“Persistence”: Romantic or Sexist?
Dear Watson is The Faster Times’ new weekly advice column. You can write to Watson anonymously at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First, I should explain that I’m a woman in my 20s and I consider myself a feminist. Not just in theory, but in practice; I believe that it’s difficult not to be sexist in this society and although I’m not perfect either, I don’t date guys whom I don’t think at least make that effort and do a reasonable job at it.
Not surprisingly, this can limit my dating options. I grumble about that from time to time, but really I’m okay with it; it’s not like I could relax my “standards” anyway, even if I wanted to. And I’m okay with being on my own. But I just met a guy whom I really liked and all of the sudden I don’t know what I think, which isn’t something that happens to me often.
I still don’t know him very well, but he seemed pretty smart and he said he’s a feminist, so, score two, right? I also found him very attractive. We were really hitting it off, joking around, swapping reading lists. And we kissed, and it was a really good, really tender kiss. But when he asked me for my number, I told him the truth: I like you, and I find you really sexy, but I’m not sure I want to date right now because I had a rough breakup a year ago and am just getting on my feet. He replied that he understood but that I seemed to be on my feet already, and that he still thought I should give him a shot. I said something noncommittal, can’t remember what, and he said, “Look, I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but I don’t meet people like you very often. Why don’t you give me your number anyway and I’ll just check in from time to time, to see if you’re ready, and if you’ve changed your mind about giving me a chance?”
I’ll admit I was flattered. I gave him my number. He’s sent me a few texts since then — considerate ones, the thought-of-you kind — and each time, I get a little turned on. But I’m confused because in the past, guys have tried this “persistence approach to seduction” shit on me before and I’ve always found it offensive and sexist, for obvious reasons. (I mean, have you ever heard of a woman doing that?? She’d just get called clingy.) The only thing that’s different this time is that I really do like the guy, and told him as much; it wasn’t a flat-out rejection. And he’s been more respectful about it than guys have been in the past. I’m still ashamed of myself, though, for finding this whole you-know-you-want-to thing so attractive. What’s the deal here? Should I ignore my attraction and blow him off? If I don’t, do I have to hang up my feminist hat? I mean what if he’s pushy about everything? Isn’t it dangerous to start down the “no-might-not-mean-no” path? And just as importantly: is this just a strategy? Am I being taken in here?
I’m clueless, give me whatever you got.
Female Fighting Intuition
What a loaded question. Persistence on the part of the male does seem to be one of the oldest romantic tropes, doesn’t it? And in the original Liz-and-Darcy context it made some sense. In the “old days,” when women were relatively powerless in society, they stood to lose a lot if they “gave in” to the wrong guy, so that persistence served the function of showing a girl that the guy deserved her trust, that his feelings were consistent and dependable. And although the rules of Victorian courtship changed and faded with time, women were still much more vulnerable than men, and still needed that assurance, for a long time afterwards, because the risk of pregnancy was always present.
So yes, in the modern context, the “persistence approach” can be insulting; it seems to imply that like the women of yesteryear, you’re too weak or feel too vulnerable to express your desires, or, worse, that you have no specific desires other than to be desired yourself. As someone who’s fought to her self-confidence, and to be treated no differently than men, it makes sense that you’d be turned off by the whole thing.
But when you give into a sense of “shame,” as a feminist, you’re also accepting strange bedfellows, if you know what I mean. In the context of a respectful relationship, for instance, would you call a woman a “bad feminist” for, say, asking a guy to call her a slut in bed? Or to indulge a rape fantasy? Or just to tell her she’s got great tits from time to time? Several fascinating new studies show that feeling desired is a critical component of arousal for many women. This guy’s persistence seems to be having that effect on you.
You say that when this has happened to you in the past, you’ve found it offputting, but that now, you’re sort of into it. That might be because there are subtle differences in this case. Firstly, the guy knows it’s not a total imposition, because you did give him your number, and you were honest about being attracted to him. That lands this flirtation more on the side of trying-to-make-you-feel-desired than disregarding your distaste for him. Secondly, he’s not making assumptions about your vulnerability; he’s reacting to vulnerability that you yourself made explicit when you told him that the issue wasn’t him, but your last breakup. That is to say, he might not be ignoring your feelings so much as addressing them — trying to show you that getting involved with him isn’t as risky as it might have seemed. I agree that “no-might-not-mean-no” is the kind of attitude that paves the road to perdition, but I don’t think his persistence in this particular case falls under that category — by giving him your number, you as much as admitted that you weren’t really saying “no” in this case.
As for your last question — “Am I being taken in here?” — I really couldn’t say. It’s possible that he’s just being Machiavellian in adopting the strategy most likely to win you over, given what he knows about your reasons for not dating. But then, being taken in is a risk you run with all new relationships, even the most promising. The real question is, are you ready to run that risk again?
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