I’m Not Sorry for Leaving You on Read

When I politely respond that I’m not interested, it’s never enough. Why do so many men treat rejection the same way as repression?

I was recently reminded of a time I deigned to ignore a hot guy’s DMs. After he persisted more aggressively, I dramatically lashed out and hurt his feelings as well as my reputation.

Some context: Okay, so he wasn’t a complete stranger. We’d done a PG-13 photo shoot together where we briefly made introductions. I guess that makes us professional acquaintances, and maybe we could’ve become lovers or friends. The bottom line, though, is that we’d spent an hour or two at the same gig and barely exchanged a few sentences. The next day, he reached out over Instagram. 

Cleverly, he combined telling me that it was nice to meet with asking to hang out. In my book, that’s a cruise. And I was sort of interested! So I should’ve responded to this first message, but I fell into that familiar spiral of being unsure if I’m into somebody, then considering if I have to think about it I’m definitely not interested, then challenging myself to be less picky about men, then being unsure how much I should challenge myself or why. 

Basically, I put off his message, and eventually, I forgot about him. Maybe not my kindest moment, but it’s not like this was a time-sensitive request.

As for the larger questions at play — e.g., what qualifies as ghosting? How soon should you answer a text? Has technology strained our ability to show compassion toward each other when DMing? — I find them totally fucking unbearable. But tepid takes on how to get rid of toxic in community (as Harry Styles made gay canon) seem to overwhelm Gay Twitter more often than an empirically successful pop song is called an underrated bop. 

It all seems fairly obvious to me, at least in the realm of sliding into those DMs:

  1. I don’t expect responses from strangers or people I’ve met in passing. That said, it’s always nice to get one, as a treat.
  2. I don’t owe a response to somebody with whom I have no relationship. Replying is, however, often a kind thing to do. I’m not unkind for being unresponsive, but I could always do more kind things.
  3. No response is a response. It means, “For reasons that are squarely my business, I’m not available to chat with you.” If I’ve merely missed your message or forgot to reply, I will tell you. 

Other men, however, insist on an etiquette of digital rejection that gives closure to their rapid-fire desires, even though this makes the object of the desire responsible for not being interested. This happens the most on dating apps, where men badger me for a response as if they’ve called me on a payphone and can hear me giggling on the other side. In even more unsolicited messages, they inform me that I’m rude and wasting their time when I don’t respond. 

I’m instructed in this etiquette so often by strangers on the internet that I sometimes think I’m crazy for defying their one-sided rules.

Two days after his initial message, Photo Shoot Boy hit me with an “Or not lmao.” I’m not sure what he was going for, but it felt objectively aggro. I no longer felt bad about not responding. This went on about three more times with his messages getting incrementally more butthurt, but they were consistently spaced out by two days, a detail I found fascinatingly passive aggressive. He begged to know why I refused to respond and what my problem could possibly be. I would have subleased my apartment had I known I’d be spending a week living in someone else’s head for free.

By the time he called me an asshole, I was already in a bad mood. I erupted with a string of short messages, including hits like, “No,” “Go away” and “Fuck off.” Am I proud of this? No. Did it feel good? Like a burger after sex. 

He took enough offense to post a screenshot across social media and ask his friends to help expose me as a person who *checks notes* “tells people to fuck off.” It didn’t really take, but it was an aggravating few hours. Ironically, the most effective response to this petty influencer drama was to ignore it.

This is the problem with politely responding that I’m not interested: It’s never enough. These same men follow up by criticizing my attitude or appearance, pleading to know why I’m not interested or unloading their insecurities on me. If I was a stoic, impassable wall to them before, now I’m a vacuum for their resentments.

I don’t take pleasure in evasion. I don’t find it fun to blow off someone who’s only shooting their shot. But there’s an important distinction here between very innocently cold-calling someone you’re interested in, and upon no response, sending out hostile, impatient follow-ups. Even if I was interested at first, it’s a massive turn-off when a man refuses to take no answer for an answer. At best, we clearly have incommensurable standards around communication. And so, I can’t imagine what kind of relationship we could build on the foundation of somebody throwing a tantrum over being left on read. I mean, does this usually get you what you want?

But I can’t completely dismiss my detractors. Maybe in my world of fast-circulating suitors and a steady support system, I’ve lost some compassion. In matters of rejection, I try to imagine the roles reversed. I’ve never blown up somebody’s inbox, but I do remember times in which I’ve felt alienated and more alone than other people. I can understand the impulse to shout my desires into the void and to mistake a person (or in some cases a headless torso) for that void.

Every day, another gay boy starts to unravel because he needed to believe it would get better, but it still hasn’t gotten better enough. He comes to the city to make friends and lovers but nobody seems to have the time. I’m not responsible for him, but responsibility isn’t the point.

At the same time, we’re full-grown men, socialized to be heard, held and answered when we voice our discontent. Not always, but way more often than women. These expectations are encoded as common courtesy, which always errs on the side of placation. It’s hard for gay men to own up to this because many of our desires have been dismissed and disciplined over our lives. Specifically, desires that threaten to feminize us, which include desiring men.

It’s so strange, then, how the male entitlement jumps out when we pursue precisely that desire. Perhaps we never learned the difference between sexual liberty and sexual gratification. Perhaps we developed a reflex to treat rejection the same way as repression by reverting to masculinity and all its force and anger. I can understand this, but I still can’t indulge it.

If you’re out there reading this, Photo Shoot Boy, I’m sorry for how I responded when I finally did, but I’m not sorry for when I didn’t. And to those of you waiting on a response from me, or anyone else: Relax.