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July 10, 2000   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Dear Breakup Girl,

How do you handle a Backpedaling Man? My beautiful, smart and funny girlfriends and I have all recently experienced a rash of bad male behavior I can only refer to as "backpedaling." Backpedaling occurs when a boy clearly, clearly asks a girl out on a date, and then tries to cover up for it once he's rejected, saying he was "just asking professionally," or he "just meant we should go out as friends." For example:

Boy: "I had a lot of fun talking to you at that party last night. I was wondering, if you weren't too busy, maybe we could go out to dinner?"
Girl: "Gee. That's really sweet, Boy, but I have a boyfriend so I really can't accept your offer."
Boy: "What? Did you think I was asking for a date? I just meant we should go out as friends! Where did you get that idea?!!"

At this point, two options present themselves. One is to challenge Boy by suggesting that he really WAS asking for a date and that he should be honest so that we can be friends. This could possibly result in a confrontation or a BIG SCENE, which we all want to avoid. The second option, which is the route my friends and I have all taken thus far, is to act embarrassed and shuffle apologetically and say something like, "Gee, I must have gotten the wrong vibe from you. I'm really sorry," even though we know boy is lying, and we are seething inside with disgust. This second option then leaves Girl with the task of finding ANOTHER excuse to avoid going out to dinner with Boy, because after all, we know what he's really up to and it would just be an awkward situation. Plus, it is very frustrating to have to act like you are the jerk in the situation when you know it's really Boy who's behaving badly. So, Breakup Girl, my favorite source of entertainment and advice, my question for you is this: what exactly is a diplomatic way to handle backpedaling? Any suggestions? My girlfriends and I need your help!


Dear Shareen,

Hee hee! The only reason I'm not saying "This is so 'Sex and the City!'" is that if one more person says anything is "So 'Sex and the City!'" I'll hurl. Aren't we overdue for the backlash?

Anyway. Yours is an excellent question. But frankly, I think that men are no more afflicted with Backpedaling (an understandable automatic defense mechanism) than women are afflicted with Shuffling Apologetically (an automatic women-have-to-be-nice-ism). I know it sounds a little followed-by-a-clunky-silence, but it's really okay to say no to someone you don't LIKElike by saying -- simply/sweetly/definitively -- "Oh! Um...no thanks. I really can't ... these days" or some such. That silence also seems to say, "Don't ask." So ideally, you'll neither have to explain nor say "no" twice. By the way, challenging (your option A) is feckless; if you really want to be friends with this guy, follow up with some platonic-oozing invitation later. That way you'll also make sure not to lose the alleged backpedalers who are actually telling the truth.

Breakup Girl



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