After he left, I cursed myself for wearing that skirt. Was it too suggestive? Did it give him the wrong idea? I never should have let him drive, I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t have agreed to a second date in the first place. Maybe I shouldn’t have let him pay for my drink.
As I stood in the shower washing his saliva off my neck, I wondered if he was right.
Maybe I was just a tease.
Tim met me at a bar for our first date. We had been chatting online about my shitty spec script and the weather in Los Angeles for a few days before he made the jump to setting a date for us to meet.
Tim was tall, dark-haired, and handsome in a way that didn’t intimidate me. His profile said he studied film at a well-known (for being expensive) institution, and that he liked dogs. At the time, that was enough to make me swipe right.
When I arrived, he was hunched over the bar wearing a Patagonia fleece, turning the drink menu over between his hands. He was taller than I expected, which I liked, and cuter than I anticipated, which I also didn’t mind — though maybe it was just the forgiving bar lighting. When I introduced myself, he hugged me like he was meeting an old friend.
We ordered drinks and he immediately laughed off my offer to pay for my own, insisting that “a lady never pays for the first date.” I felt my stomach twist at his words, but shook it off, determined not to write off the date before it started.
It went as well as a first date with a virtual stranger could go. We revisited the small commonalities we had found in our online conversation — things like family and the minor stresses of our jobs. He made a few jokes that I thought were worth a small laugh, but gave a big one instead.
Two drinks in, he put his hand softly on my leg as I spoke and traced my knee with his thumb.
As 10 p.m. rolled around, I let out an involuntary yawn. I told him I’d better head home, and pulled out my phone to call an Uber. He protested, insisting he should drive me home. After a brief internal debate between the broke writer and the independent lady in my head, I agreed.
On the way home, he put his hand on my leg again as he drove. I shifted away from him, realizing I was alone in a car with someone I didn’t know all that well. When we got to my street, I pointed to a place where he could pull over.
“Should I park?” he asked.
“I’m really tired,” I said. “I think I’m going to call it a night.”
“Bummer. OK,” he said and, not missing a beat, leaned over to kiss me.
I was surprised by how forward he was, but I let my lips meet his. We kissed for a few seconds before I felt his hand on my leg shift up toward the bottom of my skirt. I pulled back.
“OK, I should go. Night!” I said, hopping out of the car quickly. I heard him yell a goodbye from his car as I walked away.
When I got inside, I felt a pit in my stomach — not the familiar fun pit you get when you meet someone you like and they kiss you, but the sort of sensation that happens when you’re at the very top of the roller coaster, and you’re not entirely sure you want to be on the ride anymore. I dismissed the feeling as my own familiar, often irrational anxiety, and went to bed.
Tim followed up the next day and asked if I was free to go to a concert that Friday night for a band he called “up-and-coming.” I said I was free, despite my mixed feelings about him after the first date. You should at least see if there’s something there, I told myself. Tim said he was buying my ticket for me and, again, refused any payment in return.
When Friday night came, he said he would pick me up, promising it would be easier than us trying to find each other at the crowded venue. I knew I would feel better if I had my own car, but conceded.
As I waited for him to arrive, my roommate seemed more in tune with my feelings than I was. She observed that I didn’t seem especially excited about my date.
“Yeah… I don’t know if I am,” I said.
“Then why are you going?” she said.
“I don’t know. He’s a nice guy,” I said, and even as the words left my mouth, I wasn’t sure if they were true.
He was waiting outside the passenger door of his car when I got outside. He told me I looked beautiful as he opened the door for me, guiding me into the seat with his hand on the small of my back.
“I was going to show up with flowers, but I thought that would be too much,” he said, laughing. I resisted asking him what I would have done with a bouquet of flowers at an open-floor concert and smiled back at him.
When the band started playing, he moved behind me and wrapped his hands around my waist. I squirmed away from him under the facade of my own poor dancing and stood next to him instead, claiming I couldn’t see over the person in front of me.
I glanced at my phone and wondered how long the concert would last.
After the band finished, he asked if I wanted to grab a beer and head to a smaller show his friend was playing at. I knew I was ready for the night to be over, so I told him I was tired, blaming my early wakeup call the next day. Again, he offered to drive me home, refusing to take no for an answer. I hesitated, but reminded myself that he had done all the generically “correct” things when it came to dating: He texted the next day, he told me I looked beautiful, he arrived on time, he opened the door. He’s a nice guy, I scolded myself.
On the ride home he placed that familiar unfamiliar hand on my leg. He touched my stockings, snapping them against my leg. I flinched in surprise.
“These are sexy,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, wishing I had worn jeans instead.
When we arrived on my street, he began looking for a space to park.
“You can just drop me off,” I interjected.
“Could I grab a glass of water? I had a couple beers, so I probably should,” he said.
“OK,” I said, telling myself I didn’t want to be responsible for a drunk driver.
When we got into my apartment, I went straight to the kitchen to get him water. When I walked back into the living room, he was sitting on my couch, leaning back and surveying the place.
“This is cute,” he said in a way that made me unsure if it was an insult or a compliment.
“Thanks,” I said, handing him the water.
He took a small sip before putting it down and standing up.
“Can I get a tour?” he said.
“There’s not much to see,” I said, laughing and trying to ignore the nerves suddenly pulsing through me. “This is the living room, that’s the dining room, and that’s the kitchen,” I said.
“Where’s your room?” he said, smiling.
“Through there,” I said, pointing down the dark hall and hoping my roommate was home, too.
He sauntered toward my room and turned on the light. I stood in my door frame, my arms folded across my body.
He picked up the book I was reading and started skimming the back cover.
“I’m actually super tired. You should probably head out,” I said.
“It’s not that late yet,” he said.
“I’m an old lady,” I joked, desperate to keep it light.
“OK, fine. But I have to do this before I leave,” he said.
Before I could ask what “this” was, he walked over to me and grabbed my jaw in his hands, his tongue forcing my lips apart. I closed my eyes and let him sloppily kiss me. I tasted the beer on his tongue and thought about the nearly untouched glass of water in the living room.
I pulled back, but he pulled me toward him harder. I halfheartedly kissed him back, not because I wanted to, but because sometimes when you realize something terrible might happen, you can’t even admit it to yourself.
He kept kissing me and pushed me against the wall. I felt my spine hit the frame of my closet.
“Slow down,” I said.
I could feel his teeth on my lips as he smiled.
“I’m on my period,” I lied.
“That’s OK,” he said.
“I don’t want to do anything else,” I said, twisting my body away from his.
“Let’s just have fun,” he said, holding my body harder against his own as he kissed my neck.
He moved his hands up my skirt and brushed my hand away swiftly when I tried to block him.
I closed my eyes and wondered when he would stop. I wondered if agreeing to have sex with him would be easier than what the alternative could be. I hated myself for thinking it, but as he pressed up against me I thought, Maybe I should just get it over with.
“My roommate is home,” I said, in a way that I meant as a warning.
“We’ll be quiet,” he said.
“I don’t want to do anything else,” I said this time, more firmly. His hands were up my shirt now.
“Are you sure?” he said, looking at me with the same wolfish grin. I clenched my hand over his and pulled it out of my shirt.
“Yes,” I said, finding courage in the fact that my roommate was only a room away. His expression quickly shifted from playful to angry.
“Seriously?” he said.
“Yeah, sorry,” I said, though I didn’t know what I was apologizing for.
“You’re a real fucking tease, huh?” he spat. He didn’t seem like such a nice guy anymore. “People our age don’t move this slow, just so you know,” he said, as if he were doing me a favor.
“OK,” I said.
“I mean, I took you to drinks and a concert. Most guys wouldn’t go through all that effort for some random girl,” he said.
“OK,” I said, again. My hands started to tingle and I hoped he would leave before I had a panic attack.
He grabbed his shoes and threw his jacket over his shoulder before he turned toward me, looking at me like I was an investment gone south.
“I’ll text you or something,” he said, and I hoped he didn’t mean it.
When he left, I took off my clothes and got into the shower. I stood under the scalding water and tried to shake the feeling of his mouth on my neck, his hand under my skirt.
In that moment, I didn’t hate him. I hated myself. I hated myself for not being able to just tell him that I didn’t want to sleep with him, for instead claiming I was tired. I hated myself for my own fear of being impolite. I hated myself for letting him drive me, instead of taking my own car. I hated myself for getting him a glass of water. I hated myself for relinquishing my own control because I was too afraid of offending someone I barely knew — too afraid of being a “picky bitch.”
But in hindsight, I can see that I'm not the person to be angry at. Tim is, because I did say no to him, over and over, in as many ways as I could think of, until he finally heard it — until he finally heard me. And what scares me more than anything is that so many men still don’t hear, or don't listen to, those words. I think some men are raised to believe that a woman’s body is a commodity that comes at a price. And as a woman, I feel as if I'm told to be grateful when I find a man willing to pay that price. I'm told (or I tell myself) that he’s a “nice guy.”
And that’s the thing about nice guys: You can't always pick them out. They wear Patagonia and have good haircuts. They open doors and pay for your drink. They laugh at your jokes and ask about your family. But sometimes nice guys do those things not because they are nice, in the real sense of the word, but because they associate doing those things with getting what they want. Or, at least, "deserving" it. I found out the hard way that in modern dating, that roughly translates to: If I spend at least $50 on you, you better sleep with me.
I’m sick of hearing about the “friend zone,” and being called a tease. I’m sick of the unwritten rule that if someone spends time or money on me, it makes them worthy of my physical affection. Maybe there will be times when I am just tired. And maybe there will be times when I am on my period, or when my roommate’s home, or when the timing isn’t right. But maybe none of those things will be the case, and you know what? I still don’t need a reason for saying no. My body is my own. It cannot be bought for three drinks at a dimly lit bar, or with flowers, or tickets to a show. When I do say yes, it will be because I want to.