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Enthusiastic Consent

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m newly single, and getting back into dating. I went on a date last night with a guy I met on OKC. We met up at a bar, and he seemed cute and smart, and as we talked it seemed like we had lots in common! But about twenty minutes in, it seemed clear he wanted to do the touching-kissing thing. I had just met this person, and I wanted to get comfortable around him before I let him put his hands on my body (even though he was cute and promising!). So I was sitting kinda sideways and he was sitting facing me, legs apart, physically accessible, etc.

He said something like, “You’re very guarded. I’m in the restaurant business and we read people quickly and I can tell that you’re very guarded.”

I felt weird, but there was this voice in my head saying, “You never let yourself just flirt and have fun!” So I sat facing him and let him touch my leg, and we kissed and had drinks, and the conversation was good! And we had a lot in common! And he was a good kisser!

Then he told me about a male friend of his in the military who got falsely accused of rape. Apparently the guy was going down on the woman, and she told him to stop, and he didn’t. She made a rape accusation and then later said she was lying.

So this guy (my date) said, my friend didn’t penetrate her—it was just oral sex! She didn’t physically resist! She made that accusation about three other people! She said she was lying!

I was thinking, 1. That was rape. 2. Wouldn’t be surprised if three other guys also didn’t listen when she said to stop, because that isn’t uncommon. 3. Women retract these accusations under pressure all the time. Warning lights are going off in my head. But I didn’t want to get into a fight about rape with a stranger. So I redirected the conversation.

Then after a while he said “I would really like to kiss you in a place other than here.” I took this as “I am ready for you to invite me to your place now.” I was caught off guard. So I said, “I don’t think I’m ready to sleep with you yet.”

So he said saying, 1. I just want to make out! I never said anything about having sex! 2. We should do this soon because the attraction is here now and if we wait it will fizzle out. 3. Are you worried about being a slut? I feel pressured and uncomfortable. He asks what’s wrong. I say, 1. You told me about how you think things that are rape are not rape. 2. Now you are pressuring me to take you home with me.

He was immediately horrified. He started saying “Calm down! Relax! You shouldn’t be so anxious!” I felt more and more uncomfortable. Finally we parted ways. I went home and sobbed. I have no idea why. I think I missed how easy it was between me and my ex, and now it’s like, ahhh, weird dating is my new reality!! Plus I just felt sooo uncomfortable.

My questions are, 1. Is it weird that I really don’t like being touched or kissed within 20 minutes of meeting someone? I Is that what’s expected these days? It happens to me a lot. I think everyone is reading Neil Strauss and think they have to “kino escalate” immediately.

2. Is there a script I can use when someone tries to touch me before I’m ready? One that is friendly?

3. I’m looking for my next meaningful relationship, ideally, but I wouldn’t be against having a fling. But I feel my idea of “casual sex” and most guys’ is different. Mine = we go out! We flirt! We go to art galleries and museums! We have sex sometimes, once we’re ready! But not very often / we date other people. Theirs = I expect sex immediately when we meet, and thereafter whenever I text you even if it’s 2AM, I expect you to come over and service my needs.

Does anyone have experience expressing what their idea of casual sex is and guiding the other person’s expectations toward that, provided casual sex is something they want too? I feel like what happens is I run into this “We must have sex right now!!” expectation and then I flee.

And finally, 5. Should I have calmed down? Was I overreacting about this guy’s creepy rape story? Intellectually I don’t think so, but there is a loud voice in my head saying “You ruin everything by overreacting all the time!!”

Thanks for your thoughts!

Awkward Dater

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Once a month I try to answer the things that people typed into search engines to find my blog as if they are questions. It’s an exercise in mixed results.

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Thank you all so much for a very constructive discussion. At nearly 600 comments, the thread has grown beyond where I can reasonably keep up. So as of 5/14/2014 10:17 pm Chicago time, comments are closed. 

 

In this piece at Medium on “Cut-Off Culture,” “Emma” broke up with the author after four months of dating, asked for space, and then when they tried to rekindle a friendship after a year, decided it wasn’t really for her.

“After nearly a year of silence, I reached out to her and we began a series of conversations toward repairing our friendship. She said she had recently begun dating someone new and I think it was difficult for her to talk to me about our relationship. Her response was to withdraw again. There were misunderstandings and miscommunication.

She stopped responding to my email and when I called to inquire she blocked my number and emailed me to stop contacting her. Over a space of nine months, I wrote her two kind emails in the spirit of healing. Finally, she replied, “I do not want to see or hear from you ever again” and threatened to file an anti-harassment order against me. The open, thoughtful, communicative Emma I knew had vanished.”

She said,”Please stop contacting me.”

He sent two more emails. She got angry (and possibly afraid) and asked him never to contact her again.

Then he wrote an essay about it, blaming her for invoking his past with an abusive mother(!), making all kinds of assumptions about her “trauma,” and discussing his confusion with her choices:

When personal safety is involved, cutoff is warranted. But most times this isn’t the case. When it’s not, this kind of behavior dehumanizes the other and sends the message “your needs don’t matter, you don’t matter.” University of Chicago neuroscientist John Cacioppo told Psychology Today, “‘The pain of losing a meaningful relationship can be especially searing in the absence of direct social contact.’ With no definitive closure, we’re left wondering what the heck happened, which can lead to the kind of endless rumination that often leads to depression.”

Emma once told me, “You’re the first one to want me for me,” but her abrupt about-face might make you think I ran off with her best friend or boiled her rabbit … I did neither. In fact, to this day, I have only guesses to make sense of her hostility to me.

Because Emma’s withdrawal and eventual cutoff surprised me so much,I had a lot of intense emotions and questions about what she’d experienced and the choices she’d made. Rather than face my need for explanation and desire for resolution, she chose to withdraw.

Here is what the heck happened:

  • You guys broke up.
  • She didn’t communicate for a year, but eventually gave in when you contacted her. Unfortunately you wanted to hash out the end of the relationship; she didn’t. She was into a new dude and didn’t want to talk about old emotional business.
  • So she decided it wasn’t really for her. She tried a slow fade. After all, you guys weren’t really close anymore.
  • Then she TOLD you what was up. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.
  • You kept contacting her against her explicitly stated wishes. Emails seeking “healing” are still unwanted emails.
  • She got angry and enforced the boundary.
  • You  happened to turn up at her work on a date and she didn’t like it.

What additional “closure” could she have given? What kind of explanation would satisfy? Breakups are painful, and we don’t always understand the reasons for them, but after a four-month romantic attachment ends I don’t think the person is responsible for all of your feelings literally YEARS later. And I don’t think there is any peace or solution possible here, short of “keep being my friend even when you don’t want to.”

Everything about this made my skin crawl:

Cutoff culture is violent in its own ways. The person cutting ties gets what they want, but the person getting cut off is left in a situation where what they need or want doesn’t matter.

Emma’s last note included the phrase, “Apparently, what I want seems irrelevant to you.” She didn’t realize the irony that what I wanted had long been irrelevant to her. Being on the receiving end of a cutoff, surrounded by friends and culture that just expect you to get over it, can leave you feeling utterly powerless.

You are not entitled someone else’s attention and affection! Avoiding someone is not “violent.” YOU GUYS WANT OPPOSITE THINGS. And yes, it is on you to take care of your own feelings here. It is on you to do what you can to heal and get over it. Talk to your friends. Talk to a therapist. Say the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear. Don’t force your ex to take care of you!

“If you’ve cut someone off, the ideal response is to ask what the other person needs to feel at peace and to try to offer compromise. Yoga teacher Sarah Powers says, “A lot of wounds in this world could be healed if we would say to the other, ‘I’m sorry I hurt you, what do you need now?’” Sometimes we cut off because we lack capacity. One can also say: “I can’t do this right now, but maybe can touch base later. What do you need in the meantime?” This is a place where technology can be helpful. Email can be used to communicate at a distance that feels safe.”

What compromise is possible between “I don’t like you or want to be in your life” and “Please stay in my life?” Why do you want someone’s grudging attention that you force them to give you? In the second to last paragraph, the author tells a telling anecdote:

The friend who was told to break up via “JSC” told me another story. One of her friends chose to have sex with a lover after breaking up with him; she said even in the midst of ending the relationship, she wanted to “be generous in spirit.” While I don’t necessarily advocate taking things that far (in part because it can create confusion), I embrace the sentiment.

AH HAHAHAHAHA “Good closure” with a “generous spirit” might involve still having sex with your spurned lover after you dump them while they heal at their own pace. Ok got it. He also invokes technology, and the act of blocking, as a catalyst for stalking, but not in the way you think. His reasoning is that if you block someone it will maybe force them to stalk you. “More than 3 million people report being stalking victims each year, the ultimate measure of collective cluelessness about ending love affairs well.” OR POSSIBLY IT’S ‘CAUSE OF STALKERS. LIKE YOU MIGHT SORTA BE.

The subtitle/logline of the piece is:

“Cutting off exes not only hurts our former partners but limits our own growth as well.”

Actually, this person knows nothing about Emma’s growth. When I cut off a former partner who stalked me, I grew just fine. I grew away. I grew alone. I grew free. I hope “Emma” did, too. Today seems like a good time for a reminder: You don’t have to be friends with your ex. And when you say “stop” and the other person keeps going, that person is telling you that you were right to flee.

P.S. He publishes excerpts from her private emails to him. NOT CREEPY AT ALL YOU GUYS.

P.P.S. Edited to add: This paragraph right here? Blaming male domestic violence against women on women making men feel powerlessness?

“I believe that most domestic violence is the result of men with trauma histories reacting to powerlessness in response to experiences with their ex, friends, or family. Certainly men are responsible for finding nonviolent ways to respond to feeling powerless, but culturally we need to understand the dynamics driving these kinds of situations if we’re to reduce them.”

 

Bubs and Johnny from the wire with the quote "Equivocating: you're doing it like a motherfucker."

Domestic violence springs from a sense of contempt and entitlement towards women. Men who abuse women don’t think that women are entitled to their own needs, feelings, opinions, and personal space. They think women exist to be emotional caretakers and nannies for men, and that when they fail to put men first, it somehow constitutes “violence” that must be contained and retaliated against. Sound like anyone we know? This is a chilling, MRA-style argument that makes violence against women the fault of women. “Emma”, wherever you are: keep running. Your instincts are in solid working order.

Thanks (?) to the nice Twitter friends who clued me into this horrible WikiHow on How To Stop A Wedding, or, as @KristinMuH put it, “a manual to help stalkers ruin their target’s special occasions.”

While I once joked that I would like to see this happen someday, it was, in fact, a joke. And the instructions to basically kidnap the person make my hair stand on end:

Take charge if things go your way. If he or she decides not to go through with the wedding, it is your duty to immediately escort the bride/groom away from the pressure of their family and friends. There is no doubt that friends and family will be angry or furious and will demand answers if the bride or groom doesn’t immediately flee the scene…Have a get-away car prepared so that the bride or groom doesn’t have to face the embarrassment of his or her friends and family.

EEK!

So, if you find yourself searching for instructions on how to stop a wedding, ask yourself:

Has the affianced person been kidnapped? Is it a child? Then stop the wedding by alerting the appropriate authorities.

Is this someone you think should marry you instead? And they know how you feel? And yet they are still obstinately not marrying you, to the point where they have planned an entire wedding with someone else? Okay, here’s what you do:

  • Find out when & where the wedding will be.
  • Book yourself a vacation to “anywhere but there.”
  • Block this person in all social media spaces so you’re not seeing photos and updates.
  • Try for someplace with very limited internet access so you reduce temptation to watch it unfold on real time at the wedding hashtag or whatever.
  • If you can, get a trusted friend to go along with you so that you are not alone and there is someone who can comfort and distract you.
  • Remind yourself that soulmates aren’t real, and that other people get to choose who they want to be with.
  • Or, if it’s more comforting, say to yourself “They are making a mistake, but it’s their mistake to make.
  • Wait it the fuck out and move on with your life.

And if someone pulls this whole shebang on you at your wedding, here is a script:

“This is inappropriate and I’d like you to leave now.”

Hopefully your friends and family and security will form a nice barrier between you and this person and make sure they are escorted from the premises.

Now it’s time for the monthly(ish) feature where we find out what search terms bring people to this site! Except for adding punctuation, these are unchanged. Enjoy!

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The monthly(ish) roundup of the questions people type into search engines to find this blog.

1. “My partner thinks I have genital warts but I have herpes what do I do?”

Both of you should get a full STI screen, if you haven’t already, and talk about whatever you find there. (‘Cause maybe it’s both). Or, if you’ve just done this, say “We thought I had HPV, but the screen showed that actually it’s herpes. You should get screened, too.

2. “My girlfriend is rude to my parents.” 

“Hey, you were pretty rude to my parents tonight. I don’t appreciate you (specific rude thing she did). I think they deserve an apology, and I need you to calm that whole thing down.”

If you bring it up, does she acknowledge the behavior? Is she rude to other people who aren’t you? Is she rude to your folks even after you talk to her about it?

3. “I joined a dating website to hurt him.”

Spite Dating: seems totally reasonable and like it will bring you and your Spite Dates nothing but happiness!

Or, ahem, maybe this is a good sign that whatever relationship you’re in has run its course and it’s time for you to find the exit, take some good care of yourself, give yourself some room to mourn and heal. Join a dating site to remind yourself that you have options. And then, when you’re ready, use that dating site and find new people who will be into you the way you want them to be. But do it for yourself, not at your (soon to be) ex.

4.” ‘I love you as certain dark things are to be loved in secret, between the shadow and the soul’ what does the line means?”

Reading the whole poem, it seems to me the poet is describing a love for someone for reasons that would not be obvious to everyone, in a way that isn’t necessarily healthy or a good idea, but is true nonetheless. It reminds me a little of the song My Funny Valentine. Lit Majors of Captain Awkward, what say you?

5. “I just don’t feel ready enough yet to be in a new relationship because I’m tired and now I want to be alone.” 

Embrace the alone.

Make your living space exactly what YOU want it to be. Eat foods YOU like, watch movies YOU want, listen to YOUR favorite music. Throw yourself into work, into school, into creative endeavors, into meeting new people or trying new things for their own sake. Or curl up under a blanket and wait out this eternal February with a good book. Spend time with your friends and family and people who love you. Be really nice to yourself. Heal. Get some rest. Feast on your life.

And when people ask, in a well-meaning fashion, if you’re dating anyone new or if you plan to, smile and say “I’m sure I will someday, but I’m really enjoying being alone right now.

There’s this picture of Katie Holmes from a while back that people were criticizing for being “frumpy” or whatever. I kind of love her outfit and would wear it in a heartbeat, but mostly what I want to say is “LOOK AT HER SMILE. THAT IS A PERSON WHO IS FEELING LIKE HERSELF RIGHT NOW.”

That’s you. Alone. Walking through the world like you know a secret no one else does, and the secret is that life is huge and amazing and you are strong and wonderful and there are all kinds of love in this world and relationship-type love is only one of them.

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Hi Captain,

I’m afraid I’ve ruined something. I don’t feel comfortable talking with my support team about this yet for reasons that will soon be apparent.

Backstory: I am a woman in my later twenties whose longest relationship ever lasted 6 months (and honestly it’s stretching it to call it a relationship). This is not the issue, as I’m totally cool with it. I’d rather be single than in a bad relationship. I have dated, and it’s all been a big pile of meh that ended after 2 months.

Recently, I met someone. We’ve gone out a couple of times, and I can’t believe things are going this well. He’s been a complete gentleman, smart and funny and sweet, no red flags, and the dates have lasted pretty long. He isn’t someone I’d normally pick out as my type, but when we’re close there’s something indescribably hot about him (though we’re taking it slow). I’ve been gushing to my friends and family about it because I was excited to finally have someone around that I liked! And maybe I could get my feet wet with having a longterm relationship?

But I did something stupid. I accidentally found a treasure trove of old information. Pressed “search all contacts” on a social media app, and he showed up, with all of his public info. I wasn’t looking for him when I searched, but I checked it out when I saw it.

At first glance, some things made me groan, though nothing horrible. But I had to play internet detective. And it took me all of 5 minutes to realize his ex is a furry. With a full body suit. Their relationship only ended in the last year or so, and it seems unlikely he didn’t know about that. If he’s one, that would be a deal breaker for me.

Even though this is all out in the public, I feel embarrassed for finding it. I don’t know what to do. Do I ask him about it? There’s something about wanting him to explain his ex’s lifestyle that doesn’t sit well with me, especially since we haven’t had any serious relationship talks on our own. It’d even be different if he brought it up himself. But I’m more afraid of ignoring it and becoming a ghost at the table that he’ll get bored, and I’ll lose something I enjoyed because I internalized a problem.

I can’t tell my Team Me about this because I don’t want to air dirty laundry when I don’t have the full story. He’d be hanging out with them at some point, and I don’t think he could come back from that.

Honestly, I’d like to keep seeing this guy. I wish I had never looked so things could have stayed light and fun. But I don’t know what to do now. How can I pretend this didn’t happen until it comes up on its own?

Please help?

Sincerely,

Can’t sleep  because of this

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These are edited slightly for punctuation, but otherwise unchanged. Find out how people find this blog!

1. “Do I tell my son’s teacher he has a crush on her?”

No. What possible good could come of this?

2. “How to react when your cousin brother loses his mom.”

Tell him you are very sorry for his loss. While it’s tempting to ask “Is there anything I can do?” grieving people are often too overwhelmed to think of anything they need. It’s emotional “work” they on top of everything else. But they still need the love & support of family and friends. So see if you can bring dinner over/take him to the movies/spend time with him/otherwise let him know that you care.

3. “Why doesn’t my husband like for me to masturbate?”

We covered this, so I hope you found it, but the short version is: Learning to love yourself is the Greatest Love of All. It’s none of his business.

4. “Someone called me “girlie” in not a nice way..is it condescending?”

Fuck yes it is.

5. “Feeling sad and lonely inside a relationship.”

This sounds like a relationship that is profoundly Not Working, and I’m so sorry.

Maybe it’s time for a little journaling. What’s going on in your life, overall? Are you generally feeling a little down? Do you need to call in Team You (could be a therapist, friends, family, partner, mentors) and take some steps around self-care and feeling good? Is there something you wish your partner was doing that s/he’s not that you could ask for specifically? Is it time to end this thing and focus on taking care of yourself and being around people who don’t make you feel “sad and lonely”?

6. “Why does my my girlfriend keep inviting a guy with us to hang out?”

This is one of those “ask her” questions, and if it bothers you, then also “tell her.” Don’t torture yourself with possible reasons. Script: “I’ve noticed that ‘Steve’ has been coming on a lot of our dates, what’s up with that?” Who knows, maybe Steve is lonely and she’s trying to do him a solid. Whatever the reason, you are allowed to say “Could we have some one-on-one time next time we go out?

7. “Advice for one who has been abandon by the man coz of his family and yet she is pregnant.”

That’s a heavy one, my friend. My advice for you is to sit with the idea that he is never, ever coming back. Make your plans for the future knowing that he will never be a part of your life the way you want him to. In that world, what do you want?

8. “How to control your girlfriend that’s too sensitive.”

Wow. Scratch a situation where a person is “too sensitive” and you’ll usually find someone who makes mean, belittling comments and jokes that aren’t really jokes and violates boundaries nearby.

Is that person you? Because as soon as you are asking “how do I control this other person who is separate from me” you have gone far, far, far over to the Dark Side. Maybe it’s time to break up with this fragile soul and find someone who can take what you’re dishing out.

9. “My boyfriend doesn’t come to watch me perform.”

Oof. My ex-boyfriend didn’t like to come watch me perform at storytelling events, and while I was mostly okay with it (I’d rather have someone not come than come grudgingly and not enjoy whatever it is), it was such a good feeling when The Gentleman Caller’s attitude to such things was “Of COURSE I will be there!” Like, oh, this is what I need and deserve. Oh.

There are limits, of course – a working performer is going to perform way more than even the most dedicated partner wants to sit at the table with the band-spouses until Last Call, and nobody wants to be in the “fan” position all the time. But wanting someone to like your work and be there for you at least some of the time is not wrong, pushy, needy, diva-like, etc. If you’ve been playing it off like it doesn’t matter, it’s time for a serious talk about this. Tell him how important it is to you that he support you in this, and see what his attitudes are.

10. “My friend is cheating on me.” 

Like in this short film?

Content notes: Made by a former student for my class! Has some non-realistic parody violence & references to popular horror movies that may not be your jam.

“I didn’t know you didn’t want me seeing other friends.” 

Your friend gets to see other friends, Friend! So if you talk about this, I would stay away from accusations of “cheating” or mentioning the other friends and keep it to wanting to spend more time together. More on rebuilding fractured friendships here.

11. “how 2 tell my new gf that i want 2 hav sex with her.”

“Girlfriend, would you like to come back to my place and have some sex?”

Or “I would really like to have sex with you, what do you think about that?”

And then really listen to her answer.

Also, talk about this when you have your clothes on long before the intended moment. You’ve got logistical things to work out. What are your safer sex protocols? Is this the kind of sex where contraception is needed? When was the last time y’all got tested for STDs?

Taking care of yourself and the other person around sex IS romantic and sexy.

12.” after two dates do you still keep online date options open?”

It sounds like YOU do, so do!

And if you’re really into the two-dates person and not so into meeting other people, then don’t.

When I met the Gentleman Caller, after two dates I had no time for anyone else and cancelled any other plans I’d made. He had also been dating around a bit and had some things scheduled with people who he’d met before meeting me and it took a few weeks for that all to wind down. Which we mutually learned when we had a conversation about being exclusive.

Sometimes keeping options eternally open is a habit, sometimes it’s a sign you’re “meh” about someone, sometimes it’s about wanting to feel like you have options in case the other person isn’t as into you as you are into them…but it’s not hugely meaningful on its own and if something is really working it will find a way to work.

13. “Not wanting to be burden on therapist.”

Oh, sweetheart,  make your appointments, keep your appointments, pay for your appointments in the agreed-upon manner, and freely unload your troubles = being a good patient. Your therapist is there to listen to ALL of your worries, and does not think you are a burden.

14. “How to say no to a second date nicely.”

“No, but thanks!”

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