Opinion | She’s not leading you on — you’re doing it to yourself

By Sarah Liez, Senior Staff Columnist

During my first year at Pitt, I went on a date with a total stranger. We had met on a dating app, and I could tell within a few minutes that we were not a match.

Coupled with the fact that it was this man’s first real date and I enjoyed talking with him, I decided to keep in contact rather than ghost him. I saw potential for a friendship, and didn’t want to hurt him with a swift and sudden rejection that could dissuade him from future romantic pursuits.

I know, I know — my kindness has no limit.

This being the case, I made it very clear that I was not looking for a relationship, that I had feelings for someone else and that he and I would not be more than friends — thus digging up the roots of romance and instead allowing the seeds of friendship to be sprinkled in its place. At least, that’s what I thought I was doing.

One FaceTime call and roughly 15 text conversations later — all of which he initiated — I listened to this 19-year-old tell me how deeply he had fallen for me, desperately asking for me to forgo my repeated reminders that I only wanted a friendship. He demanded that I tell him whether there was any possibility that I would develop similar feelings in the future — whether there was a chance of us ever having a romantic relationship. The answer was no.

You can imagine my surprise and anger when, six months later, he reached out to tell me how he had not overcome his feelings, how I had destroyed his mental health and his perception of romance and how I had — above all else — led him on in the worst way possible.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Many of my female friends and I have experienced a number of similar interactions in which a man has refused to accept our repeated rejections, later becoming irritated and spiteful when he finally realizes romance was not on the table.

Although many women give reasons as to why we don’t want a relationship, some men keep trying again and again to win us over. It seems to me that, as long as we aren’t in a current relationship and don’t clearly state our absence of any and all romantic feelings, all of our reasoning can be thrown out the window. From the male perspective, our feelings seem to be invalid and always up for revision.

Eventually, we must be blunt in saying we do not return his feelings, and he needs to stop hoping we do or that we will. “You’ve been leading me on this whole time,” he often says, claiming he’s been receiving mixed signals or we made it seem like he “had a chance.”

I hate to tell you this, fellas, but we haven’t been leading you on — you’ve been doing it to yourself.

Men seem to feel entitled to receive sex and affection from women. It is as simple as that. Sure, the sting of rejection causes anyone pain, but from what I have observed, men often believe this pain is unjust. They see women as prizes to be won, convinced their romantic pursuits have a right to yield positive results. After all of the emotional investment, time and energy spent pursuing a lady of interest, they feel they have put in the work to deserve gratification.

An important aspect of this is the stigma surrounding the so-called “friend zone.” This concept entails a relationship between two individuals in which one has feelings for the other, yet that person does not return their feelings and wants nothing more than a friendship.

The “friend zone” is defined by the idea that one individual is unfairly restricting the other, despite all the compassion and support they have provided. It’s rooted in the idea that men are entitled to a woman’s affection, body and relationship status as a sort of payback for his emotional investment and time.

The issue is further grounded in the idea of a “no just means try harder” approach to romance. In entertainment media, we often see a man chase after a woman, despite her repeated rejections, until he eventually wins her favor in the end. But this strategy usually doesn’t yield the same results in real life. It merely encourages a man to ignore a woman’s wishes and tell themselves that if he tries hard enough, she will eventually return his feelings.

By way of illustration, a close friend of mine once went on a few dates with a man of interest. After realizing she didn’t return his feelings, she expressed a variety of reasons why she did not want to pursue a relationship — she was still getting over an ex and was not in a mental place for a relationship, among others.

Despite her dismissals, he showed up to her door one day with a bouquet of roses, a stuffed animal and a variety of candy to celebrate their “one-month anniversary” of the day they first met. Upon receiving these gifts and realizing he was in denial, she finally told him that she simply didn’t like him the same way. To this, he maintained she had cruelly led him on, making him believe he had a chance to be with her, and thus encouraging him to keep trying.

In reality, no woman should have to be rude or blunt in turning someone down. All of my friend’s reasons for rejection, like my own, were valid and true.

Women are sometimes berated for not being honest and clear in our rejections of men, but this is often because we’re afraid of the reaction we may receive. No matter the manner in which we reject someone, women are often blamed for misleading their affections, told they should have communicated the rejection some other way and made obligated to treat romantic pursuits with patience and kindness.

Men need to learn that any form of rejection is just that — a rejection, statement of disinterest, request to leave someone alone. “No” is not encouragement to try harder, or a statement that is subject to change — and ignoring a woman’s rebuff will only cause you to mislead yourself.

Until men accept the reality of any form of rejection, women will continually be accused of, and shamed for, “leading someone on.”

Sarah Liez writes primarily about gender issues and social phenomena. Write to her at [email protected].