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.