By the third time his hand slides under the elastic of your not-quite-granny, not-exactly-risqué floral underwear, you’re both frustrated. He, for what is the point of a woman straddling this way if not for sex; you, for how many goddamn times do you have to pull his hand away and reiterate, “I do not want to have sex.”
He seems genuinely confused by this statement. Everything leading up to this moment gave him every indication he’d be getting some. Did you not make out in the park? Hold hands on the way to his apartment? Let him feel your ass through the flimsy fabric of borrowed gym shorts? Your typical excuses – I haven’t shaved, we don’t have protection – aren’t an issue tonight. Do you just need more encouragement? More wine? You’re both adults well-versed in the logistics of bumping uglies. What’s the problem?
The problem is you’ve said no. Multiple times. Very clearly. Aware you’ve been drinking and half-clothed, you make your voice strong in the ways your body language can’t be. But his hands are stronger. He’s bargaining, telling you you’re so beautiful, such a good kisser; attempting to take down your walls as he takes off your bra. Dirty talk turns to whining, guilt-tripping, continual pawing – all met with firm refusal. By the time you reach the doorway with shoes in hand, you turn to see he’s taken off his own boxers in a last ditch effort. You aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry as you get dressed in the locked privacy of the bathroom.
A few weeks later you’re back in the same apartment for a holiday party. The two of you haven’t spoken, but a friend says he’s asked about you. All you shared of that night was flip. He wanted to do more, I didn’t. Showing up proves you’re over it, it was no big deal. You mingle for a bit, casually scanning the room to brace yourself for the awkward obligatory hug, relieved to be led directly to the keg and introduced to other kind faces. You’re proud of yourself for being able to fit into this crowd of strangers so easily. But you’re quickly reminded they aren’t really strangers – they’re his close friends, so happy to be welcomed into his home and reminisce on good times.
“How do you know X?” they ask, excited to hear someone else’s stories of high school ski trips and bar hopping shenanigans. You vaguely mention meeting him only recently, and in turn are given the funny anecdotes you can’t provide. “Oh, X is such a great guy!” starts each tale, and you try not to shrink too noticeably as his character is built up around you. You remind yourself to play it cool. What did you expect? For his guests to share unflattering details? To be able to look at your vacant smile and know to change the subject to anything other than praise for their Nice Guy, their goofy ol’ pal? You sip more beer, let uneasy giggles escape your lips. Search for any opportunity of lightness as the conversation weighs heavy in the base of your throat.
It’s no surprise but a blow to your shaky ego when the night ends in tears. Your friend and his roommate look at you helplessly, unsure what to say in response to your fragmented confessional. Inhibitions lowered, you let yourself try on the emotions you were too embarrassed to see fit. Nothing happened, and yet… Why did you get into bed in the first place if all you wanted was a PG-13 romp? Why couldn’t he have listened when you said so? Why didn’t you leave earlier? Why did you go back?
Why do you have the feeling he’s not replaying all his choices over and over again trying to figure out where he went wrong?
There have been other men. Other “Nice Guys” whose sense of entitlement and coaxing and sliding hands led to other nights you hadn’t planned. It’s taken a lot of effort to let those episodes define you in a way that doesn’t diminish your agency. To look back at all the hazy gray area and know you’re going to see clearer moving forward because your consent matters and will make a difference in how these men treat you… right? And yet here you are, bravely setting boundaries only to have them crossed, angry and disheartened your instinct is to put your behavior under scrutiny because if you don’t do it first someone else will. They’ll pick your story apart and give his a makeover and when asked if there’s anything you should’ve done differently it will take all the courage you could ever gather to believe there’s any dignity in the word “No.”