Bad Kiss

Last night I couldn’t sleep, and nearly got up to write a post about all the things keeping me awake, but about three-quarters of them were things I didn’t want to revisit in the morning if I didn’t have to.

One thing I was thinking about was something that happened at a party when I was 17. I’d gone at the flirty invitation of a flirty guy friend, and when I got there he had his arm around another girl, so apparently we were playing a game, and at that stage of my life I was all-in for that. The party was a small casual sitting-around-the-campfire-drinking-wine-coolers-and-beer kind of party, and I had obtained parental permission to attend by promising not to drink any wine coolers or beer, but I did sit and talk with people who had had a fair number of them. Everyone there had known each other for years so I was a novelty, and my act went over well. Flirty guy friend observed it going over well, and I observed him observing it, which was additionally pleasing. Your move, sir.

When I’d arrived, I’d found my way from the dark road to the party in the woods by following the light of the campfire. When I left, I couldn’t tell which way to go; it was nothing but dark woods in all directions. My flirty friend, his arm pinned by the girl he was sitting with, asked if someone could see me safely to my car, and one of his buddies volunteered. The buddy did a mock bow and said “My lady,” and walked me to my car. The buddy then prevented me from getting into my car, and kept trying to kiss me.

I am not sure how long this went on. I said, “I can’t do this,” and “I need to go,” and “My parents are going to kill me if I miss curfew,” and “Okay, I really have to go now,” and he seemed to think we were in the Baby It’s Cold Outside song and I was just flirting, and he kept trying to kiss me, and he kept blocking the door to my car. My sole and focused mission became to persuade him to allow me to leave. Isn’t that weird to think of? I had to work, and work hard, to persuade a stranger, with no authority over me, to let me do something I was absolutely allowed to do, and something he absolutely shouldn’t have been preventing.

I’m interested to look back on that scene and observe that I had already completely incorporated, without being taught, that it is not safe to shove away a guy on a dark road when the two of you are alone; there is a good chance of him shoving back, and then where will you be. He’d already shown me that he was going to ignore boundaries and social cues, so it was hard to know how far out we’d find the line he wouldn’t cross. And he’d shown an additional worrisome trait by pretending he was taking me to my car for my safety, when he intended to make me significantly less safe than if I’d gone alone. But neither did it feel as if we were in a situation where screaming or pepper spray would be anywhere near appropriate: those are for when strangers come leaping out of the woods, not when they accompany you out of them. The only way I could think of to get out of this was to pretend reluctance rather than repugnance, to avoid making him angry (danger/escalation path) or hurting his feelings (danger/escalation path), and to lie about next time in order to get away safely this time. I did so, and after some period of time I did get away safely.

I’m not going to pretend it was a giant trauma. It was a little gross, and it was a little scary while it was happening and when all the potential outcomes were still open—but because it stopped where it did, and because the guy did NOT escalate things but instead seemed more like a tipsy idiot, and because by that age I’d done a fair amount of kissing and could be more casual about it rather than feeling as if My Lips Have Been Violated and Shall Never Recover, it lives in my memory as A Memorably Unpleasant Thing That Happened and not much more. Sometimes I go back in time and ask my friend to free his arm for long enough to see me to my car himself, or I ask one of the girls at the party to go with me. Sometimes I imagine taking the risk and shoving him. Sometimes I imagine an unrealistic but satisfying “How DARE you!” scene. Sometimes I imagine an unrealistic martial arts scene.

The next day my flirty friend called me and said his buddy had asked for my number and should he give it to him, and I said NO at length. The buddy kept asking my friend about me for awhile; he didn’t understand why I didn’t want to see him again. Last night I was lying awake wondering how things went for him from there: did he ever learn not to do stuff like that, or no? Does he wince at how he used to act? Or does he have a sentimental memory that doesn’t match mine at all, about some girl he liked at a party, and he walked her to her car and kissed her, and then she vanished into the night? Or maybe the same thing happened with so many girls, he doesn’t have any memory of it at all.

21 thoughts on “Bad Kiss

    1. Sadie

      The question is really, have you told your sons this story. A lot more women get to not be exposed to something like this when we talk to our sons as much as our daughters.

  1. Slim

    I can’t be alone in thinking that the only way this guy would ever have understood his behavior to have been threatening (or at best creepy, but I’m going with threatening) is if a woman explained it to him. I wonder if he ever had female friends who would have been so inclined.

  2. ADY

    I relate to so much of what you said. I’m also interested in your title, “Bad Kiss” as if that’s all it was, or that’s how he remembered it, or as a way to downplay how upsetting it was (since as women we are often accused of being over dramatic or we tell ourselves “well it’s not like I was raped” etc). Thanks for sharing your insight.

  3. Suzanne

    I have a memory somewhat like this and I too wonder about the guy. Did he grow out of being pushy/entitled? Or has he only gotten scarier/more aggressive/more demanding over time? He was just a boy back then, and scary enough that I never spoke to him again. I shudder to think of what those attributes might have evolved into now that he is a man.

  4. Jenny Grace

    I (and I suspect a great many women) have SO MANY stories like this. They don’t even register in my memory unless something jogs it up. It’s just oh yeah, another gross guy.

  5. Maggie

    I have a few stories like his from high school such that by college, my room mates and I had the strict rule that we didn’t go to parties/bars/casual get-togethers (whatever) alone and we never left alone or left someone behind. Looking back on this (30 years ago) I am made much angrier and sadder about it as an adult than I was as a college student. Then it just seemed like the thing to do. Now it makes me so mad that it was and still seems to have to be the thing to do.

  6. A

    I wonder if he even remembers it. I really do wonder if some people remember their bad behavior from when they were young, or if they’ve plain forgotten. I keep being told that I have an unusually long and detailed memory for things–so I remember– but I have direct evidence that other people don’t.

  7. Carmen

    I have a memory like this about a boy from high school that called and wanted to come and visit one day when I was in college. He came by the apartment and we chatted a while, then he became quite pushy and I ended up having to get him to leave by saying I was meeting people and had to go. I often think back about how badly that could have gone.

  8. Matti

    I agree, this is an important kind of story to tell our daughters, and our sons.
    It’s is also a very well told version of something gross, and dangerous, and ENRAGING. Thank you for sharing it with us, though, because it is awfully thought provoking—I can see why it would keep you up for awhile if it came into your head. I can also see the appeal of the martial arts fantasy, I think that one’s my favorite.

  9. TG

    I too had an experience along these lines in college. My adult self feels sick and a little panicky when I think about all the ways it could have gone wrong, especially now that I have a teenage daughter. I also feel sick at how, at the time, it didn’t even really seem noteworthy. That’s just what happened on a college campus where one of the first “activities” of the fall semester was a panty raid through the freshmen womens’ dorm by one of the fraternities. Ugh, all the rage. Thanks for sharing this, it reminds me that I need to talk more specifically about some of these scenarios with my daughter.

  10. rlbelle

    I am lucky not to have many (that I can remember) stories like this. But one thing I’ve thought about a lot as an adult is how much my confidence seems to have shrunk over the years. When I was a freshman in high school, I was standing in the bus pick-up parking lot after school with a couple of guys I knew from a class. I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but it was probably something flirty, because one of the boys made a comment about harassment. I was so naive at the time, I didn’t read anything sexual into it at all. I shrugged and said, “Oh, I don’t care if you harass me,” meaning that any teasing wasn’t going to hurt my feelings. He got this smug look on his face, moved next to me, side to side, and put his hand on my butt. And squeezed. I didn’t even think – I elbowed him in the ribs, and when he stepped back I slapped him across the face. He was shocked, but fortunately not angry. He kept going on about how he couldn’t believe I hit him, though, and I was like, “You grabbed my butt! What did you think was going to happen, that’s not allowed!”
    More than a decade later, I was at a concert, standing room only, and the guy next to me, arm in arm with his girlfriend, deliberately grabbed my butt when she wasn’t looking, and then kept smirking at me about it. I can’t remember whether I was with my future husband at that concert or a girlfriend, but either way, I did basically nothing, except try to tell my person, over the noise of the concert, that my butt had been grabbed and could we move. I realize the circumstances were totally different, and reacting the wrong way could have led to some kind of fight or scene, but I think all the time about how protective I was of my boundaries as a fourteen-year-old – it didn’t even occur to me that I SHOULDN’T have slapped a guy who grabbed me, no matter who saw or what happened next. And I wonder just why, when, and how I learned not to react so strongly to similar harassment. As the mother of two daughters, it’s an up all night question for sure.

  11. vanessa

    if you just out the blog Yes Means Yes there’s lots of info on, for example, the fact that men are not morons and KNOW that women are trying to say no. for example. so yeah…thatguy almost certainly kept doing it.


    for context here is what i used to talk to 8th graders about ansari:

  12. G

    All the people chiming in with “I have a similar story” make me sad. And angry. And so much more aware of how lucky I was in my guy friends in high school. Because I have a story that could have gone similarly, where I was at a party where people were drinking (although I wasn’t) and a guy I’d just met was flirting heavily (and I was flirting back and enjoying it)…and two other guys I was good friends with both asked me privately, separately, to let them walk me to my car after the party so that the guy we all didn’t know very well couldn’t be alone with me in the dark.

  13. Kalendi

    I slapped a guy once too. He was showing off, and trying to kiss me around our friends and I said stop and no. He wouldn’t and I slapped him, not hard, but enough for him to back off. I got labeled as a prude (I didn’t and don’t care). My husband, who I knew long before he was my husband, has commented that he couldn’t believe I slapped the guy, but come on man, no and stop means just that. When has it become wrong to do what it takes to make them stop!

  14. Ali

    Swistle, I appreciate hearing your experience. I’m sorry that you had it happen to you and I’m thankful that you got out of it. Your story illustrates both the powerlessness that our gender dynamics create, because even though you could, technically, have fought in some way during or after the situation, you calculated that it could have had a much more detrimental effect than the course of action you took. I understand the choice you made and I think it was the right one at that place and time. I’m so glad that this society-wide conversation is occurring And restoring our power piece by piece.


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