No, Ladies-- You Are Not Responsible For Spelling Out Basic Boundaries In Order To Prevent Being Assaulted
And To Anyone Spreading That Propaganda, Would You Kindly Stop?
I'm going on my first date (since before the pandemic) this weekend, and I'm having a lot of feelings about it. And not the feelings that I want to have.
This is nothing about (or against) the gentleman I'm scheduled to have brunch with; quite honestly, he has conducted himself like an actual human without crossing any weird lines, thereby catapulting himself above 97% of all men I've encountered on the good ol' dating apps. And he seems like a cool person...
Definitely a step above recent match, Jason, who simply sent me a message with a three-emoji combo I had to consult Urban Dictionary to understand. Certainly better than James, who wouldn't tell me anything about himself other than to send the phrase, "when we get to know ourselves, you'll definitely know my story" four times, capped off with "bet my guys we glasses are the super doper cute," whatever that was meant to say.
(These are just the funny-ish ones... I can go on. I won't.)
Single men who speak in complete sentences are few and far between, and I'm on a constant quest to remind (and prove to) myself that I haven't given up on finding love, so here I am, saying yes to a date*.
*like an idiot, because it's almost not worth the feelings this brings up.
So, how did I get to this very sad crossroads? Well, that's a long story for another day. Let's skip to the point.
"What responsibility (and/or action) can/should I take in order to avoid being assaulted?"
This is a question I have often asked, but have specifically come back to over and over since March 5, 2020.
Let's set the scene- I didn't even sort of realize lockdown was starting in just days (or ever). I had recently lost 50lbs and was feeling good about myself for the first time in a bit... And I had worked quite hard to repair a lot of challenging feelings about dating and safety. I had just triumphantly gone on a handful of dates (with men I'd met online) - nothing that led to romantic feelings, but all relatively painless dates that took place without major incident.
Specifically, without me having to go back and wrestle all my feelings that dating is not safe or advisable for a woman who does not wish to be assaulted.
That's when an acquaintance (of a handful of years) finally bit the bullet and formally asked me out. He had dropped several hints over the years, always appropriate, which made me feel comfortable accepting his invitation.
He was someone who I knew found me attractive and interesting, but who had never crossed a line in the way he relayed that info. It would have been a major win if I had been particularly attracted to him, but there was enough room and possibility for me to give him a chance.
In case you have experienced (or believe) something different, a lot of women are truly looking for a nice guy. So, I showed up with my best blow-dried hair and my best attitude.
I ignored it when he hugged me for too long. I ignored it when he did so a second time a few minutes later. That said, although the red flag is so visible now, it's a special kind of flag that it can be hard to take down from the flagpole.
He was nice. He bought me food truck tacos and we chatted for a few hours. And he did something I appreciated; He was clear about his feelings.
He came right out and said, "I like you... how are you feeling about me?"
Free tacos are nice, but upfront communication is a winner.
(...don't celebrate yet)
Now, I have really struggled with this kind of thing in the past, because no one wants to hurt someone's feelings, and as a woman I've been taught to avoid direct statements that don't feed a man 's ego. The old me might have beaten around the bush...
But I was proud as hell of March 5, 2020 me, who said something like this... I'm going to butcher this, but the sentiment is as follows:
"Well, I don't really know you... I think you're a nice guy, but I'm not where you are as far as feelings... So, if you have an interest in me even as a friend, you're gonna want to give me a hug and not a kiss, give me some space and respect that boundary, and maybe we'll grab coffee or something again and continue to see if anything develops."
I also want to add that we spent a full hour before this talking about the concept of Consent. (He brought this up; not me.) He knew that I had written and performed a solo show that addresses sexual violence, and in spite of me trying to shift the conversation, he gave me a pretty thorough description of what he referred to as "the lifestyle"- another reason I thought it was pretty clear we were not a match.
So when he walked me to my car and we hugged and he didn't let me pull away when I gave the clear indication, I got a bit nervous, but I thought that would be it.
When I reached (with all of my energy) for my door handle and he jerked me back toward the back of the car, pinned me down against it, kissed me (a bunch of times, while I tried to pull away), I was still not surprised. But I was hurt.
I'm still hurt. I'm exhausted. And full-disclosure, I'm embarrassed to share about how much I've let this experience occupy my brain. I will say, in my defense, in the defense I should not need, that an incident like this is probably something that can be brushed off for most. But maybe not for most of us with residual PTSD symptoms and a moderate resistance to dating.
I'm thankful that when I came online to bitch about this experience, I was met with a lot of support. The "Oh that sucks, men can be jerks," I anticipated was more like a "Hell no; That's assault and it's not okay that it happened."
I had not even used the word assault in my description to my friends or myself, but many friends immediately went there. Because I have no filter, I shared this experience via text with an online-dating hopeful who I was scheduled to meet the next day. He had just decided that after two dates with a girl he'd recently met, he wanted to stop meeting other women in order to give that a chance. I told him I was sad to miss the chance to meet him because he sounded like a good catch other than the fish that should have been thrown back quicker. (OK. FINE. I didn't use that pun, but I probably would have if I'd thought of it in the moment.)
Anyways, I felt vindicated when Nathan (from Bumble), who I am SURE is married now to that girl he'd just met (twice at that point), asked to hear what had happened and responded so empathetically (and angrily on my behalf) that it almost gave me the strength to trust men again.
A gust of strength I have been blessed with so many times, but that I'm also tired of being robbed of one minor assault at a time.
So now I'm using my latest gust of strength to show up to brunch this weekend...probably. And I really don't think this one is a random aggressor with a lack of boundaries... So, again, not about this particular guy!
But this is about what it feels like to keep dating in this atmosphere.
Why is this my job? Is this my job? Is this my responsibility? Can we agree that it's fucked up?
Look, I feel like I did a pretty FANTASTIC job of setting my boundaries on my last date. But what if I had not given a somewhat-weird, teen-movie-esque speech about boundaries-- would I still have done my due diligence?
Someone can read this and feel strongly that "men are not mind readers" and I respect that sentiment in general. Sort of.
The "sort of" is because I respect that men don't always know how to "read the room." (Same goes for any human). I do NOT respect, condone, or ACCEPT the common belief or practice of men falsely believing they can read the room and stepping on boundaries because they feel entitled to payment for buying two taco truck tacos and a bottle of water for a girl on a Thursday night.
Or something more expensive... Consequently, the nicest first date I have ever been taken on was to Musso and Frank's a few years ago by one of the kindest men I have ever met- one who didn't even kind of cross a line in spite of having spent a good amount of effort and cash buying me a steak dinner and a glass of wine. I remember the spending freaked me out (because I've seen the way men have felt entitled to something after a cup of coffee in broad daylight...). I basically awkwardly insisted we go somewhere less expensive when he invited me on a second date to another actual "nice" place. The same gentleman read the room appropriately on our second date when I was still not giving any signals. I don't want to discount his appropriate social skills, but I simply dont understand why that is so rare. To me it was rare, but when I look at it on paper, it's like "duh" these are called social skills. This is called not behaving like a predator.
Sorry not sorry to the general public, but I don't think it's actually a difficult thing. I am grateful to the men who have not left indents in my shoulders as I tried to turn my head before they could aggressively kiss me before I'm ready to kiss them... But I just can't wrap my head around how many of you think this is okay; That it's my job to loudly create the boundary and to suck it up when it gets stepped on.
The tightrope women are being made to walk because asking for consent has been painted as something that isn't manly is so uncomfortable. It's embarassing. Most of us are already wobbling in our heels, dealing with all kinds of past things, and it's simply SO damn fixable. I think that's what irks me the most.
(Or the second most...because let's be clear- having been mistreated on several dates is what irks me the most...)
If you want to drive around aimlessly because you refuse to ask for directions, I respect your choice to waste your time. But I'm tired of letting a cliche about what has been regarded as a "normal" male behavior keep grabbing me in the ass without my consent.
Consent is sexy AF and I care a lot more about your EQ/Emotional Intelligence than your 401K. Everything in regards to moving forward with someone romantically is meant to be mutual. Stop labeling assault as someone innocently failing to read the room. And in case you were wondering, there's no such thing as forced sex- it's called rape.
Am I uptight about dating? That's not even a big enough word. Am I proud of that? No. Frankly, I'd love to stop running in this tiny exhausting circle. But if I lower my vigilence, what happens when a line is crossed?
What actual reality has given me any indication that my fears are overblown or misguided?
We have to do better. But I've said these words before, and although I think sharing these stories helps, it doesn't change the statistics. So, how do we dismantle these ideas?
And am I wrong for sharing this story without sharing who March 5, 2020 line crosser was, even though we have 100+ mutual friends, or did before I blocked him on facebook? I suppose that's a can of worms for another day- because if your response is, I understand why you didn't "out" this guy...why? And if you said, "you should have told everyone who this was," you have likely not had the experience of watching everyone you love choose sides. It's a complex issue where everyone loses.
To those who have already found love...I hope it lasts and grows forever.
To those still swimming, who may have trouble reading the dating pool, please take a moment to reexamine your lane when we cross paths, because I can't be the only one trying not to drown.