Flirt and Get Hurt

It's probably best not to hit on a woman learning martial arts

Dear Social Grace,

Last night I went to my kung fu class. Most martial artists know that a class is not a social event; you are there to learn. Often we do partner work, learning defense techniques, and in my 2 1/2 years of martial arts experience I have never been flirted with. You have to keep your energy straightforward and clear -- otherwise, how can you trust your partner?

But last night I had the misfortune of having to work with this guy who was constantly cracking jokes, giggling, and coming out with stupid one-liners. Earlier in the class, we had all worked with other people, and I didn't hear any giggles then, so I know he was treating me differently because I'm a girl. I was too astonished to come up with a way to stop it there and then, so I spent the class trying to avoid reacting to his asinine behavior. It really pissed me off that I had to put up with this kind of energy.

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There aren't so many of us that I can avoid this person in future classes. I've been practicing on my own saying, "You wouldn't say that to them [with a nod to the boys], so don't say it to me. It's inappropriate."

My question is in the framework of a martial arts class, but it could apply to any situation. What line can a nonconfrontational woman use to immediately (but politely) put a stop to unwanted attention? I am so bad at immediate responses that I do have to practice. I think the built-in programming we have all received since girlhood to "be nice" is a handicap.

One other thing: What do you do when a male professional acquaintance thinks it's OK to pat you on the shoulder or touch your back? In a working situation I think it's inappropriate and I just don't like it. What should I say?

Thanks,
Not Impressed by Flirts

Dear Unimpressed Madam,

In your martial arts class, the best response to a flirt would be something like, "I'm sorry, but I'm here to improve my martial arts skills, and I need to concentrate." Or perhaps: "I need to focus on what we're learning; this really isn't an appropriate time to socialize." With the right mix of sternness and seriousness, you can get your point across.

The answer you've come up with seems to assume too much about the fellow's motives -- and to be, perhaps, a bit harsher than is warranted. Sure, the poor guy may be dreaming of someday falling in love with a nice, old-fashioned gal with potent self-defense skills. You're not the woman for him, obviously, but it doesn't sound as though he's done anything all that horrible to you. Instead of telling him that he's "inappropriate," give him a chance to be the kung fu partner you'd like to work with. You'll both feel better about the situation.

And being nice isn't a bad thing. Many people could use a bit more "niceness programming," if you ask me. In social situations, blocking a flirtatious pass should have an element of kindness -- a touch of "No, but thanks." Only if a flirt thenrefuses to leave you in peace or becomes aggressive should you resort to sterner measures -- such as kung fu, in extreme cases.

As to your other question, here's what I'd say to a co-worker who's a bit too "touchy" for my tastes: "Sebastian, I value you so highly as a colleague, and I'm sure you don't mean to make me uncomfortable, but the way you're touching me doesn't feel appropriate for our professional relationship."

Dear Social Grace,

I'm having a Christmas get-together; is it OK to send personal e-mail invitations instead of handwritten (I know this is always better), and is it OK to put at the bottom of the invitation, "No children after 7:00"? (The party will be from 5 to 9.)

Thank you so much for your advice.
Theresa

Dear Theresa,

E-mail is wrong for some forms of communication because it seems to lack a personal touch. It's too easy, too temporary, too mechanical. This perception may change with time (manners rules do change -- for example, etiquette sticklers eventually gave up their ban on ballpoint pens). But at this point e-mail is inappropriate, at least, for proper thank-you notes and the like.

However, e-mail invitations areacceptable for many casual get-togethers. (I stress the word "casual": You can't ask people to behave or dress formally if you invite them via an informal medium.) The telephone has long been an acceptable way to ask someone to join you at an informal party. (See? Etiquette doesembrace new technology -- all in good time.) And I've been invited to some swell events via e-mail. The mass electronic invitation (such as the Evite) still seems, to many people, a very informal option. I'm not knocking it, but it does lack the personal touch you might want for a special evening with people you want to impress. It's fine for "come one, come all" or "keg in the bathtub" affairs, for invitations to close friends with whom you regularly correspond by e-mail, or for "save the date" notes or reminders.

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