Editor’s Note: This article is part of a campaign titled #JustNotInterested, run jointly by Feminism in India and Tinder India, to unpack and understand consent, disinterest and expectations in relationships. The campaign curates conversations on Instagram stories on various facts of modern relationships. This article is based on one of those conversations.
Popularly played during rickshaw rides and family DJ parties, the lyrical genius song called Gandi Baat goes ,“Raja beta banke maine jab sharafat dikhayi/tune bola hatt mawali bhaav nahi diya re.” (When I behaved decently with you, you called me a hooligan and did not give me any attention). If you continue to listen further, the chorus tells you that the boy is parting ways with decency and will now have to resort to the good old Gandi Baat. However, when the lyrics are taken out of the context of the movie, you either end up guiltily dancing to it at sangeet functions, or you end up being inspired by Shahid Kapoor’s ‘Rambo Rajkumar’ and make the women around you miserable and beg back for the time he played sappy characters, like the one in Jab We Met.
Expressing disinterest can be a tough path to tread on, for both the parties involved. Regardless of how gentle or hard the blow might be, there is always a chance that you will face the wrath of the emo raja betas and rajkumars parading the streets, workplaces, school/college campuses and Instagram DMs. However, there are also people that have learned to take being turned down well. Last week, FII hosted an Instagram chat with its followers, asking them how they would ideally like to be turned down.
Phrases like ‘never settle’ have been taken out of mobile phone commercials to a way of interacting within a society often leads to a clear difficulty with facing rejection – which is why “I’m not interested” responses often have to be disguised as “my parents don’t let me date”, “I’m seeing someone else” etc.
So how do we say ‘no’ just as it is and make the interaction as amicable as possible? During the chat, one respondent said “Ideally, if there is a reason, I would like to know. Even if the reason is simply the fact that they do not like me (provided they know me). But a direct and polite no would be fine too. Ideally, I would also like for them to give it a thought before they answer. Also, don’t lead me on after you say no. That’s the most important.” This brings me to the question – what constitutes ‘polite’?.
While scornful and deprecating attitudes are clearly unhealthy while turning someone down, the internalized patriarchy in us sets vastly different levels of ‘politeness’ for men and women. In most situations, men can simply say ‘no’ without sugar-coating it or feeling obligated to give a reason. Women, on the other hand, are required to soften the blow, and provide a ‘valid rationale’ for their decisions if they want the other person to stop pursuing them. A ‘no’ is seen as merely an obstacle instead of the finish line. However, if you give enough suitable reasons expressing your disinterest, you just might be lucky enough to help your Olympic-level hurdle racer see the finish line.
One respondent shared their views on the gendering of expressing disinterest, saying, “There can be several instances that are not physically dangerous, but are condescending and belittling nonetheless. This is setting the bar too low for men…To take a small example – if a man says he wants to go out with me because “I am not like other girls”, that is a strict no for me. I have zero tolerance for this and I would not feel obliged to turn him down politely”.
While scornful and deprecating attitudes are clearly unhealthy ways to turn someone down, patriarchy sets vastly different levels of ‘politeness’ for men and women.
Then comes the Maine Pyaar Kiya fandom, quoting Mohnish Behl as if he is the god-sent angel whose sole purpose on Earth is to teach the entire human race that they have been understanding friendships and love wrong all along, by mouthing one of the most ridiculous dialogues the ’80s had to offer “Ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte” (A boy and a girl can never be friends).
Though a number of romantic interactions end in an agreement to “continue being friends”, these friendships are often quoted as ‘leading on’ or ‘giving mixed signals’ to the affected party. One respondent shared their experience after politely turning someone down, who happened to be a friend. “After that, I would continue to be the same way as I was with them, friendly. Almost every time this approach has backfired badly and I have ended up being harassed about it by people saying that I had encouraged them by continuing to remain friends”.
Friendship needs to be understood as it is and not as an open door for some future possibility of romance. It is when the latter happens that platonic relationships get confused with giving ‘mixed signals’, which ends up being a difficult and awkward situation to deal with for both parties. Most men have been conditioned in a way where a ‘no’ is simply not the final chapter – a boy and a girl can never be friends, it is only a matter of time until they fall for you. While this advice may work wonders for one professionally or in movies based on fictional people, it ends up in interpretation of friendship as ‘leading on’, thereby making the situation much more complicated than it has to be, and unfair to both the individuals.
Friendship needs to be understood as it is and not as an open door for some future possibility of romance.
A solution to the ‘leading on’ problem was given by one of the respondents, who said, “If you feel like you will not be able to see them in the same way again, then maybe put things on a hold for some time and then you both can catch up later when you are in the right space of mind…For this, both parties have to be mature enough”. While immediate friendships might seem confusing to some, putting the situation on freeze for a while does clear up the picture and gives one enough time to process their feelings. Moreover, it comes with a bonus: no chances of giving any ‘mixed signals’ or ‘leading them on’. It also does not interfere with the moral order of society, where the ladka and ladki can most definitely not be friends.
All said and done, being turned down is not the end of the world. Sure, it hurts to be disappointed after making yourself vulnerable enough to open up and express your feelings. However, it must also be understood that the other person not feeling the same way about you is completely normal, and a decision that must be respected. Whether you want to continue being friends or put things on a halt for a while is a personal choice. But it is important to take some time off to process your thoughts and not let a minor hurdle such as this affect you. Being turned down is not a determination of your self worth, or a test of character that you have failed. It is only a minor setback, and one should be careful to not let it affect you or your mental health.
On the other hand, if you are the one turning someone down, you must make sure that you not only respect the other person’s sentiments, but also not be condescending in any way. Moreover, it is important to eliminate any possible misunderstandings. As one respondent put it, “We should be straightforward while making and declaring important decisions like turning someone down…Not having a proper and direct conversations creates misunderstanding and presumptions”. It must also be respected that the other person might not want to continue being friends, for things might get awkward for them.
We have always been taught to fear being turned down, not being good enough and ending up alone (why are these three things even connected?), which often leads to people staying in unhealthy relationships. While romance is heavily glorified, being turned down in no way deems that you are incapable of love, or do not deserve happiness, or all the other lies pop culture might feed you. In many cases, someone’s disinterest in you might have nothing to do with you at all. So do not rush into relationships just because you have to, and do not blow a tiny dismissal into something much larger and more damaging to yourself.
In the age of numerous Kabir Singhs looking for their Preethis in every nook and corner, be like Charles and Rosa instead. Not only will it make things much easier for both of you, it would also end up giving the society some examples from real life that they could follow, instead of being a Rambo Rajkumar.
Featured Image Source: WikiHow