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About a month ago, a friend of mine shared a meme from one of those corny relationship advice pages on Facebook, and ever since I saw it, for some reason, it seems to just keep popping back up in my life. The meme was simple: a plain background with the words, “No response is a response,” written in bold white letters. It's interesting how often the most straight forward, obvious advice can tend to be the hardest kind to apply. This particular sentiment definitely falls in that category, which is precisely why my mind insists on analyzing it. So gather around kids, because I'm about to attempt to unpack this shit…
Have you ever been browsing the internet, hoping to raise your serotonin levels blowing money on some pointless object you don't really need when, all of a sudden, something catches your eye? Mildly interested, you click on the picture to get a better look, but just as you're deciding whether you actually like it or not, right under the image of the item, you find yourself staring at the 3 most buzz-killing words in online shopping: “OUT OF STOCK.”
Now, what was once an item you didn't even care enough about to be aware of has become an essential commodity that you won't be able to live without.
That was me, last night…
I'll quickly run you through the situation: I drank a few beers earlier that night and I didn't want to go to sleep without chugging water first. While attempting to rehydrate I started browsing the internet for shoes. I see a pair of shoes that I'm like, 50% into. I click on said shoes, only to notice that 8 out of 10 color varieties are out of stock. My disappointment and interest simultaneously increase. But here's the part that makes the least amount of sense: I select the colorway that initially caught my eye and, lo and behold, they are actually one of the two varieties still available. But do they have them in my size? I select “11, and to my shock, they have them!?! In my head, I'm like, “Great. Now I'm not interested in that color at all.”
Ok, so maybe “not interested at all” wasn't the exact feeling, but the point is, I didn't buy the shoes. Instead, I closed the shopping app and just laid there in the dark, buzzed, pondering the psychology behind my lifelong attraction to exclusivity. In economics, this phenomenon is a well-documented characteristic of human nature summed up by a theory known as the scarcity principle. The theory states that a limited supply of a good, coupled with a high demand for that good, often results in a mismatch between the desired supply and demand equilibrium. As I laid there, my thoughts began to drift away from shoes and I started thinking about past flings and relationships, and how hilariously uncanny the parallels are between my nature as a consumer and as a romantic partner. In a nutshell, historically speaking, if it's my style, my size and it's conveniently in stock and available: I don't fucking want it.
As I'm laying in bed, staring up at the ceiling, I close my eyes and try to pass out but the room feels a little spinny, so I'm like, “Nope, not ready yet.” I grab my phone again but this time I open Facebook and, as I begin to scroll, I stop on a post with screenshots of a text conversation. Actually, I don't think it would even be fair to call it a conversation: just three or four pages of a guy repeatedly attempting to make small talk and repeatedly getting ignored up until the point where he flips out, calls the girl names, and subsequently winds up getting blocked and publicly humiliated.
We've all seen this happen. Many of us have had it happen to us. But why? Someone, you're not interested in reaches out. You try to be polite and humor them a bit with unenthused responses; they fail to pick up what you're putting down so then you stop responding. Usually, the person realizes you aren't interested and simply goes on with their life, but every now and then your lack of interest only seems to heighten theirs and eventually the neglect becomes too much to handle and the person being ignored finally snaps.
That's what was happening here. Reading this dude's disgruntled diatribe was painful. Clearly he's never seen that “No response is a response” meme. I'm sitting there like, “Why, bro? Why would you do this to yourself? She gave you all the signs and yet here you are, pouring salt into your own open wounds by making an absolute fool of yourself.” But amidst my discomfort, something even more cringey and uncomfortable occurred to me. Once again I turned my screen off and laid back in darkness reflecting as my stomach churned: not due to the excessive amount of beer and water inside of it, but because of the embarrassing question that my brain refused to stop asking …”Please tell me I haven't been that guy before?”
Even when I think as far back as my earliest “relationships:” (I put relationships in quotations because I'd hardly call a 6th-grade girlfriend a real relationship), I've always been highly attracted to girls that seem to find me unattractive. I was the class clown, who never took anything seriously. This made me pretty unpopular with teachers, but fairly well-liked by classmates, especially ones of the opposite sex. Girls would pass me notes or have their girlfriends come over during recess to inform me that their bestie thought I was cute. Sometimes the interest would be mutual, but more often than not, becoming aware of another person's attraction towards me made them less attractive in my eyes. Conversely, if I were to tell a joke that made the whole class laugh, except one girl, that girl typically became the one I developed a crush on. As the years went by, this particular characteristic of my love life proved to be quite inconvenient. I was forced to absorb some hard lessons, but, as many of us come to realize as we grow older: sometimes the most valuable lessons you can learn are the ones pain teaches.
It's funny what experiences the mind chooses to remember. I don't recall the exact age or even the situation that provoked it, but at one point in my young adult life, my mother sat me down and gave me some advice that's still incredibly relevant to this day. She told me “If you love someone, there's nothing wrong with telling them, or even not wanting to let them go, but never forget: the person that cares the least in a relationship is almost always the one in control.” When she said it, I didn't really think much of it, but time after time, I eventually came to realize how profoundly true and universally applicable that simple statement is. It even helped me understand why I was so attracted to the unreciprocated attraction. Moving forward, whenever I found myself in a position where my current relationship was reaching a breaking point, I would think back to that conversation with my mother and regardless of how much it pained me, I would simply let go a bit. Sometimes, doing so would result in the relationship truly reaching its end. But far more often, my perceived lack of interest seemed to heighten the interest of my partner. The space it offered them gave way for reflection and if our problems were fixable that distance seemed to provide the clarity needed to figure things out.
Now, let's return to the guy being publicly humiliated. Let's just call him ‘John,’ and her, ‘Jane.’ John reaches out to Jane because he finds her attractive; Jane responds for 1 of 2 reasons: either she's just being polite, or the interest is in fact mutual. John continues to pursue up until the point where Jane seems to lose interest and eventually withdraws from the conversation. The reason behind Jane's sudden loss of interest is unknown, but the potential explanations are endless. Maybe through the course of their short chat, she realized she doesn't find John attractive. Maybe she is going through something in her personal life that's preventing her from fully opening up at the moment. Maybe her phone died.
The important thing to remember here is that her reasoning for cutting the convo off is entirely irrelevant. In every situation, by not responding, Jane is telling John that her energy and interest towards him are currently “OUT OF STOCK.” Now, if John is anything like me, this might make him even more interested in Jane, and at that point, it isn't unacceptable for him to gently reach out one last time. But if Jane continues to offer up disinterest, whether it be through apathetic replies or simply no reply at all, there is only one acceptable move left for John to make: back off.
The short game may be lost, but that doesn't necessarily mean the game is over. If Jane's reasoning for cutting things off were unrelated to John, there could still be hope for the future. Maybe she just needs to sort some things out with a current relationship that's reaching its end. Maybe Jane is the one attracted to unavailability and John was just making himself seem too interested or available. Maybe John stepping back will increase Jane's attraction towards him. Whatever the case may be, if the door was at one point open, John taking a step back leaves it open. Unfortunately for the John in this story, he chose to persist and that persistence led to Jane slamming the door in his face and locking it behind her. Even worse, John's dumb ass STILL refused to take the hint, and he stood out on the porch cussing her out and causing a scene until all the neighbors on her street heard and saw everything. So cringey. So embarrassing.
On the bright side of things, with every embarrassing mistake, whether made personally or witnessed second hand, life offers up an opportunity for learning. In this case, the lesson is simple: Try harder. If she stops responding to a text, it’s pretty obvious what she wants.
It's getting kind of exhausting watching you guys self-sabotage. No response is a response. Say it with me, slowly. NO response IS a response. A response to which there is only one acceptable counter-response: Let it go. Time has a tendency to reveal intentions, so just relax and wait it out, I promise, you'll be thankful that you did.