Rejection can be good, and sometimes ‘no’ is a gift

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

Brace yourselves, because I want to make an argument that isn’t made that often. I want to explain why rejection can be a valuable gift. Often, rejection is good for you. I’m not just talking here about sex mistakes you could avoid – get rejected by a hot person who later turns out to be awful, for instance. I’m talking about what ‘no’ actually means, and why often someone’s ‘no’ is far more precious than a ‘yes.’

Saying ‘no’ is sometimes a gift

If I invite you out for a drink, and you’re tired or ill or you just don’t fancy it right now, I want you to be able to say no. I want you to feel comfortable enough with me that ‘no’ isn’t a big deal. I don’t want you to do what I so often do, and tremble as you hit the ‘send’ button wondering if you’re going to offend me.

Saying ‘no’ is a gift because it tells the person you’re speaking to the honest, unvarnished truth. You’re turning them down, which might be disappointing, but you’re also telling them something pretty good: that you know they are the kind of person who can deal with a ‘no.’

If you say ‘no’ to me, I might be mildly disappointed that you don’t want to join me in the pub, but my overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude: that you were comfortable being honest with me, and you know I’m not the kind of person who’ll freak out and guilt-trip you.

Sexual rejection can be a gift too

The word ‘rejection’ is a pretty horrible one. You’re offering something, and someone’s turning it down. We’re often taught to feel hurt by this, because the very concept of ‘rejection’ implies that the original offer was a gift. Rejecting a gift is usually tied up in the idea of being rude. A gift is a nice thing, right? So rejecting it seems like a mean or unnecessary thing to do.

On top of this linguistic nudge towards seeing rejection as bad, the fact that it’s often framed as a rejection of a whole person is equally unhelpful.

“She/he rejected me” sounds far harsher than “She/he rejected this particular proposal.

If I ask my partner to put down the Xbox controller and come fuck me, his ‘not right now, thanks’ isn’t actually a rejection of me as a person. He isn’t saying ‘you aren’t attractive to me’ or even ‘you aren’t attractive to me right now’ – he’s just rejecting this specific proposal, at this specific moment in time. He might respond differently if instead I offered to blow him during his next round of Titanfall.

If we weren’t together, then yeah his rejection might be a broader thing: we haven’t yet built up the kind of relationship where you can casually ask for sex, so if I ask and he says ‘no’ I’d probably take that to mean ‘no I’d rather not have sex with you at any time.’ But it’s still not a rejection of me as a whole person – ‘no I don’t want to fuck you’ does not – by default – equal ‘no I never want to see you again.’

This is really important because I think it feeds into so many of our relationship myths:

  • The idea of a ‘friend zone‘ – that women who have rejected you for sex are only ever using you for companionship. As if the only possible value you (or they) could have is sexual pleasure, and companionship/friendship/joking/hanging out in the pub doesn’t count as something good. In this instance, recognising ‘no I don’t want to fuck you’ as a gift makes a hell of a lot of sense – they feel comfortable rejecting you because they respect you enough to think that you won’t kick off or turn it into a seething pile of resentment.
  • The idea that when someone’s sex drive takes a battering – because they’re on SSRIs or they’re anxious or their body is changing in ways that mean they’re less keen to bang – that dip in sex drive should be interpreted as a rejection of you personally. Again, in this case ‘no’ is a gift – they’re giving you an honest assessment of what they want, on the understanding that you are the kind of person who will listen and be compassionate about it, rather than layering it with an interpretation that they haven’t intended.
  • The myth that men should ‘chase’, because when women say ‘no I don’t want to fuck you’, what that actually means is ‘persuade me.’ If we recognise that ‘no’ is a gift – a useful tool to help you understand where you are with someone – then desperately trying to bully them from ‘no’ into ‘yes’ makes no sense. They’ve given you something precious and worthy of respect, why on earth would you want to coerce them into exchanging it for something different?

I spotted this tweet a while ago, and it made me simultaneously happy (yay for this dude!) and massively frustrated (why the hell should this be so unusual that not only does someone tweet about it, but tens of thousands retweet it too?!).

Not all ‘no’s are good

It’s hard to reject someone. Just as there are certain overtures (a random dick pic in your inbox with ‘wanna fuck? Lol’) that don’t deserve a particularly gentle answer, there are many to which the person offering the rejection wants to be gentle, but struggles with the right way to say it.

So although no one is ever obliged to say ‘no’ if you’re contacting them out of the blue, if you’ve experienced particularly harsh or frequent rejections, I understand that it hurts – honestly, I do. Plenty of men have said ‘no’ to me, and I suspect many more will in future. The alternatives – ignoring me, flirting but drawing back, deleting messages, and doing the sex-games equivalent of replying ‘maybe’ to a party invite then just dodging facebook on the day so people think you’re ill or busy – are to me far less respectful than a straight up rejection.

When a guy turns me down for sex, far from saying I’m an unfuckable person, in fact he’s saying that I’m the kind of person he feels comfortable saying ‘no’ to. He respects me enough that he can be honest with me. He assumes that I’ll take his ‘no’ with good grace. He feels comfortable with me. He’s turned down my offer of a shag, but offered me respect in return.


  • SpaceCaptainSmith says:

    So much yes to this. My profile on a particular site specifies that rejections are OK and even welcome. Like most people, I would like people to be honest with me.

    But like most people, I also find it hard rejecting others sometimes, and can think of times I’ve given lame excuses rather than say no to something. I’m trying to be more open about saying no, for the reasons given here – a blunt no can hurt, but is much less disrespectful than blowing people off with blatantly bullshit excuses.

    I’m fairly sure I’ve been on the receiving end of such excuses as well. I know it’s meant to spare the target’s feelings, but it also always leaves you wondering – “wait, is it possible that she *really* just forgot? Or does she think I’m so dumb that I’d believe that?”. (The best answer, of course, is not to worry about it – just let it drop, and if she really wants to meet, she’ll make arrangements to do so.) “Sorry, I’m not interested”, while not obligatory, is surely a much better response to receive.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Actually the lame excuses thing reminds me of a bit that Aziz Ansari does in one of his stand-up shows. He asks people to put their hands up if they reject people to say ‘not interested in another date’, and hardly anyone puts their hands up, then he asks who just disappears/drops out and everyone puts their hands up. Then he asks what they’d *want* someone else to do, and the answers are pretty much reversed. It’s difficult because as someone who’s had rejections greeted with ‘fuck you fuck you argh rage bitch’ in the past, I wouldn’t want to blanket say everyone should offer these kind of rejections, but yeah it’d be nice if we could all be a bit more comfortable with rejection.

  • Archie says:

    I cannot express how much I hate the majority of what you’ve written in this post.

    • Girl on the net says:

      And yet you tried anyway, which is valiant of you. Now I shall go through the rest of the day wondering what exactly it was I did wrong, why it led you to hate me, and why what to me seems a fairly casual and understanding post could cause someone to be so angry with me that they would be moved to leave a comment like this. Thanks, friend!

      • Archie says:

        You did nothing wrong. I do NOT hate you. I am NOT angry with you. I considered making an attempt to try and explain in the comments section, but knew I could not do so succinctly. I can see little point in typing up hundreds if not thousands of words in an attempt to explain when I’m this emotional about the content. Whilst I could try and explain over a coffee with you, we’re separated by half a world.

        I’ve enjoyed the majority of what little of yours I’ve read so far. I’ve seen many comments expressing a love for what you write. If I shouldn’t have expressed a dislike for what you wrote, then please let me know and I won’t do it again. I assume that your use of the term friend was sarcastic, and while I don’t consider you a friend (I don’t know you at all, much less well enough), I don’t consider you as an enemy, and I can only ask you to believe that I am not an enemy of yours. I did however, feel comfortable enough to leave a comment that let you know the content of this post was not well received, because I don’t consider your blog as a “positive comments only” zone.

        • SweetTheSting says:

          Sooooo tempting to link to the recent “ways I disappoint men” post, in case Archie missed it…

        • Girl on the net says:

          It’s not a ‘positive comments only’ zone, but as I was trying to illustrate in my earlier comment, just a random expression of hate without explanation makes me wonder what exactly I’ve done. It’s not that you have to say something nice – as you’ve probably seen from other comment threads, I get a fair amount of criticism for some of the stuff I write, and I wouldn’t bother having comments if I weren’t up for debate. This post in particular took a lot of time to write because I wanted to make sure it had a tone of kindness rather than ‘suck it up.’ Maybe I failed, but a simple ‘I hate this’ doesn’t help me to understand why I failed, or even dispute with you what it is that I did wrong.

          • Archie says:

            I feel genuinely bad that I said I hated most of it without having explained why. For that I unreservedly apologise, and cannot stress enough that you didn’t do anything wrong. This post pushed one or more buttons of mine, with an intensity I didn’t think was possible. I did get the tone of kindness, but the best way I can put it (which isn’t saying much) is that it came across to me as something like “Getting punched in the face can be a gift”. It did not come across at all as “suck it up”. I don’t think you failed, as evidenced by the other comments you’re receiving. I will try and see if I can write up an explanation that doesn’t take you the better part of a day to get through, but I’ll be sending that to you privately.

          • Girl on the net says:

            It’s OK, you don’t need to send me long explanations privately or anything – I just wanted to let you know why comments like that aren’t likely to make me want to leap for joy. Appreciate you didn’t mean to be hurtful though. Thanks for apologising, it’s good of you. x

  • This is well said!

    May I add that there are also entirely selfish reasons why a straight “No” is a gift.

    When you’re single, a straight “no” is the gift of time. My youth was plagued by young women who were too subtle, too understated in their rejections when I was too young and stupid to pick up on them. It might not have been their responsibility to be assertive, but a straight and explicit rejection always came as a gift, enabling me to move on. (And yes, with that out of the way, the result was often a close friendship).

    *In* a relationship, no is the gift of trust. Who wants lack lustre sex that at best makes you feel vaguely bad after, and at worst puts you in the wrong and on the wrong end of passive aggressiveness? If you can trust your partner to say no, then you need not waste emotional energy on second guessing them.

    (I enjoy your posts…)

    • Girl on the net says:

      The ‘gift of time’ is a really excellent point – thanks Giles! I felt the same when I was dating – I’d always rather a ‘no’ after date 1 than a lacklustre second date that wastes an evening during which he is mainly thinking ‘nah, I’d rather not.’ Totally concur with your point on relationships too – and thank you! =)

  • DaxHalo says:

    Interesting you mention Aziz Ansari (in the Comments section), as I was about to bring up something from his book, Modern Romance.

    In regards to the third point you made about the “chase”, while I personally agree with your stance, a section of Ansari’s book where he spent time in South America shed light on the fact it’s a social norm there. Women are expected to reject several times and then have men “prove their worth” by being persistent.

    Again, not something I agree with, but it was enlightening to read about. I have no doubt it leads to many crossed lines as well, but that’s probably a much broader discussion.

    (P.S. the silence/blanking thing: ugh, so annoying -_- )

    • Girl on the net says:

      That’s a good point – I have read that book and there were loads of bits that I found fascinating about the different ways people date/flirt. The ‘chase’ thing – yeah it’s much more of a social norm in other countries, but I still think it’s a negative thing overall. I’d probably say the same of any specific dating behaviour that was coded/encouraged by gender if that makes sense. A lot of it is rooted in ideas of female purity (we have to pretend to be innocent/virginal – a girl who’s easy to ‘catch’ isn’t worth having, etc etc). But yeah, it’s interesting how different cultures have their own versions of dating/sex myths (or other myths that we don’t have).

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