In my mid-twenties, I briefly dated a girl I had become friends with. They were fun dates, but felt more like hang-outs with a good friend than anything that might actually lead to a relationship. This may be why the dating didn’t last long, but we were still good friends after. On our third or so date, I took her to an Avalanche game, which was a great 7-1 blowout, amazing since they had been playing terribly that season. When the game was over I had wanted to walk down the street through the Auraria campus, where I had gone to school, and where she was considering doing her Master’s. I had assumed other people would be out and about, but I was horrified to find the street almost completely empty.
Oh, shit, I thought. This is going to look bad. We made it to the lightrail station at the other end, but the next train was scheduled to turn up a whole half an hour later. Our options? Wait, or walk to the West Campus station. How do you get to the West Campus station? By passing through the darkest part of campus, full of small houses and empty park spaces, then winding your way through several buildings. All at night, all in the dark. I found myself apologizing profusely, but she actually seemed much more comfortable than I did. You’d also just have to know her. We made it to the West Campus station and boarded a train soon after.
As a man, you are considered guilty until proven innocent. After all, if you were innocent until proven guilty, the only time you could be proven guilty was after you had become guilty. After somebody had been hurt. Therefore, you are assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. You live this. You breathe this.
I was walking through the grocery store one day. I needed to get through an aisle and picked the nearest one that didn’t have five people in it. Unfortunately, this one had a woman and her baby with a shopping cart. She left the shopping cart dead center in the aisle, and her baby in it, as she checked boxes on the shelf. Whatever, I thought, and squeezed past. She immediately made a startled, frightened motion, reaching quickly for her cart (or child?). It made me angry. Yes, I’m the bogey man, I thought. Or maybe don’t leave your stupid cart in the middle of the aisle next time?
When I was in college, I went on a group day hike with people from my campus. At one point, several of us were in a large passenger van, waiting for something. I was sitting in the back, looking outside, minding my own business, when one of the girls a few rows up completely freaked out. One of her female friends had reached around her shoulder from behind. She started laughing. “Oh, I thought it was him!” she said, pointing to me. I don’t remember it as vividly now, but for many years that memory would replay, a stunning testament that something was wrong with me. I was a fairly quiet guy back then, but why did that make me the suspect? Was it because I was male, or was there something scary about me as a person? Was something wrong with me? Did other women see me that way, too?
Guilty until proven innocent.
I’ve long contended that the worst way to be rejected for a date is to be told yes, only to later be told no. Many years ago (now), that happened to me for the second time ever. I didn’t know her well, and only got to know her through other friends, but I could pick her out of a crowd, “Yes, that’s the girl I want to know more!”, which is a great feeling, by the way, when you’re certain that you’re interested, even if it takes time to feel that way. The day I finally had my chance, she was leaving church, and I nearly missed it, so I rushed to catch up at the front of the church. We chitchatted for a bit, walking into the parking lot, before I asked her out. She said yeah, and we could figure the details out at another church event. Awesome!
But it wasn’t to happen. The story is confusing and emotional, but I never got a chance to iron those details out: the real answer was no. It hurt pretty bad to hear that, after getting my hopes up, but then it occurred to me: You asked her out in the middle of the parking lot, when hardly anybody else was around. Daytime doesn’t matter. How could she have known how you would respond? Of course she said yes. It was the safe thing to say at the time….
I hadn’t thought about that. Hadn’t intended that. We just kept walking. It still hurt, but I understood. Alright then, I told myself. Nevermind.
You can see how women have been hurt. You see it in their reactions. Their attitudes. You hear stories from your friends. You don’t know what to do about it. Classmates, co-workers, friendly people on planes, when randomly they insert a story or a detail about their boyfriends in the conversation. A buffer. Just in case.
You understand. You aren’t offended.
You hate the stories of hurt because you hate that people are hurt. But you also hate the stories of hurt because you are also paying the price. It’s become your duty. Your duty is to understand and be okay with the extra space women need. You become a professional space-maker. A professional boundary-setter. Because you want to do good. You want to do the right thing. And if you don’t? You become one of them. You become somebody else’s #MeToo. You don’t want that. So you learn, and you learn, and you learn some more.
I have a female friend who has been proposed to by strangers in Wal-Mart on two separate occasions. It’s a joke among our friends. Something to remember and chuckle at. We laugh at it because it’s better than the alternative, which is being reminded just how fucked up our world is. There are enough reminders of that.
I had a group of friends I hung out with in highschool. Good, smart people. I’m thankful for them. But one of our members, for a time, had things rough. Her family was in poverty. Her window was broken and their family didn’t have enough money to fix it, so she was cold in the winter. She often went without food, and although we always offered to buy her a burger from McDonald’s ($1 at the time), she would usually shyly refuse.
She once described her ex-boyfriend and his brother as monsters. I feel like an idiot because I was only certain of what that meant in recent years. She disappeared from school for awhile, and when she turned back up, she had started smoking. We lost touch with her again soon after.
I was very hard-line anti-drinking, anti-smoking back then. But her case felt different. And I used to be a very judgemental person. That’s a story for another day. I’ve been learning over the past decade plus not to be. I guess I can be pretty critical of ideas I don’t like, but still. You build compassion as you go through life. I don’t know that it’s ever perfected, but it does build.
There was a day in youth group when a girl spoke up about forgiveness. Usually people are surprised by forgiveness, like, God really forgives all my sins? But this was different. It sounded that way at first, as she inquired about it. But it grew and grew. We, good youth group students, gave our best church answers because that was all we knew. “So no matter what you’ve done, no matter how terrible it was, you just turn to God and confess, and he just forgives you, and that’s it?” She was in tears. She was breaking down. Theology, theology. I never saw her after that day.
I hate theology. It’s still important. It’s still useful. I think I hate theology because it bores my brain, more than most subjects in existence. But I’m slowing learning to be cautious with the straight and narrow path, because you just don’t know what people have been through.
There are a million ruminations I could add. Stories, anecdotes. I think this is all I can handle for today. I build a space between the world and myself, a space to release. Not everybody gets that luxury.