— This is something I wrote earlier in the week, but didn’t want to post on its own :). There’s another post after this!
In our society, guys are usually expected to ask the girl out. (Assuming heteronormativity and the average case.) This sucks. These expectations suck for the guy, who gets put in a vulnerable position, and it sucks for the girl, who has to wait forever instead of going after something she wants. (You know in the Little Mermaid where there’s the “Kiss the Girl” song? The whole movie would have been over in like two seconds if she had made the first move.)
The situation has drastically improved in recent times as we move closer to gender equality. But let’s say that a guy is asking a girl out in this case, since this both brings out some other interesting gender inequalities and is the inspiration for this mini-rant :).
All right. You like someone. You like how they look—or even better, you like how they think—so you go up and chat with them. Excellent. You decide you want to get to know them better. So far so good. Now’s the moment to ask… what do you say?
The first thing you need to acknowledge is that you are in a position of vulnerability. You have placed yourself in a situation in which you have less power than who you’re talking to, because you know you want to hang out with them, but they may or may not want to hang out with you. Thus, they are in a position of power over you. That means you must act appropriately for such a situation: for example, trying to make an appointment with someone you respect, some higher-up. In order to maximize success in this sort of mission (like talking to a boss), you ask with the appropriate tentativeness and respect.
Please don’t go in with guns blazing.
I can see how it would be tempting. Unconsciously someone may not like how it feels to have temporarily made themselves feel inferior, so they decide to go in with confidence. Perhaps this process is automatic—perhaps they’re usually in a position of power themselves and are used to being on top. Perhaps they are in a more powerful job than the person they’re asking. Perhaps they’re older and thus have implicit power.
Sucks though, because when you are interested in someone, you have demoted yourself to an equal (no matter where you stand in any other aspect of your life), and when you decide to ask them if they’re interested, you’re now less powerful.
So don’t demand people out. Don’t say “We should ___”. Please ask.** Being asked is flattering. Being demanded out is fucking annoying, because it shows disrespect. In the acknowledged protocol of human interaction, asking nicely indicates you realize that you are not in a position of power. When you want something from someone and you don’t know if they want to give it to you: that is also a universally acknowledged situation in which you are not in a position of power. So when you fail to ask nicely in this sort of situation, you are screaming: I don’t respect you. And going up to someone and confidently informing them that you don’t respect them is fucking ANNOYING.
(**Update: I’ve realized this is badly phrased :). I don’t have a problem with “we should” phrasing specifically (I use it a lot), it’s when it ends with “We should have dinner. Right now” or “We should spend more time together. Where do you live?” when it’s a problem… and even those sentences can be totally fine if you know the other person is on board. It’s hard to describe what the problem is, but it’s something about the intention in the sentence, when it’s an EXPECTATION that you will want to hang out, rather than a question.)
All right. Here’s the next mistake that can easily be avoided. Say the person you’re asking says no—not explicitly, but implicitly. They want to avoid making the situation more awkward than it already is. Perhaps they’ve realized your grave social error but you have not, and they don’t want to get into it with you because if you’re the type of person who makes these types of grievous social errors without realizing it you’re unlikely to know what other offensive things you shouldn’t be saying in the subsequent conversation. On a more intuitive level, most likely they’re uncomfortable and don’t want to make the situation more uncomfortable by saying something rude. So they say no, implicitly.
The next thing not to do is do not ask them why. Yes, I know you’re deadly curious, because a) you’ve just been rejected, and b) they’re keeping you from getting what you want and they shouldn’t get away with that, and c) maybe you want to figure out why this is starting to be a pattern for you. Don’t do it. You have lower power and have just been rejected. Acting anything other than politely rejected is another screaming sign that says: I DO NOT RESPECT YOU. You have to follow the social protocol, dude, otherwise the whole system breaks down and everyone goes back to fighting wars with each other. (Well, maybe not that drastic. But the social protocol is there for a reason in the densely packed cities we live in nowadays.) Even if you really want to know to fix the problem, think about it (for example, related abstractions of the same situation and how you’d feel in those situations) or ask friends. Just please follow the protocol.
Great, maybe you’ve managed to do that! Many kudos, you’ve just kept from becoming aggressive and that shows you probably won’t stalk me, which I much appreciate. Next steps for things not to do (in addition to not-stalking. Do not stalk people, it is not nice, it shows a whole new level of disrespect, do you want people stalking you, Golden Rule, do not do it I don’t care what you want you also have to consider what they want.) In fact, the rest of this is just a continuation of the previous suggestion, which is to act rejected. That means giving people space. You took the risk, you made your move, now you need to retreat and stay retreated. Don’t stand next to me. Don’t sit next to me. Don’t inch closer to me. Don’t touch me. You don’t need to talk to me, even. In fact I’d prefer if you went away so I could focus on science stuff and not think about you and what you might pull later on, because you’ve shown you don’t respect me and don’t follow protocols so who knows what you’ll do later. Especially if I’m alone. I don’t care if I’m looking lonely, leave me alone.
And that is the end of asking someone out and not succeeding. Essentially, just follow the rules for if you respected someone, and even if you don’t respect them pretend you respect them. Interestingly, this has only been a problem for me when the askers are older men—like more than 7 years older, intellectual people usually who probe my intellectual interests first before moving in for the social-violation kill. (Ooh, those foolers. They’re the worst, because they make you think they’re actually interested and then they turn around and implicitly tell you the opposite. They probably don’t even know they mean it. In the worst case, I got through an entire 20-minute conversation that ended with: “Oh, that’s what you care about? You were so perfect otherwise.” UGGGGGG.) You’ve still got to realize you’re in a lower position when you ask someone even if you think you’re better, that’s thankfully how it works these days.
Last pet-peeve. If you’re a normal guy who does the asking properly and is friends with women, when women complain about these things, please acknowledge. You don’t even need to say anything—it’s better not to, actually, if you’re not sure—just acknowledge. I usually share things like this because I talk about problems generally, and I also think the main problem among people who aren’t doing this blatantly is that they’re not aware of the problem. I hang around people who generally are and think themselves to be good people, and often if they do annoying things it’s because they don’t realize, so I think it’s important to spread awareness with negative feedback attached.
An example of someone not acknowledging correctly: “Yeah, but that’s just them. They’re just one person, it’s probably not even personal. They’re an asshole, I don’t see why this continues to bother you.”
Same reason why someone telling you you’re stupid and not worthy continues to bother people. It doesn’t really matter if you know that one person’s being an asshole, they’re still a person passing judgment on you and it still lasts. Moreover, when people complain about sexism or other isms, they’re often not complaining about a specific person. They’ve encountered the situation before and are complaining about a culture that breeds a certain type of attitude and allows that sort of attitude to persist, unchecked, in the wild.
Often when people tell me about problems I want to give solutions rather than sympathy. This isn’t what you’re supposed to do, but among certain clusters of people it is the most common response. And if you’re that kind of person, the kind that likes to propose solutions rather than sympathy, make sure to address the problem they’re really talking about rather than the one they’re stating. So if they say: “I’m upset by this”, the solution isn’t “Don’t be upset anymore.” What they’re really saying is: “I’m upset that this sort of thing continues to occur and I know I’ll encounter it again the future and there’s nothing I can do about it”; the solution is complicated and unsolved, and whatever answer given should take that complexity into account.
Final note. I was recently made aware that by not saying anything to the person directly, I’m doing my values a great disservice. Standing up would be the best way to effect change, rather than ranting on a personal blog. I get this, I do, and I’m sure the more I do it the more it would be a habit and the less trouble I would have with it. I’m annoyed that it’s my responsibility as a victim to spread awareness, but this is just how it works and has been accepted by people living much more gross violations than I. (My facebook feed has been a bit horrifying recently with personal story posts after Trump’s tape release, and this is moreover from a select group of people living in mostly sensitive-to-the-issues environments.) It’s just that telling someone they’re wrong—and doing it well, so that you change someone’s mind rather than just make them angry—is hard, and is time-consuming, and you have to react instantaneously, and it’s effort-consuming, and I really, really hate arguing with people. So I know I need to stand up, that it’s the correct thing to do, but it’s not something I’m currently doing. I’ve actually progressed: instead of smiling politely at people, I now look away… which is pretty pathetic progress, if I do say so myself. Ah well. Failing to fix the problem isn’t a social violation—it’s not rude—so what I’m doing is here not making things worse, it’s just failing to make things better. Which means it’s a choice, and one I should make, but the responsibility still falls on the transgressors.