Mar 13, 2011

Twenty Years Late

Sometimes it takes 20 years to hear a woman say No.

For 20 years I’ve carried the sweet memory of a college romance. The details aren’t that important and are basically universal – back seat of a car, dorm room, dance floor, it’s a story that many of us have lived too many times. But a story that until today I’ve believed was a good one.

Today I find her on Facebook and send a friend request. But instead of the expected “Great to hear from you!” reply, I’m slapped in the face with a calm, confident, “I don’t have good memories of our time together” refusal.

This is not the starry-eyed girl in a long grey “Property of…” t-shirt of my memory. This is a strong, confident woman who has done her work and found her voice. A voice she evidently wished she’d had during our late nights together. A voice that would have told me to Stop in a way I would have heard and respected.

Because I didn’t know when to stop. At the end of our fun, even magical dates, I’d betray that connection with hungry, unlistening hands. She would consistently tell me to stop, consistently move my hands away, and I’d consistently try again.

I told myself it was OK because I never used force. I told myself it was OK because she kept allowing me to try again – this must be a game she enjoys if she invites me back night after night. And I told myself it was OK because twice she did say Yes. Neither time was nearly as magical as what we shared during the dates, but the fact that she eagerly and freely reciprocated two times was enough to justify the persistence and believe that she did “want it.” Enough to let me believe for 20 years that it was a healthy, fun adventure for both of us.

But today she holds up a mirror that makes me see –finally – that I should have stopped. That I should have listened. That what was a game and a challenge for young me was an act of violence for young her. I violated a young woman’s trust and need, never even questioning if it might be hurting her. I can’t truly be part of breaking the cycle of violence until fully accepting, as I must today, that I have been part of it.

This facebook refusal is a cold shock, but I instantly know it’s deserved. I see for the first time that I hurt her, and that my sharp insistence for her body destroyed what should have been a sweet sharing of our young souls. Violence, I am forced to see, is as simple as not listening, and as powerful as not stopping at – or even before – the first No.


  1. Hard lessons to learn, Rick. Good for you to take responsibility. It can be hard to learn and own "No" as a woman speaking, as you are conditioned to say "yes". And the lines can be in shades of grey, not black and white, making the negotiation hard to read. But read we must (and this applies to everyone, for while sexual violence is vastly perpetrated by men against women, it also exists woman on woman, man on man, and I am sure woman on man). Its hard to own having hurt someone, and to then allow the Spirit to do its transformational work within, to make us more of what we are able to be.

  2. i've had to read this three times now ricky, it leaves me feeling unsure about how to respond. the courage to face your past and to be honest in your reinterpretation of the facts is clear. yet, i still find myself with a pit in my stomach. perhaps it is the resemblance of mine and so many other woman's stories. perhaps it is the reality of STILL not always knowing how to be clear in my communication around desire, readiness, and sexuality. i will carry this with me over the next weekend as i head into a 5Rhythms workshop on the theme of "libido". perhaps we can share again after that.

  3. I hope that the guys that did that to me one day realize they were wrong like you did. I'm glad you did and thank you for sharing. It gives me hope that those guys will maybe one day get it.

  4. ...."she invites me back night after night" many shades of grey....clearly there was something she wanted from you (not the sex thing) & obviously got & there was a price but it seems to me that responsibility goes both ways.....can't help but think this is more about how we deal with other people in general & is a lesson in staying clear of people who use power in odd/manipulative ways. This wasn't just one night. You say that you should have stopped....yes, but she should have stopped (inviting you back), too.

  5. Perhaps the lesson is not to convince yourself that you are in the right - that your way is justified, ok. Perhaps it's less about convincing yourself and everyone else that your choices for how you live your life - whether today or 20 years in the past - need to be reviewed with a clear, honest eye, rather than with a convincing spin...

  6. I feel really uncomfortable reading this, a whole new level of uncomfortable in fact. My husband is uncomfortable and we feel bad for your victim, that you are writing about her on your blog. I also feel badly for your wife.

  7. I am trying to think of how to respond because this posting really resonates with some recent comments in the media from the police that women should dress less provocatively or that it is the woman's responsibility to make sure they can not get into trouble.

    What you did not was not extreme, but it was still part of the larger societal view that somehow women invite what happens to them. That no does not mean no.

    It should be a reasonable expectation of all women to never be sexually touched in their lives without their consent.

    Here is a posting from Jody Patterson