When You Feel Unsafe, Do You Start to Lie?
Even in the era of #MeToo, women still have to fear the worst in the people.
When the seed of doubt blooms and you decide you need to protect yourself, when do you start to lie?
Right before I started working in New York City, I had a concerning encounter when waiting for a train. Parking was an absolute nightmare since I was a daily parker, not a permit parker. After that twenty-minute ordeal of squeezing into an absurdly tiny space from an absurdly tiny lane that didn’t leave much navigating room, I went up and waited with all the other sad commuters standing out in the twenty-degree weather.
An older fellow, definitely old enough to be my father, struck up a conversation for me. At first, it was just pleasant small talk, but then he started asking a few more questions than your standard small talk exchange would ordinarily have.
Where are you going?
Oh, why are you going to the city?
What part of the city are you going to?
It started out innocent, pleasant, like very general small talk. I’m not going to give you a full transcript, but here’s how the questions he asked me escalated.
What do you do for a living?
Do you live around here?
Do you always take this train?
At this point, he tells me that he doesn’t have a computer at home. Next, he says he needs to use a computer and he was recently banned from his local library, so he’s taking the train to go somewhere else to use a different library. Says the accusations against him were completely false and that he’s in the midst of appealing it.
I want to be sympathetic. I don’t want to be assumptive.
However, every young woman out there knows that while open-mindedness is important, you also have to be smart.
I tried to politely end the conversation and look at my phone, but the questions kept coming and there was no sign of the train coming just yet.
Are you cold?
What kind of car do you drive?
What color is it?
Which lot did you park in?
Can you see your car from here?
What’s your name?
Somewhere along the lines, the questions just got a little too detailed and I got uncomfortable.
I’d genuinely like to believe that he was just curious or innocently nosy. Maybe he was really into cars, for example. Maybe he was just a lonely fellow who wanted to talk to someone.
However, I lived in Baltimore long enough and I was raised sensibly enough to have some protective skepticism and acknowledge the possibility that he did have less than shining intentions with all those questions. Especially when he started to ask details about where I lived, what color my car was, and if it was visible from where we stood.
Here’s my question for you, dear reader.
If a total stranger asked you those questions, when would you start to lie?
I’m either morally corrupt (or I just lived in the city for too long) because I started lying right when he asked where I lived. I lived in the next town over, but I supplied an answer of the town three towns over.
I’m going to be honest, I constantly lie about where I live if someone I don’t trust asks me. I actually started doing it way back in my freshman year of college. I did it in a dating app I tried too. I consider it a white lie.
I didn’t want to make a fuss or be overly rude to this man — because I did really want to give him the benefit of the doubt — but I became very disturbed when he asked me about the color of my car and if it was visible from where we stood on the platform. Those questions combined with all the others just started to seem like too much. I’m cautious, but I have to be; anyone who has walked alone in Baltimore, New York City, or any other city after dark out of necessity knows that they have to be. It’s one of those gritty parts of being a woman that can be hard sometimes.
In an instant, I became a resident of town five miles away, I drove a red Tesla (in my dreams), and my name was Vicky.
As you’ll see from my author page, my name is most decidedly not Vicky.
Earlier in the #MeToo movement, Washington Post published a story about harassment on transit saying, “If you’re a woman who rides public transportation, you’re almost guaranteed to experience the kinds of demeaning or threatening encounters that fit squarely within the bounds of the #MeToo conversation.”
This exchange wasn’t necessarily sexual harassment, but I have experienced actual sexual harassment on mass transit before.
Like most women, I’ve been touched inappropriately, catcalled, and such. On one occasion, I was told “I’m gonna sit next to the lady in the sexy dress,” in reference to the very, very modest, professional dress I was wearing under a blazer. The man was not exactly the epitome of personal hygiene and preceded to keep trying to talk to me as I tried to read my book and repeatedly leaned over, making his thigh touch mine when there was ample room on the seats to have no contact.
This was a separate situation that happened a couple of years ago, but at the next stop, I pretended it was mine and I dashed back to the back of the metro car. I stood and anxiously hoped he wouldn’t realize I didn’t truly get off and make a scene. The next train wouldn’t come for another 20 minutes, so I didn’t want to truly get off the train.
Experiences like that one from a few years ago tint every other experience; they’re part of why when those questions got too personal, my guard went up.
I’m open to criticism, I certainly could have overreacted and spun my tale for no reason, but I’d love to hear from other twenty-something young women who have dealt with situations like this before.
Would an exchange like this have made you put your guard up?
Would you lie to avoid making a scene or being rude by ending the conversation or walking away?
It’s entirely possible this man was just an older fellow who wanted someone to talk to. I don’t want to accuse him of anything when all he did was ask questions. It could be that I’m just a bit awful for lying so fluidly to someone who was perhaps very interested in cars.
But I still felt like I needed to lie to protect my safety.
“Just in case.”
“Because you never know.”
We hear these cautionary words from the time we’re little girls fanaticizing about being princesses and slaying dragons on our own without a prince’s help. They stick with you. No matter how open you want to be, those warnings always echo in the back of your mind when you start to feel unsafe.
The bigger question here, other than when you start to lie, is why is it so easy to feel so unsafe? Even in the era of much-improved respect and awareness, you still have to consider peeking at the worst in the people when you’re trying to see the best of them.
You have to consider that someone taller, larger, and stronger than you might cause you trouble later. It’s a hard way to live and things are absolutely changing for the better, but in the interim, we still have to be guarded.