A bit of give and take
Back in High School, throughout those years when boys’ bits are still more a topic for speculation than experience, friends and I developed what we thought was a fairly standard vocabulary to describe the things we’d done. If you willingly, happily, went down on your man, you were giving head. If he had to persuade or cajole you into doing it, he was taking it. If a girl offered sex, she was putting out. If a guy insisted, she was put upon.
Little differences, but they adhered to the linguistic rules that our English prof taught us, and I’d imagine I was not the only one among us who was a little disappointed when we learned, through wider exposure to the common tongue, that we were wrong. That the English language is not interested in such petty distinctions between a woman wanting to do something, and a man wanting her to do it. That we’re still giving even when it’s him who does all the taking. (And vice versa, of course, because I’m sure there’s some women out there who can be just as insistent and cajoling as men.)
Language, and the difficulties inherent in actually finding words that cannot be deliberately twisted or even innocently misinterpreted by somebody else, is one of the reasons why assault and rape cases are often so difficult to get to the bottom of. A lot of other legal conundrums, too. I’ve often wondered if that is why the notoriously paranoid Andy Warhol tape-recorded every conversation he had, so if something ever went awry, he’d have documentary evidence of everything that was said at the time. Except the tapes probably would not be admissible as evidence, and the case would still come down to semantics, and who could twist the other’s meaning the furthest.
Still, speech remains the most effective means that we have of communicating with one another, and the best thing any of us can do is ensure that our grasp of it is strong enough that we can make the points that we need to. Because if we can’t, or if the other person’s better at it, we could be in seriously trouble.
I believe that most men, when out on a date - particularly in the earliest stages of a relationship - enter into it with more-or-less noble intentions. He may hope that he will “get lucky,” he may hope she’ll “put out.” But it never crosses his mind as he selects the cleanest T-shirt off the floor, and flosses his teeth with a freshly-bitten fingernail that an innocent evening with the girl of his dreams (well, this week’s dreams, anyway) might end in anything other than mutual ecstasy.
The younger he and she are, of course, the more chance there is of something misfiring; of his intentions being misconstrued as insistence; his affections being taken as aggression. Teenaged boys are notoriously hopeless when it comes to making their point without making a fuss, and teenaged girls are usually weighed down by well-meaning advice and warnings about appearing “easy” (“he won’t respect you in the morning”) and the specter of unwanted pregnancy. Not the greatest combination in the world.
But older men, too, can slip into teenaged ways, and again I don’t believe it was ever his intention, when he was dressing himself for our “date,” that he’d be heading home in several shades of wounded furious, or that I’d end the evening browsing pepper-spray on the internet, determined that the next time I saw him, he’d get a can-full in the crotch.
Older. I was twenty-eight, he was forty-two. I was single, he was recently divorced. I was making up a foursome as a favor to a mutual friend. He was... okay, this is where we get into linguistic waters again. The last thing he said to me as he stormed off into the night was, “I was told that you were fun.”
Fun. A word that I would construe as meaning something along the lines of “she’s got a good sense of humor, likes dancing and tries not to take crap too seriously.” But which he apparently translated into “she’ll fuck your brains out the moment she meets you.” Or words to that effect.
The evening began well, a steak house for dinner, then we moved to the bar. He was attentive... not just to me, but to the friends that were with us as well. He told a few jokes, laughed at other people’s, insisted on paying for every round of drinks, and if his leg did spend a lot of the evening pressed up against mine, I blamed it on the size of the booth that we were seated in. I didn’t flinch when he touched my arm to make a point, I didn’t blush when he told a crude joke about librarians. (Probably because I’d heard it before). Then our friends left and I agreed to stay for a coffee before we said goodnight.
Which... silly me. “Staying for a coffee” is not, even in my most innuendo-laden imagination, the same as asking “would you like to come in for a coffee?” But the arm that went round my shoulders seemed to think it was; and again, the way the booth was set up made it hard for me to just duck out from beneath it. Although I tried and when he didn’t get the message, I gently took his hand to move it. At which point he squeezed my hand right back, and leaned in to try and kiss me.
Crowded bar, don’t make a fuss. I moved my head, avoided his lips and he seemed to concede defeat. We finished our coffees, he helped me on with my jacket, we stepped outside. He offered to drive me home; I said no, I’d catch a cab and indicated the lights of the depot on the strip a couple of hundred yards away. He said he’d walk with me; I demurred, but he insisted. Okay, then. As I said, it was only two hundred yards and, though the first half of that was overshadowed by a few darkened businesses...
You know what’s coming next.
The arm around my waist that slowed my intended walking pace down to match his dawdle. The abrupt halt by a doorway and a kind of shuffle, kind of shove, that put my back against the wall. A few well-rehearsed lines about how great it was to meet me, and he’d love to see me again. A polite smile and a thank you seemed the smart way of replying, and now his face was in my neck, scratchy kisses on my throat.
You know you want it really
He was slender, but he was also almost twice my size. And the way he had me pinned to the wall - because I was pinned now, not just pressed - made it impossible for me to reach my purse, which is where I would have carried my mace if I’d ever thought to buy some.
My own lack of response didn’t seem to phase him. The polite, friendly, laughing guy who... I’m not saying anything would have ever happened between us, because I doubt that it would. But who did seem a nice enough person to spend time with, if I ever ran into him again with friends... well, he was gone.
Replaced, and this is where a lot of teenaged flashbacks started occurring, by maybe 180 pounds of greedy meat that may have been murmuring things like “you’re so lovely, you smell so good, yadda yadda yadda,” but might as well have been spouting the same things as those teens. “Come on, you know you want it really,” and “it’s okay, you’ll like it once we start” - and this was always my favorite, because the subtext is just so laughably presumptuous. “Just put your hand on it. I promise I won’t do anything.” Meaning, “the moment you touch my manly meat, you won’t be able to resist doing more.”
A quick rewind to what I said about Warhol. Even if I had been taping all this, it wouldn’t have helped, because the way he had me positioned, with my face against his chest, I couldn’t actually speak.
His hands were on my shoulders, holding me in place. A leg was pressed between mine, to stop me wriggling out. And his crotch wasn't simply pressed very noticeably up against my hip. It was undulating too, a slow gyration that left me in no doubt where his brain had migrated to this evening. Warm night, light cotton pants. I could feel the heat coming off him in waves.
Decision time. Not just for me, either. For every girl who has found herself in this kind of position. Remember, deep down you know the guy isn’t bad. He didn’t set out this evening (or, at least, I hope he didn’t) intending to rape a girl on their first date, no matter how hard it is to believe that right now. It’s like there’s a switch somewhere in his psyche, which is flicked when the blood starts to rush from his head, a switch which doesn’t so much transform him into an irresistible sex machine, so much as it turns the girl into a fired up rampant nymphomaniac, who only needs his sweet talk (and a hand on his “it”) to awaken all of her naughtiest impulses. You know you want it really.
It’s his fault for not being able to control that instinct, but it’s not his fault that it’s there in the first place.
So. Three choices. Do you continue to struggle and risk escalating the situation from badly crossed signals to violence or worse?
Do you “give” him what he wants and see if you can get him off with nothing more than a handjob?
Or do you go limp in his arms and, when he thinks you’ve stopped playing “hard to get,” you knee him in the nuts as hard as you can, follow through with a high-heeled kick in the face, and then run as fast as you’ve ever run in your life?
At home, a half tearful taxi ride later, my mind was filled with visions of the third choice, and once I’d ordered the pepper spray, I started checking out self-defense classes in town.
In bed, after a furious half an hour spent frenziedly writing in my journal (it was too late to call any friends, I’d decided), I couldn’t sleep for fear of dreams that might take me into the heart of the first choice.
But in reality, I had been very, very close to opening door number two. So close that I was already trying to free my arm so I could reach down and get things started. Which was when he suddenly pushed me back, condemned me as “a cheap fucking cock tease,” and then delivered that final, parting blow.
“I was told that you were fun.”
I didn’t, in the end, take those self-defense classes. I did pick up the pepper spray, but it’s still in my closet, not in my purse. And I didn’t tell the friend who introduced us what happened. Partly, because I didn’t want to upset her, or make her feel bad about placing me in that position.
But mostly, because I didn’t want her to hear his side of the story.
How my leg had been pressed against his all night long.
How I hadn’t objected when he put his arm round me.
How I talked him into joining me as I walked a darkened block of stores.
How I didn’t say a word as he nuzzled my neck.
And how, if he hadn’t stopped me by stepping away, I’d have given him a handjob there and then. Yes, given. Because he didn’t even need to ask.
You see? It all comes down to language; it all comes down to words. But I learned a valuable lesson that night that I should have picked up a decade before. If things start getting out of control, and you find yourself being backed into an uncomfortable wall (literally or figuratively), you should never be frightened to make a fuss.
Because it's better to cause an embarrassing scene in public, than to be the star of a crime scene in an alleyway someplace.