“Nice” Rejection

This is not a topic that has a strong or direct link to my usual topics, but it’s something I want to write about anyway. It possible that my status as “woman who is on the spectrum” has influenced the way I view this particular issue, so I suppose there’s a weak tie-in.

I want to talk about rejection. Specifically, how we reject people, and how people raised as women in particular (the group generally expected to have to do the rejecting) are taught to reject people. A while back I was reading a thread online that started with one person telling her story about someone asking her out on a date and her rejecting him. In this particular instance it was someone she liked as a friend, but was not attracted to in any way. So in her rejection, she wanted to be “nice.”

Her method of doing so was to instead be indirect. Instead of telling him, straightforward, that she wasn’t interested in that way, she said “I appreciate the offer, but that after the last guy it will be a loooong time before I would date anyone.” Which, apparently, was technically true. It just wasn’t the whole truth, or even really the most direct and relevant truth (that she’s just not into him like that). However, the thread was really quite full of people (also self-identified women) agreeing with her that it was the nicest possible way she could have rejected him. SO nice. TOTALLY nice.

It echoed a previous instance of rejection I had read about (this time in someone’s livejournal post). A man asked a woman out, she wanted to reject him nicely, so said (essentially) “oh, sorry, I’m not dating right now.” And described that as “so nice.”

In both of those cases I wound up with my eyeballs popping out and my jaw on the floor, wondering how being indirect (or outright lying) could possibly ever count as “nice.”

Honestly, I suspect the answer is somewhat gendered. We live in a society where people raised as women are taught to be indirect, often in a nasty combination of penalizing women for being direct or assertive, and teaching women that they are never to give a man sadfeels no matter what. It’s true that it’s not fun to be rejected (and despite my gender, I know this personally. women get rejected too, sometimes in really nasty ways), so what’s a woman to do if she’s not allowed to be direct or give a man sadfeels? Apparently, the answer is to say things like “oh, I just don’t want to date right now.” It even goes to the point that if a guy doesn’t “get the hint” THEN it’s ok to be more direct. Which was referred to as “being cold” in the aforementioned discussion. I do find it interesting that being truthful is cold, but being not-so-truthful is, I guess, warm.

In both cases I turned to men I knew and asked them if they would consider that form of rejection nice. Man-types, by and large, seemed to disagree. I asked two basic questions: If someone wanted to reject you in a “nice” way, how would you like them to do it? and If you wanted to reject someone, and wanted to do it “nicely,” how would you go about doing so?

Both questions got fairly consistent answers. The guys I talked to would prefer the message be plain and direct. That it isn’t mean for someone to say that they just aren’t into you that way, even if it isn’t fun to hear.

Of course, I am biased. Indirect communication tends to range from confusing to ragey for me, and I often resent it. I see conversations (again, usually amongst woman-types) online about getting their needs met, and the totally casual discussion of passive-aggressive ways to communicate, and it gets so frustrating. It’s always termed “being nice about it” or “dropping hints” or such, and if someone doesn’t understand those hints, it consistently means that something is wrong with them. From my perspective, that’s absolutely horrible. The fact that it appears to be ubiquitous just makes it worse.

I would say this is something where gender issues intersect with autism issues. Being female (read: having boobs), I am expected to conform to the typical standards women are held to. As someone who cares about gender issues, I don’t want women to be held up to those unreasonable standards designed to keep our boundaries mushy. As someone on the spectrum, I am barely capable of meeting those expectations or understanding the indirect communication of other people anyway. Can we please change things and acknowledge the value in being direct?


Filed under opinion

12 responses to ““Nice” Rejection

  1. As a cisgendered woman from the Netherlands, my perspective is a little bit different. I’m usually the one to take initiative. It’s fairly normal here for men and women to share household tasks equally, with some women from other countries even complaining that their Dutch male partners are far too “sensitive” and “feminine” (read, emotional and opinionated on household and child rearing tasks). Still, I’m getting mixed reactions from men on me taking the initiative. Some like it in theory, but shy away when confronted with it in practice. I’ve also had several male friends complain about women being interested in them, but still rejecting them in a rude way because that’s the way women behave around here. I’ve been complimented on at least being nice and compassionate in my honesty when I refuse someone. I don’t drop hints, though. I’m bad at hints. Which is probably also why men have told me they’re fine with me taking the initiative (although I don’t think they are being completely honest when they say that), but that I come on far too strongly.

    It’s all very confusing. But it helps to live in a more feminist, egalitarian society.

    • It sounds like the Netherland is somewhat culturally similar to Denmark in regard to gender roles / equality.

      • Yeah, from what I’ve seen it’s definitely not as divided on gender roles as the US and Australia. We do have a problem with most women *choosing* to work part-time and care for their kids though, which breeds a lot of resentment among men because they’re denied that option.

        • In Denmark, at least in the urban areas, 2X full time incomes is the norm (just based on my subjective impression, not sure about stats) and kids in institution (nursery, kindergarden, after school clubs and so on). I don’t think that is healthy for kids. Personally I have been in all those places although in my case my mother studied, so she was at home. I hated kindergarden et.c. it was extremely draining on most days. I think it is fantastic when someone takes time to stay home with kids so they can remain at home (of course projecting a bit here… Prob some kids love being with lots of other kids all day). Everybody being in different places all day – workplaces, kindergarden, school – is almost like a broken home even when it is not. Part time is better… It should be more acknowledged that looking after a home with kids is work. I don’t care if it is the mom or dad who does it. (but I am biased towards thinking men are more fun & relaxing for kids… just because that is how it is in my family)

          • I think the best way would be for both partners to work, say three days a week. You get to spend time with your kid, kid gets to attend preschool or daycare once a week which they might enjoy (connecting with other kids) without it becoming too overwhelming, and you have the weekend to spend as a family. I mean, that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but it starts from a place of equality, and you can adjust according to individual preference (I’d prefer having a partner who wants to spend more time at home, lol).

            • I guess it depends on the type of people, type of kids and type of work… Some jobs you can just do X amount of time and then leave it to others the rest of the time, while others are intensive projects where you have to keep your mind & time on them until they are completed. 3 days/a week may work for persons – men or women – who are not passionate about their work (and who probably don’t earn much either – just assuming). Then again, I guess when you have kids you are likely to be passionate about them above everything else.

              How to balance family life VS work is a difficult balance and one that probably a lot of families struggle to find. 1X full time work + 1 who looks after the home means the parents lead so different types of lives, that they may loose touch with each other’s worlds and don’t make sense to each other any more. The may also both envy the other’s life, thinking it is easier or more interesting. Also, the bread winner would be likely to focus on work only and probably have lots of overtime and barely ever be there for the kids. That is the traditional “old time” stereotypical model.

              If both work full time then the kids have to be in institutions all day, instead of in a family setting. I think that is the worst scenario…

              1X full time + 1X part time… Well I guess that is one of the better solutions after all. One can focus on career and the other can assist with the income to make both parties more flexible and free, retain some independence and touch with the outside world.

              What works totally depends on the people though, of course… There is no one size fits all.

              The one model that seems most workable to me is where business and family life is integrated. Like farms, and family business in general. That tends to be 2X full time work or more, plus the kids helping, but part of the child rearing is inside that work.

              Our model at home is 1X full time + 1X part time (me). However, we both work from home (or in my case, work out from home in blocks of 2 – 5 hours on varying days + do admin at home). We don’t have kids, but actually it would not be a bad model for having kids at all. They could be at home, we are both reasonable flexible, I could take them out a bit when my husbands have deadlines… and they would get to see every day how to run a consultancy business (my husbands).

  2. Oh. Erm. Forgot to mention that I get rejected a LOT. And often in the way that you describe women rejecting men, which is really confusing and usually ends up with my behaviour being labelled as “obsessive”. I also got rejected in the lesbian community for being too feminine and “passing” as straight. Not that anyone said that out loud. They just gave me that look. Which completely put me off women, I’m embarrassed to say. :$

  3. I have not come across the “nice” rejection strategies you describe, but it sounds horrible. I think it is disrespectful to keep someone “hanging” romantically by being vague about expressing a rejection. I think it is very selfish. It allows the person whoo does it to avoid conflict and avoid the risk of retaliation for hurt feelings, so it is socially and psychologically safer, but it is cruel to the rejected person who does not get a clear message and may keep hoping and trying rather than face the rejection and get on with their life.

    There is one situation where it may be wise to use that strategy: if the rejected person can be dangerous and is known to respond aggressively or in other nasty ways to a rejections. In that case regard for one’s personal safety should overrule respect and an indirect rejection may be better, but if the rejected person is reasonable, trust worthy and respect worthy, then I can’t see any reason to not be honest about it.

  4. Mark kent

    you are very true in what you say.very well done i am a adult with aspergers .if you would like to e.mail me please do.a chate.mail mkentdad12@outlook.com mark

    Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2013 18:01:03 +0000 To: mkentdad12@outlook.com