chance

Why I Won’t Just ‘Give Him a Chance’ Anymore

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Alexandra O'Sullivan

I’m not cheap, I’m free.

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‘Look at him, he’s so keen on you. Give the poor bastard a chance.’

This was the persuasive argument of a male friend of mine at a club many years ago, referring to the man who was eyeballing me from across the dance floor. This man would later become my boyfriend, my abuser, my stalker and the recipient of my Intervention Order. He would steal years of potential happiness from my life along with thousands of dollars. He would give me panic attacks and anxiety that I still have to manage, all because I took that advice and ‘gave him a chance.’

Of course, this doesn’t happen to every woman who gives a guy a chance, but it is definitely a lesson learned for me, and a fair reason for women to not dole out chances just because ‘the poor bastards’ want them. We are wary, and we are wary for a damn good reason.

‘Give him a chance’ is a common phrase, and it speaks to a belief that men inherently deserve chances, and that this overrides a woman’s feelings. It places male desire above female autonomy, and tries to persuade women to say ‘yes’ when they might really feel like saying ‘no.’

There are many reasons women might want to say ‘no,’ and all of them are valid. Often, it’s something quite benign, like the fact that they feel no attraction. But sometimes it’s more sinister, like they’ve noticed some red flags in the man’s behaviour and they are not willing to get caught up in any of that shit. To encourage women to give men a chance, despite lack of attraction and possible red flags, is not just insulting to the woman’s sense of personal choice, but it is horrible, dangerous advice that contradicts society’s insistence that women should realise the risks of being women and just stop doing silly things like getting raped or beaten.

‘Man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal,’ Jane Austen had her character, Henry Tilney, proclaim in Northanger Abbey. Things have changed a little since Austen’s time, we no longer have to wait passively for marriage proposals but now we get to fend off hundreds of creepy messages and unsolicited dick pics. Yay for progress. But I do like the idea of the power of refusal, (even if Henry was giving it little credit) not just for women in historically oppressive times where marriage was one of the very few options available to them, but as something that can, and should, be used by anyone at any time. We should not underestimate the power of refusal, nor should we hesitate in using that power.

When I get a flirtatious message from a man I don’t know or barely know, I feel the anxiety rising. It’s actually scary these days to be flirted with. What a sad state of affairs. My safest course is to not reply, and this is what I often do. Because I know from experience that it’s too often a very short trip from, ‘Why won’t you just give me a chance? I’m a nice guy!’ to ‘You’re a fat bitch, I hope you die.’ And when my answer, ‘Hi I’m good thanks,’ is often interpreted as ‘leading someone on,’ sometimes it feels like we have few options of negotiating a safe refusal. Silence feels like one of the better options, and even though silence doesn’t work all the time, it’s a perfectly legitimate response to unwanted attention.

‘But it’s so rude! Why can’t you just say, ‘thanks but no thanks,’ or better yet, just give the guy a chance!’ I hear all the dude bros yelling. Because it’s about safety, that’s why. Both physical and psychological. And while it may not be every guy who responds aggressively, we do not have the advantage of knowing in advance. Also, silence is not oppressive. It is not to be confused with silencing. Silence is a choice not to speak, silencing is making that choice for someone else. On that note, blocking someone online is not oppressive either. That is a choice not to listen to abuse. Nobody is required to listen to abuse, and blocking someone is not stopping their voice, it is stopping their voice from causing us harm. This distinction is very important for female autonomy, we don’t oppress others by simply protecting our own safety and mental health.

Silence is also a hint, and a pretty damn nice one, that we are not interested. Sometimes my silence means, ‘I really don’t know how you are going to respond to my carefully worded polite let down, so I’m just going to not send it and hope you go away, because I don’t feel like being abused today.’ I’ve made the mistake of attempting to negotiate for my own autonomy in the past. I’ve been honest yet diplomatic. I’ve said, ‘I’m really sorry but I just don’t want to date you,’ in a variety of tactful ways. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn’t. Too many times it has drawn me into a long debate over ‘But why don’t you want to date me?’ Which frankly, I don’t always possess enough tact to honestly, yet politely, answer.

I feel for the younger generation, growing up with social media and what it has done to the dating game. But I also have hope. I was dropping my son off at school the other day, and I noticed a group of girls, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, in the playground singing and dancing to Meghan Trainer’s No. Their voices rang loud and their feet stamped the ground as they sang, ‘My name is no, my sign is no, my number is no, you need to let it go, you need to let it go!’ Watching them, I felt a sudden surge of power. I wanted to call out to them, ‘Sing it sisters!’ Although that would really have embarrassed my son. But it was so uplifting. These days, it’s never too early to learn the power of refusal. Or even sometimes, the power of silence.

2 comments

  1. Hi Alexendra, I agree with you completely, especially on red flags. And I agree that a person’s health and safety is of the highest degree of importance.

    I’m a man, and I gave someone a “chance.” However, this “poor bastard” was not a man, rather a woman. I too lost thousands of dollars, stress, anxiety, heartache and I was the victim of severe verbal abuse. I was not physically abused. When I finally had the courage to end things, this women threatened me with suicide and constant harassment.

    My question to you… what defines someone as a “poor bastard?” From what I’m gathering from your article, it’s someone that is regarded as less desirable by society. Is this correct? Maybe someone that is not good looking, not well off financially, lonely, socially awkward, or not well spoken??

    Where I disagree with you, is that I believe just because someone is considered a “poor bastard” does not mean that they are a bad person and will do harm. In fact, some people might be pleasantly surprised by giving a “poor bastard” a chance. And just because someone is considered to be highly attractive, successful, appears to be the total package, does not mean that deep beneath their skin exists something completely of the opposite. What instantly comes to mind is the All American poster boy Stanford swimmer that committed rape on campus: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-stanford-rape-case-documents-release-20160610-snap-htmlstory.html

    The woman I dated was attractive, a web developer, home owner at age 31, with an outgoing personality. It wasn’t until I was in a committed relationship when the red flags and disturbing behavior came about. My point is, I don’t believe we should judge a book by it’s cover. And more so, no matter how difficult our individual experiences are, I don’t think we should label people or create a fear of those that are considered to be different or as your friend called it “poor bastard.”

    I open this up for positive discussion.

  2. Hi Zach,

    Thanks for the feedback!

    My use of ‘poor bastard’ in this case was repeating the words my friend had used when trying to convince me to give my ex a chance. It was more intended to convey one sided affections (at least initially in my case of meeting my ex) not intended to suggest anything about the person in terms of ‘value’ whatsoever. I do agree that this is not necessarily a gender exclusive issue, and I feel we have a lot of work to do as a society regarding how we view intimate relationships in general, especially in terms of catering to other people who may want more than we do out of a relationship. It works in with consent, and I feel romantic consent is something we really need to think about along with sexual consent, and this ties in with the threatening suicide issue you had (a form of DV), because we should not have to be responsible for other people’s romantic feelings and they should not blackmail us into feeling responsible.

    This is where I am going to attempt to address your question, if someone is not desirable to you personally as a romantic partner, that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t meet society’s standard of ‘attractive’ it just means that you don’t feel the connection required to want to date them. Now, it is a little murky, I agree, because it is sometimes difficult to know how much of our sexual wiring is due to society’s influence of what is considered attractive, and I think this is something we need to work on within ourselves. But it is not the job of other people to pressure us into intimate relationships we (for whatever reason whatsoever) just don’t want to enter into. I think tackling this question should begin with opening up our view of what is attractive and encouraging better representations in media etc, rather than just pushing individual people to be attracted to other people.

    So I was not labelling unattractive people as ‘poor bastards’ I was making a comment on the term my friend had used, more to convey the feelings of pity he was trying to encourage in me in order to get me to date this person. I did find him attractive, it was more the red flags that made me hesitate. In fact, my ex had no problem finding women to date, he was a successful athlete who was well respected in his field and very charismatic, the pity was meant to be about the fact that he really, really wanted to date me and I was hesitating.

    I hope that clears it up! I most certainly would never want to make a disparaging remark about anyone who doesn’t fit ‘conventionally attractive’ standards!

    Alex

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