One Sentence That Set Me Free-ish
Last year I went on a second date with a nice man I wasn’t interested in. If I’m honest, I’ve done this quite a lot. On the surface it isn’t a horrible practice. I think it shows I have an understanding that people, like books or movies, might need a few pages or scenes to get into. That immediate chemistry can be misleading and not everyone is their best self if they’re nervous.
The first date went like this:
Me: “Hi Markus. Tell me about yourself.”
Three hours later I knew that Markus loved the color purple, went on long road trips with his dad, ate Mexican food four times a week, had been married twice, loved running, and was allergic to pineapple. If Markus asked me a question it was so that he could answer it with a long story about himself, about how much he loved teaching Spanish and how his favorite running shoes, New Balance, were shoes I should get. He had a coupon. Just wait. He’ll get it on his phone while he talked about Aztec art.
“I don’t run,” I tried to tell him.
“Just in case we start running together,” he said. “You’ll love them. My house is next to running trails. We can go for morning runs.”
I knew right away I didn’t want to see him again but I agreed to another date anyway.
I know there are a lot of women who would have snuck out the back on that first date and left him wondering where his running partner went. Or just asked him, flat out why he’s like a radio that can’t be turned off, instead of a person interested in another person.
When asked out again I know that some women would just say, “Oof, God no.” But at the end of the night when Markus said, “Let’s go for a walk Thursday,” I said yes.
Suffice to say that many people in the world will be amazed that I have trouble with this. I am amazed that I have trouble with this. I’m tough with my students, collaborative with colleagues, honest with friends. I would even go so far as saying if you met me, you would be shocked that I don’t just say, “No thanks.”
I’m fifty-nine. I should know how to do this by now. I don’t want to unpack my maybe-generational, maybe-conflict-avoidant, perhaps patriarchal upbringing to get to the useful part of this essay. If you can’t say no to dates, bake sales, carpools, or committees, I think my therapist’s advice will help you.
Yes, I went to a therapist.
Here’s how it went:
“How do I tell this nice person that I don’t want to go out with him again,” I said.
My therapist calmly replied, “Just call him.”
“And say what?”
“’This connection isn’t the connection I was looking for. Be well.’” She said this without hesitation.
“What do I say when he asks why?”
“Say, ‘Because I don’t want to’. Or, repeat, ‘This isn’t the connection I was looking for’.”
“Don’t I owe him an explanation?
“No,” she said and then we had a conversation about boundaries and I thought, this is what they should teach in high school and stop hammering home isosceles triangles.
I hung up because It couldn’t be that easy. I asked my daughters who are twenty-one and twenty-three and both of them said the same thing. Before calling Marcus, I visualized the conversation and realized that it was his reaction I was worried about. The negotiating part of the conversation, women my age have spent a lifetime navigating with partners of all kinds.
“What if he gets mad?” I asked.
“Just say, ‘Okay,’ and hang up.”
“But I said I would go.”
“You are allowed to change your mind.”
“I think it’s going to hurt his feelings.”
“You are not responsible for his feelings.”
There’s not time, in this little space, to explore women and our inherent caregiving, community-loving, we-are-the-world attitudes in life: the inherent whys of having trouble saying no. Besides, I think you just want to know how it went when I canceled my second date with Markus.
I took a deep breath and dialed Markus’s number.
He answered and launched into a description of his morning run and how fun it will be when he and I run together.
I said, “Hey, I’m calling to cancel our Thursday walk. This connection isn’t the connection I’m looking for.” I said it nicely, not as robotic as it sounds here.
He said, “I thought we had a great connection. Was it something I said?”
“I don’t think we’re right for each other,” I said.
“I don’t understand,” he said irritated and hung up.
During the call, there was awkwardness and silence that I didn’t fill with apologies or explanations. Was I sweaty? Yes. Did my heart bounce all over the place with nerves? Yes. Yes, it did. But, after I hung up I felt pretty good, a little unsettled, and definitely relieved.
Did this exercise cure me? Am I able to say, no more easily now? Yes and no.
Markus let me off easily but others responded in the way that I was most afraid of. One guy got epically angry and went on a tirade. One guy stalked me for six months, and I had to call the police and put in security cameras. One guy still texts me once a month to see if I’ve changed my mind: is no really no?
I realized that it’s not the no that’s hard, it’s the reaction to the no that is difficult. Giving me the words helped me when the unhealthy responses came at me. I didn’t faulter, explain, or have conversations I didn’t want to have. Providing the words underpinned what I can control and what I cannot, what is my responsibility and what is not.
Why did it take me so long to learn this? I’m still talking to my therapist about that.
Am I still going on dates? No, because it’s not the connection I am looking for.
I wrote this for Psychology today, by the way. Here is the link to your blog post.
Oh, Man. I wrote about saying no here too. https://anngarvin.net/how-to-say-no-without-feeling-guilty/
I love this story, Anne. My much younger self can relate to it. Thankfully, I’ve learned to say “no” in many dimensions of my life. When it comes to dating, it’s helpful to have a script like your therapist suggestion but with a twist: Always start with the positive: “You seem like a really (fill-in-the-blank) nice, fun, interesting guy who’ll make some lady very happy one day. But I don’t think we’re the best match. Good luck to you!” When I hear stories like yours, I understand the strange wisdom of having a middle-person–the matchmaker–be the one to break the news. “Hi. John. Just to let you know, Anne isn’t interested in a second date but let’s talk about Jane…”
oooo that would be fantastic wouldn’t it. Maybe I’ll try a matchmaker.
xo Thanks for this. Truly.
I think it takes guts to be honest like this with somebody else. I would be the one fretting I’d hurt their feelings, but your therapist is right – you’re not responsible in how they react or their feelings. I’m happily married for 36 years, and don’t think – no, I KNOW I would not date again. I’d be happily alone. So, I wish you luck in this adventure if you decide to try again. Why not? You may meet some really cool guy who checks off (most) of your boxes!
Thank you. And I might try again? But I might get another dog. lol
I loved this and of course am immediately conjuring up Markus’ natal birth chart in my head…pat yourself on the back for setting your boundary! My friend, Women’s Studies Author, Patricia Monaghan(who sadly passed way too young) had this reaction to people like Markus… “I bless you on your way, now leave me alone.”….
Love you gaye. hahaha. What a great sentence. xo
Ann, This is so timely. Just this week, a friend’s book, You Don’t Owe Anyone, was released.
Caroline Garnet McGraw’s book is a blend of personal development and memoir. Explains how we often get stuck in perfectionist and people-pleasing traps and how to get out of them.
THANK YOU FOR THIS. I”m looking at it right now!!
I am your last sentence.
“Am I still going on dates? No, because it’s not the connection I am looking for.”
I’m 66. Never married or even close. Yes, I’ve been on dates. But in the end, I’ve decided I like my life single and independent; I don’t need to be taken care of and I don’t want to take care of someone else in addition to taking care of me. So I don’t date any more. That is not the connection I’m looking for. And I’m fine with that.
This is such a winning way. Congratulations on you.
Excellent advice. I wouldn’t have been one of those women to sneak out the back, however I would be the one who becomes mysteriously ill on the day of the next date. I’m in a long-time committed relationship, so I don’t date, however, the ability to say “no” applies to all situations. I’ve gotten better about not making commitments I don’t want, and I’m better at some situations than others.
Same here Jeanne. I also find that I can say no when I’m caffinated. 🙂
It’s always hard. It takes practice and sometimes all I can say is. Maybe.
I am in a 7 year conceptual relationship with a man who lives 2000 miles away. I last saw him in 2017. He doesn’t like to travel, and since I come from the same town where he still lives, I am not interested in visiting him just to sit in his living room and watch TV. We stalk on the phone about once a week. He likes to talk about the Beatles.
Eventually, I asked if we could stop talking about the Beatles and he said, “Why? Don’t you like the Beatles?” I said that I just simply don’t have anything to SAY about the Beatles.
My problem is that he believes that he has found the love of his life. We do have a lot of touchstones, but he is not the connection I am looking for. I have difficulty being the bearer of pain for someone who is a kind and decent person.
A conceptual relationship. I LOVE THIS
ING! Can we talk about something other than the Beatles. hahahah
Oh, man, I feel you with this note. Thank you for writing it.
Much love as you go forward xooxo
I’m not single and not dating (thank God) but I understand the struggle with saying no. Being a writer and needing a lot of time to myself means saying no to spending time with family and friends. Like you said, no explanations or apologies are required. We get to choose how we want to spend our time. That simple. Not easy, but simple.
Enjoyed the post.
Thank you, Tammy. It’s so true. We do need a lot of time.
Another thing in life that is simple but not easy. 🙂
I learned how to say no from Oprah. lol Doesn’t mean I’m always comfortable. Or successful in getting it across.
Actually it was reinforced by Oprah, I actually learned from a former pastor. He said when you say no, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Because when you give a person that edge, they will try to talk you out of saying no or try to find a flaw in your reason. So say no, mean it, and end the conversation about it.
You don’t have to be nice. Woman were groomed to be nice and worry about someone’s feelings if we say no. Men say no and no one questions them.
Say no. It’s empowering!
Yes, the conversation or explanation opens the door. So, no it is.
I’m 68 years old. I’ve been married twice. After the second time I decided I did not need anyone else to complete me. I like being single. I love being independent, caring for my own needs and living how I want to.
Married twice. I think that is enough 🙂 I’m so glad to hear you are happy.
This totally resonated with me, saying no to the 2nd date, to the too many phone calls, I finally came up with “I’m not the girl for you” (to the one who got angry at rejection). I didn’t give up dating and may have found the one, but it’s nice to know others have struggled with that same thing.
Oh, that’s a great phrase. Thank you for telling me. I do hope you have found the one. #awesome.