I’m a pretty extroverted person. I will talk to anyone. From time to time, though, things just get to be too much. My head gets noisy. These are the days I really should avoid public places. Stay home and out of contact with other humans. This may have been one of those times.
I went to meet up with some friends at a karaoke place and that’s not necessarily my thing but my friends are pretty great people. I’d not been feeling quite myself and thought some time with them would make me feel better. It was a late March night and beautiful outside so I figured I would sit on the patio and wait for them because it was so loud inside.
As I sat on the patio an older man kept trying to talk to me. I pretended to be texting someone on my phone. I just didn’t want to deal with him. I didn’t want to exchange small talk and pleasantries. I could see how he was looking me up and down and I wanted nothing to do with that.
I was going through a not so pleasant divorce and men were turning my stomach. I was repulsed by things that men felt they could just come up and say to a single woman. “I wanna take you home with me” is not a suitable way to start a conversation with a woman you don’t know.
My “Resting Bitch Face” had turned into “Active Get The Fuck Away From Me Face.”
Eventually he took the hint and went inside. As soon as the door closed behind him, everyone on the patio let me know I had handled that very well and told me not to engage with him.
“Seriously, if you talk to him he will not leave you alone,” one of the guys told me.
Another guy chimed in, “He’s right. And he’ll get inappropriate really fast. We’ve seen him do it. Like, he’ll grope you. It’s nothing you want.”
All of the ladies that were on the patio nodded in agreement or offered affirmation to what the men were saying. When the man came back out to the patio, he tried to strike up a conversation with me several times and I ignored him or pretended to be on my phone. Anything to avoid actually having to acknowledge him.
On a better day, I would have been kinder. I would have explained, “Thank you, but no thank you.” That day, I just wanted to be left alone. Eventually he gave up and angrily threw open the door that lead to the bar.
“Well, isn’t she just a little BITCH,” he shouted as he went back inside.
I was a little stunned but shook it off. I have no idea what happened in the couple of minutes after but we saw him leave out the front of the place angrily throwing his hands in the air, walking toward the intersection.
“Wow. You REALLY pissed him off,”
I chatted with the three couples on the patio for a while until we saw a set of red and blue lights. Then another. Then another. They shut down the road and closed off traffic. But, we had heard no crash.
About ten minutes later someone came out and we asked if they knew what happened.
“Yeah, apparently some guy was crossing the street and got hit by a car.”
My heart raced. Everyone on the patio looked at me.
“Do you think? You don’t really think…”
One of the men volunteered to go over and see if he can figure out what happened. He came back a few moment’s later.
It wasn’t until the next morning that we got confirmation it was him. I struggled with this for a long time. In some way, I felt responsible for this man’s death. The last emotion he felt was being angry with me. He got mad at me, crossed the street in a huff and was struck dead. It was as if my attitude and the negativity I was putting out there caused this. It made me sick to my stomach. I felt like a monster and that I should just hide in my house.
I felt that if I had less of an attitude… If I had been more considerate… If only my bad mood and I stayed home… If I… If I… If I…
It took me a few days to realize it was not my fault. I was not responsible for this. It took a lot of talking to myself and my therapist to get there. But, I realized that I owed this man nothing. I didn’t kill him. My pissy and dismissive attitude had nothing to do with him getting angry and crossing the street to his death. That was his choice just as it was my choice not to tolerate aggressive behavior from a man I did not know.
We are under no obligation to react to people in a manner of kindness that they have not deserved out of fear of how they will react to us.
I thought about him on the heels of Mollie Tibbits death and implications that the suspect was motivated to kill her after she rebuffed his advances. We’ve heard this story before. Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the student responsible for the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, intentionally shot a girl who rejected him. Elliot Rodger, the student who killed 7 people at UCSB, noted punishing women who rejected him as his motive for the massacre in a video made before the shooting.
We, as women, should not be made to feel like we have to smile and be pleasant in the face of unwanted advances.
This man who died in the street that March night was not entitled to my time and attention. I choose to whom I give that. There should never be ramifications for communicating that you are not interested any more than there should be standards for how you are expected to communicate that.
There is a fine line and I feel like we dance on it like it’s a tightrope. Women are encouraged to stand up for ourselves and to find the voice to say no. We’re reminded over and over of the importance of the #metoo movement. But what if that “no” carries with it violence? What if we are the ones who feel shamed? What if we’re made to live with consequences of rejecting and take the blame for it?
There needs to be a culture shift. I wish I knew what that looks like. Do we start this conversation in health class in 4th grade? Do we need more conversation about entitlement? How do we get our arms around this? How do we teach boys that not every girl is going to like them back? And how do we tell our girls that it’s not their fault if a boy takes rejection poorly?
It’s a lot of questions. My concern is that unless we start to work toward answering these, there’s no way off the tightrope and that’s a pretty big fall.