When I was twenty-five, I was convinced that I was in love with my local bartender. He was blonde and had this huge smile, and he was friends with everyone at the little place in the Cross where I used to hang out on weekends. I was a big drinker back then (among other things) and I remember spending hours at the end of the bar, trying to catch him in conversation as he juggled bottles and cocktail glasses.
My best mate urged me to tell him how I felt, so I left a breathless message on his voicemail. Alas, he never called me back. I was disappointed, but my friend wouldn’t let me give up. ‘I’m sure he likes you. Keep trying,’ she said.
With hindsight, it was bad advice. I can’t remember how many times I tried to call him up, but I do remember getting drunk over Christmas and being chucked out of his pub – a mortifying scene that killed off any remaining sense of romance. Worse than the embarrassment of being ejected, I was mortified by how long I’d hassled him for, when it should have been clear that he wasn’t interested.
The ‘hero’ myth of dating is the (incorrect) idea that persistence pays off.
When it comes to sex and romance, we’re often caught up in the ‘hero’ narrative – the one that says if we try hard enough, we’ll get the happy ending we want. We see it everywhere: books, movies, not to mention our friends’ bad dating tips. Whether you prefer rom coms or action flicks, there’s only one acceptable ending – the main character mashing faces with their love interest. And they win that prize by overcoming all obstacles.
But, just like Keanu Reeves’ stint behind the wheel in Speed, what we see in the movies doesn’t translate well to real life, especially when it comes to picking up. Persistence isn’t necessarily a positive trait – in fact, it often makes us look like assholes.
Our hero complex is that little voice in our heads that says ‘I’m sure everything will turn out okay if you just try harder.’ So we keep messaging, or asking, or hanging around, even when the answer is already ‘no.’
But isn’t true love (or a good shag) worth the effort?
If you want something, you may be ready to fight for it. But persistence isn’t always the path to success. Often it simply doesn’t work.
I love trawling message boards for dating stories. Recently, I complimented some guy on Reddit when he posted about his Tinder experiences. Next thing you know, there was a DM in my private inbox, saying, ‘Want to go on a date?’
‘No thanks.’ I replied. I hadn’t been trying to start a conversation – I’d just wanted to join in the discussion.
‘Are you sure?’
‘I’m sure,’ I said.
‘You’re making a big mistake! I’m really fun.’ he countered.
‘I said NO,’ I replied, somewhat grumpily. If I get to the point in a conversation where I have to point out that I’ve already said no, it’s not a good sign. With every message he sent, the chance of us meeting became more remote. In short, he was completely wasting his time.
The hero approach includes stuff like:
- Asking for a date (or for sex) over and over, even after someone has said no.
- Showing up in places where your crush hangs out, hoping that they’ll eventually talk to you.
- Arguing with someone when they give you their reasons as to why they’re not interested.
- Making grand romantic gestures towards someone who has never expressed any interest (turning up at their house with flowers, for example).
- DM-ing or emailing someone you saw on a dating app, even though they didn’t match with you (if you didn’t match, there’s a reason!)Keanu
Why the ‘hero approach’ sucks:
- It puts your crush in an uncomfortable situation. Having a ‘no’ ignored can feel really threatening. Following someone around (even online) can get creepy. It’s not fun for the person you want to date or fuck – and if you care enough about them to want to hook up, why put them in that situation?
- It doesn’t work – and often makes things worse. When you try to push past someone’s boundaries, you set off all sorts of alarms. They’re going to feel uncomfortable around you, trust you less, maybe even get pissed off. And that’s not sexy.
- It feels bad for you too. Rejection is always hard…but it’s worse when you realise you’ve gotten the situation wrong. You might feel resentful (‘I was just being friendly, why do I feel humiliated?’) even though the situation is your own doing. You might feel embarrassed. When you do meet someone in future who’s genuinely interested, these negative experiences can mess with your head.
- When we all do it, it’s harder for everyone to get laid. Pushy behaviour leaves everyone feeling tired and suspicious. When we’re exhausted from fending off the wrong people, it’s hard to relax and recognise the good ones. Collectively, we need to stop doing this shit, so that everyone feels safe enough to make new friends.
Okay, so persistence doesn’t work. What’s the alternative?
There’s a pretty simple antidote – it’s called ‘walking away.’ If this seems like strange advice, I understand. You might be thinking, ‘Why would that work? How can giving up on someone I’m attracted to help me get laid?’
But it’s one hell of a sex skill.
Pursuing people who aren’t interested is a bad hook-up strategy. When we waste time with the wrong people, we get their defences up, make ourselves look bad, and fuck with our own emotions. All this stuff means it’s harder to do what’s needed for dating success – namely, get back on that horse and keep riding until the right person comes along.
When I was crushing on that barman years ago, letting him get away seemed unthinkable. But I now have several partners I care about, and plenty of sexy adventures. Missing that one opportunity feels completely trivial.
I’ve moved on…which is what we all need to do.
When I meet someone sexy, I stay alert for signs of a ‘no.’ It might be obvious – someone simply refusing a date. Or it could be more subtle – I’ve struck up a friendship, but they aren’t reciprocating my flirting. Maybe we’ve already gone on a few dates, but they don’t return my calls. It’s not the end of the world. By moving on, I can concentrate on finding my next good date, rather than feeling miserable because I’m not getting what I want.
Don’t trust the hero myth! It’s not all it’s cracked up to be – and it’s very easy to cross the line from ‘hero’ to ‘asshole’. When it comes to successful dating, I’ve found the best strategy is to respect a ‘no’ and look for a better match.