No Means No: Sometimes Buying Her Flowers Isn't Romantic

 
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Maybe it's something about the heat, but when I was out and about on Sunday Londoners were chatty. (This is a rare occurrence.)

I walked out of the restaurant where my partner and I had just eaten, belly full of pizza, blissed out on the warm London air. Next door to the pizza place was a tiny corner flower shop, and a particularly lovely white lavender plant caught my eye. As I stood in line for my favorite kind of impulse shopping - plants! -  a twenty something young man rocked up, excitement bubbling up, and unfiltered, his story spilled over to myself and the shopkeeper.

You see, he had just met a girl at a pub around the corner, and wanted to buy her flowers.

He couldn’t help himself from sharing with us, he was clearly smitten. He was laughing at himself, and as someone who loves love, I asked him to tell us the whole story.

He was out with his friends, when he spotted the most beautiful woman sitting alone, reading. He approached her: entranced by her grace, and asked if he could buy her a drink.

Smiling, she said no.

Unfazed, he then asked her for her number.

Still smiling, she said no.

A bit desperately, said: “At least let me have your name so I can find you on Facebook!”

And still smiling, she said no.

So here he was, executing the final step in his plan to win this woman’s heart. “She wouldn’t stop smiling!” he recited over and over, his justification for why she was simply playing hard to get. He was here to buy a small bouquet, and planned to wait outside the pub for her to leave. As he put it, “If she rejects my flowers, then I’ll know it wasn’t meant to be.” And I found him looking at me so starry eyed, eager, practically glowing at the idea of his grand flower gesture, and clearly looking for someone to say: You are a rare gentleman.

I took a deep breath, knowing that I was about to crush this sweet man.

You see, it is exhausting to reject someone multiple times. It’s uncomfortable, and the longer it continues the worse it feels, and to be frank, the creepier the person coming onto you seems. How could I tell him that she was probably smiling to let him down gently? Or perhaps that she was just a kind person and didn’t want to cause him pain? Or that he was making her so uncomfortable, she decided to be as polite as possible to avoid any potential anger from escalating? The ease at which he could ignore her “no” is indicative of society as a whole: we don’t take what women say seriously. As long as they have a pretty face, it’s fair game. Well, at least until she rejects the flowers.

I’ve had to physically remove myself from situations where men wouldn’t listen to my no. Once I had to ask my former (male) boss to talk to the construction company running next door’s renovations so that their builders would leave me alone as I crossed the street for my mid-morning Starbucks. I’ve rejected unknown men: stiff and politely, with kindness, with blasé, with belittling laugher, with glares, with screaming, with threats, with the help of other men I trust, and once, using my mom as a scapegoat (I was 12 and said my mom wouldn’t let me date yet. Also who asks out a 12 year old?).

Every experience is different, because at the heart of every rejection is the key question: Will he turn violent when I say no? And so myself - and almost every other woman I know - always plays it carefully.

I very delicately told this young man that, actually, you should take her at her word. That it’s very uncomfortable to reject someone, and her smile was most likely an attempt to soften the blow. He looked so crestfallen. The glint in his eyes faded. I wished him the absolute best, almost apologizing: "This just my opinion!" My read of him was that he meant absolutely no harm, but got so caught up in this romantic idea of chasing someone that he never stopped to to ponder:

Perhaps her no really meant no.

 
Marissa Conway

Hi there!

A few years ago I uprooted my life in California and moved to London, where I founded and run the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy in the UK and work as a photographer and branding consultant. Learn more →

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