Door to Discomfort

There’s a man I know, a former co-worker, who has a small child with his wife. He posted on FB requesting a babysitter for tomorrow night. My first reaction was, “Can I do that? I can babysit!” immediately followed by this sinking realization that I cannot babysit for this man.

I was relieved when I moved to NY and wasn’t in the same state as him, so that when he said uncomfortable sexual things there was no chance I’d have to see him at work. This is a man that I’m not interested in, not at all. He seems to know that but he keeps up semi-random contact and in my experience they only do that when they want to develop a rapport in which they can possibly make additional sexual comments and then suggest that you sext or do something in real life. I wish I weren’t so jaded.

If I babysit his child, I put myself in his home and become available to him in a way I’m not comfortable with, knowing what his interest in me includes. I’m afraid to even wish him a happy birthday. And it’s not necessarily to do with what he has said and done, but with what I’m concerned he might do or say.

There have been real conversations about mutual interests and work and such. But there have also been conversations like this:

einstein tits conversation

If he really feels that it never hurts to try even though I’ve told him I’m not interested, and even though we have conversations like this where I gently reject him, I just have some concerns that I might end up in a conversation where I can’t just deflect him.

I wish this weren’t an issue. I wish we could be friends and I could babysit his adorable kid. But I’ve been burned before. There’s a man in my life who I’ve known for probably 6 years now. We sometimes have great conversations. But usually when he starts up a conversation out of nowhere, it’s because he’s horny or he’s going to be in my area of town and wants to lead into, “Hey, want to hook up?” No.

The worst part is that I really like both these men. I really would like to be their friend but I can’t be just that. There’s always this little push they have to do. There’s always this concern that the conversation is going to take a turn into a place where I don’t want to be. Some people would say, just be clear about it and end their advances. Those people have clearly never been women pursued by somebody they genuinely like but aren’t interested in. I have been SO CLEAR in the past with a man that I was done. And he reached out again and again anyway. This is the same instinct that makes men continue to try and get up under your shirt or convince you that you want sex even after you’ve rebuffed them more than once.

And you know what? Their persistence pays off. Because we give in. Because at some point the constant rebuffing gets tiring, or they catch us in a moment of weakness. And that one moment teaches them that everything else we ever did or said is meaningless and clearly we lied or changed our minds and every moment from now on where we try to rebuff them again gets set against that one moment in which we failed.

So I can’t babysit his child.


9 thoughts on “Door to Discomfort

  1. Unfourtunatly men (myself included) need to be given ultimatums, limits. Clear and firm, otherwise the continued great conversation leads back to the desire for more. In a highly sexual society (thank you media) clear boundaries are good. Let me take a moment to apologize for these men.

    • But what if you do set clear boundaries? Shouldn’t it be these men’s responsibility to respect them instead of constantly pushing against them?
      I’m not trying to be combative here but I would like to point out that you are apologizing for these men after telling me I didn’t do a good enough job keeping them away from me or being clear I only want to be friends. You’ve also implied that men cannot be friends with women without trying to have sex with them, and that by remaining friendly and having conversations with them, because of these expectations set out by our sexualized society, they will infer that I may be interested in them as more than friends.
      If I can’t be friends with married men, when there should be an implied lack of sexual or romantic interest based solely on his relationship status if nothing else, then maybe we should be asking men to reconsider the way they think about the women in their lives.
      You hear the phrase “rape culture” being thrown around a lot and I think it comes back to this ingrained behavior where men are taught to just keep trying and it’s somehow the woman’s job to set clear and firm boundaries and enforce them. Then when something does happen that’s dubiously consensual, we say the woman should have been clearer or she should have left or she should have worn a different outfit. Why don’t we hold men accountable for not listening any of the several time she tried to stop him? Because there’s an expectation in our society, as you mentioned, that he doesn’t have to respect her boundaries unless they are extreme concrete barriers, labeled with hazard signs and topped with razor wire.

      • Your right I certainly made it sound that way. Men should know their boundaries already. I’m sorry if I made it sound as though you did a poor job. It was not my intent at all. I was making a suggestion for a possible outcome. The world of either sex is hardly ideal. I was apologizing for their stupidity and apparently mens inability to communicate effectively. Case in point here.

  2. I was thinking more on what you said. Ideally we should hold men, women, anyone who knows better accountable for their treatment of others. Unfortunately sexualized society has created a lack of respect in many ways. I was really only addressing the experiences you were having. I was trying to offer insight into your text. Why did you tell him sorry? If you’ve been clear with him in the past, his misbehavior is not something you need to feel bad about. I apologized because it was a crummy experience that I hope doesn’t happen to you again. We aren’t all brainwashed trying to get into your pants. A lot yes, but not all. I’m sorry I implied I was his defending poor behavior.

    • It’s interesting that you pointed out my “sorry.” I apologized because I have been taught since I was a little girl that I should be polite, and I have serious and deep-seated issues in which I put other people’s comfort and happiness above my own. We are also taught, growing up female, to be non-confrontational. I also apologized because I feel like a jerk for constantly rebuffing him, because that’s how this relationship apparently goes. And you’re right – maybe I have never said to him, “Hey, I just want to be really clear that nothing is going to happen between us ever, and it makes me uncomfortable when you flirt with me anyway.” (To be fair to the guy, in case he reads this, he’s really not the best example of this.) Because it’s actually really, very difficult to reject people. And I have entire relationships under my belt that were built on the basis of: I don’t NOT like you. So sternly telling off a dude who just sends me slightly awkward flirtatious messages sometimes? That is not worth having to muster up the rejection energy. But it means I have to deal with their continuance because, “haha no sorry” isn’t enough of a deterrent. So all I was saying was that it would be so great if guys like him and all the others could listen to the discomfort and the little “no” phrases and add them up.

      (An aside: women say, “Sorry,” for things that aren’t their fault ALL THE TIME. Check out this nytimes op-ed piece that explains it better than I could: )

      I agree with you that we should hold everyone better accountable for the way they treat others. It’s the golden rule, after all. I appreciate your participation in this discussion – but telling me not all men are like this, and giving me insight into the ones that are by saying “it’s society” are the sort of frustrating things that activists have to deal with all the time. Yes, we agree it’s society. We’re part of it. We can change it. If you and me having this conversation makes you think more about some of this underlying stuff and change your own awareness of where “no” is actually happening, or tell your friends when they missed it, I’ll be a happy feminist.

  3. These guys are always so disappointing because they are fun and charming but they’re also predatory a-holes. I’ve had a few of those cross my path and as much as it sucks to cut the rope, you need to cut the rope. They need someone to stand up to them and be “rude” because they’re not getting the message. And please don’t babysit his child.

  4. Harry: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.
    Sally: So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?
    Harry: No. You pretty much want to nail ’em too.
    Sally: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?
    Harry: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

    “When Harry Met Sally” is something of a cinematic icon in our culture and this exchange is the movie’s whole thesis. Do you see the problem with that?!

    There are two problems at work here, as I see it. Firstly the problem of expectation and secondly the problem of accountability. Harry (our avatar for men like your friend) expects that every woman he meets understands she is a potential sexual partner for him. And Sally (our avatar for you & most other women) is held accountable for setting the sexual boundaries within their friendship. He wants her, therefore it is her job to keep him at bay.

    Let’s talk about the accountability aspect first, since that is the reality we live in. Why is Harry’s behavior toward Sally her job to police? He maintains that they cannot carry on a friendship because it “doesn’t matter” what she wants, he will pursue her. The implication being that whatever she might say, however stringently she rejects him sexually, “the sex part always gets in the way.” So it becomes her job to either deal with that, or not be friends at all.

    Which makes Sally what? Less of a person than any man because all she can be to him is a sex object? She can see a man as something outside that, but it isn’t possible for any woman to be more to any man. And she should just understand that. Which is the expectation issue. Sally is expected to accept that this is the state of the world. If its a problem then it’s HER problem because this is just male human nature.

    But it doesn’t have to be like this. It shouldn’t be like this. (And fuck you Hollywood for maintaining the status quo.) The point of friendship with a woman is not to wear down her defenses until she gives in & fucks you. She shouldn’t have to set strongER and firmER boundaries. “No” said once is plenty, and after that it DOES hurt to try. It hurts her and it hurts everyone else. Because the more guys like Harry there are, the bigger the trust gap between men & women becomes.

    Which is sad because none of this is actual human nature. I know from personal experience than men and women can be equals in friendship and have sex never be an issue. But I’ve also experienced the opposite. And if we don’t point it out to the men who do it to us individually, it’ll just keep happening.

  5. @victoriawren – very insightful! I’d sort of forgotten about that movie but you’re so right that Hollywood (and as @quietervoice pointed out, our “sexualized society” in general) perpetuates this idea that if the man is interested ad persistent, he can wear her down. (Don’t even get me started on Fifty Shades of Grey, seriously. I start shouting.)
    The thing that drove me crazy about When Harry Met Sally is that literally the entire message of that fucking film is: Harry was right. It took a decade of film time for him to prove it, but at the end he “got the girl.” And that ending undermines their entire friendship when they were there for each other during hard times and supporting each other through everything and enjoying their time together – which is what a friendship is. Yes, men and women can totally be just friends. But he has to be willing to believe that.
    The fact that men believe there’s something called the “friend zone” and that it’s basically a penalty box that you can get out of if you wait long enough, and the urban dictionary definitions and examples for that phrase make me so sad. See below:
    “Friend Zone”
    A state of being where a male inadvertently becomes a ‘platonic friend’ of an attractive female who he was trying to intitate a romantic relationship. Females have been rumored to arrive in the Friend Zone, but reports are unsubstanciated. (sic)
    “I love you (Insert the poor bastard’s name here,) but I dont (sic) want to ruin a great friendship by dating you.”
    “Well why the fuck did I waste two months on you?”

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