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Dating: Learning From The Sweet Genius How To Say ‘No’

Dating: Learning From The Sweet Genius How To Say ‘No’

My biggest source of wisdom for how to deal with a bad date doesn’t come from advice columns, magazines or books. In fact, it comes from someone who has never really been in the game of dating advice: Ron Ben-Israel. Yes, I learned the fine art of polite, articulate rejection from Ron Ben-Israel, the sweet genius himself. 
If you’re not familiar with him, allow me to babble a bit about one of my special interests: Ron Ben-Israel is a famous Israeli pastry chef based in New York. He’s known to me as the host, judge and overall master of the Food Network reality show, Sweet Genius.

The layout of Sweet Genius is fairly straightforward: Four chef contestants compete to win $10,000 as the designated “sweet genius,” competing in three rounds to create desserts with two (sometimes three) mandatory chosen ingredients, working around one chosen “inspiration.” The ingredients are typically unconventional, ranging from dates to tater tots, and the inspiration could be anything, from air (represented by an empty tray) to firefighters to a raptor. In each round, a contestant is eliminated because their dessert entry has failed to meet Ron Ben-Israel’s standards until one Sweet Genius is left to claim the prize and glory. 

My favorite part of the show was always Chef Ron’s sampling of the contestant’s entries. In many instances, if I was rooting for one particular chef, it could be a true knuckle-biter, but Chef Ron made rejection easier to deal with. His criticism and his compliments were to-the-point and always delivered with absolute sincerity. His favored method for dishing up criticism to a chef’s entry is to compliment a particular feature, such as the presentation, the flavor combination, color or texture, followed by a cautionary, “However…” which signals that his thoughts about the less praiseworthy aspects of the dish are forthcoming. 

What does this have to do with dating, you ask? Everything! Chef Ron and his method for encouraging chefs to rise to the level of Sweet Genius is my guide to tactfully rejecting unwanted advances and propositions. I’ve had many situations, some comical, some scary, where misunderstanding has occurred, and I’ve lacked the proper language to tell somebody I was uncomfortable with their behavior toward me and wanted it to stop.

It’s a common problem for people on the autism spectrum, and I’ve been told, to my face, that I shouldn’t be so “quick to reject,” because I am allegedly a difficult person to date, owing to my oddities and personality, and shouldn’t turn away potential matches. But I am sure Ron Ben-Israel has never lowered his standards for a dessert, so why should I lower mine for a romantic relationship? Those tend to be more important and longer-lasting than most sweets.

So nowadays, when I am faced with a situation when I have to say “no” to somebody, I channel Ron Ben-Israel, imagining myself as a judge evaluating somebody’s presentation, in this case, their sense of humor and its compatibility with my own, rather than pots de crème, say. I am probably going to have to employ this method soon, as I am currently dealing with a very pushy person from OKCupid who doesn’t seem to understand or respect my limits.

When the time comes, I will draw myself to my full height, and imagine myself with a gleaming, bald head and Ron Ben-Israel’s signature chef’s purples, say, “(Person), I appreciate your interest in me, and would like to get to know you better as a friend. However, I feel it would be better for both of us if you stopped texting me late at night, and kept your emails to me down to about once a day. It doesn’t encourage me to contact you to see about five emails in my inbox a day and endless pleas to do things with you. In fact, it does the opposite.”

I am seriously tempted, deep down, to finish that off with a twist on Chef Ron’s closing line: “In this regard, you are no date genius.” But I must resist, unless the person really needs to get the message. I don’t need to be a sweet genius to understand that you I have the right to say no and to refuse to date somebody, but it sure helps to have guidance in these awkward social situations! Particularly one who engages my mind and pleases my sweet tooth.

Leah Jane Grantham is a full-time student and part-time advocate at the University of Victoria, or a full-time advocate and a part-time student, depending on how you look at it. She’s passionate about issues related to autism, self-expression, feminism, disability rights, art, philosophy, and history. When she’s not studying or advocating, Leah enjoys painting, writing poetry, reading, and blogging. Her personal blog can be found at

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