I was sitting at the bar with my iPad out, ready to order some lunch, because that’s what I do. I know most people at most bars these days, so despite what some people might say, getting lunch alone at the bar while dressed in frills and silks is a fairly safe endeavor for me. Of course, it comes with its occasional bout of bullshit. Such as that day.
There was an unattractive man in his mid 30s or early 40s sitting two seats over from me. We exchanged the perfunctory polite pleasantries that two daytime bar patrons would normally exchange, after which I ordered my lunch and started getting to work.
“Working remotely, eh?” he said.
“Mmmhmmm,” I replied.
“I’m working remotely today, too,” he said, proffering his glass of wines for a cheers. I smiled and kept click clacking at my keyboard because, oh, okay, here comes some bullshit, right? Right.
“Hey, when you’re done working, we can talk about working remotely,” he said.
“I’m cool,” I replied, starting to feel a bit miffed that someone who clearly knows that I’m working feels inclined to impose on what is obviously my work time.
“Cool? Cool about what?”
Fantastic. There I was, five minutes into trying to get some work done at the bar, when: poof, my sense of safety and resolve were immediately stripped from me. I gritted my teeth and tried to focus on my work, but that simple request for ‘talking’ to me had dissolved my ability to concentrate on sending out these annoying little emails because all of a sudden my head was occupied with, ‘I really hope that this guy finishes his wine and leaves because now I feel incredibly uncomfortable, just totally conspicuous, like if I stop typing for just a minute I’ll suddenly be obligated to talk to him or subjected to being made to feel like my presence here is an open invitation to be treated as today’s floor show about working women at bars, so now I have to get all this work done while fretting about this man sitting next to me and if I finish my work I’ll have to pretend to keep working just to keep things comfortable.’
Wow. Talk about a flurry of inconvenient emotions that I was not ready to surrender to at noon on a Tuesday. I had shit to do, and fuck that guy for making me feel uncomfortable even as he chats it up with the bartender and orders another glass of wine. Part of me was afraid that at any moment he’d call me a bitch, to which I’d have to respond, “Yeah, I don’t care,” because there’s something about men at bars that just make them seem so entitled. Although, as I sat there typing away, I wondered who felt more uncomfortable in the situation: him or me? And I resented him for putting both of us in an awkward position, and then I resented myself for feeling even slightly sympathetic to him after I rejected him because that’s just what we’re supposed to do, aren’t we? Why hasn’t feminism totally fixed this problem for me already? I have shit to do! I can’t waste anymore precious time internalizing and analyzing the fear that I feel just because one man at a bar talked to me while I was working. Fucking bullshit!
But it’s inescapable, isn’t it. I realized as I sat on the couch with my friend whom I hadn’t seen in a couple years with his hand on my thigh. Oh, I know what this means. He wants to fuck me, which isn’t surprising, but why do I feel like an uncouth teenager all over again, clumsy and awkward and forgetting how to say no to something I don’t want to do. Put up walls. Put up walls. Make it uncomfortable. Be weird. Run away. Or – am I going to do something I’m not terribly invested in just so things won’t be awkward for twenty minutes? No, that’s not me, but the fact that it crosses my mind irritates me. How come after all this time, and all this life experience, and all this education on consent and feminism, I still feel like this. Why does rejecting someone’s light, innocuous advances feel like an insurmountable moral conundrum?
Like the man who asked to come over and watch a movie with me. I’ve been entertaining a dalliance with him for two years, but nothing had happened because I just hadn’t felt like letting anything happen. But I realized as soon as I opened the door and let him in: oh, this will perceived as consent. As I sat there, in my own bed, next to him, watching some movie, I wondered: do I actually consent? Do I actually want to do this? Am I actually attracted to this person? Do I have the energy to say no right now? Didn’t I know this was going to happen? If I’m going to say no now, why didn’t I say no earlier? Oh, I know, it’s so fucking exhausting being inside the head of a woman who is well aware of her options but still too fucking frightened to exercise them. Can I be coerced into saying yes? If I am coerced into saying yes, will I feel good about it tomorrow since I’m toying with the idea of saying no so much? And then whose fault will it be. So I laid there, and I felt like someone else’s conquest in which I was actively participating.
Maybe this is all baggage from my last relationship. Which I promised myself I wouldn’t talk about because I’m so sick of talking about it. But aren’t any of these situations just an extension of the situation I put myself in last year? You know, the one where he had keys to my apartment so he would come in at five or six in the morning, coked up and coming from who knows where and from doing who knows what (or whom), to fuck on me or fuck at me or whatever you want to call waking me up in the middle of the night to fuck me in that heaving, skin crawling, post cocaine state of dissociation. It was, as he liked to remind me, ‘part of the kink.’ If it was part of the kink, how come I never got off?
I hate feeling like a victim. I hate that I have to carry around these bad habits, and I have to find some forcible way to shake them off me, much like I have to shake off strange men breathing down my neck. This is so boring, and it’s not really who I want to be, but I guess I can admit to a certain amount of emotional tail spin that is dragging my sexuality into a whirlpool of post break up din. Guess I should sit down, meditate, and redefine my boundaries with the entirety of men in the world.
Like the colleague that my friend told me is just going to try to fuck me.
“Has he tried to fuck you yet?”
“No, but I’m sure he will,” I replied.
“Well, at least you know.”
Oh, I know. I know that I’ve been feeling really sorry for myself, and I know that it’s making me feel angry, and when I get angry I just want to…demoralize a mother fucker. Oh, this will be fun. Time for me to hurt some feelings and call it female empowerment. Watch out, world.