With the recent charges of sexual harassment against some high-profile individuals, and so many women coming forward with #metoo (and the understanding that this is really something almost all women have faced), I realized that my younger self was #partoftheproblem. I think many other men are part of the problem, even though they might not think so. I didn’t think I was part of the problem either. I hope that other men might read this and critically evaluate if they are #partoftheproblem. I also hope and pray that my own sons will do better at this if I teach them right.
How Could I Be?
Let me be up front. I have never sexually assaulted anyone, let alone considered such a thing. But that’s not really the problem, because the way I acted towards women, I think they may have been scared that I might, as I have put tons of unwanted attention on several women over the years, starting with when I was 12 years old, in the sixth grade.
I also want to be clear, I was a horrible guy friend to women (even if they didn’t think so). If I knew a girl had a boyfriend, well then, I would not even consider trying to hit on or express interest in that girl, and I was “friends” with plenty of women over the course of my school years who had boyfriends. But in most cases I secretly hoped they might dump their boyfriends and go out with me instead. Also, if I knew they didn’t have a boyfriend, and I found them remotely attractive, then I would do all I could to try to become friends with them in the hope to eventually become their boyfriend. So, my sole reason for being friends with women, really, was to eventually become romantically involved. That was my primary motivation. Looking back on it now, it makes me sick.
I’ve never had a woman tell me she was assaulted by anyone either, but given my past behavior, even if someone I knew had, I don’t think my actions made me someone that a woman would trust to tell.
Let me give you some examples of my behavior.
In 6th grade, I decided that I wanted a girlfriend, and I picked out one girl in my class who I wanted to be my girlfriend. I am very sure I never asked her out, to be my girlfriend, but I made sure to spend tons of time with her, and if I recall correctly, she eventually got the gist of my interest, and told me very clearly she wasn’t interested. But her telling me no did not stop my unwanted advances or attention. I am sure that I made her very uncomfortable the rest of that grade.
In middle school (7-9 at the time), I pretty much continued this process unabated. I would latch onto a woman that I found attractive, and make her the target of my affections, and pour out my unwanted attention upon her, not taking no for an answer. I only stopped after long periods of continued rejection, or when that person acquired a significant other. Although not an excuse for my actions, my tactics and hopes were largely fueled by rampaging hormones, way too many romantic comedies where the nice guy always got the girl by virtue of sheer persistence (this was the 90’s), and nascent exposure to pornography.
I would find out girls numbers and call them without being asked. I would know where these girls were at all times through the day, even during lunch and between classes. I would find any excuse to be near them. Every sock-hop (weekly lunch time dance on gym floor) I would ask these girls to dance with me. I would give them valentines cards, Christmas cards, etc, in the hopes that they would realize what a great guy I was and go out with me.
Just so we are clear, none of this got me any dates in grade school.
Now I’ve graduated high-school, I’m heading off to a local university, with lots of girls. I made lots of friends with girls who had boyfriends, in fact I think my circle of friends had way more girls in it than guys. But, I was always finding one girl who I wanted to date, and would make sure to spend extra time around them, helping them whenever possible, etc, and dropping subtle and not so subtle hints that I wanted to be their boyfriend. And there was always the hope that someone would break-up with their current boyfriend and find me, the faithful friend, waiting to comfort them.
Over the course of this time, I had three women agree to be my date. Two of those did not result in an actual date, because I started acting like a stalker after they said yes, and they wisely stayed away. In the third case, we went out twice, but me calling at random hours, and showing up at her house un-announced because I thought she was really sad freaked her out, and she stopped talking to my creepy, stalkerish, clingy self.
Somehow, it seems, by the time I got to my PhD, I had mostly given up on finding a girlfriend, settling down and getting married (really, that was my goal). I say mostly. I don’t know if I hadn’t met my now spouse in the first couple of months of my PhD that I would not have continued making unwanted advances on the women in my PhD program. (By the way, I met my spouse outside of work, at a Church actually, and was introduced by a mutual friend. In the 13 years I’ve known her, there are only a handful of days we haven’t talked to each other since we went on our first date).
The Real Problem
And this is the real problem. Too many men, my past self included, think women owe them something for being their friend, for being a nice guy. For giving them any kind of attention, or any kind of help. Too many men believe these things, and then use their power and prestige, to demand things of women. Guys, women don’t owe you anything. They definitely don’t owe you sex or reciprocated romantic interest because of something you did for them. They are another person worthy of respect, simply because they are a person.
In addition, real life is not a romantic comedy. Non-romantic friendships are a good thing, because we need other peoples perspectives in our lives. So, if a woman tells you no, she doesn’t want to date you, accept it, and move on. Don’t make it awkward, especially if you are in the same work environment. Don’t assume that a woman is romantically interested just because she is friendly. I know, radical thought. Maybe try being friends, colleagues, whatever with no romantic intentions, and no expectations of them either. Don’t be #partoftheproblem.
Teach your children that they can be friends with people of the opposite sex without being romantically involved, especially as they hit puberty. Teach them that no means no, not no means maybe in 3 weeks, or no means maybe if I try hard enough. And if you see other men engaging in putting unwanted attention on women, call them out on it, whatever form it may take. I wish someone had said something to me.
I realize that our general culture is really #partoftheproblem, when we have highly sexualized advertising (especially of women to men), and the idea that boys will be boys, tell jokes about sexual assault, and propagate the idea that women want it, based on how they act or dress. Those are all wrong too, and our culture needs to change.
I also realize that some of what I describe about myself is rather mild in comparison to much of what gets reported, but that’s not the point. It is still unwanted attention, and I didn’t know how to take no for an answer. Those women didn’t want my attention, and I couldn’t accept that. If I had a different temperament, I don’t know what I would have done. Enough people realized it that some friends in Undergrad stopped being around me, but no one ever told me that what I was doing was wrong, and my parents weren’t involved enough in my so-called love life to know what was going on. If they had, I think they would have told me to knock it off and stop being an idiot.