As far as #MeToo stories go, this one is pretty tame. I share it not because I faced outrageous harassment in this case, but because that brand of harassment was subtle and manipulative in a way that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough, though it occurs despicably often. Mild objectification isn’t as scary as outright assault, but it is a precursor to assault. People like the man in this story are the reason why we don’t just live in a place where rape sometimes happens – we live in an overwhelming rape culture.
Someone who I once considered a friend started hitting on me uncomfortably via text a few months ago. He told me, quite bluntly, that he wanted to kiss me. In and of itself, I thought the request was rather respectful; after all, he stated his intentions honestly and waited for my reply before saying anything more. When I told him I wasn’t interested in dating, I did so politely to honor the clarity of his request. I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t being a dick.
But he was being a dick. He came back with a message that immediately rubbed me the wrong way: “Oh, I’m not interested in dating you, Zoe.”
At this point in the narrative, I want to make an important clarification: I have no moral qualms with the concept of friends having platonic physical relationships. If two people want to sleep with each other out of a sense of mutual attraction and respect, but they choose not to date, more power to them. It’s not my place to pass judgement.
Something about my friend’s phrasing in this particular case set me off, though. Maybe it was because he rejected a romantic relationship with me out of hand, though there was no reason why we couldn’t date if we wanted to. He just… didn’t want to. He wanted to reap the physical benefits of being my partner, without putting in the work to actually be my partner. And instead of letting an attraction develop naturally between us, he essentially just asked point-blank if I would be willing to donate my body to him for a while.
In short, I felt he was requesting my permission to use me.
I thought this through for a little while, then turned down his request firmly. I wasn’t unkind, but I did make my decision perfectly clear.
A little while later, I got a text from him. He defended his case and continued to bug me with poorly-constructed arguments about why I should give him what he wanted. I reiterated my disinterest, this time less politely, and without offering reasons why. My refusal to touch him spoke for itself.
The messages from him kept popping up for a while after that. Each of them tried to convince me in roundabout ways to give in to him. On the surface, his arguments seemed genuine, but reading between the lines, he was clearly trying to manipulate me into saying yes. I recognized his pathetic style of harassment: cowardly, and just barely non-aggressive enough that he could still plausibly argue that he had good intentions if I decided to report him and he had to defend himself.
Eventually I just stopped replying to his sad attempts to lure me in. We had and still have many mutual friends, so I couldn’t avoid running into him once a week or so, but I made a point to avoid confrontation. He began lobbing passive-aggressions at me; once, when we happened to be a few tables away from each other in our favorite coffee shop, he stared at me while telling our friends loudly that it was so nice they were still talking to him, unlike some people here, who might happen to have orange hair.
I broke my vow not to engage with him anymore and showed him with one finger how I felt about that.
I wasn’t proud, but I was in the right.
Several months passed, and I drifted out of our little community for a while to focus on recovering from my depression. When I returned later last summer, however, he immediately began to engage me in pleasant conversation as if nothing had happened – but only while we were in a group. Surrounded by friends, I knew I would look like the bad guy if I replied to his kind words with rude silence. Begrudgingly, I returned his pleasantries, but made it clear in my demeanor that I was uncomfortable.
Whether he was consciously harassing me or just completely oblivious to my unfriendly cues, I doubt I’ll ever know. However, he insisted on pulling me aside a few weeks ago and apologizing – lucidly! – for his inexcusable behavior… while simultaneously defending his intentions and pulling the same bullshit again.
I realized he was still trying to sleep with me after accurately explaining why he was wrong to try to sleep with me. I just blinked at him.
Eventually, he wore me down into striking a truce. I figured I’d sacrifice some of my patience and make small talk with him on the rare occasions we had to be around each other, but I wouldn’t show him anything like friendship or sincere affection. Maybe mending his ridiculous ego a little by agreeing to be cordial would get him off my back because he would feel less rejected.
It was the wrong move. He interpreted my exhaustion as sexual interest in him.
Let me take a moment to state clearly that wearing someone down until they give in is not okay, and it is not consent.
One more time: Wearing someone down until they give in is not okay, and it is not consent.
I should have shot him down unequivocally, but at the time I felt so pressured that I just kind of stood there awkwardly. I didn’t beat him over the head with my disinterest, so he didn’t get the hint. Last week, he isolated me from the group again and explained for the nth time that after reading the book I wrote I last year, he just felt really connected to me, like he wants to know me better, like he wants to kiss me, and Zoe, I know you’re not into that, but it’s just something I really feel, you know?
So I had to take time out of my life to turn him down… again.
A moment later, he bought the other two books I’ve published, and when he asked me to sign them I did so neutrally so as not to make a scene. I took his money because I needed it, but in an indirect way I’m sure he mistakenly thinks he bought my attention.
After I got home I blocked him from our mutual friends’ chat group, explaining that he made me feel deeply uncomfortable. I haven’t seen him since, but that was only a few days ago. I’m sure he’ll bring his harassment back into my life the next time our paths cross, which will likely happen sooner rather than later. However, I refuse to stop seeing my friends or going to our regular meet-ups because of one unpleasant person. Attackers should lose their friends. Their victims shouldn’t.
When an insecure person’s ego is wounded, they can behave like a trapped wild animal: they might lash out and do something impulsive that hurts someone else. While nothing this man has done to me so far is physically abusive or illegal, things could easily come to that if I defend myself strongly. However, a strong defense is the only thing that might make him leave me alone.
So I’m walking a tightrope: if I turn him down too abrasively he might hurt me, but if I don’t turn him down abrasively enough he’ll continue to harass me. Quite frankly, I’m scared. I’m scared he won’t take no for an answer. I’m scared that he seems to have such a singular interest in my body. I’m scared that he has no regard for my sense of safety.
It should not have to be reiterated to a grown man that sex is opt-in, not opt-out. But I’m sure that’s what this will come to. He isn’t the type to leave me alone until he’s either successful, or crushed. But he’s not going to be successful.
I’m scared of what he’ll do when he makes me crush him.