I’m a Strong, Independent Woman but I Still Can’t Say ‘No’
I thought saying "no" was easy until I actually had to say it.
As cliché as it sounds, I have long considered myself to be a strong, independent woman who won’t do anything just because someone else wants me to. Every date I’ve been on I’ve said that I’m going to be myself and if he doesn’t like that then it’s his loss. Whenever I read stories of women being coerced into having sexual relations against their will, I always told myself that they wouldn’t be able to convince me, that I’d be stubborn and wouldn’t give in. It was all well and good of me saying that then, but the truth is when the time came, it was easier to give in.
It was just before the Christmas holidays during my second year at university and I went out with my housemate, Anna*, to celebrate the end of term. We were both going home the next day and were looking forward to a night of drinking and dancing.
About halfway through the night, a by-then-inebriated Anna ran into an old friend of hers, James, who was out with a couple of his course mates. They were, of course, thrilled to see each other and I, of course, stayed with them. It was then that I was introduced to James’ friend, Harry.
I’ll be the first to admit that he was an attractive guy, but the truth is I had no intention of getting off with anyone that night. My intentions meant nothing to Anna, however, who became intent on setting me and Harry up. She couldn’t have been more obvious if she tried as she told us both how into the other we were—apparently having gained the ability to misread minds. She then proceeded to leave us alone with the intention for us to act on this supposed mutual attraction.
We did not.
Instead we re-joined the group by the bar where I was swiftly pounced upon by Anna. Her first question was whether we made out. I answered in the negative.
“I left you alone so that you would!” she pointed out the obvious. I told her that I knew. “Then why didn’t you? Admit he’s fit!”
How could I explain it to her that I wasn’t filled with the insatiable desire to get with every fit guy I set eyes on? How could I explain that he could’ve been built like a god and had the face of a model and I still wouldn’t have been interested?
I tried. Believe me, I tried. Every attempt I made to tell her was met with the following sentence: ‘But he’s so fit and he’s studying engineering.’ According to Anna, his choice of degree should’ve been enough to make me want to sleep with him there and then. Maybe it was for her, but not for me.
This continued on for some time with my every protest being countered with a reminder of how fit he was and that he was interested in me. I required more than for him to be attracted to me for me to want to get with him, though. Even a reminder that there was already a guy I was speaking to and who we’d both run into earlier that day was met with complete disregard. It didn’t matter that making out with this complete stranger would fill me with guilt. In Anna’s words: who cares?
Behind us, I could see James having a similar conversation with Harry and, for a moment, I wondered—no, I hoped—there had been some enormous mistake. Perhaps, he felt the same about me as I did about him and both James and Anna had read this wrong. Maybe neither of us felt compelled to be with the other. Then he turned around to look at me and I knew there had been no mistake where his feelings were concerned.
Maybe it was because I felt bad that he’d had to watch Anna almost force me to make out with him. Maybe it was because whether or not I agreed to get off with him, I’d be spending the evening with him and his friends. Maybe it was because I’d drunk a bit and just wanted Anna to shut up.
Whatever the reason, I agreed. Anna returned to the bar with me in tow and, grinning, said something in Harry’s ear. Joining him, I felt his arm snake around my waist as he smiled down at me. I felt my heart pounding as he leant down to kiss me as James and Anna watched on. I went with it because that’s what was expected of me. I’d agreed, hadn’t I? I’d consented to this. It didn’t matter that my friend had to convince me. In the end, I’d said I would.
So, I did.
Afterwards, Anna reached over and gave me a drunken kiss that said, "thank you for finally agreeing" and I smiled as though this was what I wanted all along and I’d just needed a shove in the right direction. Everyone seemed happy, and I seemed to lose all ability to insist this wasn’t what I wanted. I let Harry put his arm around my waist because to tell him to get off would be stupid because I’d just kissed him. I let him buy me an alcoholic drink instead of tap water because there was a minimum spend on card and it was stupid to insist I only wanted water and make things difficult for him. I quashed every discomfort with a reminder that I was just being stupid—just as Anna had disregarded my every argument with "who cares?"
So we had our drinks and we danced and, wouldn’t you know it, we were left alone once again. Before long, he went in for another kiss and I didn’t reject him. What was the point? I’d already kissed him once. It would be stupid to say no to the next. I just went along with it. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t what I wanted. Not really. I even initiated some of the kisses that came later, because that’s what I should’ve done. He’d think I wasn’t interested if I didn’t. I wasn’t interested, though, but he couldn’t know that. I didn’t want him to feel rejected and, after all, I couldn’t reject him at this point, could I?
I felt like I owed him something, that I was responsible for his emotions. I didn’t want him to feel sad, or disappointed, or humiliated, but that was no reason for me to give in. Before, I would’ve argued that you’re never responsible for how someone else feels but it was harder to think like that when faced with the reality. The truth is that it’s never as easy as saying "no." Not really. You read articles about how important it is that you exercise the right to reject someone, but that right is quickly forgotten when someone you trust is ignoring you when you do so. It was easier to give in than to keep on arguing my right to say "no."
Although, we left the club in the same taxi. I didn’t sleep with him that night. I went to my house and he went to his. I managed to say no at that point, but it would’ve been so easy to be prevented from doing so. I realised this when I got home that early December morning and I never felt weaker. I never realised how hard it was to say "no" even when every part of you is screaming it. Once you’ve said "yes," it’s hard to stop.
Looking back, I had every right to say "no." I could’ve said it before making out with him. I could’ve said it when he put his hand on my waist or when he tried to buy me a drink. I could’ve said it at any point that night. I just wish I’d remembered.
*All names changed to protect the identities of the individuals involved