“Middlemarch” and other weapons of mass distraction
Life is a real swine for younger asexual people these days. I feel extremely sorry for them. When I was growing up, if you were in the 13-17 age group and had a boyfriend or girlfriend, it was looked on as unusual and rather unnatural; most parents tended to disapprove, especially at the younger end of the age range. These days, it seems that children are expected to start pairing up even in primary school. While I wouldn’t want to discourage genuine affection, it is rather worrying to think that it should be generally expected, and even more worrying to think that a child or teenager should be considered weird for not wishing to have a partner. And yet I keep hearing precisely this from young asexual people; they are subject to a huge amount of pressure in this respect, especially in American schools. Obviously asexual teenagers are not going to be the only ones affected, either. Everyone matures at a different rate, and no teenager should have to feel pushed into finding a boyfriend or girlfriend when they are simply not ready to do so yet.
Apart from the fact that they are under so much pressure, there is something else I notice, in general, about young asexual people. Most of them have a lot of difficulty realising when someone fancies them. I can relate to that, because I used to be very much the same. Fortunately, that is something it is possible to learn as you get older, and I have learnt superbly well, for the very good reason that I really hate having to hurt someone’s feelings. If someone is trying to make a pass at me, I would far sooner divert them the moment I realise, not let them sit there and build up false hopes. It has now got to the point where I can usually tell a man is interested before he realises it himself. Sadly this tends to fail spectacularly with lesbians, because I have very little experience of being fallen for by them, but I am doing my best to learn.
I am stoutly of the opinion that the best diversionary techniques are the ones where you manage to convince the other person it was their idea to back off. Occasionally, I must admit, it is necessary to be totally unsubtle, as I did with the gentleman at the opera, who really wasn’t taking any hints. Happily, that is fairly rare. Most people can be gently diverted with no harm done on either side.
The easiest ones to get rid of are the chaps who randomly turn up on the Internet. You know the type, I’m sure. I’m talking about the ones who seem to think Facebook is some kind of dating site. They see your profile picture, and despite the fact that they know absolutely nothing about you, they then lose their head and message you out of the blue with a shedload of inappropriate endearments. I suspect that a) they are usually drunk when they do this, and b) they send out these messages in batches to a string of women they don’t know, just in case one of them replies and is interested. Now, of course, there’s always the simple option to block them, and depending on the exact tone of their message I sometimes do this as well. But, generally speaking, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary I prefer to believe these chaps genuinely don’t realise that sending love notes to strange women is as creepy as heck, and that tactfully discouraging them in a friendly sort of way will do far more good than simply ignoring the blighters.
So I generally reply something like this:
“Dear ——, Many thanks for your message. I was a little surprised at your expressions of affection, since you don’t actually know anything about me, but if you mean that you are interested in getting to know more about me I am quite happy to exchange messages for a while until we feel that we know each other to some extent.
“So, first of all, what are you reading at the moment? I can thoroughly recommend Middlemarch by George Eliot. Although the story is rather depressing on the surface, there is a great deal of depth in it and I find it repays careful study. By all means get back to me and let me know what you think. Kind regards, ——.”
This has had a 100% success rate so far with random strangers. I’ve never heard from a single one of them again. Of course, you don’t have to use Middlemarch; the technique is simply to pick something you have read and enjoyed but that you are pretty sure Drunk Love Message Man won’t be remotely interested in. To be honest, in my experience you’ve probably frightened most of them by the time they get to the end of the question “what are you reading at the moment?”. It’s amazing how many random messagers don’t read at all. If they did read, I suppose, they wouldn’t be randomly messaging strange women. They’d be trying to chat them up in a bookshop. 😉
It becomes one step more difficult when the gentleman in question is someone you have already got to know a little. You have things in common already, so you generally can’t just Middlemarch him out of the water. Generally, the best technique here is to find a man you like and admire, and keep finding ways to drop his name into the conversation. Anyone who is interested in you is going to be on the lookout for potential rivals, and if they think your affections are already engaged elsewhere, they will generally back off. The best bit is that you can even tell them, quite truthfully, that you are not in love with the person you keep mentioning, and nine times out of ten they won’t believe you.
I did this a couple of years ago with one particular chap. We had got quite friendly via the Internet, and I was starting to think he might be getting romantically interested and just beginning to consider ways to head him off, when he disappeared completely for several months, refusing to answer any e-mails. Now I don’t consider that is any decent way to treat one’s friends, online or otherwise, unless there is a very good explanation, such as needing to put all one’s energy into caring for a dying parent. (Yes, I know someone who was in that situation, and yes, I totally understood why he was out of contact for so long. He had all my sympathy.) So when he suddenly reappeared out of the blue with no explanation for his absence, and started a massive charm offensive, I strongly suspected that I knew what had happened. I could, of course, be wrong, and have seriously misjudged him; but in the light of subsequent events, I don’t think so. I suspected he’d been starting to try to romance me, then found a girl he liked better, dropped me like a hot brick in order to chase her, caught her for a while, and then it had all gone badly wrong so he had decided to go back to me as Plan B. Sorry, matey, but I am nobody’s Plan B.
So I told him politely how nice it was that he had got back in touch, and then in every single e-mail I sent him, I squeed about Charles Daniels. This wasn’t difficult, I have to say. Charles is pretty squeeworthy. He’s an outstanding baroque tenor and also a thoroughly nice man, and I get to as many of his concerts as I possibly can (which has been difficult lately, as he hasn’t been singing in the UK very much – he’s been very busy practically everywhere else). And I have to say it didn’t work. I should have thought a bit harder, I must admit. I was dealing with an intelligent man who knew perfectly well that I don’t mess about with married men, and also that Charles is married. I could have squeed about Charles till I was blue in the face and it wouldn’t have had the desired effect.
So I changed tack. I sent him a nice photo taken at one of Charles’ concerts. “I remember you said you wanted a photo of me,” I wrote, “so here’s a picture of me and my best friend. I think it’s a really good one, don’t you?”
I never heard from him again. Sometimes it’s really useful to have a best friend of the opposite sex. 😀