The following post exhibits heteronormativity based on heterosexual personal experiences, but is not meant to minimize the experiences of other forms of sexuality
As an insecure teenager, I was never obsessed with having a boyfriend, but I did wish boys were more interested in me than they were at the time. I was mainly focused on my studies in high school, with only one boyfriend at the end of my senior year. My studious habits have continued in college, yet somehow the boys have become more interested in me. Maybe I aged well or something, coming out of my acne-stricken, braces-laden puberty to a better end.
My first encounter with a guy hitting on me was in February of my college freshman year as I walked across the Sunken Gardens at William & Mary, my university at the time. I wore a long-sleeved dress covered by a black peacoat, sporting my bare long legs in the unseasonably warm Virginia winter. Behind this classic ensemble was a young woman in the fog of depression, barely fighting her eating disorder. I was caught off guard when this man came up to me as I was on my way to work at the student call center. He told me he just had to come up to me because of how beautiful I was. I was flattered to say the least, having never experienced anything like this. Even though he was clearly older than my 19 years, I gave him my number and we set up a coffee date for the following Saturday.
As the date approached, I was dreading the social interaction and façade I would have to put on to meet this man. I pulled myself together for the date and pretended to enjoy myself. I thought I owed it to him to go on this date because he took an interest in me like no one else had.
This was only the first in a series of interactions like this, where a guy would come up to me based on my appearance and ask for my number. Encounters of this kind increased dramatically after I moved to New York. People here can be more forward in general, but especially when it comes to pursuing women. Some men see an attractive woman and feel it is their right to go up to her, tell her this, and get her number. For a while, I participated in this encounter, but usually never texted back, hoping he would assume I gave him the wrong number. Sometimes I would text back, but ultimately cancel the date that he had tried to arrange.
This week, I finally decided I don’t have to put up with this sexist double standard any more. The other day a guy came up to me as I was walking through Washington Square Park, telling me I was “gorgeous” and that he had to stop me. I obliged him the semantics of my name, what I was studying, and that I played the cello, but I wasn’t interested in him, making it an incredibly forced encounter. I just wanted to go along with my day, so when I tried to end the conversation and he asked for my number, I turned him down. I knew I wouldn’t text him back anyways, so why get his hopes up?
It took me over a year to realize I am not obligated to go on a date with a guy just because he finds me attractive. The reason I have come to find men hitting on me problematic is somewhat complex. I don’t like strangers asking for my number based on my looks and a few trivial interactions. For me it boils down to four things: feminism, my priorities, my personality, and my mental health.
First and foremost, this type of interaction is a feminist issue. For men to think it is okay to approach women because they find them attractive and expect to receive a number in return is sexist. This sets a double standard that men take action and initiative while women are passive roles in romantic/sexual affairs. The norm of men pursuing women despite that they do not want this attention is a small piece in the larger puzzle of rape culture. I believe women have just as much right as men to pursue someone they are interested in, yet in today’s culture that is not how things play out. What does occur reinforces gendered double standards and harmful norms that prioritize male attraction over female boundaries.
If a man is truly interested in getting to know a woman, he should make more of an effort than a cheesy pick-up line or saying “I had to say hello because you’re gorgeous.” This type of interaction prioritizes a woman’s looks above all else. That is against my personal values and what I hope to stand for.
I also value my education and career; I will never let a man get in the way of this. Being in a relationship has never been a priority in my life for this reason. If someone comes along who can join me for the ride then great, but the type of people I have met from being hit on don’t seem to fit this expectation. I have goals and priorities that don’t need a man in the picture.
Now onto the more personal aspects of why I don’t date strangers who hit on me. I am a very independent person who is content in her introverted ways. If I am going to spend time with someone it needs to be worth it because of a strong connection or bond. Anyone who thinks it is okay to hit on women based on her objectification is not the type of guy for me. For a relationship of any kind to work, I need more than surface level attraction and chatting.
Last but never least, to complicate these matters are my mental health issues. As someone in eating disorder recovery, I have spent many years hating my body, my mind consumed with negativity about how I look. I am not going to deny that being hit on does inject a small dose of confidence in me, but that doesn’t change how I feel about myself internally. I need to learn to love my body before I can let someone else do the same. And then there’s depression, can never forget about her. I just don’t have the energy or motivation for dating. Besides, no one wants to spend time with someone who is depressed. I have too much baggage right now that I am still sorting through and breaking free of. I am in the process of a personal journey, learning a lot about myself as I work towards recovery. It is a long process that most people cannot handle and it is something I need to do for myself, no one else.
Maybe one day I will meet a stranger who sweeps me off my feet and we fall in love, blah blah blah. But that day hasn’t happened yet, and until it does, I will turn down the random guys who hit on me. Ladies, stick it out for the ones who are in it for more than the good looks. We don’t want those patriarchally-conditioned men anyway.