The Art of Saying No

How much bad sex has been the result of a fear of making it “awkward”?

It’s not the first time I’ve heard the story, but it’s the first time I’ve heard one this bad.

You know the one? When you best friend starts a date with high hopes and by the end of it, hopes are crushed, but for some reason, she still has sex with the guy anyway?

I’m not talking about a situation where she’s afraid to say “no.” I’m not talking about crazy men who take you away to a secluded area and give you no easy options to leave, or block your modes of entry.

No, I’m talking about a completely different situation — one we make for our selves, and makes absolutely no sense. It’s a situation defined by how we think others view us, and how that influences how we see ourselves.

My favorite version of this story is told by Annie Lederman in her stand up spot on Comedy Central.

In a cringe-driven moment of comedic brilliance, she describes how she meets her childhood crush from camp and has the chance to have sex with him many years later.

Of course, the downside of nostalgia is that the people we knew from one period of our lives is not nearly the same person we meet later. While Annie Lederman is ready to consummate her adolescent mental affair with camp counselor Mark Parker, once she sees him in the flesh as an adult she immediately regrets her decision, but is unable to turn him down.

More than any other sector of society, women are taught and encouraged to see their value and self-image as being likable, nice, and most of all, kind. Saintly, in fact. And telling someone no, especially if you feel like you might owe them something in the first place, can start to get you into murky territory about what qualifies as “nice”.

It doesn’t help that there’s a sector of men who think buying a drink and a plate of food is enough to secure a “yes” — but a beer and bar food has never obligated anyone to let them inside of their body. Can you imagine if a doctor gave a man a burger and then said, “I’m glad you enjoyed it, I’d like to open up a part of you and shove something foreign inside. Will only take a minute.”

And women say yes. Many women say yes. Because it’s more than just about saying no — it’s about how saying no means we have to abandon our Good Girl status. The cost of our honesty is to no longer be kind, to be loving, to be caring, to be a saint. We’re pushed into a space where the choice is a hard one: do what you want to do and be perceived as heartless, or do what you don’t want to do and preserve your ideal version of yourself as perfect.

Not long ago, I went on a date with a guy I liked. We never made it as far as the bedroom, but I could see how easily we could have landed there. By the time we got to the end of the night, I knew already that I wasn’t attracted to him.

How was I going to tell him that?

I knew the terms we left on were going to depend on which reason I chose to give him.

The fact is, most people hate rejection — whether receiving or giving it — and most people are so incapable of dealing with it that “ghosting” has become a cultural norm, the path of invisibility we choose rather than face ourselves.

I knew it would be crueler to end the night as though everything were fine and give him false hopes when he tried to contact me next and instead hear nothing back.

The feeling wasn’t there, I told him. I felt more like a mother than a lover.

Were there other reasons? Certainly. I broke it to him gently. He was hurt but understood, and we parted ways as friends.

It wasn’t easy. I certainly had an ideal image of myself as a Good Girl. But the truth was, I would rather be a Bad Girl and have the sex I wanted with the guy I wanted, then lead someone on because I had too much of an investment in a persona that was never real anyway.

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