest he ignored.
  4. He made crude jokes that I didn’t laugh at — the third sign of disinterest he ignored.
  5. He made suggestive comments that I shut down definitively — the fourth sign of disinterest he ignored.
  6. He suggested we leave together — I said no.
  7. He prodded me for a reason for my “no,” which I didn’t owe him.
  8. He made up a boyfriend for me — I used the lie to my advantage.
  9. He stormed off, angry at the rejection.

“You okay?” the bartender asked me.

“Yeah, no worries,” I said.

The first thing I did here, wasn’t to make up a boyfriend.

It wasn’t even the second, or third thing I did. It wasn’t the fourth thing I did. It was something that I did when it became clear that this man wasn’t going to accept my “no” for an answer. It was something that I did when it became clear that this particular guy, needed to hear the word “no” from another man, even if that man did not exist.

Men like this one view us, women, as objects. They view us as prizes to be won; as property to own. They do not view us as people, let alone people with our own wants, needs, and sense of self-propriety.

They don’t respect women; they only respect other men. They won’t listen to women; they’ll only listen to other men.

I didn’t invent a boyfriend here because I thought it was fun, or funny. I did it because I needed to keep myself safe.

This guy needed to believe that he wouldn’t be rejected if not for another man in the picture. I needed to let him believe this. I needed to let him walk away with his ego intact. Not for him, but for me.

Violence against women is not new, and it’s not going away.

In March, the U.S. Secret Service released a National Threat Assessment.

The report was released after two women were murdered in a Florida yoga studio by a former U.S. Army Officer, who shot them, and then killed himself.

The report read:

“Hatred of women, and the gender-based violence that is associated with it, requires increased attention from everyone with a role in public safety. The Tallahassee filler fit the profile of an involuntarily celibate, or incel for short, men who are unable to achieve a romantic or sexual relationship to which they feel entitled.”

The report also noted that such violence is on the rise.

This is not the first time that women have been harmed or murdered by men who feel entitled to their attention, and slighted by rejection — either real or imagined.

In 2014, Elliot Rodger murdered six people at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He had previously written a manifesto in which he stated he wanted to punish “hot girls” for denying him the sex that “he deserved.”

In 2018, Alex Minassian, a self-proclaimed incel, drove a van down a street in Toronto, killing 10 people. He had previously pledged allegiance to the “Incel Rebellion.”

In 2021, Tres Genco, of Ohio (who idolized Elliot Rodger) was apprehended once authorities discovered he was planning to carry out a mass shooting event against women at a college. When authorities arrived at his house, they found a series of weapons — as well as an internet history that showed frequent chats in incel forums, and research of sorority houses.

These men operate in the “manosphere,” which is a group of online communities that include men’s rights activists, incels, and others. They’re particularly dangerous because they operate in chat rooms where they can mobilize and rile one another — and many of these chat rooms are hard to track.

They feed off of their anger at women, their anger at society, and their belief that they’re not getting their due. They feel unwanted, rejected, and owed sex. They blame women for all their life's ills. They seek to harm and punish women for their feelings of loneliness and rage.

Of course, not all pushy men in bars are incels.

And truly, the majority of men I meet in bars are kind. But as women seeking to stay safe — alive — we tend to air on the side of caution. If we’re receiving attention we don’t want, attention that we deliberately and intentionally and clearly turn down, we do what we have to in order to remove ourselves from the situation.

Sometimes, this includes invoking partners that don’t exist. There’s nothing non-feminism about doing this.

Feminism is defined as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes.”

Quite simply, it means that feminists believe all genders should have equal rights and opportunities.

Nowhere in that definition does it state, “women should not do what they need to in order to stay alive.”

Feminism is needed because some believe that women are lesser. Feminism is needed because women can’t expect to be safe in a bar, because women can’t expect to be safe when walking home at night, because women can’t expect their “no” to be accepted as law on the first go.

The author of the original article stated that if women should be treated equally to men, we shouldn’t need to invoke fake men to protect ourselves.

But, she misses the broader point.

If women are treated equally to men.


We’re not, yet.

We’re getting closer, but we’re not there.

And, it’s because we’re not treated as equal to men that we sometimes find it necessary to invoke the whisper of a boyfriend.

Shaming women for inventing boyfriends to ward off aggressors is just another symptom of a society that undervalues women in the first place.

Rather than telling women that they are “liars” and “fake feminists” for creating a partner in such a situation, we should be teaching men that the word “no” is okay — and that it must be heeded.

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We're all just out here, doing our best. Pondering: Mental Health | Feminism | Relationships & Dating | Social Climate

Chicago, IL

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