More times than I care to admit, I was That Guy. That guy who thought he was being bold and assertive with a woman when I was really pushing past her implicit and explicit boundaries. I’m ashamed of it, and I’m terrified to admit this in public.
But as the #MeToo campaign on social media took off last week, many of the women I know have courageously shared their experiences of being on the receiving end of That Guy’s inexcusable behavior. I decided it was time for us men to stop pretending we weren’t part of women’s #MeToo stories and cop to it. Here’s just one example of a time I had to make amends.
In my 20s, I went to pick-up artist workshops to learn how to approach women. I was timid with women, and the workshops gave me (false) confidence. In my late 20s, a woman I knew invited me over to her house for dinner. I was attracted to her, and I thought it was mutual. I figured that, because she had invited me over, this was going to go somewhere.
During a pause in the dinner conversation, I leaned in for a kiss. She brushed me away and said “No.” We kept eating dinner, drinking and talking pleasantly. We danced some salsa. Thirty minutes or so later, I leaned in for a kiss again. She brushed me away and said “No” again. She was laughing. I was laughing. We were flirting. I was sure that was flirting on her part. Maybe it was. We kept dancing.
I figured each of her brush-offs was just part of the game. Women play hard to get, right? Women are coy and demure, they hide their desires for fear of being seen as “easy.” She invited me over for dinner. If she wasn’t interested, why would she have done that?
I leaned in again. Another “no,” and a gentle brush away. More laughs, more drinks, more dancing. It all seemed like part of the process of a night of seduction. Why would she still be dancing with me, laughing and joking, if this wasn’t going somewhere?
Her behavior was in line with what the pick-up artists’ teaching said about how and why women play “hard to get.” There was a disgusting term for it in the pick-up artists’ world — the “anti-slut defense,” meaning the resistance a woman puts up right before a hookup, supposedly to prove to herself and to you that she’s not a slut. Pick-up artists taught all kinds of ways to get past this defense, most of which amount to playing games and trying more seduction moves; you’re not supposed to stop until she says no forcefully, perhaps with a shove. (I now know this is wrong, but I’m ashamed to admit that at the time I thought this was just the way seduction worked.)
I made these passes four or five times, and she brushed them all away and said “Not tonight.” Eventually, we mutually decided the night was over, and I left.
We stayed in touch casually over the next few years, but she seemed elusive whenever I suggested we get together again. Looking back, I can’t believe I wondered why this might be, but I did. I tried to convince myself: My passes hadn’t been particularly aggressive. I had backed down each time she brushed me away. I was just making my interest known, I thought, and testing the waters to see if maybe she had changed her mind.
As I moved on from the pick-up artist scene, fell in love and got married, I also began to see just how unacceptable my past behavior had been. I realized that none of my justifications mattered. Even if I thought I was just engaging in the usual mating dance of the guy making passes and the woman being demure; even if I knew that I wouldn’t have pushed harder if she had told me to knock it off and leave; even if I thought I wasn’t dangerous, that I wouldn’t actually rape her.
None of that mattered. What I didn’t think about was how she might have felt. She didn’t know me that well. She didn’t know I didn’t intend to push any harder than those passes. She could have been frightened, and hiding it, and playing nice to mollify me.
Once I realized I had pushed past her boundaries unacceptably, I wrote to her and apologized for what a jerk I had been. She said she had found my behavior seriously annoying and she accepted my apology. She seemed to take it in stride.
But now I see, from all the #MeToo posts, that her seeming to “take it in stride” could also have been because she just didn’t expect any better of men. Maybe she just dealt with this kind of inexcusable behavior as part of being a woman in a patriarchal society.
There are plenty more instances with other women where I acted in ways that I now feel ashamed of. Most of these occurred after my divorce, when I was partying hard with psychedelics and was out of control. I was having sex with seemingly enthusiastic new partners at a rapid clip, when we were way too high to be making responsible sexual decisions. Since then, I’ve gone back and talked to former partners, listened a lot, gotten clear on where I went wrong, made a lot of apologies and amends.
I’ve educated myself on affirmative consent, the practice of getting a crystal-clear verbal or nonverbal “yes” before escalating physical intimacy, rather than assuming an absence of a “no” (or a “get the hell out of here”) means it’s okay to proceed. I used to think this kind of thing was silly and “killed the mood.” Now I think it’s essential.
Men, I know it’s hard to look at ourselves in the mirror. I know it’s terrifying to admit that we might have been in the wrong.
But the outpouring of accounts from the courageous women that have been all over our Facebook feeds and all over the news are proving that it’s not just a few bad apples who are perpetuating these violations. It’s not just the other guys. There are way too many harms and violations being described than could be accounted for by just a few men.
We can step up by taking responsibility for the ways we’ve harmed women, knowingly and unknowingly, directly and indirectly. We can step up by listening to women’s stories without getting defensive, by apologizing to and asking for forgiveness from the women we’ve harmed. By getting absolutely clear on the acts we will not commit again. And by encouraging our fellow men to do the same.