The old trope of playing hard to get is one that we see time and time again in literature and film. The woman plays coy, claims she’s not interested, even though deep down she truly wants the man. The man, in turn, refuses to take no for an answer, follows her across the world if necessary to prove his love. His constant declarations of adoration for her, his devotion to proving himself and convincing her, are romantic and passionate and leave women longing for a man to be as in love with them. It’s also stalkerish and a little bit rapey.
No means no is one of the simplest lessons we teach our children daily. If one says no I don’t want to play and the other keeps trying, we intervene and ensure the no is respected. If an adult is trying to get a kiss or cuddle and they say no or back away, we make sure the adult doesn’t push it. An interesting side note, the adults are usually less willing to respect the child’s no than most other kids are.
If you tell someone no, they have to respect what it means. But, an important lesson for Miss Rose is, you also have to respect what it means.
Miss Rose has Daddy-issues. She has done since her biological father vanished initially, then throughout his sporadic visits, and now into her father daughter relationship with The Boy. She tests him. Part of her thinks he will leave. A lot of her wants to make him prove his loyalty to her. And she challenges him. She plays hard to get.
Her behaviour sits in stark contrast to the much more straight forward Z, The Boy’s son. It’s startling how different they are.
A good example of both is from Thursday evening. Z was going to his mother’s for the night and when The Boy requested goodbye cuddle or kiss, Z said no. He was emphatic that he was not interested in cuddles. No messing around, just no. He rarely wants a goodbye cuddle, from either parent, and neither push it and he never regrets that decision.
When Miss Rose came to go to bed, she was offered goodnight cuddles. She too declined. I suggested she might want to consider it because he was going out for a run and she wouldn’t get a chance to change her mind. She still said no. And The Boy respected it. I knew she didn’t mean it. She always wants cuddles.
We went up to do bedtime and The Boy got ready for his run. Then Miss Rose realised he was going and that he wasn’t going to come upstairs seeking out the rejected cuddle.
She asked for a daddy cuddle as we heard the front door click. Then she began to sob.
We looked out the bedroom window and saw him running down the street. By the time I’d got the window open so she could call out goodnight to him, he had gone round the corner. And she broke her heart. She begged for him to come back, sobbed that she wanted a daddy cuddle, asked why he’d left, declared her love for him, asked if he’d be coming home again.
She had wanted a cuddle all along. I knew she did. She knew she did. I think in many ways The Boy knew she did. The heartache she then sobbed out could have been saved had he insisted, or come upstairs requesting a cuddle again, but what kind of lesson would that be?
That would say your rejection of physical affection is irrelevant if the man in question wants it. It would say that rejecting a man’s advances is a healthy form of flirtation. No means no. “She said no but she meant yes” is one of the most offensive defenses for sexual assault and we learn this stuff in childhood. We learn it when we force children to engage in physical contact when they don’t want to. We learn it when we don’t make them respect one another’s no. And we learn it when we pursue them for physical contact like it’s a fun game and a positive thing after they have said no.
Miss Rose is trying to test The Boy and see’s his lack of insistence as rejection and it breaks her heart. And it breaks mine. And it breaks his. When I recount her agony to him he longs for her to just tell him she wants the cuddles so she doesn’t have to go through it, but knows never to force it. And for that I am grateful.
No is not a flirtation. No is not a challenge. No is no. It is a flat out rejection and a rejection needs to be respected, and it’s our job as parents to ingrain that into them from as young an age as possible.
Sad as it is that Miss Rose feels the need to challenge this, the reasons behind it explain so much of her behaviour, it’s important in the long term that she suffers now. Short term sadness will hopefully equip her with the understanding of no and the ability to command respect for the no when she’s an adult.
Until then I will continue to mop up her tears when he’s left for work, continue to comfort her when she’s in bed and he’s left the house. And hopefully soon she will remember how much fun and joy she gets from the cuddles she gets when she goes to him for love and fun and he obliges with delight, and start seeking that out more openly rather than playing hard to get.