Grace.

Sometime between graduating from college and starting my first real life adult job, I  became overwhelmed by the idea that I had to “adult” immediately. I was, in many senses, not a girl, not yet a woman. Every part of me felt like I was still a college kid, but the world saw a grown up with a salary who was supposed to be able to keep it together. Or so I thought. Turns out, most recent graduates have all the same concerns I did during that time; What Now?

I had a degree, I had a job, I had my student loans on Auto-Pay. But, I still didn’t feel like I was doing it right. Everyone around me was coupling off and I’d been warned that the avalanche of engagements was on the horizon. Soon, all my friends would be getting married and I hadn’t even had a relationship last a full calendar year. So I did what every desperate 22 year old does in any given scenario: turn to the internet.

2012-2014, I went on a lot of Tinder dates. Like, a lot. Most of them were average. None of them went anywhere past date 1. My favorite story is about an Air Force pilot that got embarrassingly drunk on a Tuesday while I sat at the bar and quietly (and soberly) watched the Hockey game. But, that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because of a story I’ve only really told a handful of people. In fact, maybe only one.

I told a good friend, but mostly kept this story private because it was embarrassing and it made me feel weak and not in control: the two things I work hardest not to ever be. But, the other day I read a story of a girl who had an encounter with a celebrity that reminded me a lot of these evening. In fact, it reminded me so much so of my story and it struck such a chord with the Twitterverse and all my fellow Feminsists, that it made me a little anxious. Ok, a lot anxious. I started wondering had I dealt with what happened to me appropriately? Was I assaulted? Where are the lines between aggressive, creepy and assault? Was I wrong to be embarrassed?

I wasn’t and still am not sure of the answers to most of those questions, but I do know that I’d like to share the story to let  “Grace” and other people who might be struggling the same way I am know that I get what she feels and I’m sorry she now has a story that will live in the back of her mind for a long time like mine does.

In early spring of 2014, I was 23 and, honestly, lonely and scared of facing the adult world alone forever. I had been talking to several men on various dating sites – all of which might as well have been tinder. None of them seemed especially remarkable but one had passed all of my pre-date tests. He grew up on Long Island, went to school for TV, was a diehard Mets fan and we seemed to have a lot in common so I agreed to move on to an in-person date. He asked me immediately if I’d like to go to a Mets game. I was unsure because Baseball games are long and first dates are typically uncomfortable. But when he said he’d be taking the LIRR and I knew I’d have my car, coming straight from work, I acquiesced against my better judgement and against the advice of my coworkers – more than one of whom volunteered to go to the game in my place thinking this guy would enjoy a date with Dennis or Brandon much less than with me.

I truly don’t remember this man’s name, but for the sake of argument let’s call him Brian. I met Brian at the stadium and everything was fine. He seemed polite and had paid for our tickets in advance. We sat up the left field line in a section that was mostly empty. It was a night game fairly early in the season and was cold. Also, it’s the Mets so attendance on a weeknight is unimpressive in general.

True to who I am, I was not dressed for the weather. I tried my best to hide the signs of how cold I was, but the goosebumps on my arms gave me up. Brian moved in closer to put his arm around me. I was wary, but he seemed nice enough so I let it happen. And soon after, Brian had kissed me.

This was an aggressive first move for someone who seemed so shy and polite on the surface, I remember thinking.  But, of all the guys I’d gone out with recently, he had the best chance at a date 2 so far. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings and he was nice enough so I let it happen, regularly going out of my way to turn my head back to the game.

It finally became evident that I was too cold to make it to the 9th inning so he suggested we get out of there: He, to the LIRR. Me, to my car. I agreed I was ready to go.

He continued trying to aggressively kiss me in the stairwells at CitiField leading out to the parking lot. In general, I’m not a super huge fan of PDA (Ask my fiance) so this was an immediate turn off. But again, not wanting to hurt his feelings, I gave in and allowed myself to be kissed and then would continue down another few flights until it happened again.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, we reached the parking lot and I went to say my goodbyes. He hemmed and hawed about how long he’d have to wait for a train since the game wasn’t over yet and how cold it was getting. He lived further out on the Island, but it became abundantly clear he was looking for a ride. I told him I had work early in the morning and couldn’t make a drive so far East, but could at least drive him to a train station on the proper line so he wouldn’t have to wait for connections.

Driving to the train station, he was all hands. He kept trying to hold my hand on the gear shifter. Hand on my leg, hand on my shoulder. The likelihood of a second date was declining rapidly.

By the time we pulled into the parking lot at the train station, I was fairly disgusted. I wanted nothing more to do with this guy and I wanted him out of my car.

When we finally reached the station, I parked the car and waited for him to leave. He unbuckled his seatbelt and grabbed my arm, attempting to move my hand to his pants. A bold move. When I resisted, he again began aggressively kissing me. I moved my hand back to the gear shifter. I was not enthusiastic but I didn’t know how to tactfully withdraw consent and clearly, my rigidity wasn’t slowing him down.

I immediately became very aware of the fact that we were the only ones in this parking lot. While my physical frame is less than delicate – standing 5’8″ weighing, at the time, around 170lbs – I still would’ve been no match for this guy who was easily 6’3″. He was kissing my neck while I looked around the empty parking lot, growing more anxious by the second.

“Hey um, maybe we should slow down. I like you and I don’t want to rush things”

I was never calling him again.

He took a beat and within minutes, was at it again, hunched over me. I was literally cornered. I needed to get him out

“We need to chill out.”

I was now officially afraid. This time he didn’t take pause.

“Ok, get out of my car.”

This stopped him.

“Sorry, I just really like you. I’m having a hard time controlling myself.” he replied.

“That’s fine. I need to go. I have work early and this is getting carried away.”

He apologized again and let himself out and I breathed a deep, deep sigh of relief. And, when I got home, I cried.

The next day he messaged me on Facebook and asked to get together that night. I tried several times to say I couldn’t hang out without flatly rejecting him, still not wanting to hurt his feelings. When he wasn’t catching my hints and even offered to come grocery shopping with me if it meant spending time with me, I decided I had to be an adult and just tell him I wasn’t interested.

“Look, you’re a nice guy but I don’t really see anything happening between us. I’m sorry. I wish you all the best, though!”

He messaged me multiple times a day for a week asking what he did wrong until I finally blocked him at the suggestion of a coworker.

Still, after all of this, I felt bad for letting him down. I had led him on, allowing him to kiss me. I was sending mixed signals. After that whole ordeal, the person I was most upset with was myself. I was deeply embarrassed of my naiveté, that I’d allowed myself to be put in that position and so I told one other living soul the entire story until right now.

When I read Grace’s story about her encounter with Aziz Ansari, it hit me in the gut. I felt defensive because what I had chalked up to a bad date but never felt 100% at peace with was being painted as assault and I wasn’t a victim. I stood my ground. She should’ve done the same. But, if I wasn’t a victim, why was I keeping this story in the shadows and avoiding it? Why was I still embarrassed?

I was embarrassed because, in retrospect, I should’ve spoken up for myself earlier. As soon as I was uncomfortable I should’ve walked away. But whose fault is that? Mine? Society’s? Brian’s?

Grace’s story and the ones like it are important ones, I think. They’re not a story of assault the same way the Weinstein files are. Aziz never leveraged his celebrity the same way Louis CK did. He was aggressive and creepy and disrespectful, though, the same way Regular-Guy-Brian was to me that night in that parking lot. Until I clearly said no. And, that’s why this story is so important.

Consent isn’t always a clear verbal yes or no and that’s confusing in a world where men are conditioned to chase sex like a prize and women are conditioned to put men’s pride ahead of their own sense of self worth and safety. This isn’t my fault, it’s not my parents’ fault. It’s the way the things work and #MeToo and #TheResistance are changing those things for the better, I think. Culture is shifting in a positive direction. I am confident that if this ever happened to me again, I would feel more empowered to put an end to it. Maybe that comes with age, or maybe these movements are really helping. Maybe a combination. I certainly am not an authority.

If I could tell Grace anything it would be that her feelings are valid and I believe her. She’ has the absolute right to feel violated and disrespected. He acted like a total creepshow and truthfully, I can see how easily that whole scenario could’ve escalated. And that’s terrifying. But, the fact that it didn’t escalate is what ultimately separates Ansari from Weinstein and Louis CK and all these other monsters, in my opinion. It didn’t get there. He called her a car and allowed her to go with some dignity still intact.  I would tell her that she’s more than this and she’s more than one man’s approval – whether he’s a celebrity or a random Brian. And I hope the next time she finds herself in a situation that doesn’t feel quite right, she walks away and finds her voice to tell him to get out of her car (or the appropriate equivalent).  I understand the female impulse to do the “nice” thing and be considerate of your date’s feelings. I have literally been in her shoes, but at some point you cross a line from “I don’t want to hurt his feelings” to “I’m in a situation that is potentially dangerous”. And as soon as she crosses that line, I hope she can speak up and not rely solely on nonverbal cues to help herself. And, I hope that for myself and all the other young women out there as well.

While writing this, knowing my Dad will read it kind of stings a bit, but I no longer feel responsible or embarrassed by that night and that story. I also still don’t consider myself a victim of assault. It was a really shitty night, but not the worst night of my life by a long shot. What was taken from me that night was nothing in comparison to what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown as a result.  In learning what I don’t like and what I find unacceptable, I learned what I value in a relationship and about myself.

Shortly after this incident, I swore to stop focusing so much on meeting someone and spend more time feeling better about myself. I had no reason to be sorry for that night and I no longer wanted to feel like I had to chase men. I didn’t want to have to settle or put myself second anymore. Shortly after I stopped dating, I met a wonderful man outside of the interwebz who is so respectful of me and my body that when we started dating, I was unsure if he was even attracted to me. He asked me to marry him and I hope we get to raise kids in a more enlightened world where these things won’t be so difficult to navigate. I hope to teach my sons that they’re owed nothing and women are their equal peers. I hope I raise my daughters to have voices they aren’t afraid to use and to never put their date’s pride ahead of their joy or safety for politeness’ sake.

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