One of the first “real” dates I went on stands out vividly in my mind. I was in my senior year of high school, my date had a car, and we did the old standby of dinner and a movie.
I had no real attraction to Brian. He wasn't my type, even though back then I barely knew what my type was. We knew each other from track club, and we’d been friendly for a while. He was easy to talk to, easy to laugh with. I’d turned down his first and second offers of going on a date as kindly as I was able until one of my other friends took me aside for a word.
“Look,” he said to me. “Brian really likes you. Won’t you just give him a chance? He’s so nervous around girls and it would really build up his confidence. Plus, you never know — you might actually grow like him.”
Well, now, I felt incredibly selfish. Who was I to stand in the way of Brian’s burgeoning self-confidence? How on earth could I say no, when all it cost me was one uncomfortable evening, and when Brian could start getting confidence around girls? I had the potential to change his life for the better.
Ignoring my gut, my instincts, my emotions, and my heart, I went on the date.
At the end of the night, he dropped me off in his red pickup truck. I said, “Brian, I had a really good time tonight…” I trailed off, trying desperately to feel anything, any kind of spark or rush. I drew on empty.
He leaned in for a kiss, and I awkwardly turned my cheek at the last minute. He held onto my waist, longer, longer, longer until I had to abruptly pull away. Covering up my nerves with a weird giggle, I waved jerkily and walked inside. All I could think was, Oh, this boy is going to feel so crushed. He is going to feel so rejected. I can’t believe I’m being so selfish—
Before I could think about it, I whirled around and walked back to him. I gave him a big fat kiss square on the lips and said, “I just couldn’t leave it like that,” smiling up at him. He smiled back, tipped his hat at me, and slowly walked back to his car.
I wiped my mouth.
My whole body was cringing. I had no attraction to him, despite my best efforts. There was no spark. But it was the end of the school year, we knew we wouldn’t see each other for much longer, and what was a kiss to me? What was one small, insignificant betrayal of my own instincts and body, when it came to soothing the ego and pride of a nervous, insecure boy?
My own needs didn’t matter to me.
Let me be clear: Brian was, without a trace of irony, a nice guy. After our date, he did not harass me, grope me, continue to contact me, send me any unsolicited images, or otherwise act like a douchebag.
In fact, Brian was what some people would call a perfect gentleman. He tried to pay for the full date but allowed me to contribute half; he did not instigate any unwanted touching (except at the end) and he did not call me a callous bitch for turning him down in the first place. I probably could have followed my instincts, not kissed Brian, and moved on with my life with barely a ripple.
But this story isn’t about Brian. This story is about me, and girls like me, who have been taught to tamp down our own feelings, squash down our own emotions, in case we ever hurt a man. We’ve been shown that what we want doesn’t matter, that we owe men a chance.
It didn’t matter to my friend that I had no attraction to Brian. It didn’t even matter to me in the end. Far more important was that I give this poor guy a chance, give him a date, make him feel desirable and wanted and attractive. It was more worthwhile to me, even, that Brian not feel rejected at the end of the night, than to keep my body to myself. It was so important that I kissed a boy I had absolutely zero feelings for — just so that he wouldn’t be hurt.
I might get called out here for leading Brian on. I might get told that I was sending him mixed messages. And those people would be right. But what kind of instincts do I have, where in order to make someone feel big, I so readily make myself feel small? Why did I feel I owed it to him, that I owed him a chance at all, that I could so easily make my own needs not matter in order to ensure he didn’t feel the harsh sting of rejection?
I did us both a disservice. But I’m not the only one.
Girls are taught to suppress their instincts.
I have to thank my parents that they never forced me to kiss or touch anyone I didn’t want to. As a shy kid, a weirdly large proportion of grownups insisted on trying to hug me, squeeze my cheeks, or otherwise force their affection on me, especially when my parents said that I was shy.
Never once did my parents force me to go up to someone I felt uncomfortable with, no matter how rude or intractable they may have felt I was being. I was permitted to hang back, clutching at their legs, until I was freed of the burdensome attention of adults who felt they could force me to love them.
And yet moving through school, I slowly learned my place. I was nice enough that boys often felt I was interested in them — or at least I wouldn’t immediately reject their attention — and so they demanded it. I was flirtatiously touched, groped, tickled and even licked once by boys who felt they deserved their fill of me, that they had the right to my affections.
I quickly learned that calling it out made me seem like an overreacting princess who couldn’t take a joke. It became easier to simply accept it.
We live in a culture that sees female pain as normal and male pleasure as a right. — Lili Loofbourow, culture critic at The Week.
And after all, what did it hurt me? What did it hurt, to shove my needs and wants aside, again and again, to make sure no boys ever felt like I didn’t like them? It was just once. It was only ever one time. It was only ever one boy, over and over until I felt small and used and unimportant. My body’s limits, my heart’s feelings — in the face of the vast, all-important male ego, they did not matter and they were minuscule.
Why do boys deserve a chance?
This phrase will always irritate me.
When I met my current partner, I knew. It was like a jolt of electricity, like there was a magnetic current between us, pulling us inexorably closer together. We mutually pursued each other, delighted and overjoyed to find that we each felt the same way.
What I’m saying is I knew. I did not have to give him a chance, I did not have to force myself to feel anything, because it was already there. When we ask our girls to just give the boys who want them a chance, we tell them to ignore their feelings, ignore the realities of their desires, and prioritize those who truly matter: the boys’.
Give boys an opportunity to win you over, to persuade you into love. You never know, he might be the guy for you. And even if you don’t feel that right now, you owe him the chance to try.
I don’t blame the boys.
I don’t blame Brian. I don’t blame myself for caving in, for minimizing my own needs and wants to accommodate someone else’s desires. It’s easier sometimes to do what’s expected.
I don’t blame all the boys who touched me against my will — how were they to know, when I just giggled and laughed it off? I don’t even blame the boy who once lifted me bodily in the swimming pool, his arms tight around my body as I squirmed and wriggled to try to get away. To me, it was an artful evasive maneuver: how to get down and get away without hurting his feelings.
To him, it was a flirty game.
“When it comes to ‘good sex,’…women often mean without pain, men often mean they had orgasms.” — Debby Herbenick, professor at Indiana University School of Public Health
I can only blame the sheer societal pressure that leaves us feeling like we can’t say no, like what we feel and want is a lesser concern to hurting the men around us. I don’t know what the answer is — boys still feel like they’re owed chances. Girls still feel like they need to give in. Saying no more forcefully leaves us at risk, and saying yes makes us feel small, dirty, and insignificant. It’s uncomfortable to admit that for me, anyway, there’s no right answer.
All I can do is ask the men who read this to consider that every time they ask women to just give boys a chance, every time you don’t receive enthusiastic assent whether it comes to sex or just a date, every time that you perceive you’re lacking in pleasure — consider that the women before you have been taught to perform in a way that puts your needs first. We’ve been taught that first, you must feel wanted and virile and strong — and only after that can we express our true feelings and desires.
If you want to help? Step up — and step aside.