TIME relationships

Why ‘I Have a Boyfriend’ Is Still the Best Way to Turn a Guy Down

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An argument for efficiency by a feminist

You’re out with your friends at a bar, and a guy comes over and starts talking to you. You exchange pleasantries and start chatting. But it soon becomes clear that you’re just not that into him. What’s the best way to turn him down without being a total jerk? A 2013 XOJane column that went viral over the weekend by Alecia Lynn Eberhardt makes the argument that the age-old excuse of “I have a boyfriend” (whether it’s true or not) undermines a woman’s autonomy by suggesting she’s unavailable because she’s “taken” by a man. Eberhardt pulls a popular quote from Tumblr to explain why this excuse deprives a woman of all agency:

Male privilege is “I have a boyfriend” being the only thing that can actually stop someone from hitting on you because they respect another male-bodied person more than they respect your rejection/lack of interest.

While in theory I agree with this sentiment, I’m going to still argue for the efficacy of the “I have a boyfriend” excuse. When I am out with my friends at a bar trying to enjoy myself, the last thing I want to do is take precious time away from my friends to explain to a stranger why I have no interest in him. Eberhardt’s sketch of how this debate might play out sounds exhausting:

“I’m not interested.” Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist — ”No, I said I’m not interested.”

“Oh, so you have a boyfriend?”

“I said, I’m not interested.”

“So you’re a lesbian, then?”

“Actually, I’m not interested.”

“You seem crazy.”

“Nope, just not interested.”

Et cetera. You could even, if you were feeling particularly outspoken, engage in a bit of debate with the man in question.

I don’t have the patience to get into debates with every man who hits on me. I’ve used the “I’m not interested” excuse before only to be regaled for 10 minutes with stories as to why I should be interested. I’ve seen men sit down at a table with a friend, put their arm around her even after she’s said, “I’m not interested.” I even had a man try this strategy while I was on a date with a boyfriend who was sitting across the table from me.

If, on the other hand, you say, “I have a boyfriend,”— even if that’s a bald-faced lie — guys will flee pretty quickly. Some will say, “So?” But that debate can be ended pretty quickly with “I don’t cheat” or “he just got out of prison.”

So yes, if you think you’re dealing with a rational person who will leave you alone after you utter “I’m not interested” or if you feel like spending your night engaged in spirited debate, do the empowered thing and don’t lie. But that’s often not the case, and while I consider myself a feminist, I’m also someone who cares about efficiency. It’s not my obligation to educate men in bars about society’s gender issues. I want to enjoy my evenings. So I’ll be sticking with “I have a boyfriend” and go home still believing in equal pay, leaning in and that a woman should win the presidency in 2016.

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