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Teaching Teenage Girls to Say No

Looking for Mr. Right has taken on far greater significance than Getting Rid of Mr. Wrong, so young women are not taught how to get out of relationships. That high school class would stress the one rule that applies to all types of unwanted pursuit: do not negotiate. Once a girl has made the decision that she doesn't want a relationship with a particular man, it needs to be said one time, explicitly. Almost any contact after that rejection will be seen as negotiation. If a woman tells a man over and over again that she doesn't want to talk to him, that is talking to him, and every time she does it, she betrays her resolve in the matter. If you tell someone ten times that you don't want to talk to him, you are talking to him -- nine more times than you wanted to.

When a young woman gets thirty messages from a pursuer, doesn't initially call him back, but then finally gives in and returns his calls, no matter what she says, he learns that the cost of reaching her is leaving thirty messages. For this type of young man, any contact will be seen as progress. Of course, some young women are worried that by not responding, they'll provoke him, so they try letting him down easy. Often, the result is that he believes she is conflicted, uncertain, really likes him but just doesn't know it yet.

When a girl rejects someone who has a crush on her, and she says, ''It's just that I don't want to be in relationship right now,'' he hears only the words ''right now.'' To him, this means she will want to be in a relationship later. The rejection should be ''I don't want to be in a relationship with you.'' Unless it's just that clear, and sometimes even when it is, he doesn't hear it.

If she says, ''You're a great guy and you have a lot to offer, but I'm not the one for you; my head's just not in the right place these days,'' he thinks: ''She really likes me; it's just that she's confused. I've got to prove to her that she's the one for me.''

When a young woman explains her decision not to accept or stay in a relationship, this type of pursuer will challenge each reason she offers. I suggest that teenage girls be taught that they never need to explain why they don't want a relationship, but simply make clear that they have thought it over, that this is their decision, and that they expect the boy to respect it. Why would she explain intimate aspects of her life, plans, and romantic choices to someone with whom she doesn't want a relationship?

The word rejection is weighted down with negative connotations; a better word is Decision, as in ''I have made a decision that we won't be having a relationship.'' This statement offers no reasons and begs no negotiations, but young women in this culture are virtually prohibited from speaking it. They are taught that speaking it clearly and early may lead to unpopularity, banishment, anger, and even violence.

If a teenage boy still pursues after hearing a girl's decision, he is saying, in effect, ''I do not accept your decision.'' If he debates, doubts, negotiates, or attempts to change her mind, her resolve should be strengthened, not challenged. That's because she can be immediately certain that she made the right decision about this person. Obviously, she wouldn't want a relationship with someone who does not hear what she says and who does not recognize her feelings.

An unwanted pursuer might escalate his behavior to include such things as persistent phone calls and messages, showing up uninvited at her classes or home, following her, and trying to enlist her friends or family in his campaign. If any of these things happens, assuming that she has communicated her decision one time explicitly, it is very important that no further detectable response be given. When a girl communicates again with someone she has explicitly rejected, her actions don't match her words. The boy is able to choose which communications (actions versus words) actually represent the woman's feelings. Not surprisingly, he usually chooses the ones that serve him. Often, such teenagers will leave phone messages that ostensibly offer closure, but that are actually crudely concealed efforts to get a response - and remember, he views any response as progress.

Message: Hi, it's Bryan. Listen, I just want to see you again. All I'm asking for is a chance to say good-bye; that's all. Just a fast meeting, and then I'm gone.

Best response: No response.

Message: Listen, it's Bryan. You won't hear from me again after today. I'm calling for the last time. (This line, though spoken often by unwanted pursuers, is rarely true.) It's urgent I speak with you.

Best response: No response.

Sometimes, what begins as persistence escalates to unwanted pursuit, and occasionally, outright stalking. There is an axiom of this dynamic:

Many unwanted relationships start with a boy's pick-up strategies. These haven't changed much in a long time and aren't likely to, but the responses of uninterested girls could certainly include options other than ''You're cute but...'' Somebody recently sent me a list of funny comebacks to popular pick-up lines. I'm not necessarily recommending these responses, but girls benefit from knowing as many alternatives to compliance as possible:

Man: Your place or mine?
Woman: Both. You go to yours and I'll go to mine.

Man: What's your sign?
Woman: Do Not Enter.

Man: I know how to please a woman.
Woman: Then please leave me alone.

Man: I'd go to the end of the world for you.
Woman: But would you stay there?

Man: Is this seat empty?
Woman: Yes, and this one will be too if you sit down.

However she puts it, every time a young woman says No, she is actually saying Yes to something else: she is saying Yes to herself. One thing's almost for certain: if a teenager is fluent in the use of the word No, she will at some point be called a bitch. It needn't be an insult, as I learned from a young college student who learned it from her father: Bitch stands for ''Boys, I'm Taking Control Here.''


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