Some time ago, I was having lunch with a group of friends—four men, one woman, and me. I’ve known most of the group for five or six years. We were talking about shared past experiences when one of the men mentioned that he missed Larry. “Gotta like a man who can make a good cup of coffee,” he said.
“No, I don’t,” I blurted out, and described how that man knew precisely where the lines of “inappropriate” behavior were drawn, and had spent the last couple of years nudging those lines whenever he came across a woman he considered “available.” I mentioned he’d been called out for failing to heed polite turn-downs, that he got offended when the turn-down became less polite. I mentioned how women who weren’t even the focus of his attention breathed a sigh of relief when he left the room.
None of the men discounted my experience or my descriptions. But every one of them said they hadn’t seen or noticed anything like that. I do want to be clear that their responses were not in the spirit, tone, or words of dismissal. Instead, they were genuinely puzzled that their observations had missed something they assumed would be obvious. One said he felt bad he hadn’t realized what was going on.
So I pushed the issue.
Without explaining what I was going to do, I got up and stood behind one of the men. I put my hands on his shoulders, then stretched my fingers as far down his chest as possible while still seeming to give a platonic shoulder rub. I pulled him back against my chest, digging my fingers in when he resisted. That action alone let him know I acknowledged he didn’t want me to be pulling on and touching him, and I didn’t care.
“You look so tense,” I said in a nice, soft voice. Not sexy, not husky, but more intimate than standard conversation. Not intimate enough to be “inappropriate,” though. “You just let me give you a rub and I’ll make you feel better. I can tell you need that.”
Then, while he say immobile with surprise, I leaned past him to pick up his coffee cup, keeping my chest close to his face and my other hand firmly on his shoulder. To the others, it likely looked as if I was just resting my hand there. That man, though, could feel the pressure I exerted to keep him pressed close to me. He would have had to make an obvious, rude-looking push to get away. “I’ll get you some more coffee, too. You just let me take care of that.”
I gave the man a sweet smile in answer to his shocked stare, then returned to my seat, put my napkin back on my lap, and said, “That’s what Larry does.”
The man I’d touched totally understood in that moment. He’d experienced how it felt—even at the hands of a friend—to have your personal boundaries violated and your “polite” signals of resistance ignored. The other men had that slack expression that comes when surprising facts suddenly jolt long-held assumptions. “Creepy” was uttered, as was “awful” and “scary”.
Their words held a tone of… almost fear? As if they were suddenly running through all sorts of past interactions in search of similar behaviors, and finding some.
*Now they are able to see it.*