I think there is something about being a newly single woman which men can sense. Perhaps it’s in my pheromones, or my body language, or the glazed, traumatised look in my eyes. Or maybe my loved ones have been going ahead of me, like scouts into battle, to warn anyone I come into contact with that I am not quite on my best form, physically or mentally, right now. Either way, it’s like how piranhas are drawn to blood, wasps to sugar, and me to pizza; a powerful homing instinct seems to occur. Every man within a ten yard radius appears to be acutely aware that I am the metaphorical sick zebra in the herd: the easy prey.
I wish I were saying this in an arrogant way. I really do. I wish I could say that I’ve been to the gym, had a hair cut, found the perfect moisturiser and discovered that I love myself. But all I have found is a mild case of insomnia and the bottom of the biscuit barrel, if not quite the bottle. So I can only attribute the sudden spike in (unwanted) male attention to a sixth sense. I might as well be writing “Recently dumped” across my forehead in permanent marker before I leave the house. And then adding a footnote across my chest, “All freaks and weirdos welcome to give it your best shot” with small print on my knees reading “Any normal man should stay far, far away”.
So it’s pretty bad timing for my foolproof method of man-repelling to fail me.
For the last four years, four small words have acted like an anti-man forcefield on nights out: “I have a boyfriend”. Sure, it didn’t work on everyone, but the majority of guys would hear those magic words and back off. It was great because it was true, and, for the most part, non-confrontational.
However, I had a niggling feeling that, for very special cases, telling a would-be sexual partner that I had a boyfriend was a cop-out. Grabby guys, gropey guys, shouty guys, and seemingly-normal guys who wouldn’t take no for an answer, deserved more. They deserved to get a face full of feminist rage. But the non-confrontational part of me (i.e. all of me, I really, really hate confrontation) opted for telling the easier truth – that I was in a relationship – over the trickier truth that their behaviour was unattractive and sometimes just plain unacceptable.
I stumbled across this quotation recently and was sick in my mouth a little bit:
“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.”
In some cases, that’s probably (and sadly) true, but I feel so nauseated not at the misogyny but at the misandry. Men are not monsters. At least, not all of them.
Thinking optimistically, I like to believe that “I have a boyfriend” is so very effective because:
A) If a girl has a boyfriend, the likelihood is that she isn’t interested. Guys aren’t going to waste valuable flirting time trying to persuade a women who probably can’t be persuaded.
B) It allows a rejection to not feel like a rejection. Egos don’t need to be trampled on because of the following rational: you (the man in question) are both charming and handsome, and this woman would definitely be interested were she not happily relationshipped. Everyone’s a winner!
C) Following on from A, if a woman tells a guy she has a boyfriend then she’s not interested. Having a boyfriend has nothing to do with it. But if she mentions that boyfriend, be he real or imaginary, then it’s a clear red light. “I have a boyfriend” has become a universal, polite, easy way to deflect unwanted male attention. Men understand it. And I hope to god that the reason it works so well, 99% of the time, is that they understand that you wouldn’t be saying it unless you definitely weren’t interested.
But now that I don’t have a boyfriend, and need to get my strong-independent-woman act on, pronto, I will not be using the four magic words. I will be telling the truth. And if you’re hitting on me in a respectful manner, then I will smile and tell you sorry, but that I’m just here to dance. But god help you if you aren’t being respectful. Prepare for me to get extremely mouthy, and not at all in the way you wanted.
Stay away from this sick zebra, boys.