When I was 14 I met a guy online and we became platonic internet friends. We chatted, sent long emails to each other, eventually sent letters in the post, exchanged photos, etc. You know the drill. There was one point when I wondered if I was in love with him (in the way that some teenagers are wont to do). He was a bit older than me, 17 I think when we “met”, what felt like such a big difference at the time. But nothing ever came of our potential romance (although he was obviously quite into me) and we remained nothing more than friends.
When I was about 25 something changed, I can’t remember why or how. But I suppose the physical distance of cyberspace made it seem possible, and easier for things to escalate, hidden behind the screen of, well, a screen. During one online chat, one thing led to another and there we each were, spouting sexual verbing of nouns. He was at work, I was at home masturbating on the couch.
Afterwards I didn’t feel right about it. Was it just that oft-felt wrongness of masturbation instilled in me? Or just because I knew I wasn’t interested in him physically? Or even romantically? I can’t even remember if this happened before or after I sent him some erotica I’d written (incidentally, written on a prompt from someone else – a complete stranger – with whom I had engaged in cybersex previously).
Fast forward a bit, and we found ourselves in almost the same geographical location. We arranged to meet, he was going to lend me his car, we stayed in a motel (out of practicality rather than amorous intention). We watched a movie, one thing led to another (sound familiar?) and we were fooling around. There was a point when I didn’t want to anymore, but I didn’t really know how to end it. So we kept going for a bit, and eventually I disappeared to hide in the bathroom. I did not like what was happening, but I didn’t have the words or the confidence or feel like I had the power (or the right?) to say no. Pretty much I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t do anything, which was just to let what was happening keep happening. Kissing turned to touching turned to taking clothes off, turned to him going down on me. That’s when I decided to escape.
How do we (vulnerable, unable-to-say-our-inner thoughts women – and men and non-binary folk) get to this place where we feel like our bodies are not our own? Where we feel like it’s so hard to say what you want – or don’t want – that it’s easier to just let what you don’t want to happen? Is it just because in many ways I’m very introverted? I’ve always had trouble saying anything personal or things that make me feel vulnerable and open. Or is it that societal ingrained idea that you got yourself there, you went down that path, it would be leading them on and unfair on the other person if you changed your mind?
I hadn’t seen the tea analogy at that point.
I think that was a major part missing from my sex education, the little I had of it. Body autonomy. Consent. How to assert yourself in sexual situations. How are they to know that you don’t want it if you don’t say anything? Is it that thinking that way helps to fuel the problem?
Anyway, this is the guy that, after this happened, he began harassing me about starting a relationship with him, even though I had expressed – really maturely, on Messenger or something equally juvenile – that I was not attracted to him, or interested in him romantically, but would like to still be friends. About this, I was clear (because, you know, safety of being behind a screen and not actually having to say the words out loud). But he didn’t like this and, after I had endured continued harassment, he ended the friendship and refused to stay in touch.
Well, that’s fine I guess.
The thing is, maybe I should have been more assertive from the beginning. Maybe someone should have talked to me more about having agency and control.
But what if, instead, someone had talked to this guy about asking and receiving consent, about respecting women and sexual partners, about someone like me having the right to change my mind or say no or to, actually, not be attracted to him?
What if, indeed.