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The Misadventures of Mrs. B: And Now For Something Completely Different...

Cook. Writer. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Klutz.

Monday, December 6, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I know this is a different sort of post for me, but it's something that's been on my mind today.  While sitting on the train this morning and observing the people around me, I witnessed an everyday occurrence which sparked a memory. And immediately, all of the old feelings came rushing back – the embarassment, the confusion, the ickiness. Instantly, I thought “This is something I will teach my daughter about one day”.

Should I have a daughter, I’ll tell her this story because, really, a girl needs to know these things. I hope my sister reads this too, just in case!

There we sat, my best friend and I, eating crabs and drinking beer. It was a few days after my 21st birthday and this was my first time *in* a bar and drinking. I felt so grown up! Of course, in the back of my mind danced “So…this is it? This is what you’ve been waiting to be able to do? The Big Deal?”, but I pushed it aside. It was a big deal to me. I was in a bar and legally, to boot. And eating crabs. Back then you could smoke in Philly establishments, so the swirling smoke only served to heighten the atmosphere. It was all so mystical.

Of course the bar was only around the corner and a few streets down from my parents. Baby steps.

Towards the end of our evening, we left our table and made our way over to the bar, where my friend suggested we do a couple of shots. As we were both pretty much stone sober at the time (literally, I think we split a pitcher of beer and didn’t even finish it), and she promised to know of some tasty concoctions (she being a year older than me and therefore the elder statesman of bar stuff), I agreed.

We perched ourselves on a couple of stools and commenced with the shot taking – buttery nipples, if I remember correctly. They were really good. And before long, we had attracted a small bit of attention from a couple of older guys who were sitting catty corner to us. They started to chat us up, along with the bartender, and we went along with it. Just benign banter.

Now, I’ve always been a friendly person and I have no problem carrying on a conversation with a stranger. I’m pretty sure we talked about the fact that I was returning to college the next day, and that I was moving into my old dorm room with my roommate from the year before. Perfectly reasonable stuff. Plus these guys were, like, ancient as far as I was concerned – mid 40’s at the youngest, all blue-collar types workingman types, and I figured it was just a way to pass the time with two newcomers, since they all seemed to be fairly at home belly-up to the bar.

Then the inevitable happened, though in my mind it was hardly inevitable. One of the guys offered to buy me a drink. But again, I was totally innocent. I had not been indoctrinated in the subtle dance that takes place seven nights a week in every bar in America. I figured, what the heck, a free drink. Count me in! So I accepted – I don’t remember what my friend did or if she was included in the offer. But I enjoyed my drink and we continued talking about random things.

Eventually it was time to leave. I had started getting a weird vibe at this point from the man who had bought me the drink so I was all too happy to go. Every time I glanced his way I saw him looking at me from beneath lowered lids. Now, I might have been innocent when it came to very many things, but the icy shiver up my spine told me straight-up what that look meant. I didn’t understand why he would look at me that way. I was just a kid, and he was a grown-up, probably my father’s age. I think I might have murmured something about it to my friend, about how he was weirding me out and I wanted to go. So we said goodnight and got our things together and walked out.

We crossed the street and I was literally, honest-to-God just opening my mouth to express my relief at having gotten out of there, when I heard “Jen?” from behind us.

I turned around and couldn’t believe it – he had followed us out. I didn’t know what to do, but I didn’t want to be rude (there I go again, not wanting to be rude), so I hissed at my friend to please stay put, and I crossed back to where the man waited.

“So… you said you were going back to school tomorrow…do you think I could have your number? Maybe we could get together, see a movie, maybe you could show me where you live?”.

I had no idea what to do. This had never happened to me before. Let me give you a little more background: At that point I had never had a boyfriend, had never casually dated anyone, had never been picked up by a guy, anywhere. Just my luck that it happened for the first time in this way. What a disappointment.

And because I had never had the experience of turning a guy down, I had no idea what to do. I was lost. I was shocked. I just wanted to melt into the ground. Add on to that the fact that I was also disgusted by this turn of events. This was a man who was easily twice my age and then some, and who bore a distinct physical and personal resemblance to Louie DePalma on “Taxi”. This is what I was dealing with (and for what it’s worth, his age concerned me more than his appearance...but at the time I wouldn't have so quickly turned down, say, Antonio Banderas, so...).

I had no practice in letting someone down easy, so my instinct was to back out gently. First I tried to tell him that I didn’t know what my dorm room phone number would be (lie). Then I told him I wasn’t sure if I’d have any time free (lie). But, bless his heart, he would not be blown off course that easily. Finally, he asked me for the number to my parents’ house so he could find a way to contact me later (yeeeeah, that would have worked out really well, until my dad killed him). Pen and paper poised and ready, he looked up at me. And what did I do? Did I flat-out tell him that this was not a good idea, that I didn’t know that his offer to buy me a drink meant anything, that I certainly didn’t mean anything when I accepted it and carried on our conversation? That I wasn’t interested and that I was sorry if I gave him the wrong idea?

No. I lied one more time and gave him a fake phone number.

Then I promptly turned on my heel and, with my friend beside me, speed walked the couple of blocks home. The entire time we muttered “I can’t believe it” and “Ew ew ew ew” to each other.

I literally felt sick, in that way a woman (or man, I reckon) feels sick when given attention by someone from whom attention is the last thing they want. And I think this is something that all people, men and women, need to understand: It’s not flattering when it’s coming from someone you don’t want it from. When someone comes on that strong, shoots you “the look” from across the bar, asks for your number so you can “show them where you live”…it’s not flattering one bit. And you’re left feeling like a deer in headlights, especially if you’re the sort of person (like me) who doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It would be one thing if I could have just blown him off, called out “Sorry, not interested” from across the street, then waved and walked away. That’s not me.

And when I sit on a train and see a pretty woman standing on the platform, and see a man very clearly crossing the line with his words to her…I think about how I felt 10 years ago, and how I've felt since then in such situations. Please don’t mistake me – I don’t consider the above experience to be harassment, just unwanted attention and the resulting discomfort, which result from harassment as well. There is nothing like that feeling. And I’ve felt it since, many times – I don’t consider myself a good-looking woman and even so I’ve been blatantly harassed, and come-on to inappropriately. Not to mention the once or twice I’ve been groped on public transportation by unsavory characters and still haven’t said anything for fear of the repercussions. I like to think that I'll be strong in such situations…but when you’re in it, it’s a different story. You just want to disappear, to be anywhere in the world but right there at that time.

So I know that if and when I have a daughter, I’ll make sure to explain “how things work” when it comes to being out in mixed groups and dealing with strangers, especially in a bar or at a party, so she doesn’t have to find out for herself.  There are, after all, rules to the game which are being followed even if you don't know about them (especially when the person you're unknowingly playing the game with is playing by rules which may have gone out of style by now).

And I’ll make sure to tell her that she doesn’t have to accept being harassed, that being silent and “taking it” will only make her feel worse in the long run. That there’s a difference between being rude and being respectful but assertive.

What about you? Have you ever dealt with unwanted attention or harassment? What did you do?



Blogger Shell said...

I have...and I can't say that I turned it down nicely at all. But, polite didn't get me anywhere.

I want to teach my boys (someday) what it means when a girl isn't responding to his advances.

December 6, 2010 at 3:58 PM

Blogger Real Life Reslers said...

Before I moved out of my parent's house for college my Dad warned me that I would probably get some unwanted advances. He told me just to give them his cell number! It worked really well. I already knew it so it would just slide right off the tip of my tounge. I've never felt bad about it. I think if someone can be rude enough to keep coming on even after they've been given all the "no way" signs, they don't deserve an honest explanation anyway!!! :):):)

December 6, 2010 at 4:07 PM

Blogger MrsJenB said...

You know, Shell, that's such a great point - boys need to be taught about these things just as much as girls do.

December 6, 2010 at 4:16 PM

Blogger MrsJenB said...

RLR - that's SUCH a great idea! I wouldn't feel bad about that, for sure. I've never been assertive, like ever - in my head I'm a steamroller, but in reality...not so much. I really don't think that cradle robber deserved honesty, now that you put it that way, but somehow I felt sorry for him. I need to stop being such a sap.

December 6, 2010 at 4:18 PM


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