Ever since I’ve heard Donald Trump say that, because of his fame, he could “do anything” to women, including “grab ’em by the p—y,” I’ve been thinking about my past. Not because I’ve been assaulted myself. But because I used to behave similarly to how Trump’s been accused of behaving.
Five years ago, I was a 26-year-old Harvard graduate working in bond sales in Singapore. I was earning six figures, living in a million-dollar apartment and generating business faster than my colleagues. One night, I got drunk and then stepped into an elevator on my way to a formal work dinner. A younger female colleague stood there. She smiled and made space for me. I leaned toward her and flirtatiously put my arm around her.
In the past, this type of confident move had endeared me to women. In my drunkenness, I was sure there was a spark between us. Until she tensed and withdrew. When the elevator doors opened, she hurried away.
I soon learned that she had told friends and a human resources representative that I’d groped her butt. I hustled from table to table at dinner, asking “did she really think that?” and “did anyone else see?” As my coworkers enjoyed the dinner, I withdrew into a corner.
I woke the next morning, hungover and scared. I tried to remember details from the elevator, but couldn’t recall exactly what had happened.
I could not picture myself coming onto a woman against her will. I still felt anxious about girls. In high school, I was a quiet, nerdy Catholic boy. I would hide my desire for a girl until she demonstrated interest. This got me nowhere.
In my early 20s, I started taking more initiative, preferring rejection to passivity. At college parties and clubs, I would get drunk and offer alcohol to women who interested me. Then I’d try to endear myself to them by touching them lightly on the wrist or arm, a strategy I’d read about in Neil Strauss’s “The Game.” The women I pursued either said no and I left it at that, or they expressed pleasure and we moved forward. I got laid quite frequently and had a few short-term relationships.
At first I didn’t feel guilty about the elevator incident. I’d been behaving in the same way that had served me well in the past. But when an older, male colleague urged me to speak with the woman from the elevator, I rushed to her floor. I imagined a suave apology would mitigate any fallout. Instead, a co-worker said the woman had left to catch a flight.
A few days later, my boss asked me to call him immediately. I was away on business, and he asked me to fly back. When I returned to the office, a woman from human resources brought me into a meeting and asked me to recount the events of the night of the dinner.
“I was drinking,” I said. “I don’t remember everything.”
“What happened in the elevator?” the HR woman asked.
“Well, I think I put my arm around her waist.”
“She said that you grabbed her behind.”
“What? No, that doesn’t sound right. I mean, I was blackout-drunk, so I can’t be sure, but I really don’t think I’d have done that,” I said.
There would be an investigation, she said. HR would be speaking to my colleagues who were at the dinner to get their testimony.
The next two weeks were agonizing. Still, I believed I was a good guy. I expected a stern warning and mandatory therapy.
But when I was called into another meeting with my boss and the same HR representative, they said they believed the woman was telling the truth. I could resign or be terminated.
“Employees facing sexual harassment charges don’t usually get this option,” the HR representative told me. However, since management had said I’d been an otherwise exemplary employee, they were allowing me the option to resign. They needed an answer right away.
I was furious. I threatened to let them fire me so that I could sue for wrongful termination, but I didn’t like my odds against their legal team. After a phone call with my dad, whose disappointment led me to choke back tears, I decided to resign.
As soon as I got back to my apartment, I went to the gym and ran on a treadmill. I tried to understand why she’d accused me. I’d walked past her desk several times since the incident, and she’d always averted her eyes. I slowed the treadmill to a walk and called her. “I never got a chance to apologize,” I said. “I know I made you feel uncomfortable. I behaved badly. I’m sorry.”
“Okay,” she said quietly.
The line was silent for several seconds. I said goodbye and hung up.
For several years, I struggled to understand the incident. I don’t remember exactly what happened in the elevator, but I believe my colleague was telling the truth — that I sexually assaulted her. For a while, I became more timid than I’d been in high school. I stopped going to parties. Looking inward for clues, I thought back to other women I’d seduced without knowing their names.
I began to see the pattern in my behavior — that I had so overcompensated for past shyness that I’d become addicted to pursuing women. I imagined what it must have been like for my Singaporean colleague: standing in the elevator as an entitled, older businessman, came too close and grabbed her. For a moment, I felt her fear and outrage. Then, finally, I felt disgraced by who I’d become.
Just after I resigned, I sat down for beers with a fellow trader. “Mate, this stuff happens all the time. In a year, you’re going to be telling this story and laughing about it,” he said.
I took this to mean that I’d laugh it off. That never happened. Instead, I turned my life upside-down. I quit finance, hired a therapist, got sober, abstained from sex for three years, developed a daily spiritual routine, and built a business where I’m working daily to serve others. I’m thankful for the courage my Singaporean colleague demonstrated by reporting me. It was a much-needed wake-up call.
I’ll never be that blathering egomaniac again. Instead I’m the guy waiting for a woman’s clear-cut consent before I touch her, proud to say that I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.