On his last weekend visit in Austria, D also once initiated body contact I felt extremely uncomfortable with. Just like this time, I never spoke up about it while we were together. I felt as if it had been partly my mistake – I had not said no immediately, even though I had known that he hadn’t wanted to do anything against my will and would have stopped right away. And I thought that hearing about it would make him feel horrible, which of course I didn’t want, especially since it was too late to change anything about it anyway.
Months later, an unexpected opportunity to bring it up arose in chat, and – quickly, before I could change my mind, my heart beating hard and fast – I did so in the most tentative, careful way I could, typing (in shy parentheses) that the lack of communication about it beforehand had been suboptimal.
In the following conversation, I told him:
- that having to actively, decisively, loudly say no to something surprising was “not optimal” for me, and that while I knew I could have said no in theory, I had not been able to do so in the moment.
- that I needed more warning in advance.
- (twice:) that it was important for me to have clearly recognizable opportunities to say no, whether in the form of an explicit, verbal check-in or a way to physically remove myself.
All of this was disregarded spectacularly during the holiday – there was no warning, there were no clear opportunities to say no, there were no ways to escape. It was disregarded despite his apparent horror at the revelation that he had done something I didn’t want, and his affirmation that he would have stopped immediately if he had known. (Even actively asking him to let go was not enough in one case.)
He said, even during the holiday itself, that the incident had sensitized him, but his actions did not support the statement. Once, he asked something – rubbing his cock against me the night before – had been okay, but asked on the day afterwards, far too late to actually change anything about it, and I evaded instead of saying no because, just as after the original incident, I didn’t want him to feel bad. (And I had told him that that had kept me quiet for so long back then, so he could have predicted that asking afterwards would make me uncomfortable and not be of much use anyway, although he might have noticed the evasion and did not repeat the act.)
I can think of multiple reasons why better consent practice failed:
- He might have interpreted much of my behavior (e.g. running away from a hug) as playing coy, or just normally happy. For example, while I froze up or went limp and avoided eye contact in many hugs, I probably often smiled nervously as well – he might have mistaken these for genuine smiles and concluded that all was well. Even when I asked him to let go of me, I used an exaggeratedly plaintive tone of voice.In the original incident, I also made a joking comment afterwards, according to him – I don’t remember, but think it likely. I often make light of uncomfortable situations in which I am powerless, possibly as a result of years of bullying and well-meaning adults advising me not to let them see they got to me. (This is really shitty advice, by the way, but that’s a whole other story.) He also wrote that I had seemed amused to him afterwards, and that he hadn’t been able to tell that anything was wrong in the days afterwards.
Knowing this, and considering that I also specifically told him that it wasn’t easy to notice something wrong with me unless I wanted it noticed, he probably should have been more careful and less confident about his ability to read my emotional expressions correctly.
- In the conversation after the original incident, he gently suggested that it would be useful for me to learn how to say no, and that I should bring up such issues as soon as possible afterwards because he wouldn’t notice otherwise. I told him I was working on it, but that it was a work in progress and would take a while, and that it wasn’t easy. He acknowledged the latter and that I could not be changed overnight.He might have overestimated how much progress I had made since then and relied too much on my ability to speak up, although he really had no reason to do so – I certainly didn’t say anything to indicate that was the case.
- It’s also possible that he didn’t understand how much trouble I had with these things in the first place, or that he thought it only applied to certain acts and not to comparatively trivial ones like hugging, although I did say that giving me more opportunities to decline was a good idea in general. I also said that the original incident was an argument for consent culture, and he later said I was right, but he might not understand that consent culture applies to everything and not just the more sexual acts.
Where do I go from here?
Already, I can feel my mind trying to slip back into its old, worn grooves: just let it go, it’s not that big a deal, maybe it will get better on its own. Time passes, memories fade, the discomfort I felt gets smaller and smaller in the distance. Was it really that bad? It was just some hugging and cuddling. It had no lasting impact, I’m happy now. No need to be so dramatic about something as silly as that, no need to upset D, no need to act. Just let it slide.
But I can’t. When I sorted through the pictures from the holiday, and looked at all the ones where D is hugging me, and found no visible trace of my distress, part of me felt disappointed. Part of me wanted it to be so visible that someone would notice and say something about it, as if I needed proof that my feelings were real, or permission to do something about it.
Nobody else will give me any kind of permission. This is my call to make. And I believe that letting things go on like this would not be fair to either of us – to him because he doesn’t want to hurt me, and to me because I should not be hurt or feel unsafe.
Now all I need to do is to figure out what exactly to do about it, and then actually do that.
I should definitely make an effort to be more assertive – it would not just benefit my relationship with D, but also me in general. I didn’t really do much about that after last time, mostly because I didn’t (and still don’t) know how. I will attempt to find out. But even if I find some great advice, start practicing right away and keep at it, I won’t magically become super assertive overnight, and maybe not even until D’s next visit. I need another solution, and I’ll need to talk to D to develop one that might actually work for both of us.
Even if it turns out to be staying away from each other in meatspace for a while.