Feminism / Ideas / Society & Culture

Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”

girls-drinking

I enjoy “going out.” I like dancing, I like music, I like drinking, I like spending time with friends. And I like meeting new people, chatting with them, making friends. I also understand that many people (men and women) go to bars and clubs in hopes of meeting a romantic/sexual partner, and of course, there is nothing wrong with this, in theory.

That’s why, if someone attempts conversation with me, I try not to immediately write them off as a “creep.” I welcome conversation and believe that the more people in my life with whom I can converse, the better off I’ll be. However (as most women know) there sometimes comes a point in a conversation with a man where it becomes necessary to draw the line and indicate that you are in no way, by any means, at all interested in pursuing anything further. There are also times when it is clear that friendly conversation is not in the cards (i.e., those men who substitute grabbing your hips and attempting to “dance” with you for a polite introduction). This is about those times.

If you do a Google search for “how to avoid being hit on at a bar,” you’ll get several articles with “helpful” tips on skirting conversation with men you are not interested in. The majority of these list pretending to have (or actually having) a boyfriend/fiance/husband as the number one method for avoiding creeps (second to “pretending to be a lesbian” or “pretending to be crazy,” a la Jenna Marbles). In response to my complaints about men creeping on me at dance clubs in college, an ex-boyfriend of mine used to get cranky that I refused to whip out this cure-all excuse (one of many reasons he is an ex).

Yes, this may be the easiest and quickest way to get someone to leave you alone, but the problems associated with using this excuse far outweigh the benefits. There is a quotation that I’ve seen floating around Tumblr recently (reblogged by many of my amazing feminist Tumblr-friends) that goes as follows:

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.

This amazingly puts into one sentence what I have been attempting to explain to ex-boyfriends and friends (male and female) for years, mostly unsuccessfully. The idea that a woman should only be left alone if she is “taken” or “spoken for” (terms that make my brain twitch) completely removes the level of respect that should be expected toward that woman. It completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends. It is basically a real-life example of feminist theory at work–women (along with women’s choices, desires, etc.) being considered supplemental to or secondary to men, be it the man with whom she is interacting or the man to whom she “belongs” (see the theory of Simone de Beauvoir, the story of Adam and Eve, etc.). And the worst part of the whole situation is that we’re doing this to ourselves.

This tactic also brings up the question of the alternative. If the woman in question was boyfriend-free, would she automatically be swooning in the arms of the creep harassing her? Unlikely. So why do we keep using these excuses? We’re not teaching men anything about the consequences of their behavior (i.e. polite, real conversation warrants a response while unwanted come-ons do not). We’re merely taking the easy exit, and, simultaneously, indicating to men that we agree, single girls are “fair game” for harassment.

So what can we do? I think the solution is simple–we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you (and you are not interested–if you are, go for it, girl!), respond with something like this: “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. “Why is it that you think that just because I’m not interested, there must be an excuse? Why is it not an option that I’m simply not looking for a sexual encounter and/or something about the way that you approached me indicated to me that you have very little respect for women and therefore I would never be interested in having a sexual encounter with you regardless of my sexuality or relationship status?” (Or, ya know, switch it up as you see fit.) Questioning them back (if you have the energy) puts you back on an even playing field.

I’m not saying this is easy. I’ve gotten into my fair share of arguments with men during what were supposed to be fun nights out with friends over whether or not I have the “right” to tell them to buzz off, boyfriend notwithstanding. However, there are a few reasons I continue: 1. So that maybe, possibly, the man I’m speaking to, or other men observing the encounter, may learn something about the agency of women, 2. So that maybe, possibly I might be inspiring other women observing to do the same so that one day, we can be a huge kickass collective of ladies standing up for our right to go crazy on the dance floor without being hassled, and 3. So that I can go home that night, sweaty and tired and happy, and know that I gave myself all the respect that I deserve.

Alecia is a logophile and a library bandit wanted in several states. In addition to feminist rants, she also writes essays, short stories, bad poetry, recipes and very detailed to-do lists. She currently resides in a little blue cabin in Woodstock with one fiance, one Dachshund and one pleasantly plump cat. Find her tweeting @alecialynn.

374 thoughts on “Stop Saying “I Have a Boyfriend”

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  5. While I support the ultimate conclusion that women would be more empowered if they were to own their state and speak their truth instead of resorting to excuses I disagree with her assumption at the beginning that men leave women alone when given this excuse simply because they ‘belong,” to someone else or another male. I think it is an oversimplification and a leap in logic which dovetails nicely with the desire to reinforce the stereotype that all men are conspiring, wittingly or unwittingly in the grand oppression of the patriarchy. I would be far more inclined to believe that men take this reason to heart because a) men in this sort of space (a bar) have to be aware that there is a possibility of physical conflict with other men and, the purported boyfriend not being present, this puts them in the position of possibly getting entangled in a physical conflict with someone they are ill prepared to engage. Only an idiot would hit on a woman in a strange bar if it was primarily home to motorcycle gangs because the repercussions could be devastating and the risk to reward ratio would not be in his favor. b) often men and women in bars are really looking for low hanging fruit. Someone they can get their sexual needs met with while not having to worry about further emotional entanglement with. In other words, an easy lay. A woman who says she has a boyfriend in that scenario implies that she is not an easy lay, and a man might be inclined to carry on in hopes of finding a less complicated situation. There are after all, plenty of women who have boyfriends they would not tell a man about if they found the said man attractive and were entertaining the possibility of going to bed with them. Furthermore, I have known quite a few men (and maybe even the majority of younger men, but that is an assumption I am not comfortable with making) that could give a rat’s ass about any other men and their purported involvement with a woman they were trying to connect with. Sexual rivalry is part and parcel of the masculine realm. Playas would be particularly inclined to want to further engage with a woman in this situation because his ability to “pull her,” would be a greater triumph in his world view. I think as men get older, as they experience the pain of women cheating on them, as they develop more character, empathy and compassion then they may be more inclined to not mess with someone involved in a relationship, (although, again I don’t know if statistics would really bear this out and it might likely be wishful thinking and a desire to maintain a certain level of naivete which facilitates optimism) simply because they believe it is wrong on many levels, least of which is them respecting the other male-bodied person more. Also, for some men, the idea that you have a boyfriend is actually far more attractive because it is quite likely that a man in a bar who behaves as she describes is not likely to be looking for a long term commitment.

    I think I understand your reason for writing this, and I do believe that women would be more empowered by speaking their truth clearly and making no excuses (this holds true for anyone, not just women), but I have grown rather tired of these kinds of assumptions being thrown about on the internet. I responded with such a lengthy retort because I believe things like this are damaging to the already strained relations between men and women. Of course the article is not written for me. I am not your audience, and I doubt I ever will be for the length of your career (how is that for an assumption) There is an implication that bloggers speak from a position of authority and less from a position of assumption and opinion, and I find that deeply irksome. Things get re-blogged and the more they are re-blogged the more authority they have, but humanity is full of assumptions that are now considered common knowledge, but are entirely wrong. To put it simply, as a man I resent this your belief that you understand the complexity of my motivations and responses in that situation.I also resent the fact that the statement you reference reduces the complexity of my motivations and responses to a simple and easily packaged, “male privilege,” paradigm. But . . . I do not pretend to speak for my gender. I do not pretend to speak for all men. I do not know what other men’s motivations or responses are outside of the almost entirely unspoken and complex concept of masculinity which I may share with them.

  6. Wait. You’re suggesting that you use one line over another to lose a pursuer at the bar?
    I don’t think thats about equal rights or your “worthiness”. Its about time management. If I am a guy at a club looking for “whatever,” I would be more pissed about losing time talking to you if you are in a relationship (that i clearly respect- by leaving) than if you just told me you had a boyfriend. But yeah, if you say “Im not interested,” I am going to think you’re an ass. Just as if a guy said it to a female who was hitting on him. You would say, “What an asshole.” Respect is a two way street.

    Women only say it more because obviously men pursue MUCH more than women. But I’ve definitely used the line “I have a girlfriend” because I didnt want to be a dick. Would you rather I say “Im not interested, and here’s why….” I didnt think so.

    • Honesty doesn’t make you an “ass”. I would think being honest with someone rather than lying to them means that you respect them more as a human being despite their gender.

  7. Leaning on the “I have a boyfriend” excuse can also send the terribly wrong message of “My prior commitments are the only thing keeping me from sexing you.” This has the doubly-negative effect of both sending a guy the wrong message as well as making a woman look weak, like she needs the male-shield. Pretty much the inverse problem of the one discussed in the article, actually. Both are possible side effects.

    • I agree with this much more that the reason given in the article. I don’t think it’s because he respects some unknown male. Let’s be honest, who gives a fuck anymore if a girl has a boyfriend? if she is willing to hook up, I can’t think of one guy I know who won’t still do it. Men are pathetic (Except me… yeah me too)

  8. I am not sure if this is quite fair. Men will also use the line that they are in a relationship to dismiss unwanted advances — I know I have. What I think is more at play is that there is an expectation in our society that men are the advancers and women are the hit upon. There are lots of ways to spin this: male privilege (aggressive women are slut-shamed), female privilege (men are expected to be sluts), or economics (due to age-range dating behavior, women have a period early in their lives where they are in short supply on the dating market and high demand resulting in a high level of comparative bargaining power — which is as much the fault of women dating older as men dating younger).

    Whatever the reason, women (of a certain age) are hit on more than men and men are obliged to be more aggressive than they might otherwise like to be. As a result (certain) women need to say “no” more regularly and more decisively, then men do. If a man gave up every time a girl did not immediately seem 100% interested and if he went out regularly without any plan of hooking up, he would be severely disadvantaged compared to the group of women this article is directed towards.

    “I have a boyfriend,” “I am a lesbian,” “I am crazy,” are ways to indicate that a guy has no shot — to close the door. Simply saying, “I am not interested, I’m just here to hang out with my friends/to dance/to drink/whatever” means to a guy that they would normally have a shot but not tonight, so if they try harder they might still have a shot. They think of themselves as the guy who sneaks into Spielberg’s office to pitch his movie idea because he knows how good it is and Spielberg will definitely like it if he just gives it a chance, not as the guy who sneaks into Angelina Jolie’s dressing room to snap a picture — even if that is what it feels like to the woman. The argument that being a lesbian is just as effective indicates that the stuff about it being “respect [for] another male-bodied person” is malarkey. It is about whether or not the guy thinks has a shot.

    Finally, I dislike how this article equates harassment with getting hit on, it is dismissive to the experience of people who are genuinely harassed.

    • but if you read the comments (i know, there are a lot, but i swear, they are really interesting) you will find out from multiple women in same-sex relationships that the “i’m a lesbian” or “i’m here with my girlfriend” line is NOT effective.

      secondly, i agree that getting hit on is NOT the same as harassment in all cases (where in the piece do i say it is?). but any woman knows that there’s a point at which friendly flirting can turn into genuine harassment at the hands of some (again, not all) men.

  9. I agree with the article completely, however being a newly single guy, with equal rights in mind, I no longer know how to act. I don’t go to clubs/bars anymore because I am tired of guys who clearly aren’t respectful ‘winning out’ against resonable men.
    I look foward to the day when guys write articles about overusing the ‘I have a girlfriend’ line, because that means that women are hitting on men, actually acting as equals, and not pulling a double standard. Rewarding aggressive men, but saying otherwise.

    • I would make a couple thoughts.

      The first is that clubs and bars may not be the best place to meet people. They’re loud, so it’s hard to get an idea of who the person you’re talking to IS, beyond their appearance.

      Second, a lot of people are on the defensive in places like that to begin with, given the habits of predators who frequent such areas.

      And third, the odds are always against everybody in that context. Even if everyone there is looking for someone else, the odds are that you don’t fit their ideal search image, which means you’re starting from a bad place, and it doesn’t take much to set you back.

      I would also caution you that there’s a pattern that’s been growing lately, of men saying that the reason they’re not getting any is that they’re “nice guys” and women are “pulling a double standard” and “rewarding aggressive men”. This is often followed up with actions or statements that directly contradict the person’s self-assessment as a “nice guy”.

      I’m not saying this is you – I know nothing about you – just that a couple things you have said sound like that, and it’s possible that’s undermining you in the bar.

      • “I would also caution you that there’s a pattern that’s been growing lately, of men saying that the reason they’re not getting any is that they’re “nice guys” and women are “pulling a double standard” and “rewarding aggressive men”. ”

        There’s no shortage however of women who do go for aggressive bad boys though. The misogynists n assholes I know are far more likely to be dating than the truly nice n decent guys I know.

  10. Interesting article, but I think girls say that because they don’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings or they’re not assertive enough to reject the guy to his face. I’ve only used the “I have the boyfriend” thing a couple times when I was feeling lazy and didn’t feel like letting him know through social cues or didn’t want to cause a scene/embarrass him by telling him I wasn’t interested. In my experience, saying I had a boyfriend in no way deterred the men, they only asked, “Well, is he here?” Actually, my main strategy to discourage guys is to avoid eye contact and start talking to other people. So, it would probably be quicker to just tell them I’m not interested, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings.

    • I’m curious then: why do you think it would embarrass him to just tell him that you’re not interested? Here’s this guy coming on to you in some way. It doesn’t matter whether or not he’s being respectful. It was his decision to initiate conversation with you, so there’s no reason for him to be embarrassed if you don’t reciprocate. If he is, then it’s seriously his problem! Responsibility does not fall on the woman to ensure there are no hurt feelings.

      • Possibly because the qualities that you are rejecting him for – or lack of qualities depending on how you want to look at it – could be as simple as being ugly, fat or a plethora of other undesirable physical qualities. If a girl approached me and I was to say to her:

        “I’m not interested because you’re face is severally asymmetrical, you have no ass and a flat chest. I would regret doing anything with you physically; but you know I respect you as a fellow moral agent and you have engaged me in an attempt to attract me so I share no responsibility in your hurt feelings. Also honestly is the best policy; or so I’m being told by the reblogs by my female friends on my instagram and tumblr…Just kidding! I don’t have tumblr obviously.”

        I’d probably be called an asshole.

        But this hypothetical scenario I conjured up in a vacuum of the closest P-world of total equality (which isn’t close at all to out own) is just meant to demonstrate tactfulness. Despite how often women are disgusted in how men conduct themselves at clubs and bars, it does not mean that women should advocate an aggressive counter-attack on men who they find unattractive. Men who are willing to put their egos on the line in the hopes of fulfilling their biological imperatives.

        Besides women usually try to attract men in a very different way.Their methods are far more subtle: mostly consisting of starring (or down right gawking, especially when the man is not looking), infrequent but deliberate eye-contact, and a little bit of positioning in order to move closer for possible contact. There are some women who do more “male” oriented approaches, but they are few and far between… much to the agony of most men. Perhaps if women didn’t try to attract men in this deliberately passive manner (I know you don’t want to come off desperate), it would change the dynamics of dating at clubs and bars.

        The naivety of the modern man is this idea that the empowerment and recognized equality of women in this modern era was going to force women to take on some of the burdens that men have to endure; primarily societal pressures and gender roles; one of which would be to approach men. This just isn’t the case; women aren’t going to take on that burden…because it sucks; no one wants to put their ass on the line and get rejected again and again…and again…and AGAIN! So often that you start to think you’re simply not good enough for anyone! It can be incredibly disheartening and frustrating.

        In reality it’s not “his” decision to initiate conversation, just a decision he has to make if he wants that conversation. He doesn’t deserve to be told exactly why he’s undesirable if you are fully aware of how hurtful such things would be to say to him directly.

  11. If you wanna not be “hassled” or requested, why you go to bar or clubs? You can go to homosexual places then. Iam sorry but you are a psycho thinking like this. Men and women are equal.

  12. I can definitely see the point of not wanting to use this excuse, and I think “I’m not interested” is a better response when a guy is harrassing a girl or being inappropriate. However, if he is showing interest in a polite and respectful way, I have no problem with the “I have a boyfriend” line (if it’s true, at least). It’s not easy to approach someone, and rejection is no fun. When I tell guys this, it’s because I want to let the guy down easy (and sometimes, the guy is someone I legitimately might be interested in if I were single). Putting myself in their shoes, if I were hitting on a guy, it would definitely be a lot nicer to hear “I have a girlfriend” than “I’m not interested in you,” and many guys do use the “I have a girlfriend” line when women hit on them. So, I don’t think that’s being sexist necessarily, although I can see the problems with this excuse.

  13. A further observation: I have personally experienced groping in clubs and used the go-to escape route of “I have a boyfriend.” One offending individual that sticks in my memory is a guy who proclaimed “you’re lying” and “where is he then?” He then continued to grope me as though the fact that I was actually single meant he had the right to continue to touch my body despite my clear desire for him to stop. I’m aware that this is a pretty extreme example but I’m pretty certain I’m not the only one who has experienced this kind of attitude.

  14. An interesting consideration: I have found that guys will back off 95% of the time if they think that I (or any other girl) has a boyfriend. I would estimate the amount that girls back off upon learning that a guy is in a relationship is a hell of a lot less. I have even witnessed girls continue to hit on guys in front of their girlfriends. I admit that there are other potential reasons for this and my observations may not match everyone’s. However, I’m willing to put this phenomenon down to patriarchy: women are perceived as belonging to men, not the other way around, and there is a bro-code in place that doesn’t exist amongst women because ‘getting a man’ is more important. So yes, using ‘I have a boyfriend’ as an excuse simply encourages this mindset.

    • Strange logic. Maybe the guys fear being beaten up more, or maybe women in your world are more selfish? I’ve heard of the stereotype of a man who is single gets little attention, but a man who is taken suddenly has some women interested. Could be that guys who are taken have additional confidence and are more sexy? Could be that some women just love to stir up drama. I highly doubt it’s some patriarchal view of women belonging to men though. In my experience both genders tend to respect peoples relationships and back off when they know they’re unavailable, although there are some homewreckers.

  15. I was talking to a woman at the bar awhile ago, I showed interest, and she fobbed me off with ill be right back twice, and the third time said I have a boyfriend. this angered me, not because she wasn’t interested, but because if she had just said not interested the first time, I wouldn’t have felt like such a creep. a heads up is all some of is ask for, if you aren’t interested, just saying so can help the whole night go smoother for both parties.

    • I understand how that is annoying, but you have to see the larger context. She didn’t know you well. She probably had encountered situations like this post is describing, where a simple “no” was met with further harassment. There are even guys who react violently to no, sad truth. So while it’s somewhat annoying for you, I don’t think you can blame this woman until there is a much safer dating/ hook up culture where men don’t act entitled to women.

  16. I never thought about it that way, but you are absolutely right. I always felt strange that I had to use excuses in the first place, but now I can follow your lead and stand up for myself without putting a man between me and what I don’t like being done/said to me. Thank you for this:-)

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