Thursday, September 17, 2009

How to Socially Reject a Man with Style

I have read a complaint on the distaff end of the blogosphere that runs something like this: betas will insinuate themselves into the social orbit of a female that is out of his league. He doesn't actually take the step of declaring his intentions, so she has no opportunity to tell him "no" to a question he hasn't asked. This, it is said, is unpleasant for the female, who only wants to surround herself with alphas.

I have elsewhere commented that I don't have a lot of sympathy with this particular problem, but a male friend sent me an example of how alpha females handle the situation. It involves Facebook, but it can probably be adapted to real-life interactions.

Background: as I understand it, friend was himself approached by T, and they hung out for a week before she realized that, appearances to the contrary, friend was too hopelessly beta even for the quick fling she had in mind. Flash forward a dozen or so years. He's married; she's married. He looks her up on Facebook, and sends her the following message:

Dear T:

If you are the T I knew in [town where they both lived briefly]: hi! I see you are married now, so congratulations.

I've been rumaging around facebook trying to figure out which of the gaziillion [mutual friend's name] is the one from [town where they knew mutual friend]. I lost track of him back in '99.

I hope all is well.


I would appreciate reader feedback as to the plausibility of the have-you-heard-from-so-and-so pretext. But for the time being, let's assume that he's insinuating himself into her social orbit.

Here's the response he got:


How wonderful to hear from you! As soon as I saw your name I remembered exactly who you are! I pray that you're happy (by your photo, you look it) and doing well. Many good wishes and blessings to you and your beautiful wife. Take care and God bless,



Let's see if we can break down what makes this reply so effective in ensuring that he doesn't contact her again:

  • She doesn't answer the question. This implies, without saying so, that she isn't taken in by what she believes to be a pretext. It also shows she is unwilling to participate in the conversation she was offered.

  • She's polite. She's not out to make an enemy, but a friend-kept-at-a-safe-distance. Being polite shows she's not afraid, or threatened, or cornered, or intimidated: all marks of a true alpha female.

  • Her reply is conclusive. Read it carefully. There is no conceivable way back into the conversation for him. At least not without looking like a complete fool.

There are probably other elements that make this response so effective. Thoughts?

UPDATE: In the comments, Sabina identifies a fourth element:

  • She mentions his marital status. Twice. I missed the significance before, but not only does she make no acknowledgment of his question, she makes no acknowledgment of his offer of congratulations on her own marriage. It's now perfectly clear that she regards, or pretends to regard, his facebook message as an effort to start . . . something. She declines to be disarmed by his willingness to acknowledge up front that she is off the market, and instead subtly attempts to shame him by calling attention to his own marriage.


Kirt33 said...

I'm not sure I agree with you on this one, Phi. Her response is not polite at all - she doesn't answer the question! No conceivable way back into the conversation? How about writing back and saying, "Hey, chica, that's very nice, but can you give me the information I asked for?"

I dunno, maybe I'm too innocent or something, but I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt that it was a genuine question, hence deserving of a real answer.

Burke said...

Kirt33: I guess I should have qualified "polite" as "polite way of getting someone to go away."

Yeah, I would have taken the question at face value as well, but then I'm not female.

Anonymous said...

She's rude and condescending. Answering the question would have taken no effort on her part. Just because the man is too Beta for her tastes doesn't mean he does not deserve polite treatment.


Anonymous said...

She could have at least added something along the lines of: "Sorry, I don't recall that particular person. Sorry I couldn't be of more help. Many good wishes..."

I would have replied requesting the information that I asked for.

Trumwill said...

I think she does answer the question within a degree. She either doesn't know or doesn't feel comfortable giving out the contact information of a third party. In case of the latter, saying as much could elongate the conversation with "Well, would you mind asking him?" or could invite an embittered "Don't you trust me?" whining reply. And, of course, it would have given the opportunity to shift into other areas that she really wasn't comfortable going.

But she answered the question: Look elsewhere for the information you seek.

I think that in general the "right" rejection is much more easily done in an email ping like this. You don't have to deal with the guy's hurt or anger if it pops up. You can keep the conversation as short as you want to keep it. It's more complicated in person when the mutual friends are still an active member of your lives.

Burke said...

I incline with Trumwill on this one. The non-response indicates that she's either unwilling to say (in which case asking again looks petulant) or that she didn't take the question at face value (in which case asking again looks flimsy). Φ-friend has been deftly checkmated.

Trumwill: yes, the email format works easiest, but the principles should be broadly applicable.

Anonymous said...

Make "T" an Alpha male, and Phi's friend a fat woman, and I'm 100% certain the response would be considered cruel rather than classy.


Burke said...

Make "T" an Alpha male, and Phi's friend a fat woman, and I'm 100% certain the response would be considered cruel rather than classy.

Okay, let me try to retrench. Sure, it would be better if T could make room in her social orbit for a beta at facebook-level familiarity. It shouldn't be that hard. But given that T has, for her own reasons, decided against doing this, then the way she handled it was superior to overt cruelty.

Let me think of an imperfect metaphor: given that not all stray pets will find homes, its better that the ones who don't be put down by a vet than, say, be used as javelin targets or something.

And to be fair, we don't really know T's reasons. It might be that Mr. T discourages male Facebook friends. It may be that T herself regards them as inappropriate, particularly with a man with whom, as I understand it, she once shared mutual attraction, however briefly.

Sabina said...

That she references his married status twice? I often do that when I'm being encroached upon by a man I don't want to be romanced by, which would be anyone who already has a girlfriend or wife. I've found that making some passing references to her, especially a complimentary one, or asking about how she's doing to let them know that yes, I know you have one and yes, I think she's lovely, makes most guys with any shame or a clue back off.

Burke said...

Sabina: that's good. I'll put it in an update. To be fair, he referenced her marital status first, which itself might have been disarming. (Although it wasn't.)

Trumwill said...

One thing that I think this illustrates is that there is no polite way to tell someone to buzz off that won't be considered cruel by somebody. She doesn't owe him help in locating his old friend. A failure to respond at all wouldn't even be cruel, though it would be impolite. But she did respond and she responded warmly. That she did not want to help him simply does not constitute cruelty.

True story... my ex (Evangeline, for HC readers) once got an email from her first boyfriend. It was only a couple lines asking how she was. She responded in three or four sentences. He responded in a couple paragraphs. Her nose started twitching and so she responded in a couple of sentences asking him if he'd ever married. He replied in ten paragraphs about how he loves his wife, would never cheat on her, misses her (Eva), would love to see her (Eva) again, and by the way his marriage isn't a particularly happy one.

This was followed by two more emails and a couple of phone calls (she never gave him her number). She never replied.

Now, you could say "So she got a few emails and some phone calls she didn't want. Big deal!" Of course, he could have not stopped calling at all. Or maybe he would have been cool and understanding that she doesn't want to spend time with a former lover in an unhappy marriage. Maybe it would not have been so bad, maybe it would have been worse. But wherever on the scales of disconcerting and inconvenient it was, it all would have been avoided if she had not responded at all. Or if she had responded more coolly or deflectively.

There is a reason women don't give men the benefit of the doubt. I think that the best we can ask is "Don't call me names, don't prematurely accuse me of stalking you, and let me know if I'm wasting my time. As gently as possible with whatever level of firmness you feel you need to apply."

Hermes said...

I read this entry when you first posted it, but didn't comment on it. Re-reading it after you linked to it from your most recent entry, even though it's a few weeks old, I just have to post something. The more I think about this, the more I would describe the woman as a total bitch. It actually makes me angry.

Like Kirt33, I wouldn't characterize this reply as polite at all. I don't think it's "polite" to "get someone to go away," and I'm not sure how you reconcile your maximalist position on social civility with this woman's reply. Just because it's dressed up in a thin veneer of pleasant language doesn't excuse that it obviously translates to "I don't like you. You're too nerdy and low-social-status to associate with. Furthermore, even though we're both married, I'm assuming you're contacting me because you want to start something. I'm annoyed and disgusted by you. Get lost and never contact me again."

It's the height of arrogance to not even acknowledge that someone asked you an effing question. That women routinely treat men this way, and get away with it, makes my blood boil.

Burke said...

Hermes: I agree that especially in direct personal interactions, failing to acknowledge a straightforward question is really patronizing. Still, though, having personally endured interactions without even a veneer of politeness, this looks relatively good by comparison. I guess I'm grading on the curve.

Sheila Tone said...

It sounds to me like she just didn't read the email carefully. I've done that before. Especially on Facebook.

Wow, and men accuse women of overanalyzing interactions.

Did she friend you? (Was there a request to do so?)

Hermes said...

It may be that T herself regards them as inappropriate, particularly with a man with whom, as I understand it, she once shared mutual attraction, however briefly.

OK, this is the one reason I may be willing to cut the woman some slack. I understand that women are uncomfortable having any sort of contact with men with whom they once shared more-than-friends status, however briefly, if the man in question wanted to keep things going and the woman did not. It's just the way they are.

I'm reminded of when my college girlfriend of 2.5 years broke up with me. She left open the possibility of remaining "friends," though since it was long distance that was a moot point anyway. For the first few months after the breakup, every few weeks I would send her an email, just asking if she still wanted to keep in contact--nothing too overwhelming or stalkerish. She never responded to any of them. Finally I sent her one in which I politely asked for a yes-or-no final answer, if only so that I could know whether she was getting the emails or not. She didn't even respond to that one, and so I gave up. At the time, I was infuriated, since I knew that of course she was receiving the emails, and she didn't even have the decency to acknowledge that fact.

In my own mind, I would have been perfectly willing to take no for an answer. If she had politely said "no, thanks, I'd prefer not to remain in contact at all," I would have accepted that and never contacted her again. But how could she know that? For all she knew, if she said "yes," I'd start trying to ingratiate myself into a romantic relationship with her again, while if she said "no," I might blow up at her and become a full-blown stalker. Given the possibilities, and the passive nature of women in general, she thought her best course of action was to ignore me and hope that I eventually just gave up, which I did.

That may be what T was thinking here. "This guy was attracted to me once, and the feeling wasn't mutual. Yuck. If I allow him to start a conversation with me, who knows what he might try to do?"

It sounds to me like she just didn't read the email carefully. I've done that before. Especially on Facebook.

Indeed, given the extreme cautiousness and discomfort I've just described, she may not even have been able to bring herself to read the email, given the potential feelings of awkwardness it might create in her. She may have gotten no farther than seeing his name in the inbox, and seeing a woman in his profile picture with him, before thinking "I'd better cut this off immediately and send him a dismissive message."

Phi, it would be interesting to know what your friend thought of this exchange, since he obviously cared enough to show it to you. Did you discuss it much with him?

Hermes said...

PS: I still have to say that I don't consider her reply "polite" at all (nor "warm[ly]", as Trumwill described it) because the statement that it's "wonderful to hear from" him is such a transparent lie. If she really thought it was so wonderful, she'd be open to continuing communication with him, rather than permanently foreclosing all possibility of further contact as you point out she did.

Burke said...

On the other hand, we deploy pretty obvious lies all the time to reduce the friction inherent in sharing the world with other people. When I say to someone, "hi, howya doin'," I'm only really interested in hearing a "fine thanks," not a half-hour discourse on their latest medical problems. But it's still a nice thing to say, even if I don't really mean it. So I appreciate T's willingness to observe the courtesies.

And I'm not really questioning female preferences in their associations; indeed, I have my own preferences. But these preferences ought not to be exercised at the expense of civility, and sometimes that means we don't get our way. It means I spend more time talking to the 60-year-old than I would otherwise choose to, because that's what politeness requires. But it seems many women recognize no such obligation.