Damage Control

Screen shot: Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

The difficulty with saying ‘no’ to someone to whom we have already said ‘yes’ is that he is bound to think there was something unsatisfactory about the first sexual encounter. Having already lost our immortal soul, something more than a simple ‘no’ is required in situations where we are badly compromised. We must conduct ourselves as if the world were a more spiritual place than it actually is. We must be painstakingly considerate of others – especially those whom we must disappoint.

When one accepts another date with a man (or a woman) who has every reason to believe that we are already conquered, one cannot feign surprise when he or she makes a move to wrap up the evening in physical congress. Once you have let down your guard and allowed strangers to cross your moat you are bound to find it a hassle to get them out of your castle. A second date with a conquering hero will undoubtedly be interpreted as a sequel to the first, perhaps even the beginning of a long-running serial in which one will be expected to ‘break a lance’ with the horny knight whenever he’s inclined to joust. Saying ‘no’ to a man bulging with expectations is never easy, but saying ‘no’ to a man who has cast us in the feature role of his X-rated dreams (note who gets to be writer and director) requires consummate tact to prevent a tactless consummation.

You cannot say or imply that the sexual encounter which you allowed to take place on an earlier occasion was a mistake, or a waste of time and that you don’t intend to go through the bother again. You must find an excuse for saying ‘no’ that does not cast even a thin shadow of derision upon his human frailties. You can plead temporary insanity (‘I don’t know what came over me, I can’t think what I was doing…’) or you can drag in your conscience to play one of its occasional roles (‘I realize that what we did was wrong, the fault is entirely mine – such an incident must not occur again’). You should be aware, however, in having to make these excuses, that you have passed from the stage of birth control to that of abortion, for in saying ‘yes’, even once, to a man, you have planted a seed in his mind that his actions are acceptable to you, perhaps even desired by you, and now you are frustrating those hopes. While bringing a man’s illusions to an end at an early stage is ultimately kinder than allowing them to grow into some monstrous misunderstanding, the responsibility for terminating his expectations is not to be shrugged off.

Quentin Crisp
Manners from Heaven (1985)

Screen capture: Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

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