Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Is this spot taken?"

Far too often, patients at the ER try to hit on me. (If you are picturing someone cute and polite who is in the ER for reasons that have nothing to do with being in a drunken bottle fight, then you are picturing the exact opposite of the sort of person who does this.) And most of the time, they do it in the format: "Gosh, ain't you a little sweet thing... do you have a boyfriend?"

I just say "yes." But that's a partial answer, because they asked the wrong question. They asked something like five different kinds of the wrong question.

The full answer is: "Yes, but he doesn't care who I sleep with, but I bloody well care who I sleep with!"

Perhaps I'm reading too much into the drunken advances of the sort of guy who tries to hit on the person who's picking glass out of his wounds, but it unnerves me that my boyfriend's right to my body is counted as more important than my own, even when he's not around. They're trying to establish whether I'm owned, not whether I'm interested.

Sometimes, for extra comedy/discouragement value, I'll say "yes, and he's really mean." This is a straight up lie, as Rowdy is barely mean enough to use sternly worded I-statements with a fly. (And the implications here are horrifying; am I suggesting that Rowdy would beat someone up for having consensual sex with me, or that only his "meanness" protects me from sexual assault?)

So the real answer is: "Yes, and he's not mean at all, but Roger The 250-Pound Security Guard sure is. If you try something, guess which one I'm going to call?"


  1. Oh, GOD. Yes. When I get hit on, I start with a flat "not interested, thanks." And yet that almost never stops them. I have to tell them I'm married. And THEN, better than half the time, they point out that I'm not wearing a wedding ring. Which I am, it just doesn't look like a wedding ring, and isn't on my left hand ring finger. I explain this, tell them I've been with the same guy for 20 years, and that usually shuts them up . . . by getting them off on the tangent that I do NOT look 'that old' . . . which I'm not, 'cause I have been with the same guy since I was 14.

    So, disregarding my opinion, then disbelieving what I'm saying, then generously condescending to still find me sexy after they learn I'm over 30. Some people are assholes.

    My husband doesn't care who I fuck, either, but I never, ever mention this to anyone I don't intend to fuck, because it's like they think that means I WILL FUCK THEM. Like there's no reason why I shouldn't, right, because even if I'm property, I'm not on a leash? Which, NO. Fuck that shit.

    I try not to qualify my refusals because that's just giving them an opening to argue. If you give a reason why not, they take that as an obstacle that they can remove. If it weren't for the fact that these men are often large and scary and this usually happens when I'm alone, and how hard is it to follow someone to their car when nobody pays attention to what is going on around them . . . I'd just TELL the assholes they're assholes. As it is, the shitty part is that I often don't even feel safe enough to tell them to bugger off, even relatively politely.

  2. I know exactly what you mean. I was walking home from a club one night in a well-lit area when another club-goer tried to chat me up as I went on my decreasingly merry way. The conversation went something like this:

    Him: Hey there honey, you lookin' for a man tonight?
    Me: No.
    Him: Is it your boyfriend? Does he not like you going out? I promise I wont tell.
    Me: I don't have a boyfriend. I'm going home *alone* to sleep.
    Him: He shouldn't let you out alone, a gorgeous thing like you.
    Me: He doesn't exist, and I'm a black belt. Good night.
    Him: What he don't know don't hurt him none. But I understand. You don't wanna make him mad. I respect that. But you don't have to tell him.
    Me: Yes I would because he's big and mean and he'd just *know* and beat us both up. He's very jealous.
    Him: Alrighty then, well, you have a nice night sugar. And remember, if you ever change your mind, you know where I'm at. *winks*

    Uurgh, that whole exchange just annoyed the hell out of me. Particularly the part where my opinion and idea of what I want to do with my own goddamn body didnt count. It made the last part about me changing my mind almost laughable, because obviously me having no mind was the only answer this unfortunate suitor would accept. I still wish I had a clever comeback besides my mental monologue of "who the hell do you think you are, even if I did want you it apparently means nothing that *I* would know I'd cheated on my doesnt-even-exist boyfriend, and why are you not listening to a word I'm saying besides "boyfriend" and gah." Actually, if anyone has a clever comeback, I'll be sure to take notes.

  3. I'm a tall (5'11") white woman, which apparently makes me very attractive to straight black men, of whom there is no shortage in my area. I'm also lesbian. I'm also transgendered, but I generally "pass" well enough that most folks without previous exposure to transfolk aren't aware.

    I'm never sure how to respond to guys hitting one me, because "I'm lesbian" gets guys turned on and thinking maybe they'll "score" two girls instead of just one... and "I've got an 8-inch cock, you sure that's what you're after?" doesn't seem like the safest thing to say -- and even if that is what he's after, I'm not interested in giving it to him.

    I've been assaulted once by some random guy who was very clearly hitting on me at the bus stop where I was waiting alone for the late-night route back from the club -- I told him I wasn't interested, he ignored me and moved physically closer, I asked him politely to give me some space and he leaned in over me so I shouted at him to "give me some fucking space!" which he did... after punching me in the face.

    So when the answer is "yes, I'm single, but you disgust me and I want nothing to do with you and you may not realize what you're really asking for when you hit on me" -- I don't have any reply to give that works very well...

  4. Sometimes I go with "I BEG your pardon?" or I just develop Hysterical Deafness and don't HEAR anything inappropriate that's said to me.

    Which makes me sound like a maiden aunt, but I can live with that. I'm bi, poly, kinky, and, frankly, kind of prim, and I'm okay with that.

    Of course, again, then they back off because I'm a Nice Girl, not because I TOLD them too, so, same shit different pile.

    Sometimes that's not a safe response, and then I do the same damn dance every woman has to do sometimes. And hate it.

    And once in awhile I lose my temper and when some random guy on the street wants to know what "he" has got that Random Guy hasn't, I say "Couth. Style. And Me."

    One day this will end very very badly...

  5. I feel like the Imaginary Boyfriend we all occasionally make up is self-perpetuating, like if we keep doing that then the guys who hit on us will forever believe that their come-ons are awesome and desirable and the only thing keeping them from pussy is that someone else already owns it.

    And yet, I too have been in the situation where I said "I'm not interested" twenty fucking times and it didn't work (and the Imaginary Boyfriend did work - immediately). So it's a vicious circle.

    In other news, I was at a social gathering a couple of years ago and an acquaintance stuck his tongue in my mouth without warning (by "without warning" I mean while I wasn't even making eye contact with him...I was talking to someone else and this guy's mouth literally cut me off mid-sentence). He apologized afterward and I told him, truthfully, that I didn't mind the kiss itself but would have preferred that he'd ask permission first.

    More recently, this acquaintance and I were at another gathering and he got drunk and apparently felt amorous again; he started repeatedly reminding himself out loud that "I can't kiss you because you have a boyfriend now." This irked the shit out of me and I kind of wanted to say something, but decided it wasn't worth the hassle.

    But seriously, WTF?

    And ironically, my bf and I have a "monogamish" relationship agreement so I could have kissed the dude without repercussions. And I would have been up for it - if he'd talked to me like I was an actual human being instead of making rhetorical statements about me to himself.

  6. In fairness to the drunken arseholes, is this completely about ownership or is part of it a recognition of respect for monogamy?

    I'm not arguing with your point, I can't deny it but I don't think it's purely about accepting that you're property of a man. I could be wrong, though, of course.

    1. So... where's the respect for celibacy/lack of interest, etc.?

  7. "They're trying to establish whether I'm owned, not whether I'm interested."

    Oh, god, nail on the head. I'm almost uncomfortable even saying I have a boyfriend or titling my relationship at all, in part because of shit like this.

  8. I know what you mean, Holly. It's probably sad how many of us have had the exact same experience.

    @Vida - the issue seems to be that, UNLESS you state that you have a boyfriend a lot of guys seem to just ignore your "NO"s and annoyingly persist anyway, because as if you would know what you wanted.

    This probably has something to do with the culture, too. I mean, it's ingrained in them from an early age that they just have to persist to get what they want, in movies and everywhere else. Girl's just playing "hard to get" - probably means she likes you, etc etc.

    I once had a guy at a bar come up behind me and grind me in spite of my efforts to elbow him/shove him away and the music was too loud to hear (not that he was paying attention to what I was saying anyway). Actually, this happened way more than once, but the difference this one time was that it was so packed on the dance floor I could not get away until *he* decided he'd had enough. It was pretty awful.

  9. Vida: even if it is respect for monogamy, there's obviously some pretty grave disrespect for my feelings going on if "I have a boyfriend" makes a guy leave me alone but "I'm not interested in you" does not.

    And anyway, why is it anyone else's responsibility to uphold my relationship? Just ask me out and if I don't want to date you (for any reason, including having a boyfriend already) I'll say so.

    Conversely, if someone wants to cheat on her boyfriend and a hot guy approaches with the opener, "are you single?" she'll lie and say she is. All this supposed concern for monogamy doesn't actually accomplish anything.

  10. Saying "no" to people is a skill like any other, particularly because getting people to say "yes" is a skill that many people practice regularly and systematically.

    Saying "no" is simple but difficult at times. I've taken to using a flat "no" and then responding to any "angle" or strategy by reminding my interlocutor that I've already said "no." It doesn't matter what the answer to your new question is, because I'm not buying what you're selling.

  11. Ha, yes, this is the worst pickup line ever.

    I just respond by acting like they're just really interested in learning all about my boyfriend, and telling them all about his career, how long we've been together, that he's an excellent cook and that we're trying to decide whether or not to move in together.

  12. Your first paragraph through me off a bit. It seems like part of the problem is not so much what they said but them being drunk and rude instead of cute and polite. So then it's just a case of cute guys should talk to you and guys who are not cute should not.

    1. Wrong, wrong, wrong, all wrong.

  13. Vida - I think it would be more respectful to ask if I was interested, and trust me to mention a boyfriend if I had one. Although this is a comically disrespectful situation to begin with, I guess that's just the one detail that really gets to me, because it's something I've heard from relatively more polite guys too.

    Anon - Not-cute guys can talk to me! But if they hit on me I'm going to say "no." (Not that I'd go home with a cute lecherous drunk either, I suppose.) This isn't a "ha ha, he should have known he was too ugly to talk to me," this is just establishing one of many reasons why "my shift ends at 11, baby" is not an answer I'm likely to give.

  14. Well, if you don't want to get hit on, maybe you shouldn't be infusing the patients with Prell. ;)

    (Dear god, what is in that IV bag?)

  15. Perlhaqr - I'm not sure; I think it's just dye?

    The pharmacy sent it to us as a St. Patrick's Day joke. It's not visible in the photo, but the patient name on it is "McDrunky, Drunky."

    Administration has no sense of humor and the pharmacist got in trouble, because "omg what if they infused that into someone omg." Sigh.

  16. YES! THIS! I had a guy come up to me on the street a few weeks ago... as I walked by we made eye contact so I offered a casual "hey," which he returned, then FOLLOWED me up the block and asked if I had a boyfriend. I was too stunned to do anything but answer honestly, so he asked me AGAIN (I am not sure why), and I stammered "No, but I'm---I'm not..." Totally to his credit, he backed off and even crossed the street, but like... sometimes I just really hate the way women are trained to be polite, you know? And also I hate that before a dude will talk to you, he feels compelled to make sure he's not treading on some other dude's turf--this guy was clearly not interested in getting to know me as a person unless there was the possibility of access to my vagina. UGH.

  17. Monica - Yeah, it's a nasty implication of "I'm only concerned if there's a man whose boundaries I need to respect here" and (fortunately not in your case) often followed up with "if you're not taken, then you have no excuse."

  18. I've always seen that statement as a vague attempt at subtlety: maybe that's because I'm also used to hearing/using the reverse ("Do you have a girlfriend?"). It's not a way of assessing whether or not you 'belong' to someone already (and if you do, they'll back off because some other dude has prior claim), but rather of saying "Are you interested in me?" without coming across as arrogant or blunt. And being answered "Yes, I do" is a way of being turned down that you can accept without taking personally.

  19. Anon 8:26,

    "It seems like part of the problem is not so much what they said but them being drunk and rude instead of cute and polite. So then it's just a case of cute guys should talk to you and guys who are not cute should not."

    While I was aware that "rude" was the opposite of "polite", I have never before seen "cute" used as an antonym for "drunk".

  20. S_Morlowe - I think "do you have a girlfriend?" is just as inappropriate, actually.

    Either one is okay if it comes up in conversation, if you're talking about yourselves and it's just one of the things they ask. But either one is really not okay as a conversation starter.

    Tam - There's a certain breed of guy who's decided that "sexual harassment" is what women call it when ugly guys hit on them, because that way everything can be women's fault and they never need to question their own behavior. "You wouldn't be complaining if Brad Pitt grabbed your ass" is the refrain of guys with just the right combination of body insecurity and attitude, um, over-security.

    (It is always Brad Pitt.)

  21. I've found that when I use 'I have a boyfriend.' as my go-to excuse to stop someone hitting on me, if he's not there, they don't care. Generally I get something along the lines of 'well where is he then?' in reply.

    If I didn't believe that they know fully well that this is a polite way of saying that I'm not interested, I might think there was actually some respect for my agency there.

    Of course, I'd much rather just [i]say[/i] 'I'm not interested', because I hate feeling that I have to have a boyfriend as an excuse to get someone to respect my boundaries. But you never know how that will be recieved, they might ignore it (often), or they might percieve it as unecessarily rude and get pissed off...

  22. Tam please don't try to twist my words. I know cute is not the opposite of drunk. But the article does say "If you are picturing someone cute and polite","then you are the exact opposite of the sort of person who does this".

  23. "then you are picturing the exact opposite of the sort of person who does this"*

  24. "They're trying to establish whether I'm owned, not whether I'm interested."

    I myself being a drunken asshole, think that you may be reading a bit too far into this.

    It's not about ownership. It's about whether or not you'll fuck me. Most girls that have a boyfriend won't. That's why you try to get that question out of the way quickly.

    Responding with "Yes, but he doesn't care who I sleep with, but I bloody well care who I sleep with!"
    sounds like
    "Yes I do but I'm still down to fuck."

  25. Drunken asshole anon - If you want to know if a girl will fuck you, ask her that. Having a boyfriend is just one reason, and really, if the answer is "no," do you care about the reason?

    Also, frankly, let's not open conversations with whether I'll fuck you unless we are actually at an orgy. If we're at a bus stop or a coffee shop or in the goddamn ER, please show a little respect for the fact that I'm there as a person, not as a "look! someone brought pussy!"

  26. Women are just really fancy sex toys, remember?

    This is probably related to the biblical admonition against pre-marital/extra-marital sex. If a woman wasn't a virgin on her wedding night, she was to be executed. Because, hey, no one wants to pay top-dollar for a car that's driven 100,000 miles, right? And that's basically what women were back then -- status symbols for men. "I bought this girl... and this girl... and this girl..." has become, "I own this car... and this car... and this car...".

    However, yes, this whole "You don't have a valid excuse to not fuck me," thing is ridiculous. You don't wanna fuck me? Awesome, I'm content to just sit and chat. Or just walk away and find something else to occupy myself with. Certainly won't continue pushing for sex.

  27. Possible answers: "Yes, it's your mother." Or, if you don't want to provoke a discussion: "No, we all serve the overlord and it is our companion now."

  28. Lol @ nitpicking by Anon.

    I agree completely with Soda. I hear, "I don't care if you have a boyfriend" more often than, "I shouldn't try to touch you BECAUSE you have a boyfriend." Kind of defeats the purpose of asking in the first place, but whatev.

  29. I am not a drunk asshole, and I think the real problem is that they're hitting on you while drunk and full of glass in the ER, rather than the specific line used.

    I get "do you have a boyfriend?" occasionally in bars and other places where it isn't creepy to hit on someone, and when I say yes the guy just goes "oh well too bad for me hey what are you drinking? I love bourbon..." blah blah normal conversation. In those cases I think the boyfriend question is just checking whether or not you might be interested in him. It can be frustrating because it presumes monogamy and straightness. But I don't think it necessarily implies ownership - you are also unavailable if you are a faithful (monogamous) partner.

    The actual creepy part is that you're being hit on while you're forced, because it's your job, to keep touching him.

  30. Holly,

    "Also, frankly, let's not open conversations with whether I'll fuck you..."

    I'll wager five imaginary internet dollars that he is completely unaware that there might be other reasons to talk to aliens from Planet Venus.

  31. Most of these posts are about how that makes you feel, which I obviously can't comment on.

    But might I point out to many people (including drunken asses) a 'No' is something they think they might be able to talk you out of, where as 'I have a boyfriend' isn't.

    Not condoning, but trying to show it in a different light...

  32. Anon at 3:49 -- But I think that's the exact problem! A clear "not interested", when said by a woman, is not taken seriously, but instead, men try all too often to talk a woman out of it. And this is bothersome, up to the point where women might feel the need to make up imaginary boyfriends to fend off unwanted advances. Which is way frustrating: why is my "No" not enough, but the "No" of a man, who is not even present and might or might not exist, is?

  33. Hershele OstropolerSeptember 3, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    In fairness to the drunken arseholes, is this completely about ownership or is part of it a recognition of respect for monogamy?

    Ownership. Because if it were about what she wanted, mentioning the boyfriend (real or imaginary) wouldn't be necessary or seen as relevant.

    So then it's just a case of cute guys should talk to you and guys who are not cute should not.

    I know, right? Once we gave 'em the vote they started thinking they got to make decisions about all sorts of shit, like what they could do with their own bodies.

  34. "I'll wager five imaginary internet dollars that he is completely unaware that there might be other reasons to talk to aliens from Planet Venus"

    And I'll wager ten imaginary Internet dollars that most of the forever alone guys you all are complaining about aren't asking every alien from Planet Venus they meet to hook up.

    Sure, there are some forever alone guys out there who play the numbers game, asking every woman they meet to hook up. But I'm betting it is a distinct minority.

    Then after getting up the courage, liquid or otherwise, it's pretty disappointing to get shot down. So as long as you're already embarrassed there's not much more to why not ask again.

    Also, it shouldn't be surprising in a society where monogamy is the norm that determining whether someone is already in a relationship would be important.

    It's really a stretch to claim the motivation behind the question is you're the property of someone else and whether you fuck or not is up to your owner.

  35. Yesterday I was struggling with the most obnoxious, mysoginistic, entitled-to-womens-bodies-but-specifically-their-pussies-because-that's-the-only-part-i-care-about young man I have ever encountered in practice. I could have responded in any number of ways, but I didn't, because I was paralyzed by discomfort and embarrassment.

    Health care providers assert the idea that everyone has the right to healthcare- which, apparently by some interpretations, means patients can treat us however they want and we'll just take it, because after all they have a right to our services.

    This is a very timely post for me, and my response turned into a whole long thing, so instead of posting a novel on your blog I put it up as a note on fetlife: I'd love to talk to you about this some time. It seems like a lot of my colleagues aren't clued into just how big a problem (or more accurately, a symptom of our backwards culture) this is ("boys will be boys" and "what do you expect from someone with that background", you know?)

  36. "They're trying to establish whether I'm owned, not whether I'm interested."
    This. This makes me want to be violently sick. You really hit the nail on the head there Holly.
    Also for some reason I can't post as myself

  37. UDB - The question isn't "do you try to sleep with every woman?" The question is "do you ever talk to a woman socially for reasons other than wanting to sleep with her?"

    Also, trust me, there are very few situations under which a "no" becomes a yes with nothing changing in between except "last time he had only asked once, but now he has asked two times."

    As for the monogamy thing--it should just be a subset of "she doesn't want to." (Or "he doesn't want to." This doesn't need to be a complete Gender Wars thing.) Why is "she doesn't want to because she has a boyfriend" any different from "she doesn't want to because she'd prefer to go home alone tonight," from your point of view? If you're at the point of finding out if someone wants sex, might as well just find out if she wants sex and kill all possible birds with one stone.

  38. Char - It is a bind, and it's a super horrible bind in the ER because we legally can't kick someone out. We can call security, but all they can do is move someone to a room where they'll bother the other patients less. We can't use restraints unless someone gets violent, and we definitely can't call the cops unless they actually cause injury.

    I mean... not that I really want to restrain these guys or get them arrested, anyway. I just want them to get a clue.

    I guess the only answer is the hopelessly highfalutin one of "create a culture in which people who create sexually threatening environments aren't seen as clever pranksters or alpha males but just complete worthless poobags." But that's not much good for immediate clinical application.

  39. Char (con't.)- Well, actually, there is one thing we can do, and I myself could do more of it, which is to be extremely clear in our disapproval. I don't think surly silence gets the message across as unambiguously as "Sir, that is not an appropriate thing to say and I need you to stop it now."

    There's no way to put any real consequences behind it, and guys who think of themselves as clever pranksters may like that they got a reaction, but it beats the hell out of letting them think they can intimidate you into silence. And with proper force of application (I'm still learning this), the Disapproving Nurse Voice is a punishment.

  40. Urg. Yes. It's incredibly creepy that some other guy's territory is worth respecting, but women's own autonomy isn't.

    I normally manage to get out of it by being oblivious and strange (only partially an act!): The last person who tried to pick me up just got a lecture on the state of the national economy and a one sided conversation about viruses. I have toyed with responding with a big, zealous smile and a "Hello! Can I interest you in some literature about our Lord Jehovah?", but that might create more problems than it solves...


  41. I have been asked at parties with poly folks whether I have a primary partner, which is fine when it's a casual conversation about my life, but often it comes in the form of "Do I need to go ask someone else's permission to hit on you?" which is horribly offensive. Even if I did have a primary partner I needed to seek permission from, I would be capable of negotiating that myself, without a potential suitor going over my head.

  42. Neri - Ha ha, I've been in that exact situation. A guy will (after securing my consent) ask Rowdy "is it okay if I play with her?"

    Rowdy, bless his heart, always answers "why don't you ask her?"

    I can understand not being a party to cheating, but if you don't trust someone to say honestly whether they're allowed to play with you or not, you don't trust them enough to play with them.

  43. I have also found that "my relationship is not monogamous" is taken as "I am potentially interested in you" so I never say that anymore. It's no one's business but my own, given that I am not interested in hookups at this time.

    I'm 48 now and this doesn't happen to me so much anymore, but I remember one guy who followed me through Chinatown at night, trying to strike up a conversation: I had said "I'm sorry, I'm on my way elsewhere" but that wasn't good enough. I eventually added "...on my way to martial arts class" and he said "If you weren't interested you could have just said so," which was annoying in SO many ways: like, didn't I just say so? and aren't you calling me a liar, stranger?

  44. Asking a person if they have a partner assumes that women are property. That's kinda a stretch. Being a bit genre savvy myself, I could imagine someone asking that simply to assess the possibility of having to deal with a violent boyfriend myself. Perhaps that's just my paranoia.

    Also on topic, I think at least part of the reason behind the pushing advances described in the posts before mines are due to the belief that women are not sexually attracted to men, at least for their looks. As if women were not attracted to the male figure as suppose to a combination of actions or something like that, then it would make sense if a No could be turned into a yes through series of actions. Kinda like how a person could go from not wanting a product to buying a product from great marketing techniques.

    I should note that I am only making an observation here and that there is no prescriptive notion put forward in the previous paragraph.

    "this guy was clearly not interested in getting to know me as a person unless there was the possibility of access to my vagina. UGH."

    Something about this part of the statement doesn't sit well with me. I don't condone how the man approached you, but assuming that you're not just spouting a preference here, what do you expect a complete stranger to like in a woman he hasn't even meet yet?

  45. Anon - Something about this part of the statement doesn't sit well with me. I don't condone how the man approached you, but assuming that you're not just spouting a preference here, what do you expect a complete stranger to like in a woman he hasn't even meet yet?
    Nothing. That's why he should find something to like (preferably with her knowledge and cooperation in this process) before going straight for the vagina.

    I'm not against casual sex (wow am I not against it), but there's a difference between casual sex and just asking random strangers if you can use their body parts.

  46. ...I could imagine someone asking ["do you have a boyfriend?"] simply to assess the possibility of having to deal with a violent boyfriend myself.

    How would asking that actually help you, though? Like...on the surface it makes sense, but when I actually pick the idea apart, I don't see any tactical advantage to it.

  47. I could imagine someone asking that simply to assess the possibility of having to deal with a violent boyfriend myself.

    Except that is still a clusterfuck of assumptions, any of which is potentially false.
    1. that she's straight
    2. that she is monogamous
    3. that you have to deal with her boyfriend
    4. that dealing with her boyfriend would be ugly
    5. that the existence of a boyfriend is the deciding factor on whether you have any chances with her
    6. that, if any (or all) of these possibilities were actually true, she wouldn't tell you so on her own

    While #1 and #2 are 'merely' normative, which can be irritating, but somewhat understandable in current society, the rest is just insulting, to both her and her potential boyfriend.

  48. ... the rest is just insulting, to both her and her potential boyfriend.
    Only if one is trying really-really hard to be insulted. Sort of showing off that they WERE asked in the first place, and then cashing in on the show that they are NOT LIKE THIS. Epic win.
    Should they just let it pas, no one would have been aware of this epic win, so why let such a good opportunity to show off go waste?

  49. Making people feel bad for having emotional reactions to how they're treated, and double bad for daring to talk about it, because there are starving children in India who would love to get an insulting proposition, why, they'd be so grateful they wouldn't even think about whether it was insulting?

    Epic win.

  50. "I bought this girl... and this girl... and this girl..." has become, "I own this car... and this car... and this car...".

    Hey now, I own like, 15 cars and motorcycles (in various states of repair) but I'm quite respectful of women.

  51. "a 'No' is something they think they might be able to talk you out of, where as 'I have a boyfriend' isn't."

    If they "talk me out of" a No, they are, by definition, coercing me into sex. Coercion = bad.

    This is why I stopped going to bars alone.

  52. I can't believe some of the comments here. I think, for me, the main issue is this: I said no, I mean no. When you keep sexually harassing me (that's what it is when you sit there talking about fucking me when I've told you I'm not interested clearly) after I have said no, it's disrespectful. I don't think it's always because men think you're property. I think them being persistent is the main issue at hand. I can't believe men even go there. Earth to men: when you ask me over and over, it makes me less and less attracted to you and less and less likely to ever have sex with you. It's funny too, because I don't have sex with people I've just met. In order to have sex, I am in a relationship for months and have deep feelings, so when I explain that to these men, however, they do not give a damn. They don't hear me. They don't respect me enough to listen, take it like a man, and back off/leave me alone. Saying "I've been in a monogamous relationship for 11 years" doesn't mean a thing either. It's gotten to the point where I can't be polite about it anymore because even that makes them thing you'll sleep with them. I don't care if someone's cute. If that cute guy is sexually harassing me, that cute guy isn't worth the time of day to me. If I was single, I would want the guy who's treating me like a human being and who listens to me and respects me.


  53. You guys are over thinking this. It's a shorthand way of getting asked if one is interested and free to explore that interest. As a male, I've been asked if I have a girlfriend. Being able to understand shorthand and context, (and not having an overly-inflated opinion of myself) I manage to answer without getting all butthurt. It helps to be a grown up.

  54. Anon 1:13,

    Yes, I understand the shorthand and context.

    Personally, I don't just up and sleep with strangers; no matter the opening conversational gambit, it's just not my bag, baby. So I don't worry too much about how the question is phrased.

    Therefore, I hope that my usual answer of "Fuck off" is always taken in shorthand and context, without the questioner getting all butthurt. It helps to be a grown-up.

  55. "Either one is okay if it comes up in conversation, if you're talking about yourselves and it's just one of the things they ask. But either one is really not okay as a conversation starter."

    And, I'd add, it's fairly indicative if it's a conversation stopper as well.


    You haven't mentioned whether similarly drunken women patients make similar inquiries of your male colleagues. If nothing else, based on my experience as a day-shift bartender in a beer bar would be probably yes.

    It doesn't make it any better, obviously. It's still about whether you're owned or not.

    Meanwhile, though, it's pretty obvious from your post and, even more so from other women's comments here, that the "ownership" question often arises in what's basically an extension of street harassment. So this isn't one of those "well then, women do it too" qualifications. Women are as subject to ownership indoctrination but for the most part they don't engage in that kind of captive audience harassment.

    The ownership thing runs pretty deep. It's probably been 20 years now but I remember reading a column by a single-life activist who pointed out we participate in the ownership model any time we say "my boyfriend/girlfriend."


  56. As a male, I've been asked if I have a girlfriend. Being able to understand shorthand and context, (and not having an overly-inflated opinion of myself) I manage to answer without getting all butthurt.

    How does anger at being treated like an object constitute having an overly inflated opinion of one's self, Anon 1:13? Unless of course you think women are objects and it's uppity of us to think otherwise...

    And just out of curiosity, were any of those women total strangers who used "Yo, baby, you got a girlfriend?" as their opening line? Or were they perhaps women you knew casually already, who worked the question into the middle of a fun and possibly flirty conversation? Subquestion: can you see that the "shorthand and context" of the former situation are distinctly different from the latter?

  57. Hershele OstropolerSeptember 4, 2011 at 3:26 PM

    You guys are over thinking this. It's a shorthand way of getting asked if one is interested and free to explore that interest.

    Why not just ask that then?

    As a male, I've been asked if I have a girlfriend. Being able to understand shorthand and context, (and not having an overly-inflated opinion of myself)

    If she's not asking you out -- and when you say you don't have "an overly-inflated opinion of yourself" I can only assume you're certain she's not -- how is that a normal conversational gambit?

  58. It's really depressing how any post about women wanting our personal space and autonomy respected attracts an indignant roar of "MEN HAVE A RIGHT TO HIT ON WOMEN WHENEVER AND HOWEVER WE WANT!"

    ...With a side-order of "It's a privilege to be treated like a walking set of genitals with no opinions and no agency! Men stay up at night weeping into our pillows with disappointment because nobody does this to us! You should be grateful for the attention!"

  59. This comment has been removed by the author.

  60. Perversecowgirl - With all due respect, I don't think that the majority of guys who open with, or ask early on, "Hey, you got a girlfriend?" are actually asking "Hey, does someone else own you?" The point isn't that they're asking that question, on its own, strictly for the literal answer to only that question. It's .. a social construct, I suppose, in a way. It's a polite way of saying "Hey, I'm interested in you, I think you're attractive, but want to know if my attentions in that area are welcome".

    Looking at it in that way, her yes or no answer isn't "Yes, someone else owns me" or "No, I'd like to fuck you". Saying yes simply indicates that you're not interested, whether that's because you actually have a boyfriend, or because it's a polite way to let him down. Saying no doesn't - or at least, shouldn't, I know that there's a pretty wide sliding scale out there - mean that you'll take him home that night, it simply means that you're open to his company when his question has made it clear that his thoughts are on potential amorous advances.

    Are there idiots out there who prove what I've said here very, very wrong? Sure. But for the vast majority of men, I believe it's a soft approach which tells the prospective woman that he's looking for romance and/or sex, and allows her an easy and socially acceptable way of letting him down. Now, if only we could eliminate the far end of that sliding scale, and get rid of the guys who DO only care about whether a woman is "owned", we'd be far better off.

  61. Sigh - re my respect or monogamous relationships comment: Yeah, you're all right. I was just grasping at straws.

    Ways of Approaching Women clearly needs to be something that's taught in sex ed.

    While women are in the other room getting taught how to perform a really effective Swift Punch in the Face.

  62. Holly, since I talk to women every day without the underlying reason being to sleep with them, I guess I figure it's just a given that this happens all the time. Although I could see where working the graveyard shift in the ER you tend to interact with a lot of drunken nitwits and you might get the wrong impression.

    Of all the people I know and have known, I'm in my mid-fifties, only one or two might have considered their spouse property. That kind of thinking is pretty rare in my opinion. It seems the problem here is unwanted attention. Whether the person giving the attention is an arrogant douche, drunken nitwit, or simply someone that's not attractive. So, it is hard for me to imagine that if a sober cute polite person walked into the ER and said, "you're kinda cute, do you have a boyfriend?" That the question wouldn't be minded so much due to the nice feeling and boost to the ego received and the question would be taken as a way to learn of the relationship status of the other person.

    Sure, it would be nice if people would recognize the situations where sexual advances are innappropriate and the people they are interacting with are out of their league. But these are hard lessons to learn and discussing the issue is helpful only if the discussion accurately reflects reality. The idea that men in general view their partners as property, doesn't reflect reality and to question whether someone is in a relationship or not might just be the kindest way to handle the situation. It provides an easy out, truth isn't always kind.

    The desire for sexual interaction is pretty strong. I don't think it is realistic to expect that people perfectly compartmentalize their sexuality and people will ever get to the point where we do not look at each other in a sexual context. We should just accept that and that the interactions between people are more often than not awkward and poorly handled.

  63. Ed: if it's not about ownership then why open with "do you have a boyfriend?" instead of "would you like to go out sometime?"? What's the tactical advantage?

    It's not like the boyfriend question is more subtle; by your own admission (..."his question has made it clear that his thoughts are on potential amorous advances."), most people assume that someone asking "do you have a partner" is hitting on us, so the asker is "putting himself out there" and making his interest obvious either way.

    Asking someone out directly doesn't lead to harsher rejections, either, since women have been brow-beaten into politeness and inoffensiveness pretty much since birth. In fact, if a guy opened with "wanna go out sometime?" and the girl wasn't interested, chances are she would invent a boyfriend just to soften the rejection. Conversely, the rare woman who feels comfortable being openly rude would decline a guy rudely no matter how the question was phrased.

    I seriously can't see any advantage to hitting on someone by asking if they have a partner...and this makes me wonder why so many people choose to do it that way.

  64. Ugly Disgusting Bastard:

    Of all the people I know and have known, I'm in my mid-fifties, only one or two might have considered their spouse property.

    I think it's worth defining the difference between, um, "literal property" and "sexual property".

    Very few people literally see their partner as property, in the sense of having full control of every aspect of their lives. But sexuality is treated like property all the time. Monogamous couples are assumed to "own" each other's sexuality; actually, for a long time it's more like men owned women's sexuality, hence the huge stigma to being a cuckold: some dude "stole" what belonged to you. And unfortunately, single women are (even in this day and age!) largely presumed to be up for grabs by anyone who wants them.

    So what we're talking about in this instance is the sexual sense of property. A lot of guys will hit on a woman even after she says she's not interested, but if she says she has a boyfriend, they'll apologize and go away. They're respecting some guy's ownership rights more than they respect what the woman is actually telling them.

    And yes, I would still be offended by this attitude even if I thought the guy was cute.

  65. Holly, this post is awesome, but some of the comments make me weep for humanity. Generally, I'm a fun, open, sexy woman. But every time a guy refuses to take no for an answer, or turns to the man I'm with instead of talking to me directly, I become a lot less fun, less open, and less sexy. So guys: if you want to encounter more cool chicks who are down to fuck, and fewer angry feminists who bite your head off for approaching, perhaps you should try treating women with respect? It works on me.

    @Tam 1:54: You win the Internets, and also my undying admiration.

  66. Yes, it's fair to assume that "Do you have a boyfriend" is them hitting on you. The difference between that and "Would you like to go out sometime", at least in my eyes, is that with the first, there's a measure of separation between the person asking, and possible rejection. I'm not saying it's *right* to do so - I think that being direct, and everyone just toughening up and being able to take rejection, would be far better - but this is simply how the social scene has evolved. There's a lot of work to be done if we want to change that, and I'm not sure it's possible. My main point that I was trying to make (which I'm unsure if it was made well at all) is simply that taking "Do you have a boyfriend?" as being identical to "Does someone own you?" isn't really accurate.

  67. Ed: I will concede the possibility that society has just evolved this way and that not everyone asking about my relationship status is some huge chauvinist pig.

    HOWEVER, I assert that the "do you have a boyfriend" approach is rooted in patriarchal bullshit and ideas of ownership, whether we consciously realize it or not (not unlike most wedding traditions). And I think that as society moves further and further away from patriarchal bullshit, our come-on methods will, too. Probably without anyone ever consciously thinking about it.

  68. perversecowgirl, I understand what you're saying but that kind of thinking has long become obsolete. Yeah, I guess there are some who still beleive wives must be subservient to their husbands and all that but even among those groups I don't think the idea is taken all that seriously.

    What you're talking about is fidelity and the commitment to reserve your sexual life for one other person. In other words, monogomy. It could also be that monogomy is still considered a respected virtue and making an advance to someone who is in a relationship is considered a faux pas that requires an apology. In other words, being polite.

    Isn't a cuckold a man who enjoys being subservient to and generally humiliated by women? I don't think you can take a fetish and apply it to society as a whole.

  69. Ugly Disgusting Bastard:

    1)The idea that a woman's sexuality is owned by, well, everyone else but her, is not even close to obsolete. Unfortunately.

    2)If a couple chooses to be monogamous because neither person wants to be with anyone else, I think that's wonderful. But from what I can tell, most monogamous people make that commitment not because they themselves don't want to sleep around, but because they don't want their partner to (so, pretty much an ownership thing, albeit mutual ownership). That, or because settling down with one person is just "what you're supposed to do".

    3) A cuckold is simply a man whose wife is sleeping with someone else. It only became the name of a fetish later(and the fetish isn't subservience in general; it's being cheated on. Also being humiliated, specifically in a "you're a shitty husband so I got myself a real man" kind of way).

  70. @UDB A cuckold is a man whose partner cheats on him. Traditionally, anywho.

  71. @perversecowgirl - It may be an emotional knee-jerk that I get to the term "Patriarchal bullshit", but I'm not sure I agree with you. I DO agree that there's a lingering remnant of a time when it was one man with one woman, that's it, nothing else, by God. And I sincerely doubt that we'll see all of that disappear. We might see it LESSEN, but I think that statements such as "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?" will continue to be the norm, for the reasons I mentioned; It's an easy way of making your intentions known, without being super awkward, with an easy catch for the person you're approaching to let you down easy if they want to.

    Now, I do think (or hope) that as time goes on, we'll see less people who do in fact see that statement as ownership. I don't deny that some people do have that perspective, and I'm just as against it as anyone else. I just don't think it's so totally pervasive as we see here. That being said, I do hope you're right. That we either see an entirely new set of standard, awkwardness-reducing come-ons appear, or that we as a social group completely toss aside the unfortunate implications of it 100%. I think we're seeing some of that with wedding ceremonies these days, with a number of them being decidedly unique, and not conforming to the old standards at all. On the other hand, I really doubt that we'll see wedding ceremonies as a whole disappear any time soon.

  72. Your reaction seems like a huge misreading of the situation.

    It's not that the person is assuming that your boyfriend has a right to your body even when your not around, it's that virtually everyone who has a boyfriend is in an exclusive relationship.

    I get that your situation is different and everything, but don't assume that everyone recognizes this and is a misogynist.

  73. Hershele OstropolerSeptember 4, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    7:30 Anon, the point isn't that he assumes that a woman with a boyfriend isn't free to date him, it's that he assumes a woman without a boyfriend will date him.

    This is just clearer (to reasonable people) when he asks someone who has a boyfriend, but is free to date him, but doesn't want to.

  74. -shrug- I get the kind of guy Holly is talking about-I've run into them and they're incredibly unpleasant and creepy to deal with.
    But I've also dealt with guys who genuinely just want to know if I'm cool with them hitting on me or not.

  75. If that was her intended meaning, then she did a bad job of conveying it.

    Anyway, your assertion that he's assuming a woman without a boyfriend will want to date him is unwarranted too. Asking someone if they have a boyfriend doesn't mean your think "if they say yes, I'm getting laid!". It means "if they say yes, I can keep trying until they indicate they aren't interested".

  76. I'm not saying guys who ask if I have a boyfriend are all misogynists.

    I'm saying they should ask another way.

    Take it as a suggestion, not judgement.

  77. Holly,

    It seems like there are two ways of fixing this problem:

    1) You somehow get every guy to agree to the phrasing that doesn't offend you

    2) You accept something you don't like that in no way harms you

  78. 3) I suggest that guys who are willing to question themselves question how they approach women and consider more respectful methods. I understand that this will not be "every guy," nor will it be even 0.01% of guys, but if even one guy rethinks his approach, that's good news to me.

    I don't like that other guys continue to seek my boyfriend's in-absentia consent before my own, but I don't set them on fire or anything either.

  79. Also, as a general comment: I'm really annoyed by the line of reasoning that goes "questioning things that bother you is childish, because adults shut up and take it."

    Like I said, not setting anyone on fire here, but I don't think it's exactly Hissy Fit Of The Year to talk about something that bothers me.

  80. Your whole "in-absentia consent" line of reasoning is nonsense, Holly. That's not what guys are doing. They, and most of the world, operate under the assumption that girls in a relationship are exclusive. That's all that is happening.

    Your number three, as listed, could be more accurately rephrased as "express my personal preferences as universally binding normative statements". For someone so progressive, your tendency to do this is genuinely disturbing.

    I'm not saying that talking about something is bad. I'm saying that if you are interested in solving a problem, you could at least understand it, and your options, better than you currently do.

  81. Let me posit an alternative theory. It's not that if you don't have a boyfriend you're fair game and have no say in it, it's that if you don't have a boyfriend you "obviously" need one. And hey, look, here's a man right now! It's only a matter of time before you relaize what a briliant solution to your problem this is.

  82. Awesome post Holly but I agree with other people that the comments on this thread are depressing.

    I think (and I can't speak for Holly) that the question "Have you got a boyfriend?" is mildly annoying but not awful. It's the fact that THAT reason is taken seriously whereas the (presumed straight, presumed female) person's disinterest is just a hindrance to be argued past.

    Not all the people who ask "Have you got a boyfriend?" mean "Are you owned?" but a significant proportion do, based on the testimony in these comments. But equally, plenty of people in this thread have demonstrated that women's description of their own experience is just a silly misunderstanding, to be mansplained away, so why should their opinion about their interest/lack of interest matter either?

  83. Universally binding?

    They're, like, wishes. Preferences. I would prefer that men who are interested in me express that as an interest in me.

    (I would also like to point out that the OP is about ER patients hitting on me while I'm working, which is a whole 'nother level of inappropriate. It's not like this came in the middle of sparkling conversations at a social gathering.)

    If you don't want to make me happy, go forth and make me unhappy, oh well, but don't expect me to be happy about it.

  84. Of course, that's what they actually are, but that's not how you express them. You consistently say "should" when you talk about things that are obviously just preferences (on a variety of issues). You can backpedal all you want now, and say "oh, of course I didn't actually mean the words I said", but it'd be pretty disingenuous of you.

    See Holly, that's what you don't get, the world isn't about making you happy. Sometimes, like now for instance, it's about other things, like honesty and not being a misandrist.

  85. Well, now I think you should shut up.

    Because no, the world isn't about making me happy, but it's tautologically true that I'd be happier if it were.

  86. ...And why is "misandry" always about criticizing the way men treat women?

    Seems like misogyny is freestanding judgement of women, but "misandry" (as cited by fine gentlemen like you) only comes up when we're talking about men's "rights" to do as they please with women.

    Anyway, look, you've got the right to be an asshole. It won't get you laid and it'll make people dislike you, but the fact that some blogger used the word "should" will not materially impede your Creator-endowed pursuit of assholery.

    And I've got my right to say things that bother you and make you feel like you and your gender aren't being paid their proper respect.

  87. Holly, I definitely get what you're saying here.

    What I get from from my own experience is, sure, probably Random Guy in the Street doesn't actively think my boyfriend owns me. But why is the question "Do you have a boyfriend?" He could ask me if I want to talk with him, or could we go out sometime, or whatever.

    And several people here have said that "No" is commonly assumed to be an invitation, like I'm supposed to just make up a boyfriend if I don't like the look of the guy. Why is that the assumption? Why can't I say I'm single but uninterested? Whenever I've done that, the guy hasn't left me alone. As someone above said, he seems to think he can change my mind by pestering me.

    So I guess my point is, even if the particular guy talking to me isn't at all misogynistic, he's been coached by everything around him to treat my "Not interested" as less of an obstacle than my boyfriend's "Leave her alone." That's a problem.

  88. Not to derail the conversation back to Holly's original point but whether or not "do you have a boyfriend" means "are you owned" or more broadly "are you off limits" it really is worth pursuing a social goal of asking directly if someone's interested as opposed to asking indirectly.

    Yes, I'm aware that there are a number of intervening steps to getting there. But there's really nothing wrong at all with clearly stating one's objective. Nor, once the objective is understood (as anyone who's read The Pervocracy quickly should), is there anything wrong with stating one's objections to behavior that runs contrary to one's objectives.


  89. Considering the odds of you being into polyamory or that you are a lesbian or that you are willing to fuck anyone, anytime your heart desires. I would say the guy probably asked the right question, considering the odds. ;)

  90. perversecowgirl, With the anti-abortion movement going strong and its direct relationship to reproductive rights. I think I understand at least one threat to women owning their sexuality. However, to be honest I have to admit ignorance on the subject.

    As individuals we are always further ahead of the "rules" society creates for us. I think within individual relationships couples are now able to create something pretty close to equality. Creating a relationship where both people are held to the same standards and share responsibilities equally is the expectation for most people entering relationships at this point in time. At least in my opinion.

    That is what I mean when I say the idea is obsolete.

    Since women are close to being as likely to have an affair as men, cuckold seems to be an antiquated term that might be better left to the days it meant something. There's not much sense in having a special word to describe pretty much everyone.

    Holly, if you have taken my comments to mean that you should not voice what bothers you, I am sorry. I should have found a better way to express my disagreement.

    If I may ask about how the whole poly thing works. I wonder about the idea that Rowdy doesn't care who you sleep with.

    That is, if someone cares about you, they must certainly care who you sleep with and consequently bring into the relationship. However briefly. Don't you have a say who Rowdy brings into the relationship and vice versa?

    It seems you would want some kind of veto power, just for those people you might not like for one reason or another.

  91. Tit for Tat - What about the odds that a woman is straight, monogamous, and simply not interested in that guy?

    UDB - Rowdy and I can talk about (although "veto power" isn't really the right word, or at least anything I'd exercise so unilaterally) any new relationships, but casual sex we can just go ahead and do.

    It's just a matter of trust; I believe that Rowdy isn't going to put himself at risk and isn't going to sabotage our relationship, and he believes the same about me. I don't have to tell him "don't do anything stupid" because I trust (and we've talked about this extensively) that he isn't stupid. It's not for every poly couple but it works for us.

  92. The commenters stressing the need to examine intentions and not assume misogyny and don't get so overheated and blah blah blah aren't taking into account the sheer VOLUME of harassment that women tend to receive.

    It's all very well and good to deal with the occasional clumsy comment from an obviously well-intentioned person, but I'm talking multiple times a day, at clearly inappropriate times, and in situations where you're not sure whether a brush-off will incur a rueful smile or ACTUAL PHYSICAL VIOLENCE.

    Can't you just trust that this is hurtful or bothersome or deeply offensive to some of us? Can't you understand how frustrating it is to always have to fend off harassment AND THEN be expected to be nicey-nice about it?

    This is just one kind of harassment we get. One kind. Of about a million. Trust us to know that we don't like it.

  93. @Holly

    Good point, but when youre drunk and attempting to find out if you have a chance you go for the easiest question. If you say you have a boyfriend or husband, for most guys thats a quick "no chance". All the other questions involve way to much reasoning for the drunk mind.

  94. The easiest question is "would you like to go out/sleep with me." In fact, it takes even less thinking and reasoning than 'do you have a significant other?'! A clear and direct "No" is a very simple response to understand, I promise!

    Also, hitting on someone who has to keep touching/interacting with you (such as a nurse/doctor/tech/whatever) while they are in their place of work is highly inappropriate no matter how you do it. So to that person who asserted that women would like it if it were a clean and polite man--No. If I'm working, I don't appreciate being reminded that I'm being viewed as a sexual person. Why? I am *working*, and not in porn or some other industry where sexuality is expected.

    And finally, if you want to be lazy about your interactions even if you know they are gross or have roots in a gross place, then that's your right, but it's also my right to think you're an asshole, and to inform you of such.

  95. 1) If someone asks me if I have a boyfriend, I assume that I should answer honestly, based on whether or not I have a boyfriend. It only occurs to me to lie if I sense that the guy talking to me is going to be a problem. If you are that kind of guy, the kind who is creeping my out and asking personal questions I don't want to answer... you're not going to get a date.
    2) If a guy walks into my place of work and asks me personal questions out of the blue - I don't care how hot he is, he's not getting a date.
    3) To all the men commenting; if you want to date women, listening to what they say is probably a good idea. I'm not explaining this for my benefit, I'm explaining this for YOURS. You can feel free to ignore the opinions presented here, but don't be surprised if women react badly to your advances. We warned you. Literally.

  96. Just talk to girls when they talk to you, and if they don't talk to you then your out of luck.

  97. Yeah, if you can't tell the difference between harassment and talking, that's probably a good guideline.

    If you can tell the difference, realize some people won't like the way you talk, and you can decide whether to change your behavior or not, but either way there's no need to throw a SO I GUESS I'M NOT ALLOWED TO SAY HELLO HUH shitfit about it.

  98. I remember reading a column by a single-life activist who pointed out we participate in the ownership model any time we say "my boyfriend/girlfriend." (figleaf)

    I disagree with this - I also say "my cousin" and "my neighbor," but I don't think that implies ownership, it implies that I'm introducing them in terms of their relationship to me. "My boyfriend/girlfriend" carries a certain set of agreed-upon obligations, but then, a couple of my neighbors have recently promised me they will not intentionally break the laundry machine again. I think this is fair and not oppressive ;)

    Is there another way of conveying your relationship to someone in casual conversation?

  99. No shitfit I'm just saying if a women is that interested in talking to you then she'll talk to you and if she doesn't then you know where you stand. A lot of communication is non-verbal anyway, most of the time it isn't that hard to see when someone doesn't want to be approached by a stranger.

  100. I notice that the "women don't have a right to say no without an approved excuse" dynamic seems to be getting repeated right here in this comments thread.

    Holly et al.: behavior X from guys turns me off and drives me crazy.

    Annoying (pres. male) commenters: you { have no right | are being unreasonable } to be turned off and driven crazy by behavior X. [add male-centric rationalizations to taste.]

    Holly et al.: [polite attempts to explain why it is reasonable to be turned off, etc.]

    A.M.C.: [ more rationalizations, completely ignoring Holly et al.'s comments ]

    Somehow a simple "I don't like it and it makes it less likely I will invite you into my bed" isn't seen as reason enough, just like "I'm not interested" isn't enough, either.

  101. Wow, I am constantly surprised by which posts turn out to be controversial here. My favorite defense of the totally irritating "Do you have a boyfriend" line has to be the anon who points out that really drunk people might have a hard time coming up with anything better. Yup, I can't wait to hook up with someone who is having a hard time verbalizing his desire to fuck me, mmm, I wanna break myself off a piece of that hawt whiskey dick!

    Not that people can't choose to approach others whenever and however they like (although I'd think that the ER is generally a bad place to try out one's pickup skills...). But really. Others have a right to find that approach off-putting, and to blog about it.

  102. T4T:
    Considering the odds of you being into polyamory or that you are a lesbian or that you are willing to fuck anyone, anytime your heart desires. I would say the guy probably asked the right question, considering the odds.

    The right question to ask is the one he wants the answer to, surely? He doesn't care whether she has a boyfriend except as it relates to her interest in him (since we're stipulating that this he's hitting on her; if he's not hitting on her it's definitely about ownership). It seems to me asking for the information you want requires less reasoning than asking for tangential information and working it out.

    Analogy. Let's say that around 90% of people are 18 handbreadths tall. You want to know how tall someone is. Do you:
    a) ask them how big their hands are, or
    b) ask them how tall they are?

  103. Anon @ 1:13:

    The issue isn't that Holly was asked whether she had a boyfriend, it's that she was asked under the following circumstances:

    1. At work, when she literally cannot get away;

    When you're cleaning out and dressing a wound, you are, quite literally, a captive audience. You can't just stop in the middle even if the other person's being a jackass. So to keep hitting on the nice nurse who has already expressed her lack of interest is a no-no.

    The correct response when somebody says "No" is "OK" and either leaving or changing the subject. "Do you have a boyfriend," AFTER a person has expressed a lack of interest, indicates that your "no" did not matter and therefore your opinion doesn't matter. It's not the question that's offensive, it's the context.

    Personally, I don't see what's wrong with inviting a person you're interested in to lunch. Platonic friends do this as often as couples or poly groups do, so if the chemistry isn't there during a lunch, you can find out BEFORE having an expensive date. Plus, since the emotional stakes are lower than sex, or even dinner and a movie, that "no" doesn't sting as much.

  104. @Hershele

    Actually most people(in my experience) have a hard time with direct questions. So most(in my experience) usually dance around their intent. So I think for many people asking certain questions may give them an out, rather than being shot down for being too direct. Just my personal observation.

  105. @Tit for Tat

    The problem is, people who are receiving aggressive come-ons also have a hard time with direct refusals--frequently because they're afraid of reprisals if they start getting aggressive with their "nos." And I would like to see more people telling aggressive comers-on to take an indirect "no" as a "no," if we're also supposed to take an indirect "wanna fuck?" as a "wanna fuck?"

  106. Dear every sexist here trying to MANSPLAIN about how HAAARD it is to just fucking ASK Would you like to go out sometime?:

    Dude, srsly. Try. If they're not interested, asking won't change anything. If they're interested, asking and being respectful of the person WILL help you.

  107. I doubt anyone is shot down for being too direct. It's possible that asking directly will lead to being shot down, but generally in those circumstances asking indirectly will too, unless we're talking so indirect that we no longer call it "indirectness" and instead call it "dishonesty."

    I'll be honest, it took me a long time to learn this. So you may genuinely not know. But to persist in not knowing after people have explained it to you and given examples out of personal experience is a different matter.

    "The way to say a thing is to simply say it, and whether things go your way or not (sometimes really not), at least you know what the hell is going on."

  108. I got this at work just recently from some drunk guy, clearly I wasn't being nice enough for him (I am so full of sunshine at work I have been called obnoxiously cheerful) so he demanded to know if I was "married or something" and when I answered with a "none of your business" he tried some bullshit where he wasn't going to pay for his goods, I told him that I was sorry that we couldn't help him with his shopping today, and he proceeded to look hurt like I was the one being a jerk!

  109. I've decided, for the good of humankind, that I'll never use a husband or a boyfriend as an excuse ever again. I do have a wedding ring, but most of the guys that don't respect my vague umcomfortableness don't notice things like that. The problem is - they don't even ask if I have a boyfriend or not - they just keep on pushing... for something. And it doesn't matter how much I give them shit, how much I say no, I'm not interested. Unless there's a man with me, I'll probably have to change tables/walk to the next bus stop/talk to the manager to throw them out. Last time we, three married ladies, ended up leaving the place early. I guess my tough, mean, men-eating skills need some improving before my "no" will count for anything.

  110. @pasthurt: Same; when I had a boyfriend, I decided not to use him as an excuse either. My usual answer was, "Yes, and I'm not interested in having another one." Establishes both that I'm not owned and that I'm not interested. :P

    Of course, there's something to be said for @Tam's answer: "Fuck off." Short, sweet, and to the point. <3

  111. Wow, loads of the commenters here are big lying disingenuous fibbers more invested in protecting their unpleasant social advantages than having equal and respectful relationships with women.

    There's a reason men who harass me on the street don't do so when I'm holding my boyfriend's hand. And it's not because they respect me.

  112. What Anonymous Troll said on Sept 4 at 8:19. I feel an underlying assumption y'all are missing is that if you are a woman and don't have a boyfriend, then your top priority in life is to get one.
    This must be why this post reminded me of receiving comments along the lines of "I can't believe someone as pretty as you is single" on a non-dating (!) social networking website (and I'm no model). It's like my wishes don't even enter the equation. Some male out there must have found me attractive enough to date, so it's inconceivable I chose to stay single rather than pick him.

  113. Apricot: I think a lot of people (still!) kind of believe that women's sexuality belongs to men. So, if a woman has a boyfriend or husband, other guys (mostly) stay away; if she's single and/or a lesbian, she's fair game.

    And of course if she's dressed in something revealing (or is fully covered but a guy can still kind of make out the shape of her body and he happens to find that shape alluring) then clearly she is inviting sex. With anyone and everyone she passes. She doesn't get to pick and choose, because her sexuality is not her own.

  114. Excellent post, Holly, and I really appreciate a lot of the comments that back it up. (Including the part about this comment thread weirdly mirroring the original scenario.) So, any good suggestions on what we *can* say in response to "hey baby, got a boyfriend?" (assuming I can't do the "overlord" line with a straight face)?

    I usually just say I have a boyfriend. But now I'm thinking maybe a generic "No, thanks" in the same way I'd deal with a bothersome street-solicitor, whether or not it actually fit the question.


  115. It's tempting to say "I've got three!" or some other variation of a smartass response.
    To clarify my previous comment, I'm not disagreeing with others saying that women's sexuality is still viewed as owned by men by a large portion of society. I think the assumption that finding a boyfriend is a woman's top priority is just another aspect of that.

  116. It's interesting the way the ownership is assumed, based on the question.
    a) Do you have a boyfriend?

    b) Do you have a car?
    At least, I wouldn't assume they're asking if a car owns you based on that.

  117. Anon 9:52: if someone asks "do you have a car?" it's because they want the car for something (they want to borrow it, they want you to drive them somewhere, etc.).

    If someone asks "do you have a boyfriend?" it's not because they want the boyfriend for something; it's because they want you for something (dating and/or fucking).

    At worst, this does imply ownership. At best, it's the fucking stupidest and most roundabout way of asking "would you like to go out with me?" EVAR. Either way, I don't like it.

    (Please note that I know it's possible to ask about someone's romantic or vehicular status in other contexts, but obviously I'm not talking about "How will you get to the cottage? Do you have a car?" or "Do you have a boyfriend, 'cause he's welcome to come to the movie too" here. I'm specifically talking about those times when we ask stuff out of self-interest).

  118. To put my objection more plainly: the question "do you have a boyfriend" is completely irrelevant when what you actually want to know is "are you interested in me?"

    If you proposition me and I turn you down, it might be because I'm in a monogamous relationship...or it might be because I find you unattractive or I dislike you as a person or you give me a weird vibe or I just broke up with someone or I'm a lesbian or I'm asexual or I'm happy being single or my friend has a crush on you and already privately called "dibs".

    The implication of hitting on me with the line "do you have a boyfriend?" is that the only thing that would stop me from fucking you is a pre-existing relationship - not, you know, me just not wanting to fuck you. And I don't really dig having my opinions ignored like that.

  119. All of this meandering just sounds like men are a bunch of cowards who use a boyfriend as "a way to create seperation between them and the woman of their interest" and in doing do completely disrespect a woman's autonomy and are still asking the wrong question. It doesn't matter if I have a boyfriend; I think that's a lazy, half-assed way to approach me, it's fucking cowardly and I'm still not interested

  120. Hershele OstropolerSeptember 7, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    9:52 anon, cars are seldom sentient; boyfriends often are.

    If someone asked me if I had a girlfriend I'd like to think my answer would be "why?" but I'd probably be too startled.

  121. Holly: I'm delurking to tell you I'm glad you wrote about this, especially given what's happened to me as of late.

    The people dismissing this as an overreaction don't seem to understand that, overall, a person's feelings being hurt by their intended target not responding to inquiries that ignore their autonomy and render them someone else's territory is the best-case scenario. People who think they can convince you to change your mind may not stop so long as they think there are or will be more opportunities for them to lean on you. They do not listen to you saying that you are not interested, no matter how direct or polite you are.

    If you're at work, they may hound you until you have to run away in such a fashion that it interferes with your duties. They may try to use your job function to put themselves in your way to give themselves more opportunity to verbally--and physically--harass you. They may try to follow you in to isolated "employees only" areas claiming you led them there to make good on your "tease." They may go to your supervisor to complain about your interpersonal/customer service skills because you became progressively more aggressive in verbally defending yourself if you could not get help. They occasionally threaten to harm you for being a stuck up bitch and wait for you after your shift is over. If you're lucky, the sun's up, the area is well-lit, or you can walk to your vehicle using the buddy system. If you can't do these things, take alternate transportation, or walk, they turn up everywhere you go. The smart ones put some time between encounters so it looks like a coincidence they keep running in to you.

    In social situations, they do not care if you say you are taken and that your friends (even if they are friends with their friends and can be trusted) corroborate what you say. They will put more stock in what they (or their friends) think you should do, especially if it means it ends in them getting laid. They will wait until they think you are alone or compromised so they can try again. Enthusiastic yes (YES, I'm happy with my situation. YES, I'm sure. YES, I'm not interested in you. YES, we cannot go on a date together. YES, you're wasting your time.) and enthusiastic no (NO, I'm not interested. NO, you cannot go home with me. NO, I don't care that you've wanted to all night. NO, I'm trying to sleep. NO, you shouldn't be in here. NO, I don't want to have sex with you. NO, I will not "take care of that" for you. NO, I don't want to do this. NO, I'm in fact I'm REALLY SURE I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS. YOU NEED TO LEAVE.) leave little to the imagination. He still thought he was going to change my mind. What drove him off after he'd "teasingly" said he would cover my mouth so I couldn't scream for help while he sat on my chest was the promise of violence (amputation by canine teeth if he tried to go through with making me give him head). This nice guy (TM) tried to assault me because his faith in his ability to convince me and his right to hit on me were more important than what I had to say about the whole thing.

    tl;dr: This "shorthand" some people are saying is okay has serious fucking implications and can lead to all kinds of hurt for the people it's being used on because of a lack of basic respect for a person's "no."

  122. Well, it's not intentionally meant as a "are you owned" kind of thing, it's meant as "are you available?" Not to argue with the undercurrent, because I'll admit it's there.
    Alright, I can really only speak for myself, but when I try to find out the relationship status of someone I'm attracted to, it's because I'm curious as to whether they're available.

    But if it's tacky/implies ownership/otherwise unpleasant, please, tell me a better way to phrase the implied "would you maybe be willing to have sex with me?" Because I need to know. It's not like I go around hitting on people (I generally figure I'm too hideous and pathetic for anything but derisive laughter), but I would like to know a good way to phrase the query that generally won't offend the people I'm asking.

  123. Korbl: as I, and I think several other people, have already said in this thread: if you want to know if someone will have sex with you or date you, ask them.

    Disclaimer: I don't see anything wrong with stealthily ascertaining a person's relationship status. I've done this when I liked a guy; I'm as afraid of rejection as anyone else, and most romantic relationships are monogamous, so if the guy I like has a partner already then I won't hit on him (and if he's single, obviously that doesn't make him a sure thing...but he's at least more likely to say yes than if he were relationshipped).

    But outright asking someone "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?" is not the amazing subtle awkwardness-saving tactic that guys on this thread seem to think it is. Women all know goddamn well that the question means you're hitting on us, so you're still putting yourself out there emotionally. If we happen to be single but not interested in you, we then have to decide whether to invent a boyfriend, tell you we don't have a boyfriend (knowing full well that you're probably about to ask us out and we'll have to shoot you down and it will be painfully awkward), or tell you "I'm single but I don't find you attractive" (and when someone makes a come-on that's all veiled in metaphors and shit, it feels really...rude, or something, to burst through the bubble of obfuscation and explain your feelings in plain language).

    Frankly, I think the whole little dance of subterfuge inherent in "do you have a boyfriend?" actually makes things way more complicated and overwrought than they need to be, for exactly the reasons I've outlined above. "DO YOU WANT TO DATE ME Y/N" is so beautifully and refreshingly simple! ...At least, it is when the guy actually accepts a "no."

  124. Hm ... I can't think of a non-crude way of asking "would you like to have casual sex?" (or (would you like to have coffee as a way of, as it were, feeling each other out, and then have casual sex if the auspices are right?") If what you want is a capital-R Relationship, you can ask "would you like to go to dinner X night?" But if you're out for a hookup or a fling or FWB or an explicitly non-serious relationship, and you're not in a millieu that is good for that sort of thing (bar, OKCupid, Craigslist, etc.) I don't know the phrasing, though I'm sure some exist.

    That said, I do know "do you have a boyfriend?" isn't it.

    I guess if the person reacts badly to "do you want to grab a cup of coffee and see if we're compatible enough for casual sex?" the answer was "no" anyway.

  125. If it were me I'd just say "I think you're really hot and would totally have sex with you, if you're up for it." Then I'd let the expression on the person's face dictate whether I added a qualifier like "...But if you're not into it, that's cool too" or "I don't necessarily mean now, but, you know, in general. For now, maybe just coffee?"

    And after the person accepted but before any sex took place, I'd make sure they understood I wasn't looking for a relationship.

    Admittedly, this is probably easier for a woman to say to a man than vice-versa, but I think a guy could pull it off (I'd be fine with a guy approaching me this way, for instance). The key is to sound sincere but nonchalant - if you approach the person while leering and staring and seeming really overwrought, it's gonna look like your entire well-being depends on their answer - or like you're so intent on getting what you want that you won't take no for an answer. Neither of those things is a good look.

  126. For me personally, I do generally check if people are in a relationship before I hit on them, although I try to be more subtle about it. I'm not particularly interested in a poly arrangement at this point in my life, so even if you might sleep with other people, I don't want to sleep with someone who has a boyfriend. I see someone being single as a prerequisite, not as the only criteria.

    I do find it disappointing that girls have to work so hard to convince guys when they're not interested. Saying "No thanks" really should be just as compelling as "I'm taken". I figure if a girl isn't interested in me, I've got better things to do than argue with her about it, I'm moving on.

  127. I thought of this post when I read one of the articles about the woman who came forward accusing Herman Cain of sexual harassment, and a news article said that her telling him to stop included "I have a boyfriend," as if having a boyfriend would be the best reason you wouldn't want to be sexually assaulted when you're trying to network. (See, for example

  128. Thanks for this post, it's given me a lot to think about.

    I've always chalked up the "Do you have a boyfriend?" line to: If a guy that I don't know is approaching me, it's likely because he finds me physically attractive and so he would either like to date me or have sex with me. As such, he wants to know if I have a boyfriend in order to know whether or not he should waste his "efforts" on me.

    That sounds pretty horrible now that I've written it out. Personally, I've never had a man approach me and say, "I saw you from across the room and thought, 'Wow, that girl looks like she'd make an amazing friend.'" ;)

    And if I answer "yes" to the boyfriend question, it's incredibly rare for a man to want to continue talking to me (so, I suppose to these men, I'm only worth getting to know if I'm romantically or sexually available). Their response is usually either "Oh... Sorry to bother you then." or they take it as a challenge to try to get with me anyway, often trying to make themselves look better than my partner (who they know nothing about), or by saying things like, "Well, he doesn't have to find out."

    But if I'm interested in getting to know the guy who asks better, as a woman in a poly relationship, I feel the need to follow my "yes" up with an explanation, since "Yes, I have a boyfriend" in a mono-normative society is generally taken as "I'm not interested." Unfortunately, explaining that I'm in a nonmonogamous relationship often translates into the guy's mind as either a) "Oh, she's a slut, I'm not interested." (well, that's a little unfair, I'm sure some of them are looking for monogamous woman, but don't necessarily think nonomonogamy = slutty); or b) "Oh, she's a slut, I'm definitely getting laid tonight!" and hardly ever "I'd like to get to know this woman better and see where it takes us."

    So, when you said that "yes" is a partial answer, and that they've asked the wrong question, that really resonated with me.

    Having a boyfriend doesn't mean that I'm not interested, and not having a boyfriend doesn't mean that I am.

  129. Yes, it says you're property.

    I got hit on by a creepy taxi driver many years ago. He asked if I'd go out with him; I said no. "Why, are you taken?" he asked. Even allowing for the language barrier (he was not a native speaker) it said pretty clearly where he was coming from, with a heavy implication of "Why else would you turn down someone you've spoken to from the back seat of a taxi for all of 1.5 minutes?"

    My answer to him was "No, I'm just not giving." Surprisingly enough, it shut him up.