“When he calls, tell him you’re busy even if you’re not. Make him work for it.”
By far, the most popular relationship advice I never take.
“Don’t say ‘I love you’ first. Keep him guessing or you’ll come on too strong.”
Yup. I’ve done this zero times in my life.
“If you sleep with him tonight, he might think you’re a slut. Always leave him wanting more.”
In other words, good girls, say “No” even when you want to say “Yes”. He’ll get the idea.
The Dating Game. The Chase. Playing Hard To Get. All my life, I’ve been told that the best way to win a man’s Yes is to tell him No. Popular wisdom warns that a woman who veers from these guidelines is sure to meet a lonely doom, remembered only as “that desperate, clingy psycho who has sex on the first date.” And I’ll admit, in my loneliest moments, I’ve often wondered if my failure to follow the fold–bat my eyelashes, bow my head, and beat around the bush–was responsible for my solitude. But aloof never looked good on me. And, more importantly, it felt wrong–dishonest, inauthentic, manipulative. So I kept answering calls, saying ‘I love you’ when I damn well felt like it, and sleeping with men when I wanted to, without the whole ‘Oh my goodness! I never do this!’ apology.
Despite my adherence to the honesty policy, the dudes I dated still had trouble discerning my Nos from my Come On, Convince Mes. And the lines they crossed in theirs quests for Yes were darker because of it. When I turned to my friends, they repeated back the same advice as before, only slightly scrambled: “Well, what did you do to make him think you wanted it?”
And here’s why The Dating Game, The Chase, and Playing Hard To Get are all candy-coated pills of the same toxic poison: rape.
In her article No Means No: A Lesson In Consent For All Ages, Jackie Klein calls for the conversation on rape prevention to include a deeper discussion on the issue of consent, starting with educating children at a young age that No really does mean No. A few weeks after Klein’s post, Rhiannon posted a follow-up on the Feminspire vlog, elaborating: “I don’t know means No. I’m drunk means No. Maybe means No. I don’t seem into it means No.” In short, “Don’t try to convince me to sleep with you.”
Reading and watching Jackie and Rhiannon, a big F-shaped lightbulb went on in my head.
As politicians and pundits bicker about what makes rape “legitimate” and feminists worldwide don short skirts for SlutWalks, a stronger current is pulling us all back towards violence and violation. You can call it “patriarchy” or “misogyny.” I call it the entire Saved By the Bell Series, beloved romcoms like How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days and The Notebook (sorry, Feminist Ryan Gosling) and the plot of Pride and Prejudice: popular culture is woven together with stories of women who said No when they meant Yes, or in some cases, eventually meant Yes, after a little creative coaxing. When a man fights (with a boombox above his head) to overcome a woman’s objections, love is in the air. Media makers spin science to validate this Dating Do—even self-proclaimed liberated women defend their position as hard sought objects of pursuit, arguing that women who are communicative and upfront about their desires are just secretly insecure about their ability to keep a mate.
But that’s not how we put it when we pass this pill to each other. We dress it up and paint it pink: “Guys like a little chase. Don’t make it too easy for him,” followed up with a feel-good, “You’re worth it, girl.”
The unfortunate side effect of this poison is the implication that consent can exist between two people even when one says otherwise. This idea is the fount of victim-blaming and the seed from which Todd Akin grows his thought crop. When we structure romantic relationships so that one party is considered a prize of conquest, won only by someone strong enough to fight past objections and overcome enough Nos to reach the Holy Grail of Yes, how can we expect that this blurred view of consent won’t bleed into our sexual relationships, as well? If No means Maybe, I don’t know, I mean… at a bar, in a text, or on a date, when does it starting meaning No again?
When I asked a male friend of mine what he thought about Hard To Get, he told me: “Well, you know, there is a right and a wrong way to play Hard To Get.”
“It’s fine if she’s all Oh, I don’t know…I’ve been hurt before…let’s take it slow. But I hate when she lays it on too thick. Not just ‘hard’ to get—impossible to get!”
“You mean, when she’s really saying No?”
“Yeah! It really pisses me off. I’m a nice guy, so why does she have to be such a bitch?”
My friend played by the rules, fought hard for a woman’s attention, and thus felt entitled to his “prize.” His reaction to being “cheated” was to label the woman who refused her consent a “bitch.” Were he to say this to her directly, it would be a verbal assault. Were he to forcefully push on to get what he felt he had “earned,” it would be rape.
When we send the message that resistance is a form of flirtation—a strategic move in the game of love—we romanticize the imposition of one human being’s will on another. The building block of violence. By looking at love and sex as a game, a chase, a fight, we give violence our social permission, cultivate a rape culture, and throw consent out with the bathwater. If, as Rhiannon says “I don’t know means No. I’m drunk means No. Maybe means No. I don’t seem into it means No,” then that should apply to every aspect of the dating experience. Hard To Get and No Means No don’t—can’t—exist together. One lives in a world of conquest and the other of communication. And if you say No when you mean Yes or infer Yes from another person’s No, I’d say you’re not really communicating.
This is why I’m building on Jackie and Rhiannon’s conclusions about the importance of discussing consent in rape prevention to necessarily include a critical approach to how consent is treated and talked about in romantic relationships. We must ask ourselves if conquest has a place in modern love. Are games like Hard To Get helping us find companionship or hurting us by creating socially-approved spaces where No is treated as a green light instead of a stop sign?
No, I don’t play hard to get. If I like you, you’ll know it. If I don’t like you, you’ll really know it. And if you decide to cross a line despite my big, hand-painted “No Trespassing” sign, we’ve got a problem.
Written by Rachael Kay Albers
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